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Thursday, February 28, 2013

5 Tips Buyers Would Give Sellers if they Could

It is a rare occurrence these days to have a home’s buyer and seller sit down around the kitchen table to make a deal. In some areas, they do still sit around the attorney’s boardroom table to close the deal, but by that time, the deal is done and the ship has already sailed on any avoidable mistakes.

So in the vast majority of home sales, buyer and seller never connect in person, never talk, and never exchange insights or information except in the most formal, written formats - despite being effective business colleagues in one of the single most important transactions of their lives. And here’s the rub: buyers sit on a wealth of knowledge that sellers crave to know, most of which could be filed under how to attract buyers and make them want to buy a home (or at least, not turn them off). So, since buyers and sellers can’t get together, allow me to reveal a handful of helpful insider insights that the buyers I’ve worked with and connected with over the years would reveal to sellers, if they could.

1. You should see what your home looks like online. No, really.
If you did your due diligence before listing your home for sale, met with agents and reviewed their marketing plan they use for their listings, chances are good that you chose an agent who takes online marketing very seriously and said as much during your listing interview. But somehow, there are still hundreds of listings in every major city that receive a failing grade on their online presence, once the home has actually been listed.

Every day, online listings are activated on Trulia and all across the real estate web with:

  • only one or two pictures
  • no pictures at all
  • multiple photos that represent the home very poorly or show it in its worst light, in terms of the shots selected and included in the listing (e.g., photos focusing on the dumpster in front of the house, or the messy breakfast dishes on the table), or
  • listing descriptions that bemuse us buyers, but would befuddle and even anger the homeowner, like the homes whose descriptions start off with the attention grabbing: “This place is a mess!”
Sometimes, there’s just a glitch along the production chain that it takes to get a property marketed; other times, there’s an actual error in judgment that took place. But it’s free for you, seller, to hop online and just do a quick audit of the way your home is represented in the same listings, virtual tours, and property websites that buyers will see. And it’s often the only way these glitches will get caught, brought to the agent’s attention and rectified. So you should.

2. If your home is seriously overpriced, I’ll wait for the price to come down before I even come see it. You might be thinking the best plan of action is to list your home high, planning on the fact that prospective buyers will want to bargain the price down. And, in fact, this might be true for your area - your agent can brief you on what the standard negotiation practices in your neck of the woods are, and you two can then work together to factor them into your pricing strategy.

That said, even in an area where homes generally go for below-asking, buyers are willing to do some basic negotiation. They are not, generally, interested in correcting a seller’s belief system about their home and its value that are clearly not based in the realm of reality. That seems daunting and like too much work to do - as well, there are so many properties to see, and buyers have to invest so much time, energy and emotion in making an offer, they don’t like to do that in cases where the seller’s list price is so bizarrely above-market that the chances of coming to a meeting of the minds about price are slim.

If your home is dramatically overpriced, compared to the others in the area or compared to it’s market price range, most serious home buyers in the market for a home like yours will either (a) never come see it, because it doesn’t show up in the price range they are searching online, or (b) not come see it unless and until you drop the price, because it simply isn’t worth their time and energy until you correct your pricing into the realm of the realistic.

3. There are a whole lot of fish in the sea - I only have to find one. Agents and mortgage brokers talk to buyers a whole lot about compromising, and what they can expect on the market as a whole, and such. But my reality is this: home buyers are not in the business of market analysis. They are in the business of finding a home. Only. One. Home.

Yes, ultimately, every buyer has to make some compromises. No home is perfect, and every person who buys a home eventually gets that. But even in a heating market like the one we’re in right now, there are lots of homes coming onto the market every single day. Any given buyer only has to find one that works for them. To buy your house - any house - that buyer really does need to feel inspired by it enough to feel like it could work for their family, their needs and their life as their home.

If you take shortcuts when it comes to primping and prepping your home for the market, it becomes super obvious to buyers when they scrutinize it, even if it’s really priced well. On the other hand, the homes that were well cared for, prepared and priced shine above the others, at every price point.

4. If I nitpick your house, that probably means I like it. Every buyer’s broker has a horrific moment, at some point in their career, where they realize their buyer has been trash talking a home - its nasty wallpaper, vomitrocious carpet, silly stylistic choices, etc. and so forth - and the home’s seller has managed to overhear this diatribe. The pool boy who was at the property turns out to be the seller’s son, the sellers turn out to have been next door or in the basement through the entire showing, or the teddy bear-cum-Nanny Cam has advanced audio capabilities.

Here’s why this horrifies buyer’s agents: the buyer that goes to all that trouble to dissect precisely what they would do differently if a given house belonged to them is a buyer who is thinking about making an offer on that very house.

The more questions, critiques, nitpicks, “What I would do’s” and such a buyer rattles off about a home, the more likely they are to make an offer on it. Of course, the occasional curmudgeonly amateur designer likes to just rip other’s decor choices apart for the fun of it, but many otherwise lovely individuals do this when they get serious about a home as part of the exercise of visualizing the property as theirs, and envisioning themselves, their families and their stuff in it. This is how buyers take a place that might not be perfectly move-in ready for them, and figure out how they might be able to make it work.

So if you happen to overhear a nitpicky buyer dissecting your home and verbally tearing down walls or ripping up carpet, don’t despair. They might simply be mentally “trying on” your home as their home.

5. When it comes to staging, the bar is high. Really high. HGTV. Houzz. Architectural Digest. All these outlets which constantly publish beautifully designed and decorated homes have influenced what the average American expects their home to look like - and yours, for that matter. Additionally, all the do-it-yourself publications and shows along with the advent of home improvement stores which double as DIY design emporiums have given everyday people of modest means the power to live in beautiful and functional homes, without breaking the bank.

Beyond all this, professional home staging has taken off in recent years, as data has repeatedly shown that staged homes sell faster, for more, and more certainly than homes that are not staged, nor well-prepared by their owners. So not only is your home competing with the homes buyers are seeing on TV and in the magazines, it is also competing with professionally staged homes for sale right in your own neighborhood - homes that the very buyers who will come to see your home will also have seen, possibly right before or after they view yours!

So, if you want to and can afford to have your home staged, do. If you can’t, you should still take the preparation of your home very seriously, and include your agent or a stager you hire for an hour of advice in the process, taking their input on things like:

  • what furniture to get rid of
  • which improvements will get you the most bang for your buck with local buyers
  • and what paint, flooring and other finish materials will appeal to the broadest buyer segment in your area.
These pros often also have contacts with local handypeople, painters, landscapers and other vendors who can get your home ready for market in a time and cost-efficient manner.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ski business bounces back at the Peak

For a few weeks in December, the winter of 2012-2013 was looking like a repeat of the one that came before.

That possibility had Erie-based Scott Enterprises, owner of Peek'n Peak Resort and Spa in Findley Lake, N.Y., feeling a bit apprehensive.

But now, with more than a month left in the ski season, Chris N. Scott, vice president and co-owner of Scott Enterprises, said it's clear that's not going to be the case.

The number of skiers to visit the resort is up about 40 percent so far this ski season.

Scott credits an expanded advertising campaign. He also credits investing between $4 million and $5 million in the resort.

But more than anything else, he credits the return of traditional winter weather and the 86 inches of snow that have fallen in the area this year.

"The peak is doing substantially better than last year, and the weather has been a huge help," Scott said.

Even snow-making equipment could help only so much last year, the first winter season after Scott bought the resort out of bankruptcy.

Although there was still man-made snow on the ground, Scott Enterprises shut down the ski lifts on March 21, 2012, about 10 days ahead of schedule.

"You can advertise all you want," he said. "But if it's 50 degrees and raining, no one is coming."

After being bitten by 2011/12's unseasonably mild weather, the current ski season got off to a slow start. The significance of opening eight days later than usual was lost on no one, Scott said.

"There was an uncomfortable feeling of wondering, 'is this going to happen again?'" he said. "We were already opening behind the year before, which was a very poor ski season."

It didn't take record snowfall to set things right at the Peak.

"All we needed was a typical Erie winter," Scott said.

The combination of natural snowfall and machine-made snow has helped build a snow base of about 48 inches.

In fact, there's enough snow on the ground to allow the facility to shut down its snow-making equipment, Scott said.

He and the rest of the resort's management aren't worrying too much that global warming might make it difficult to do business in the future.

"I never really bought into global warming as a fact, though I think there might be some changing weather patterns around the world."

What he doesn't expect is for those changing weather patterns to render useless the investment his family-owned company has made in the ski business.

"I find it hard to believe that last year is going to be typical."

Colder, snowier weather isn't the only thing that helped make this ski season more successful.

Public support, in the form of comments, season-ticket sales and Facebook chatter all suggest enthusiasm for the Peak and its future, Scott said.

"Even though it (the resort) is in New York, the support from Erie has been really superb," he said.

JIM MARTIN can be reached at 870-1668 or by e-mail.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Peek'n Peak Resort

Quad skiing event finally set after many postponements

From staff reports, Erie Times-News

After seven postponements, the Highmark Quad Ski Race and Snowshoe will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday at Peek'n Peak Resort and Spa's Upper Course.

Aaron Garrity, who won the most recent Quad Games event -- the 5-mile run, held in September -- is in first place overall going into the ski event, the final event of the 30th anniversary Quad Games.

Pamela McCormick, who won the women's 5-mile run, is the overall women's leader and the four-time defending overall Quad Games champion.

Dan Pierce, who was atop the men's standings heading into the 5-mile run, is the defending men's champion and has won the men's competition three out of the past four years.

Jim Samuels holds the men's record in the ski race, finishing in 17:58 in 2001, while Debbie Mizikowski is the women's record holder, winning in 1999 with a time of 21:06.

Last year's ski race was postponed because of poor snow conditions, marking the fourth time the race had been canceled since 1995. The event has never been canceled two straight years.

This year's awards presentation will take place April 7 at the Erie Art Museum.

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