The Consequences of Unprepared Sellers

When DIY renovations and an unreasonable list price kept buyers away from her listing, real estate agent Ryan Zwicky learned to be more honest with her clients.

The Property

Location: Friendswood, Texas
Square footage: 2,531
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2
Lot size: 8,000 square feet
Year built: 1976
Extras: New roof, backyard oasis with lily pond

The Challenge

As a new real estate agent excited to nab one of her first listings, Ryan Zwicky, a sales associate with Levine & Co. Real Estate, found herself overpromising and underdelivering for her sellers. She’d thought this eclectic, four-bedroom, two-bathroom home would be an easy sell. But once it was listed, attracting offers proved to be harder than she anticipated.

Zwicky’s clients did much of the home’s upgrades themselves, including replacing the wood floors and roof and painting the kitchen cabinets. Prospective buyers were wary of the quality of work and custom aesthetic choices—the top cabinets in the kitchen were painted a different color than the bottom, for example. Zwicky had promised to sell the home as is rather than ask her sellers to get an inspection done on their DIY projects or neutralize the home’s look. After listing, she also realized the home was priced too high for the market.

Zwicky listed the home just as the school year started in fall 2016, and homebuying activity was slowing down. Families were more focused on preparing their children for school and upcoming holidays than looking for a house to buy. During the 154 days the home was on the market, Zwicky’s clients received only three offers. The sellers became aggravated, as the house was on the market for so long that they had to extend their listing agreement twice.

How did you overcome the challenge?

Zwicky: The house had so many unique qualities: this great, open floor plan and a beautiful koi pond in the backyard. I saw so much potential in it and did what I could to convey that potential to prospective buyers. It wasn’t a blank slate that many buyers like, though.

I used staging to set the house up and took professional photos, and I sent out multiple email blasts. I was constantly marketing the house. I marketed it to other agents, promoted it on social media, and had about two open houses a month. I really learned the value of having open houses. I promoted it everywhere, and I didn’t give up hope.

On the first offer, the buyer and seller couldn’t agree on terms, and the buyer backed out. The second offer came a few weeks later—verbally. Although I usually require written offers, I let my sellers know about this verbal offer. It was for $200,000. At this point, the list price had been reduced from $234,900 to $220,000. My sellers were frustrated with the process and the time it took, so they agreed to this low offer. But buyer number two backed out: It was a real estate agent who made an offer sight unseen and changed her mind after visiting the house.

After another extension on my listing agreement, I held one more “Hail Mary” open house, and another real estate agent put in an offer for $200,000, which my clients accepted. I never gave up hope on this home, and I think that’s really important.

How much did you spend on marketing the property?

Zwicky: Between the photographer, staging, and open houses, I probably spent around $500.

Can you talk about the buyer?

Zwicky: The buyer was a husband-and-wife team in real estate whose team leader actually gave the second verbal offer on the home.

What do you attribute to closing the deal?

Zwicky: I think it had a lot to do with the buyers being in the real estate business as well. They saw the same potential in the home that I did. They often purchase homes to fix up and flip, which is what I imagine they’ll do with this one.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

Zwicky: First, open houses really do work. They aren’t just for lead generation. Some people actually attend open houses with the intent to buy. I am convinced if I had not had that final open house, the listing wouldn’t have sold under my name.

The other—and probably most important—lesson I learned was about communicating realistic expectations to the seller in the beginning of the transaction. I learned that trying to please the seller only harms them in the end. It is better to be completely honest and open from the start. Sometimes, I still have a hard time with this because I get so excited when I have the opportunity to sell a home.

But this transaction helped me see that when an agent is able to honestly and effectively communicate the items that need to be addressed and the way to strategically price a listing, the seller is better off.