Why isn't my House Selling?

publication date: Jun 8, 2010
author/source: Guest article by Sarah Walker, Freelance Property Writer & former presenter of BBC1’s ‘To Buy Or Not To Buy’

Why isn't my House Selling?

As a former estate agent, I know all too well that it is a fact that at least once a month one of your vendors will flounce into the office, demanding to know why you haven't sold their property.  Like it's deliberate, which I absolutely promise you it’s not.  Why would an agent take your property on to their books and spend an average of £800 taking details, marketing and advertising the property, to not sell it and not get paid a penny? 

But while it may not be deliberate, that’s not to say it’s not the agent’s fault to some degree.  There are really only two reasons why a property might stick on the market - the presentation of it, and the price – and while the former may have slightly more to do with the seller than the agent, it’s very much in the agent’s interest to deal with the subject.

The presentation you can do a lot about, and it really does matter if you want to appeal to as many people as possible. I was always amazed at the number of potential buyers who couldn't see past a shabby or messy interior, but the fact is that the happier and more at home you can make your viewers feel from the moment they walk through the door, the more positive they're likely to be, and the less any little imperfections will matter to them.  And presenting a property well doesn't have to involve a massive cash injection, just a little time and effort, so if you don't want to or can't redecorate, then it's very simple: de-clutter, have everything in its rightful place, but most importantly, make sure the property is immaculately clean.

A dated bathroom and kitchen, complete with a set of Auntie Beryl's floral curtains should be reflected in the price, and you can almost be forgiven for having every surface covered in ornaments and photographs, provided that they and the surfaces beneath them are spotless, because tidiness and cleanliness tells the viewer that you take pride in and care of your home, which in turn makes it feel a happy and well-looked after place.  Get the vacuum cleaner nozzle round those edges, some vinegar on the windows, dust every ledge and surface, move the furniture and clean underneath it, fling open the windows and pop a gorgeous bunch of lisianthus on the table and Bob's your uncle, you'll be on to a winner.  Trust me.

And the price.  Pretty much anything will sell at the right price.  Now you might say, "It's not the price, it's the location - not everyone wants to be on a main road ...".... Not at that price they don't!  If you're selling a 4-bedroom detached on a main road, it's going to have to be significantly lower in price than the similar one three streets away in a cul-de-sac.  Put yourself in the buyer's position - which of the two would you go for, and how much less would the one on the road have to be to make you buy it?  Or how about, "It's not the price, it's the decor - but that's just our taste, and if they can't see through that, they're obviously not serious about buying.  And that bathroom is fine, maybe not the latest, but they can't expect that ..."  Oh yes they can, and yes, they are serious about buying, but your pad is just £2,000 less than a virtually identical one around the corner which is beautifully decorated, just their taste, whereas they'd be looking at spending a good £10,000 on yours. Again, which would you go for?

Now you could say that it's the agent's fault for overpricing your home - which it often is, but let's not ignore the fact that a surprising number of sellers will try to demand that you market their home at an inflated price because 'that's what it's worth'.  No it's not, it's worth what someone will pay for it.  I know a couple whose house has been on the market for a year to date and they have received just two very low offers.  What does that tell you?  And another couple had their place on the market for six months, with no interest, then walked into the office I worked in one day and stated that in their opinion the reason we hadn't sold it was that it was underpriced and people would think there must be something wrong with it, so they wanted to put the price up by £30,000.  Extraordinary.

But back to the agent overpricing - do remember that an estate agent's 'valuation' is not a specific valuation, it's a 'market appraisal', and it's not an exact science.  I should know - I've got the odd thing wildly wrong in the past.  It's one person's opinion, which is why you should always get at least three appraisals and not necessarily go for the highest.  Ask yourself why an agent is giving you a value that high.  They're either inexperienced (and you would do well to enquire how long the 'senior negotiator' standing in your sitting room has been doing the job), or are so desperate to get another property on their books that they'll tell you pretty much anything you want to hear.

Which brings me to the main problem.  OK, so let's accept that your home is a bit of a mess (but hey, you've got children and lead a busy life - what do people expect?!) and for whatever reason, the agent has overvalued it by £20,000, which they now realise.  Why hasn't anything been done about it?  Why do people need to pay home staging experts, or call in Ann Maurice or the Trading Up crew?  Because the majority of estate agents don't want to risk offending their vendors by suggesting that their home is anything other than 'beautifully maintained' and/or aren't willing to admit that they got their initial valuation wrong.  So they spend four months and £800 on marketing, for you to then walk in, disinstruct them and take it to the agent three doors down the street, who will more than likely do exactly the same as they have. 

So I'm back at the start - not selling your property is not deliberate on the part of the agent.  It's stupid and shortsighted, but then that's a number of agents and the crux of the matter.  A good agent will tell you if there is something holding up your sale which you can do something about, or they will regularly try to get you to lower your price and they'll back it up with evidence: "We've had seven people view your house - five said it needed too much doing to it and two didn't like the location.  We asked the five if they would make an offer if the asking price was lower, and three said they'd consider it at £20,000 less, so let's drop the asking price by £10,000 and market it as 'offers in the region of...'".  That's what you pay an agent for and that's the kind of service you should be getting.  Now go forth and instruct - but not until your home smells like a summer breeze!

Sarah Walker, Freelance Property Writer & former presenter of BBC1’s ‘To Buy Or Not To Buy’.

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