I am going to tackle a question today because I think it is a question that a lot of Sellers ask themselves.  My friend Katie, whom I know from co-hosting a community WAY back when on iVillage, sent me this question.

“My sister is struggling to decide whether to toss her agent and get another one. How do you know? Could be the market, could be the agent. Her house has been listed since April and no offers. She gets about one showing a week and most are not her agent doing the showing. The agent has admitted that her hard core days of selling are over, that she “doesn’t need to sell 70 houses a year” which to me isn’t something you tell a client necessarily. She’s thinking about polishing the house up a bit with new siding (it’s the old 8″ aluminum now), regrading the driveway, etc. Trying not to put too much into the house that she won’t get back. Her main prob is NO A/C but they have a very efficient window unit that cools almost the entire house and it sits under huge shade trees. The utility bills are very low. That’s the one thing she hears back from realtors, that and no dishwasher! Argh!! It’s a perfect starter home with beautiful hardwood floors and this wonderful mature shaded lot and it’s perfectly priced (to me). I don’t get why it isn’t selling in our area.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this question “When do I toss my agent?”  I have also been that agent, if any real estate agent tells you they have not – they are not likely telling the whole tale.  You can’t be all things to all people, but that really has little to do with this sort of situation.

My listing in North Wilmington

Why won't a house sell? Many reasons, sometimes the agent too.

When a house doesn’t sell, the easiest person to blame is the agent. Whether they have done the right things, or not, more often than not the Seller isn’t at fault – in their opinion.  This holds true for so many things in life.  When things do not work out we cannot possibly be to blame, it must be someone else who holds the blame.

In this case blame is likely on both sides of the fence.  The agent is probably to blame for not setting realistic pricing expectations for your sister when she listed her home.  Then the market changed, without regular “relisting” appointments, or conversations, where you review the market conditions and comparables your sister would be in the dark.  It is difficult for a seller to know what is happening without expert guidance.  There is so much information available to us as real estate professionals to interpret, even predict, market conditions there really is no excuse for not having that regular contact.

What likely happened is that your sister’s home was priced too high for the market in April, when it was booming with tax credit buyers.  I would also surmise that it didn’t have the amenities that the buyer is seeking today.  You mention the lack of central air conditioning and a dishwasher, those are quite often two things a buyer MUST have when purchasing a house.

Air conditioning is something my clients ask for, so I end up putting that into my MLS search parameters, in which case your sister’s home is not getting the same exposure as an identical house with air conditioning.  People don’t often search for a dishwasher but they certainly look for one when they get into a house.  If it isn’t present – but could easily be placed – that isn’t an awful expense for a buyer to consider undertaking themselves after settlement.

It is most definitely a buyer’s market today and a seller needs to meet the buyer, not vice-versa.   As for the agent telling your sister that they don’t need to sell 70 houses a year – well it isn’t something I would tell a client, but it might have been intended to convey that they are selective about the properties they choose to list.

On the topic of showings,  I often refer buyers who contact me directly about one of my listings as the dual agency conflict can be difficult, in some markets it is not even legal to represent both sides of a transaction.  I wouldn’t put a lot of weight in who is showing it and more in whether it is getting showings.  I think once a week is too few, but it could be none.  When you are looking at the time line here – having listed in the tax credit frenzy and not sold, the slowdown in July, what becomes apparent to me is that the issue is very likely price.

I often tell my sellers if they are priced right they will sell in the first few weeks on the market.  I might be adjusting that expectation as the market conditions change, but you should at least have a nibble on the house if priced right.  Agent feedback should also indicate price opinions, what are they saying about price?  I would review that very closely.

Agent feedback is often one of the most valuable tools we have in reviewing what a house needs to sell.  I think you hit the nail on the head with the air conditioning and the dishwasher, both are easily resolved.  I don’t think aluminum siding is a deterrent for most buyers.  If she wants to spend money – price out the air conditioning and if affordable do it, if not throw in a few window units with the sale.   Do investigate whether it is feasible to add a dishwasher.

Before all else – review the market conditions and pricing very carefully.  I believe every house will sell at the right price no matter the amenities.  Throwing $15,000 to change siding, add air conditioning and a dishwasher, or drop the price $15,000?  I think that is the first choice to be made, not whether to toss the agent.  Your sister needs to do the following things immediately:

  1. Meet with her agent and review the current market comparables (properties that have sold in the last 30 days).
  2. Look at the market absorption rate (her agent can provide her with that number and explain how she calculates it).
  3. Review agent feedback.
  4. Act according to what you see in the first three steps.

After that, the direction or action, will be clear.

Hope that helps!  And what do others think? How would you handle this question differently than me?