For more than 20 years, a federal government manager and his wife lived happily in a sprawling lakeside house in an upscale suburban community. There they raised six kids through their college years. But one summer day, tragedy struck when one of their daughters drowned while boating on the lake.
Devastated, the couple in this true story felt an urge to sell their house and move immediately. But after contacting their real estate agent, they were persuaded to delay until they could get beyond the worst of their upheaval.
“People navigating through a personal crisis are in a difficult position to sell. One problem is that buyers can sense their urgency, which makes them potentially vulnerable to unfair lowball offers,” says Tom Early, a longtime real estate broker who heads an independent firm.
Unfortunately, not everyone going through a major transition can postpone the sale of a house, says Early.
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“But just because you must sell quickly doesn’t mean you have to let your property go under desperation terms,” says Robert Irwin, author of “Tips and Traps When Selling a Home,” and a number of other real estate books.
Here are a few pointers for those who must sell under less-than-ideal conditions:
1. Investigate recent sales in your area prior to setting your price.
Even before your home is listed and open for showings, your agent will likely recommend an asking price. But before accepting any pricing recommendation, all sellers, no matter how hurried, should do at least a nominal amount of research.
“Tell your agent to give you a list of nearby properties that have sold recently, along with the final sum they yielded at closing. Then take that list, get in your car and drive by these homes, noting how they compare with your own,” Irwin says.
2. Consider a price just one notch below prevailing market values.
Surprisingly, sellers on a tight deadline can often receive more for their property if they price it just 2 percent or so below its apparent market value.
“Pricing a tad low generates excitement from buyers. More people are likely to bid if they perceive the property to be good value. And competition can push up your final proceeds,” he says.
3. Use the power of delegation to ready your home for market.
If you’re selling quickly and in the midst of a personal crisis, the odds are you'll have no more than a few weeks to get the home ready for show time.
“You need a selling plan that’s abbreviated but still covers all the bases,” Irwin says.
One obvious way to reduce your prep time is to hire contractors for work you might normally do yourself.
4. Arrange a backup plan for your property’s sale. Sometimes even a home that’s well located and accurately priced will fail to sell quickly for reasons hard to determine.
To avoid panic in this situation, Irwin recommends that people selling in the midst of a life-changing situation develop a “Plan B” for coping should the process take longer than expected.
Maybe you'll arrange for a trusted relative to take over responsibility for your home sale. Or perhaps you'll want to “buy time” by putting your property up for rent for a few months.
Arranging for a contingency plan helps you avert thoughts of worst-case scenarios, Early says.
“That way, you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that your plans still go forward even if you experience unwelcome delays in the selling process,” he says.