How to Sell Your House Fast in a Slow Market – A Case Study

Exclusive Report: Our editor-in-chief recently sold his home in a slow market. Within eight days, he had multiple offers for the full asking price. The home went under contract on day nine. This is the kind of home-selling success that most homeowners can only dream of right now. In this article, Brandon explains how we was able to sell his house so fast in a slow market.

Selling Your House in a Slow Market

by Brandon Cornett

Chapter 1 – Remembering the Good Old Days

In 2003, my wife and I sold our home in Maryland. Those were the days! It was a classic seller’s market. City planners had placed a limit on residential construction, so there weren’t many homes going up in our area. At the same time, there was a lot of urban “spillover” from Baltimore and Washington D.C. Long-distance commuters were moving into our part of town in droves. This high demand and low supply made it easy to sell a home fast.

Chapter 2 – Selling a House After the Recession

Fast forward five years. We lived in Texas before, during and after the housing crisis of 2008. We didn’t have a real estate bubble like California or Arizona, but we still experienced a major slowdown in market activity. For a while there, it seemed like the only houses that were selling fast were the
short sale properties. All of the regular listings were sitting on the market for months, in most cases.

We wanted to sell our house and move to Napa, California (a long story), but we were concerned about the lack of sales activity in our neighborhood. The one advantage we did have was the rapid population growth of Round Rock, Texas. As the second-fastest-growing city in the nation, our city had a steady stream of new residents and home buyers. But it was still unnerving to list the home for sale in this kind of market. So we took it very seriously.

Here’s what we did to sell the house fast in a slow market…

Chapter 3 – Let the Staging Begin

Many of the people in our neighborhood who were trying to sell their homes had failed to stage them properly. This is a big mistake when trying to sell a house in a slow market. When the inventory is higher than the demand (a buyer’s market), you have to do all you can to make your home stand out. This is where home staging and preparation come into the picture.

We put a lot of time and energy into this step of the process. The out-of-pocket cost was a little over $2,000. That might seem like a lot of money to spend on home preparation, but you’ll soon realize how well it paid off. We landscaped, cleaned, painted, de-cluttered, upgraded, staged … you name it.

Here are some of the things we did to get the house ready to show:

  • Hired landscapers to do a clean sweep of the entire yard. They removed weeds, shaped bushes, trimmed trees, put down fresh mulch, and cleaned up the flagstone path. ($1,500)
  • Painted one of our bold “accent walls” to create a more neutral living room. Painted all scrapes and scuff marks throughout the entire house. ($100)
  • Upgraded the lighting in all three bathrooms. Before this, we had those ugly “Hollywood lights” that mid-level builders often use — basically a white rectangle with naked bulbs. We installed some brushed-nickel light fixtures with frosted glass shades. This gave the bathrooms a more modern look. ($300)
  • We sanded and re-stained the front door. The door faces west, so it had been severely weathered by six years of sunsets. We also painted the iron crossbars. You can see the end result in the yard picture below. ($150)
  • We had the upstairs carpet professionally cleaned. ($150)
  • We had all of the windows cleaned inside and out. ($185)
  • We brought a Pod unit to our house, so we could pack up much of our stuff. This is a great way to de-clutter your home. We removed almost everything from closets, shelves, cabinets, etc. The house seemed larger when it was all done. Staging the home was a lot easier with all of that stuff out of the way.
  • We bought a few pieces of staging furniture for the back patio, and also for the newly created sitting area in the master bedroom. The cost is irrelevant here, because we took those items with us when we moved.

Here are some photos of the interior, after all of the staging was done:

staging the living room

staging the bedroom

office / study

Starting the previous fall, I began to get my grass into shape. This was a challenge, because we had two droughts in a row leading up to this. It’s Texas, after all. I had to de-thatch and aerate the lawn, and give it a good dose of “weed and feed.” When it came out of its winter dormancy a few weeks later, I fertilized again and began watering once a week. This picture shows how healthy the lawn was by the time we listed the home. You can hire a lawn care service to do all of this for you, if you don’t have time.

nice green grass

The above picture also shows how we staged the front porch with some brand-new rocking chairs. The people who eventually bought the house wanted the chairs too. So they obviously had the desired effect.

It bears repeating. If you want to sell your house fast in a bad market, you need to blow people away with the curb appeal. In my case, that involved the grass, the bushes, and the flagstone path that wraps around the house (among other things). Even if you don’t have grass, you have something for people to see when they visit the home. Curb appeal is extremely important. If people have a good first impression when pulling up to your house, they’ll take that impression inside with them. The reverse is true, as well.

Chapter 4 – Pricing the Home

This is where a lot of homeowners fall on their faces, and it can kill your chances of selling the house. You have to price your home based on its value in the current market. Forget about what you paid five, seven or ten years ago. That number is irrelevant. Realistic pricing is always important when selling, but especially when you’re trying to sell in a slow market.

To set the asking price for our house, we looked at the recent sales data for our area. We weren’t too concerned with listing prices — we wanted to know what homes were actually selling for in our neighborhood. We reviewed data for the previous six months, with a special focus on the more recent sales. To be honest, we could have priced it higher and still brought in buyers. But we were trying to sell it fast in a slow market. So we erred on the more conservative side. We wanted people to see it as a true value, so we could avoid all of the price haggling. It worked.

Chapter 5 – Marketing the Home

If you want to sell your home fast, you need to put it in front of the largest possible audience. The easiest ways to do this are to (A) list it on the Multiple Listing Service and (B) put it on Realtor.com. There are plenty of other ways to market your house. But these two methods will put in front of thousands of buyers, virtually overnight. We did this, and we also put it on Trulia.com.

The more pictures you can include with your listing, the better. This helps you in two ways. First, it helps you weed out the buyers who simply won’t like your house — and there will always be such buyers. You don’t want to waste your time showing the property to people who are looking for something different. So be transparent from the start. Use plenty of pictures. This also helps you create interest among buyers who are seeking a house like yours. We took about 20 pictures of the house, inside and out. This allowed us to show off the home staging and curb appeal we worked so hard on.

We also created a flyer that people could pick up as they walked into the house. It pointed out some of the features they might not have noticed otherwise. Examples: The downstairs is wired for sound, with two speaker locations in the kitchen and entryway. The surround system in the media room conveys with the property. The pool is a saltwater pool, which is easier on the skin and eyes than regular chlorine. You get the idea. Don’t assume that people will know these sorts of things — tell them! To sell your house fast in a slow market, you have to convey everything that’s great about your home. And I mean everything.

Chapter 6 – Success!

So, was all of this effort worthwhile? I think so. But I’ll let the results speak for themselves. Within eight days of listing the home, we had multiple / competing offers for the full asking price. We accepted one of the offers the very next day.

We were also able to choose our buyers, which is a big deal. We chose the buyers with the strongest financial picture. It’s common for buyers to lose their financing at the last minute, as the result of some extra scrutiny on the lender’s part. This was a major concern for us. So we went with the buyers who seemed to have their ducks in a row.

Planning to sell your house in 2011?

Our success can be attributed to the three P’s of home selling. Price, preparation and promotion. We realized the importance of these things in the beginning, and we worked hard to get them right. We priced the home realistically. We prepared it well. And we promoted it through high-visibility channels. Two out of three is not good enough. You need to get all three of these things right.

So there you have it. How to sell your house fast in a slow market. It worked for us!