It’s (still) a seller’s market here in Northern Virginia. Buyers are clamoring for the few properties that come on the market each weekend. It’s standard practice right now for buyers to drop every contingency to beat out their buyer competitors. No home inspection. No appraisal contingency. No finance contingency. Prices are escalating wildly, upward of 6-8% on average above the list price.
But all of this doesn’t mean that a seller can simply mail it in when thinking about putting their house on the market. The same fundamentals apply – even in a seller’s market – when considering selling a home. Price matters. Condition is imperative. Presentation differentiates. Timing is important. In this blog, I’ll explore in more depth each of these areas.
As a seller in this market, it’s tempting to get swept into the idea that your property is worth a maximum price. That impression may be rooted in what sellers hear from neighbors, read in the press or their impressions from third party valuation sites. Zillow and Redfin often include inflated estimated values as those sites are not aware of the condition of a property, recent updates, changes to layout, etc.
What should inform pricing is comparable sales in the last 6 months. That begs the question, however, of whether a seller should price based on properties that have closed. Or, those that a seller knows will close after they put their house on the market. In my opinion, it’s best to base your list price on the sales that are on record. Those are the ones that a buyer can see and, therefore, recognize as the justification for a seller’s price. If a seller bases their price on an anticipatory closing (at a higher price than previous sales in the neighborhood), the marketplace may look at that seller’s price as an overreach. Or as one that smacks of greed.
My general approach to pricing is to position a seller’s price within the realm of reasonable relative to recent sales. And, in so doing, aim to attract multiple offers. Let the buyer marketplace ultimately dictate the price, using an even-handed price as the starting point. As they say, you can never price too low…but you can price too high. All of my recent sales have closed 6-10% above the list price. Equally important is that buyers of my recent listings have universally waived the contingencies, making the transactions seamless and guaranteed.
Condition is imperative
Just because houses are flying off the shelf like hot cakes doesn’t mean you can avoid putting in the time, money and sweat equity to get your property ready for the market. What does that mean in practice? Here are a few areas on which to focus when getting your home prepared:
- Paint – be sure to touch up or re-paint high traffic areas. Those are typically stairwells, corridors, insides of closets and the areas around front doors (inside and outside). Another key high impact paint area is the front door – one of the few areas of a home where you can recapture 100% of your investment. And it’s not an expensive one.
- Lighting – give your home a close hard look to determine if your lighting is outdated. You know those lights that look like part of the female upper anatomy. They need to go! Replace them with low profile, LED lights or drum lights. Ceiling fans that are in that same theme or the ones with the discrete patterned globes. Those need to go! The “Hollywood” lights (think round bulbs in a single line) in a bathroom. Yep, those need to go as well! Lighting is a relatively affordable and high impact area for improvement.
- Tile – for bathrooms with tile on the floors and wall, it’s likely the grout has become discolored and stained. Need to replace the tile? No! All that’s needed is some grout cleaner and caulk. Be sure to also replace the caulk around the edges of your bathtubs, showers and sinks.
- Knobs and outlets – ever been in a home and noticed the beige outlets and white plate covers? Or noticed that the door knobs are a hodge podge of brass, brushed nickel and bronze? Uniformity is key when selling a home. Ensuring that all outlets and covers are white is a relatively easy project. Same thing with door knob replacement. Keep it consistent. Both make a huge difference
When a seller is interviewing realtors, they should consider what a realtor includes as part of the standard marketing package. When I sell a home, I always include: (1) professional photography, (2) floor plans and (3) a 3-D video tour. My goal with this three-prong approach is to ensure I put out in the marketplace the most comprehensive view of a property. It’s especially important in this digital age that a property make the best possible electronic impression. It’s on the basis of pictures, floor plans and videography that a buyer will decide whether to visit a property. You get the presentation wrong, a seller won’t get the price they want.
Equally important is staging. You’ve probably seen the data – it points to homes selling faster and higher when a property is professionally staged. For that reason, I always include staging as part of my service offering to sellers. In a separate blog, I’ll show you the before and after examples of recent listings. It’s almost mind-boggling how impactful coherent furnishings and wall-hangings can be.
Timing is important
One of the first questions sellers ask me is this – “When is the best time to sell?” Year over year sales and accompanying data for the Northern Virginia market point to the spring months clearly being the answer. The spring market isn’t just March through June. In fact, it typically kicks into gear in mid-January and runs through the end of June. It’s during this period of time that the majority of buyers are active. In my experience, going on the market on the front-end of the season – i.e., January and February – can be to a seller’s advantage. While other owners are busy waiting for flowers to bloom and to finish up their preparations for an April list date, sellers that go on the market in January/February face minimal seller competition and maximum buyer interest.
All of this being said, the market here in Northern Virginia is a year-round market, with a fairly consistent flow of inventory release and sales. There is plenty of evidence that a property that is well-priced and well-presented will do just fine in the later summer months or early fall months. If there’s a time to avoid as a seller, it is November and December. It’s hard for properties to compete with the big holidays over those months. And the possibly bad weather!
I hope you’ve found this analysis helpful. Please be in touch to discuss in more detail my recommendations for ensuring the best outcomes when selling in Northern Virginia.