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10 Ways to Sell a Home Fast
(And we mean speedy!)

You’ve heard it a million times—the market is changing. What are you doing to sell your listings fast? We’ve got answers.

Whether your market is booming or things are slowing down, it’s smart business to get back to basics. Since homes are staying on the market longer these days, even where sales are steady, it’s vital for you to put more of an effort into getting your listings sold quickly, and at the highest possible price.

So, blow the dust off your digital camera and create your own virtual tours. Or, do what one enterprising sales associate is doing: Climb into an airplane to snap aerial photos of your listings. And, you can always create gimmicks, offer incentives and bonuses, and maximize the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to its fullest potential.

Here are 10 tried-and-tested ways that sales associates are making their listings move quickly: 

1 Shoot My Good Side, Please
When the market began stabilizing last fall, Jenny Wemert knew she’d have to start doing more to get her listings noticed and sold. A Realtor® with Keller Williams Advantage Realty in Orlando, Wemert pulled out her digital camera and started shooting her own virtual tours. “When we were in a seller’s market, I didn’t even have time to get a virtual tour done on a home before it sold,” Wemert explains. “We saw a shift in [the market], and now all of my listings have virtual tours.”

 But they’re not your typical tours. Intent on highlighting the best aspects of her listings, Wemert shoots her own tours, then uploads them to “When a virtual tour company comes in and does a 360-degree tour, you get what you get,” says Wemert. 

To maximize the virtual tours, Wemert incorporates photos (that she takes) of the community and information into them, and e-mails them to clients for distribution through a virtual marketing–type network. “The sellers send them to everyone, who in turn forward them to even more people,” says Wemert. “That not only helps sell the home, but also results in more referrals.”

2 Once Upon a Time
Intimate knowledge of Orange County’s historic and lake homes has helped Michael Derenthal sell properties faster in the current market. A broker-owner at Derenthal Realty Group in Winter Park, he and his three-person team have extensive experience renovating older and historic homes. They’ve tapped that experience to help create a viable niche in residential real estate sales.

“We can look someone in the eye and know that we have more expertise in older homes than most [sales associates] out there,” says Derenthal, who plays up the homes’ unique points, as compared to many of the newer tract homes available in the area. In addition, Derenthal always has a story to tell about the historic homes for sale.

Take the lakefront home that started as a fishing camp in the 1930s, and was later owned by an eccentric politician who incorporated European architectural elements into it. Instead of positioning it as “just another lakefront home,” Derenthal marketed the property—under contract at press time—as a piece of Orlando’s history. “We played that up, and piqued people’s interest,” he says. “That gets them in the door and helps the home sell itself.”
3 Kitsch Marketing
When 823 White Street in Key West’s Old Town Historic District went on the market recently, Jim Smith, broker-associate with Realty Executives Keys, knew he had to do something special to get potential buyers interested in the property. When he learned that back in the 1870s the property was owned by a dairy farmer and known as “Cold’s Milk Farm,” a light bulb went on over his head.

“We put a life-sized, plastic cow out on the sidewalk to draw people into our open houses,” says Smith, who has loaned the cow out to several local entities (such as the tax assessor’s office, for a surprise birthday party), and used the gimmick to attract other brokers to show the property. “I visited their offices carrying a milk pail, distributing postcards and Milky Way candy bars.”

Priced at $2.4 million, the property hasn’t sold yet, but Smith is hopeful that when it does, the cow will have played a role in attracting the right buyer. “Everyone loves the cow,” says Smith, “and the property is very nice too.”

4 Throw in a Tee Time 
Because Dave Cullen works primarily in golf communities, it only makes sense that he would shape his marketing strategy around the sport. A sales associate with Century 21 Horizon Properties in Port St. Lucie, Cullen says one buyer incentive that’s gone over well is a one-year membership to a local country club.

“Assuming that most interested buyers will be golfers, we reasoned that having somewhere to play for a year as the homeowners acclimate themselves to their new surroundings would have a positive effect,” says Cullen, who just started using the strategy, which costs him about $2,000 per family.

“I’ve seen a slight increase in the number of showings on my listings,” says Cullen. “When I talk to people about the listing, the first thing they want details about is the golf membership.”

5 The Devil Is in the Details
Sometimes all it takes is attention to detail and a professional attitude to get the job done right, according to Janie Coffey, broker/co-owner of Papillon Properties in Coral Gables. Take basic spelling and grammar, for example. After reviewing current MLS listings in her area, Coffey estimates that well over 50 percent of them contained misspelled words, with some lacking any property description at all. On many of the listings, she says, photos are either sparse or of poor quality.

If you want people to show your listings, she says, it’s smart to use the MLS to your full advantage. That means lots of quality pictures, carefully worded property descriptions and filled-in blanks on the MLS form.

And, it goes without saying that all sales associates should return phone calls, have a working knowledge of their listings and show up for appointments, says Coffey, who says she takes the high road by acting professionally at all times and by treating all contacts and colleagues with respect.

Those values go a long way in helping this Realtor sell her listings quickly and professionally, she says.

6 Take Great Photos, and Use Them
The MLS can be a sales associate’s best friend, if used properly. By using all its features and options to highlight properties, Coffey says, sales associates can maximize their listing exposure while also standing head and shoulders above many of their competitors.

“This may seem elementary, but a quick review of posted listings will prove that many [sales associates] fail to observe this basic principle,” says Coffey, who advises sales associates to use all the photos they can and to carefully select a variety of good shots in an effort to add to the impression the potential buyer receives.

“In the last month alone, I’ve seen fuzzy pictures, toilet seats up, pictures of computer screens (because they couldn’t figure how to get the image to the MLS), groceries on counters, images turned sideways and even shots with taxidermy (this alone could rule out a showing),” says Coffey.

If the listing doesn’t have eight great shots, Coffey suggests using an aerial view, a floor plan or other informative images that draw the buyer in. “If you have a condo listing, make every effort to get in and take pictures of the actual unit,” says Coffey. “If you only show the building exterior and the amenities, the message comes through that the unit itself is outdated or in poor condition.”

7 Deal or No Deal?
No one can resist a free giveaway, even when buying higher-end homes priced at $500,000 and up in the Fort Lauderdale area, says Erica Stowers. Knowing this, the sales associate with RE/MAX Alliance offers buyer’s brokers a $5,000 bonus for selling her listings (on top of the negotiated commission rate). On certain transactions—particularly for first-time homebuyers—Stowers will also offer to pay some of the closing costs.

She says she does it in the name of getting maximum exposure for higher-end listings, which aren’t moving as quickly as they were a year ago.

Stowers says her full-service approach, combined with the incentives, has kept her business on track.
8 He Flies Through the Air …
Not all sales associates can get into the seat of an airplane and fly over their listings to take aerial photographs of them, but Cliff Clover can. A licensed pilot, this sales associate, with Watson Realty Corp. in Kissimmee, takes to the air once a week to snap photos of all his listings. Clover started using the strategy three years ago, and he incorporates the home itself plus the surroundings into the photos, which he then publishes online and uses in his marketing materials.

“It gets the phone ringing, and tells the story upfront for the other [sales associates] who would bring a buyer,” says Clover, who has about $20,000 invested in camera equipment and flying time. “It’s just one of the things I do for clients outside of the normal realm of things, and it really helps me—and the properties themselves—stand out in the marketplace.”
9 Dress It Up
Perception is everything in residential real estate, where small flaws, bad color schemes and ugly carpeting can turn off buyers. To make sure each of her listings is presented in the best way possible, Charlene DeWitt, a broker with Dean & DeWitt Properties in St Petersburg, recently began offering home-showcasing services to her clients.

From a local decorating consultant who charges $100 an hour, DeWitt and her sellers receive a prioritized list of recommendations for preparing the house for sale and cost estimates (for the implementation of each suggestion).

Before scheduling the consultant, DeWitt asks clients if they’re willing to do what it takes to get the maximum sales price for their property. “Then, by employing a neutral third party with expertise in decorating and preparing a home for sale,” says DeWitt, “we get a better response from the customer, regarding openness to change and investing in improvements.”

10 Open Up the House
Buyers may be starting their home searches on the Internet, but Terri Steck knows that when it comes right down to it, what they really want to do is see homes in an up-close and personal way that only a showing or open house can provide. “I hold open houses virtually every day,” says Steck, a sales associate with Windermere Realty Group Inc. in Central Florida.

“I approach open houses, not as a courtesy to sellers but as a viable part of the buying/selling process,” says Steck, who also drills into her clients’ heads the fact that their properties are less of a “home” and more of an “investment” that needs to be kept open house–ready throughout the length of the listing agreement.

To get foot traffic at her open houses, Steck uses helium balloon bouquets on her directional signs and stocks the home with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, cold bottled water and juice for the kids. She also uses four-color fliers that highlight the property and include floor plans, color photos, feature lists, buyer incentives, seller contributions, a location guide, a school list, information about taxes and homeowners’ association fees, the year built, nearby recreation and shopping information, as well as professional affiliations and how-to-contact information for Steck and for her broker.

“I’ve [put] all of this information on one sheet of paper because I invest in the services of a professional graphic designer,” says Steck. “High-profile companies are memorable because their ‘look’ is consistent. That’s my goal too.”

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.