Real Estate Q&A To List or Not to List? That Is the Question

This Real Estate Q&A was written for the President’s Week issue of The Sheet

Q: We are considering selling our Mammoth property. Our agent told us to simply “put it on the market” …just list it for sale, that we didn’t have to do anything to prepare it for the market. We’re not sure that is the best route to take. Do you think that is the best way to proceed in this market?

A: The listing of Mammoth real estate for sale can be a fascinating case study. The past ten years has seen tremendous change in the industry and most of it propelled by technology. But the local market is also ever changing so the current conditions need serious consideration too. Each property is different and different segments of the Mammoth market behave differently. Simply “putting it on the market” might be the right answer in a strong seller’s market, but Mammoth has mixed conditions. We need to dig a little deeper.

Some local properties like the condo hotel units that are being actively managed and rented would be examples of ones that can be “just put on the market.” They are normally in good condition and are regularly cleaned. But not always. A couple months ago I listed a condo hotel unit and I thought the property needed a little attention before potential buyers would be looking; there were splotches on the ceiling that needed cleaning or a repaint, there were other minor maintenance issues, and there were ugly stains on the carpet outside the front door. I asked the owner to have management look after these (it was a slow period). Some of it got done and some not. I know the HOA intends to replace the hallway carpet.

But the point is that each and every property really needs to be considered on it’s own. I recently listed a very dated and original vintage Mammoth condo. It was clean and well maintained but it was in a time warp (there was a 1985 SKI magazine in the drawer). But the property had many redeeming qualities; like great sun and view and setting. There was no need to really do anything to bring it to the market. This older but quality property was prime for a significant remodel. And this is a major market trend in Mammoth; with no new condos being built in the last few years, many serious buyers are forced to look at the older quality properties and assume they are facing a major remodel (or purchase one already remodeled).

There are some things these older (or even newer) properties do need before hitting the market. The first is a good de-cluttering (or as I call it “de-crappifying). Many owners just don’t see all the junk they have collected over the years. There are many reasons to get rid of it. The buyers don’t want to see it. And all the “stuff” including excess furniture makes the space look smaller which is never good. And I’ve seen buyers fixate on all the oddities and junk and not really see the property for what it is. It is simply distracting. And some of it can actually become a liability. Sellers need to realize that buyers like poking around.

One of the oddities of Mammoth real estate is that we often transact properties in “fully furnished” states. Many times the personal property that is conveyed or not conveyed becomes the most contentious part of the sale; buyers and sellers fighting over some item that was or wasn’t represented as included in the sale. Or the last minute “sentimental attachment” the seller realized they had with some item. Minutiae can wreak havoc on the transaction. It almost becomes comical. The local agents often feel they have become “furniture brokers.” So sellers need to assess (before the property hits the market) what they intend to leave (part with) and what they want to keep. And many times it is simply best to remove the item(s) from the property before agents and buyers come through.

Sellers should also take the time to tidy-up their own personal effects. Again, buyers (and often their kids) will be poking around. Start thinning-out clothes and box-up stuff. The 1980’s skis and ski boots can go in the trash. The local thrift stores gladly accept donations. And condo projects always have convenient dumpsters. Bottom line; if it doesn’t add value, get rid of it.

Prudent sellers should also take a serious look around their property to see if some glaring item needs to be fixed or rectified. This should be one of the roles of the listing agent while discussing the listing (amazingly, some listing agents are known for not even looking at the property they are considering listing). Even missing the appropriate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can be a mistake in this day and age. Lately, the lack of these simple items in the property has caused days and weeks of escrow delays. The seller will have to do it sooner or later, so the sooner the better.

A major un-repaired item or excessive deferred maintenance is always a red flag for buyers. But if a major remodel is in the offing then the buyer will simply want a discount. Sellers need to be prepared for that (another job of the listing agent). And sellers who blatantly sell their property in “as is” condition and expect a high price are unrealistic, unless the property has some stellar view or location or some other exceptional feature.

Ultimately there is always something that should be done to a property before it gets listed and subjected to the scrutiny of the market. But sellers and agents can both be lazy. But like in fishing, the quality of the bait presentation can be the difference between getting a bite or failure. I prefer getting bit.

Besides preparing the property for sale, sellers need to make sure their listing isn’t just being “put on the market.”  With the ever-changing technological advances in the real estate marketing world there are some basic requirements for properly presenting a property to the world. The first is good photographs, and a healthy selection and variety of photographs. Plenty of agents think that a handful of photos shot with their phone is adequate. But studies have shown that online property shoppers simply skip over properties with lousy photos. Even better, digital photos can make substandard or junky properties look good or great.

Next is some type of virtual tour. Online shoppers who have their interests piqued by quality photos want to see more. The “Ken Burns” style visual tours are popular but I prefer video. Video gives the online shopper a feel for the flow of the property inside and out. And video can be stopped at any moment for further scrutiny.

The next essential criteria is the remarks section. This written description of the property rides along with the photos and virtual tours from the local MLS to all of the various real estate websites both local and nationally. This is one of the big changes technology has brought. The listings in the Mammoth MLS are everywhere, so they need the best representation. The remarks should embellish what can be seen in the visual representations but should also describe what can’t be seen. The important features and benefits of the property that aren’t obvious. Some agents can barely come up with a couple of blasé sentences. Other try to be Shakespeare.

Another thing a seller needs to assure is that other agents have easy access to the property. This is especially true in Mammoth because the buyers are impulsive while they are here. They are busy having fun and time is limited. Property showings are often last minute decisions. Even more so in the mobile age. If agents don’t have easy access to the property then a showing could easily be missed. Some agents make it difficult (often out of laziness). I know agents that don’t even own a lockbox because they are “too expensive.”

Those are the critical things to consider when listing a property. There are other details. Some agents have “78 point marketing plans” and the like. They likely don’t get past point 4 or 5. Some “listing agents” subscribe to motivational and success systems costing thousands of dollars. They often utilize canned “scripts” to impress sellers. But little of what happens in real estate can be scripted. Properties and sellers and buyers run the full gamut. Greed and fear abound. Sh*t happens.

Another laughable trend is out-of-town agents listing Mammoth properties. It works poorly. First, they don’t know the market. Secondly, they aren’t around to service the property. Asset managers of bank owned properties require regular inspections of the property. Experience has proven to them the value of attending to the properties for sale. Somebody hundreds of miles away can’t do that. And in a market like Mammoth it is also a huge advantage to have knowledge about the agents you are dealing with.

Like I said, listing real estate is a great case study. The “listing” industry is full of ancillary businesses designed to separate agents from their money. The promise is greater and greater success. Some of it works, some of it borders on cult. The future of Zillow is such. While it appears to be designed as a great service to buyers and sellers, it is really designed to make agents believe they have to shell out money for the exposure. It can be successful for agents, or  it can become a hamster wheel. We’ll see how long Zillow can bleed volumes of cash.

Meanwhile the National Association of Realtors sold the realtor.com enterprise to News Corp. (the owner of the Wall St Journal and FOX News, etc.). The site is taking off as the go-to online resource for real estate consumers. Revenues and “unique users” have exploded since the acquisition. The future will change again.

Ultimately, there is more to listing a piece of real estate than “just putting it on the market.” Savvy sellers have to ask the right questions.This is where to start.

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