The Short List

The Baltimore Sun

On the first Friday night in June, real estate agent Jessica Lori sat at her client's dining room table with two offers for Sherry Lynn Burke's Canton townhouse.

Both were above the listing price and both had arrived in less than two weeks of the house's going on the market.

Burke, who figured she'd be keeping her residence museum-perfect all summer, was happily stunned.

They'd competitively listed the house at $223,500. It sold in 11 days for $226,000. At the time, more than 200 houses in the area were on the market, many for more than 100 days, said Lori, an agent with Long & Foster's Towson office.

Some homes in all price ranges are selling fast, despite market woes. Metropolitan Regional Information Systems data shows that in recent months, about one-third of the homes that sold did so within 30 days of hitting the market. That's fewer than at the peak of the market, but hardly inconsequential, agents say.

The homes' magic: They stand out. Buyers perceive them as solid values, distinctive and inviting.

"It's not 2004 or '06," said Michael Yerman of Yerman Witman Gaines & Conklin Realty in Baltimore, recalling the years of fast price escalation, when buyers gobbled up houses at any price in any condition. Price has to be appropriate for the house, community, what else is vying for buyers' attention, he said.

Yerman tells sellers their homes have to be clean, neat and uncluttered to show well. "You know the feeling when you open the door and it's so wonderful that you gasp." No weird smells. Freshly painted if necessary.

Burke's three-bedroom Federal-style house was move-in ready. Because she didn't know if she'd be staying or selling, in the past year or so she'd redone the bathroom and kitchen. In mid-spring, she decided to sell.

"I had a handyman come in and look through the house," she said. Small repairs and replacements were done.

Lori suggested some changes.

"Jessica was very nice about it, but she said, you know, no man is going to want to sleep in this girlie-green bedroom," Burke said. It went to a sand tone.

A bedroom Burke used as a den was shown as a bedroom to reinforce the three-bedroom aspect.

"We staged the extra bedroom," Lori said. "We put a bed in it, with pillows. It was just a blowup bed."

Burke added a bureau that was on its way to her mother's house.

Nearly a quarter of the furniture and random items went out the door, opening up the space. Even the cats were relocated.

The women agreed on a list price that would lure potential buyers, but was not the area's lowest. The home had one bathroom; many others in the area had two or added a powder room. But down to the new carpeting, this house had been prepared for a new owner.

What the buyers saw, said their agent, Jo Zuramski, also of Long & Foster's Towson office, was a move-in ready house with historic charm and exposed brick walls in the neighborhood they sought, and at an appealing price.

"And she liked, of course, the fact that it was so well-maintained. It was a good value," Zuramski said.

That the list price was slightly below some comparables led to a bidding war. The house appraised for a little more than the purchase price.

For some buyers, it's not what they see in the house, it's how they perceive it.

Iris Bierlein saw a condo with pastel-tone walls, the rooms filled with Williamsburg style furnishings - neither her taste. The bathrooms said 1980s.

But then, she was there not to see the Devon Hill condo, but to meet her agent at the condo's open house for real estate brokers. They planned to drive around the area to continue Bierlein's search for a single-family house nearby.

A few minutes into the car ride, Bierlein told Del Schmidt of Baltimore's Chase Fitzgerald & Co. that she wanted the townhouse-style condo they'd just left.

"I said, OK, we have to put in an offer. We have to do it before somebody else does," Bierlein said. She offered full price, $565,000. Two days later, the condo was hers.

Schmidt believed the condo, part of the original mansion, was reasonably priced, had "nice flow" and a great setting.

What Bierlein perceived was this: She'd have her own entrance, a basement and an attic. She could repaint. She loved the old mansion's high ceilings, transoms and two porches. She'd update the bathrooms in her own style - but keep the claw-foot tub with pink toenails.

The sun streamed in through windows with views of gardens she wouldn't have to take care of. The place seemed to come alive - maybe it was the psychology of fresh flowers, she said - and exude warmth. She imagined her modern furniture in the rooms.

"I'm living in a house that just happens to be snuggled up to another one," she said. "I have the security of having others around, but it's private."

The Monkton landmark Clynmalira is the grand 185-year-old home of Henry Carroll, the great-great-grandson of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll.

The setting, views and interior are one of a kind. It was under contract within a day of being listed at $2.395 million.

"Irrespective of market conditions, houses like this, that are so rare they come on the market infrequently - a house like that sells," said Karen Hubble Bisbee of the Hubble Bisbee Real Estate Group of Coldwell Banker's Greenspring office.

She and her mother, Nancy Hubble, are the listing agents.

"It's very significant historically. It's very significant architecturally," Bisbee said. "It sits on the cusp of a knoll. There isn't a vista in this house that would not take your breath away."

The homeowner, Laura Elder, was gasping at the speed at which an offer arrived. In the house she fell in love with just over a year ago, Elder hadn't yet furnished the screened porch when she had to get the property market-ready earlier this summer. Her husband's job, unexpectedly, was taking the couple south.

She'd repainted the barn and done other decorating, but that was before she knew she and her husband, Derek, would need to sell the home where they'd planned to live for many years. Suddenly, she was preparing the home to be someone else's.

Laura Elder had suspected the property's list price and size would restrict its appeal. Steeped in Maryland history, the house has 11 fireplaces and six bedrooms. Also on the 9.2 pristine acres are a pool and pool house, guest house, sport court, barn and stables.

Her gut feeling was that it would sell either fairly quickly or "take a year."

The open house for brokers and customers was on a Wednesday and by the next day, there was an offer.

"It's Day 1 and they want to buy it, and I almost felt like, 'No, you can't have it,' " Laura Elder said.

"I was in shock. I couldn't say a word," she said.

The selling price was not disclosed, but it is more than $2 million, said Hubble. Settlement is scheduled for later this month.

Prepping your home for quick sale

*Improve landscaping . Curb appeal is crucial to a good first impression. Mow the lawn, prune the bushes, weed the garden and plant flowers.

*Clean the outside. A sloppy exterior will make buyers think you've slacked off on interior maintenance as well.

*Make repairs. Take care of major defects like broken windows or a leaky roof that could discourage buyers.

*Make the front door inviting. A fresh coat of paint will make the front door stand out. Replace faded house numbers.

*Buy a new welcome mat. Let buyers know they're invited into your home.

*Remove clutter and depersonalize. Buyers want to envision their belongings in your home. Rent a storage unit for knickknacks, photos, extra furniture and other personal items.

*Organize closets and drawers . Messy closets give the appearance that your home doesn't have enough storage space.

*Make every surface shine. From ceiling fans to floors, clean your home until it sparkles.

*Take color down a notch. Paint your walls a neutral color that will appeal to a wide range of buyers.

*Eliminate bad odors. Hide the litter box and spray air neutralizer throughout your home. When showing the home, fill it with inviting smells by putting out fresh flowers or baking a batch of cookies.

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