Archive for February, 2008

A custom weblog can be your home’s 24-hour real estate salesperson on the world-wide web

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

A custom weblog can be your home’s 24-hour real estate salesperson on the world-wide web

I have an unshakable faith in the three P’s of home marketing — Price, Preparation and Presentation.

If the home is priced above its value to the buyer it will not sell in this market — it probably won’t even show.

If it is not well-prepared — repaired, staged, cleaned — to the condition implied by the price, it will not sell even if it does show.

Presentation is your Realtor’s job — or yours if you’re trying to sell without representation. I don’t have space to go into a full-blown marketing plan, but here’s an idea that can make a big difference for very little cost:

Give your home a blog.

Every home for sale should have its own web site. What makes a weblog useful and practical is that weblogging software is so easy to use. And the price to get started? Nothing.

Sites like or will let you set up a blog on a subdomain — an address like — for free. Or you can buy your own domain — — for less than ten bucks a year. You can host your own domain for a few dollars a month, but using your weblog provider’s hosted option will work just as well.

What do you want for content? Photos — and lots of them. Good pictures of clean, well-lit rooms sell houses. Your text should be just-the-facts, nothing overtly promotional. Not only can people see through hype, it turns them off.

With a weblog, you can document your house room by room — or by the benefits to be realized from the home’s features and amenities.

Best of all, you’ll have a 24-hour salesperson working for you on the internet. Put your blog’s address on your flyers, in any advertising you do, in your Craigslist open house notices, on and The more you can promote your blog, the more traffic it will draw.

You still have to be priced right. You still have to be prepared right. But a custom weblog for your home could be a key element in your home’s presentation to the marketplace.

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Down Payment Assistance is another creative financing option you can deploy to make sure yours is the home that sells

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

Down Payment Assistance is another creative financing option you can deploy to make sure yours is the home that sells

It’s a hard world for home sellers right now. It’s possible that things are slowly getting better, but a qualified buyer still has at least ten suitable homes to choose from.

Does this mean you might sell now, or you might sell a little later? Probably not.

Does it mean you might sell for your price, or you might have to accept a little less? Probably not.

What it means is that, if your home is not the one that answers most of a potential buyer’s needs, it probably won’t sell at all in this market.

We’ve talked before about being the most appealing — best priced, best prepared, best presented. These are the homes that will sell to the best qualified buyers — while the near-misses languish month-after-month.

We’ve talked about using seller-financing to help less-qualified buyers. Carrying back a note for a third mortgage entails a risk of loss, but, again, that marginal difference can be moot if the house wouldn’t sell otherwise, or if it sells months later for a much lower price.

There is another creative financing avenue you can pursue, although this one comes with an assured loss to the seller. It’s called Down Payment Assistance. Through programs like AmeriDream or Nehemiah, sellers contribute a portion of the sales price to serve as down payment or closing cost assistance to the buyers, who receive those funds at close of escrow as a grant.

This is what I call Psycho Lender Math at its worst, since the lender is permitting the sellers to discount the home by a huge percentage while pretending that that same pile of money is coming to the buyers as a grant from a neutral third party.

The house still has to appraise for the full purchase price, so it really is just a seller discount disguised as a shell game — but if it means your house sells while all the others languish, you still might be ahead of the game.

These programs require advance legwork, so talk to your Realtor about what you need to do to participate. Note also that both programs are slated to be discontinued and are being kept alive, for now, by court intervention. If you do initiate a transaction involving Down Payment Assistance, it probably makes sense to act fast.

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Choosing second-best could get you the best possible home

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

Choosing second-best could get you the best possible home

Last week we talked about how, even with so many unsold properties, multiple buyers can somehow land simultaneously on the one property on the market that approaches perfection.

This is perfectly natural human behavior, if you think about it. Who hasn’t thumped a melon? Who hasn’t reached into the back of the cooler for the fresher milk? Who buys the brown ground beef when there’s redder meat available. We were not just born to shop, we will perish if we don’t learn to shop wisely and well.

It’s no different for houses. You have a certain amount of money available, and a certain selection available to you for that money. It’s completely natural that you would shop until you find the home that is far and away better than your other choices.

And it’s perfectly natural that other buyers would come to the same evaluation of the available inventory. They wold have bought the same melon as you, except you got there first.

But there’s still an important difference. A good melon is as good as it’s going to get, and a bad melon cannot get better. But a house can almost always be improved.

Here’s a melon-improvement strategy for financially-savvy home shoppers.

That home you fell in love with is almost certainly a production home — a tract home. Yes, it’s in great shape, and it’s staged to perfection. But guess what? There are three more almost exactly like it for sale on the same street. They’re not as clean, not as nicely-decorated, not as well-marketed — but that works to your advantage.

The difference between your dream home and what looks to you like a bad melon is really just a matter of money. If you put that money into the bad melon, it will be as good or better than your dream home.

So, rather than competing for the best house and paying top dollar, you can use it as leverage to get a lower price and seller concessions on a home that could be even more ideal for you — after you do a little work.

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If you’ve finally found your dream home — don’t dawdle

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link):

If you’ve finally found your dream home — don’t dawdle

Here’s a paradox for the ages: It’s been a strong buyers market for more than two years — and yet buyers still can’t afford to be lax about the houses they love.

How’s that? In our recent seller’s market, sellers were completely indifferent to home-buyers — as a matter of studied strategy. “We might consider your offer,” they seemed to say, “but not today. We’re letting the offers pile up until Monday or Tuesday, then we’ll take a look at them all at the same time.”

Why can’t buyers in this market approach sellers with the same bland indifference?

They can — provided they’re willing to buy just any home.

In a seller’s market, qualified buyers are essentially a fungible quantity. Each one is simply a pile of money in the seller’s eyes — some larger, some smaller, some sooner, some later. Allowing for risks and opportunities, one is as good as another.

Not so for buyers. Houses are inherently non-fungible — each one is unique in location, appearance, construction, condition, amenities and lifestyle factors. Even with so many homes for sale right now, it can be a challenge for buyers to find even one house they are completely committed to buying.

My take: If you want to get the best possible deal, pick three homes, not one, and pit the sellers against each other.

But buyers don’t do this. Instead, they look at dozens of sub-standard offerings, and then focus all of their attention on the one house they can find that is priced right, repaired and staged right, marketed right.

And guess what? Of all the houses these buyers will have seen, this is the one for which there is competition. The factors that appeal to them also appeal to the other folks out there looking for homes right now. The dirty or neglected or over-priced houses attract no offers, where the few that are truly market-ready can draw multiple contracts within a few days of being listed.

The lesson to take away: If you really love the home, don’t dawdle. Chances are, someone else loves it, too.

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