Cara Ameer, a top-producing broker associate from Northeast Florida, writes about working with buyers and sellers, sticky situations and real estate marketing in her regular Inman column that publishes every other Wednesday.
Most real estate agents have never met a listing they didn’t want to take, right?
Well, maybe not so much.
Every property has its positives and, shall we say, some potentially challenging features that might make selling it more difficult.
A home can always be remodeled, upgraded or cosmetically improved in some way. As we know, there is nothing that a little paint, pressure washing, deep cleaning and other prep for sale activities can’t solve, except when that property’s location is less than desirable.
Backs up to a highway? No problem. Train tracks? What buyer could possibly notice? Lights from the shopping center shining through at all hours? If the next homeowner just keeps all their blinds closed at night, they won’t notice.
Make sure they have a light-blocking shade for the master. Otherwise they might just feel like they are living in Scandinavia during the summer months because everyone wants to experience the summer solstice at midnight without having to travel thousands of miles to do so.
Sigh … if you’ve ever had one of these listings before, you know what I’m talking about. Each agent’s feedback was nearly the same. Beautiful home, but my client can’t deal with the road noise, the lights, the ugly cell tower, etc.
So how do you tackle one of those listings when you can’t tout location, location, location?
Here are my top seven tactics for making a lemon of a listing’s location into lemonade:
1. Be forthright, and embrace the negatives
Like public relations 101, when in a crisis, lean into it, and embrace the situation.
Don’t attempt to hide or conceal things. In this age of Google and online property stalking, most buyers will know before they physically see the home if it is near something less than desirable.
Do not craft marketing that could be misleading, no matter the challenge. It will also reduce the number of unproductive showings where buyers walk in and walk right out in a matter of a few minutes or won’t even get out of the car when they realize the marketing was less than truthful.
For example, ever show a home where the description indicated “needs TLC” that attracted DIY type of buyers who were thinking more like “DIY light” — paint, new hardware, light fixtures, etc., only to realize the property needed to be gutted, and to have all the major systems replaced, as well as other expensive fixes, like redoing all of the landscaping and the driveway?
Better phrasing in this situation might be: “Property in need of a complete overhaul. Buyers who want a project with heavy lifting desired!”
The private agent remarks are often a great way to convey the situation. Not all agents review properties that their buyers want to see in great detail until the buyer sends them listings of interest.
Once the agent pulls them up, upon a closer look they will take notice of special remarks and anything they feel may need to be relayed to the buyer in advance of the showing to ensure that what the buyer sees is a good match, or maybe not.
It is better to show fewer properties that are truly a fit for a buyer rather than looking at things that won’t be a fit.
By touting the negatives in a positive way, you will attract buyers who are best suited for what you are marketing.
2. Find the gem among the rocks, and have solutions to the challenges
The property may be on a busy road, near a highway or train tracks. Now is the time to fully immerse yourself in the challenges of what living near those things entails.
Go to the property at various times of day (and night) so you can get a feel for the noise, frequency, etc. Are there certain times road noise is more noticeable than others? What about the train tracks? Is it mostly commuter trains or do the endless cargo trains plow through at all hours?
Having a detailed understanding of the challenge helps you in overcoming objections or proposing ways to mitigate it. For example, would privacy fencing and adding a landscaping buffer of trees or large bushes help to offset the noise or view?
Do the buyers and selling agent’s work for them by coming up with possible solutions along with the details and costs involved in putting them into place. Have the seller consider adding something like this before going on the market, or be willing to add prior to closing or give a concession to account for it.
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to mitigate something like a water or utility tower that cannot be moved. I once had a luxury property for sale that was situated on a navigable waterway in which there were several utility towers that spanned the water and marsh areas behind the home and points beyond.
The home had been totally renovated, had a pool, dock and was turnkey in every way. The utility tower view was quite concerning for many buyers, especially in the million-dollar-plus price point.
Many buyers were looking for their dream home on the water — and having to look at something unsightly was not part of their plans.
The marketing was geared toward attracting water enthusiasts and those who liked to boat, fish, jet ski and so forth. The hidden gem in all of this was there was a great fishing hole located near the tower closest to the home, and it was a popular place for “fishermen in the know.” This little-known fact was touted during showings, and the true water enthusiasts were excited to learn this piece of information.
3. Highlight the value
When dealing with a property with a challenging location, it is important to put the home in context relative to others in the area. Is it an opportunity to purchase under the typical market value of other homes in the area? Is the $450,000 home in the $600,000-plus neighborhood?
Equity opportunities are rare and can require trade-offs. Talk about comparable sales and values in the neighborhood that have been appreciating and why that is. Create interest and excitement over seizing the opportunity in a rapidly appreciating neighborhood or area.
In my example regarding the home on the water, the price was such that you could not find something on navigable water that was move-in ready at the same price point. The closest alternatives were in a gated community with very high fees and the waterways were subject to a lock system that impacted a boater’s ability to leave and return, which was not appealing to many who enjoy water sports.
4. Remember, upgrades matter
Upgrades may matter more when location is inferior. If the home has been highly upgraded, that is a huge plus. Articulate the value to potential buyers and their agents. Provide a detailed overview of everything that has been done to the home.
Use the supplement or documents feature in MLS for this information. An approximate amount of what the seller spent is also helpful to convey how much money the buyer will be saving by not having to dig into their pockets to do all the work themselves. Explain that a similar home without a location issue would likely command way more in price.
Every detail, however small, adds up. If you’ve ever priced out higher end interior doors, hardware, window treatments and fixtures — the price adds up very fast, not to mention upgrading appliances and other cosmetic fixes.
That price may be out of most buyers’ range, so if they really want to be in that particular area and don’t want to buy a money pit, they may be willing to go for a turnkey home in a less desirable location. Be sure to have this information also available in the home for showings.
5. Showcase savings
Highlight the advantages of a home being move-in ready and the upfront savings to a buyer — especially on bigger ticket items if the home has a newer roof, HVAC system, water heater and so forth.
Home improvement can really add up and is rarely a couple of hundred dollar issue.
6. Frame buyers’ expectations with great photography
A picture is worth a 1,000 words, so no matter what the location is, make sure the property photographs like a page out of Architectural Digest.
Everything should be photo-styled to perfection, both inside and out — from the furniture arrangement and placement to the exterior with fresh paint, manicured landscaping and a welcoming front entrance.
Use your judgement with respect to aerial photos and video, and ensure they are shot in a way to put the property’s location in the best possible light while being accurate and truthful at the same time. That is not always easy to do and may take careful consideration. An overhead shot of the home showing the railroad tracks directly behind might not be something the seller wants highlighted.
Having said that, I recently had a vacant land listing within walking distance to the beach. It was the last undeveloped lot in a subdivision and was a resale. My customer had purchased it about a year before we put it on the market, but their family situation changed, which drove the need for a sale. The property was definitely “the dog lot” of the neighborhood because it backed up to a busy intersection — but it was on a cul-de-sac and in a low traffic area of the neighborhood.
Great aerial photography showcased the parcel size, its location near the intersection and proximity to the beach, which was important: Everyone who saw the listing knew ahead of time what it backed up to and exactly how it did. There were no surprises.
If I had not done aerial photography, it would have been very difficult to tell from street level photos alone what the true situation was, and potential buyers could have been turned off once they found the surprise. Subsequently, all of the prospects that expressed interest understood the lot’s location and what they would be dealing with, which made for a productive listing experience.
7. Be present
Challenging listings are often more productive when the listing agent is present. It holds the showing agent accountable, and they are more likely to actually show up with their buyer rather than blow it off.
This gives you a chance to give an overview of the property and present the home’s features and benefits. The worst thing you can do is attempt to minimize or downplay the property’s location. Rather, through your in-depth knowledge about your listing, showcase your expertise to educate the buyer on why it is a good buy.
Once they’re there, you’re in a prime position to find out what’s important to the buyer, and to then use your knowledge to tailor your pitch to that buyer and their agent. You might be able to persuade them with all of your research.
Every property for sale has a challenge in some way or another. Location can be one of the bigger ones, but it doesn’t have to derail a sale. Celebrate the challenge, be creative, get others excited, and the market will respond.
Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.