Struggling to sell your home?
When you have your home up for sale, time seems to stand still. You’re in limbo, caught between your old life, and your new one, with no way of knowing when you’ll be able to move on – both literally and emotionally.
As the weeks turn into months, and the viewings dry up, it’s easy to become despondent and dispirited. Especially when you see house after house in your area sell, even those that came to the market long after your house did.
You can’t define why no one seems to want your house; you chose a professional estate agent; your asking price is about right; you have kept your house looking lovely for viewers, so what’s gone wrong?
Time to start again
Maybe you’ve been trying to sell for several months now, or even years. Our record at AshdownJones is a beautiful Victorian home in Grasmere that had been on the market for a staggering seven years! It’s not at all uncommon for frustrated sellers to contact us after two or three years on the market, wondering what they can do to improve their situation.
Of course, if you ask your estate agent, you will no doubt be told that your asking price is at fault, and that you should reduce it – often drastically – without delay. Consider then, the house in Grasmere. In its seven years of marketing, it had been reduced incrementally from £1.25 million, to where it was when we were asked to help, at £800,000. That’s a 36% drop. And it still didn’t sell. What did we recommend? A price increase! The property was remarketed at £900,000 and sold almost immediately at £875,000. Evidently, the asking price was not to blame for the lack of a sale.
First things first
It's time to go back to the drawing board. Let's pretend you have never tried to sell, and instead plan a launch of your home to the market, but this time, getting every aspect of your marketing campaign right, right from the start.
1. Take your house off the market
Yes, I know it probably feels counter-intuitive, but it really is the best thing you could do to improve your situation. A break from the market has several advantages:
- It gives you a break. After months or even years of waiting for the phone to ring with a viewing, trying to keep the house in viewing-ready condition, and generally being in a state of limbo, you deserve a rest!
- It helps you take back control. Instead of being at the mercy of your agent and the buyers, you will decide when your house will be available for sale, and no one else.
- It stops your house becoming stale. Let’s face it, after so long on the market, your house probably is stale, but by taking a break, when you re-launch, it will be to a different set of buyers.
- It gives you the chance to take stock and plan a launch properly. If, after reading through this guide, you decide on an action plan before you go back on the market again, you’ll need time to plan and implement any changes to your marketing and your house.
As a rough guide, it’s best to take your house off the market for at least one month for each six you’ve tried to sell for. For example, if you have tried to sell for three years, then a six month break from the market will give you the best possible chance of a successful re-launch.
2. Give your agent notice
If your agent demands a notice period, then give them formal notice in writing, but ask that in the meantime, your house is withdrawn from any online advertising. This will give you the space you need to start planning your re-launch.
3. Read this guide all the way through
Read this guide all the way through, very carefully, writing down anything you think you can and should do to make this marketing campaign more successful than the last.
4. Choose the right time of the year
Good timing is vital – certain times of the year are better for selling your home than others. For example, homes for retirement tend to stick on the market during the winter months, when elderly buyers prefer not to trawl around properties. Families prefer to move at the beginning of the year, or before the start of a school year, in September.
Know your buyer and plan according to their timescale, not yours. Once you have decided on a re-launch date, add it to a calendar in plain view, and use it to schedule in the rest of the tasks you need to do before that date.
5. Get your home ready
Make sure your home is ready for photography and viewings. Perhaps this is a step that you rushed or even overlooked the first time you put your property on the market, but it’s vital you spend time and effort, and even money, on this very important preparation for marketing.
Look at your property objectively, or get a friend to give you some feedback. Is there anything you could do to make it more attractive without spending a fortune? Ask a home stager for professional advice, or visit show homes in the area for inspiration.
Find your new agent
6. Think about instructing a new estate agent
The estate agent or agents you have used to market your home previously may not be the best to re-launch your house to market effectively. After all, they have tried and failed to sell your property! Perhaps their marketing materials were at fault (photography, brochure, online advert), or maybe they just had the wrong approach with buyers.
Whatever the reason, their motivation and enthusiasm for selling your home after trying for some time without success, is bound to be low. Sometimes you just need an agent with a fresh attitude and new enthusiasm to add new life into a marketing campaign.
7. Try ‘mystery shopping’
Try ‘mystery shopping’ all the agents in your area. By this, I mean call them and ask about a property they are selling. Make it one in your price range, if possible, and perhaps even about a property that you consider is a competitor of yours. Keep your questions open, for example ask “can you tell me a little bit about this property?” so that they have to expand on the written description and try to ‘sell’ it to you. Note the following:
- Are they friendly? Do they seem forthcoming and enthusiastic about the property in question?
- Are they knowledgeable? Is it obvious they have been to the house themselves, or are they just reading from a written description?
- Do they invite you to view the property? After all, that should be the ultimate aim of any agent receiving an enquiry from a buyer!
- Do they ask you any questions? It’s important that they ascertain your requirements in terms of the kind of property you are looking for, and also your buying position: for example, are you currently living in a rented property, or is your home sold subject to contract?
- Do they take contact details from you? Without your name, address and phone number, you are just another enquiry and they have no way of following up your interest.
8. Compare your results
It’s a good idea to plot the results of your mystery shopping exercise on a spreadsheet, so you can see how well each agent did. Once you have these results, take the top two or three performers, and look at their current property portfolio. Objectively scrutinise their marketing efforts and ask yourself:
- Do they sell properties that could be considered to be similar to yours, in terms of price and calibre?
- How would you rate their photography, written descriptions and brochures?
- Are they better or worse than those produced by your current or previous agents?
9. Interview your agents
You should now be in a position to select perhaps two agents to interview personally. Given that you have tried and failed to sell previously, it is very easy for a prospective agent to criticise the competition (never good business practice) and suggest the asking price of your property is too high. That’s not what you want to hear! So ask them:
- How would take our marketing to the next level?
- What can you improve upon that hasn’t been tried before?
- What sets you apart from the other agents?
- Why will that give us a better chance of success?
Don’t just choose the agent with the lowest fee and highest valuation. Take a considered view on their professionalism, their success locally, and whether you like them or not. After all, you’re going to be working quite closely with them for some time.
Show off your home
10. Review your photographs
Take a critical and if you can, objective view of the photography used by your last agent or agents to market your home. Is it really good enough? Look at the photographs of the best homes marketed online by Savills, Knight Frank and the other premium agents. Does it compare, or do your images look like the agent has just snapped them in a hurry on their small point-and-shoot?
11. Choose your photographer
Professional photography really is vital to help sell a house effectively online. Buyers don’t like reading text and will often decide whether or not to view solely on the photographs of your house. If your agent doesn’t offer this service, it’s worth paying for it privately. That way, at least the images belong to you if you decide to change estate agents down the line.
Choose your photographer carefully, and don’t necessarily select one who photographs properties for estate agents – these often display no creativity in their images, having been urged by their agent clients to simply use the widest angle possible to photograph every room, in the style that 95% of estate agents use.
Instead, select a photographer who has photographed home interiors for magazines, or even architectural photographers. The latter are especially skilled in bringing out the features of a building, so if your property has any architectural merit, perhaps a period or listed home, then this could be the best option for you.
A good photographer will charge anything from £200–£500. depending on their skill level, experience, the distance they have to travel, and the size of your home. A typical three-bedroomed semi-detached may only need a couple of hours of a photographer’s time, whereas a large rural rectory could easily take over half a day.
12. Choose your words
Once you have your home presented beautifully and some gorgeous photographs, the next step is to turn your attention to your written description. The words you use to describe your home in your brochure and online advert really need to sell your home to a buyer.
To differentiate your property from your competition, use lifestyle descriptions that sell the dream, not the bricks and mortar. So instead of saying ‘a modern, well-presented home that needs an internal viewing to appreciate’, which is the kind of agent-speak sure to turn a buyer off, try instead something like ‘this bright and airy home is perfect for the growing family, with spacious rooms and a wonderful garden’ – much more appealing!
Try to really capture the essence of your home and why you bought it, into the written word, taking care to avoid clichés and other meaningless sentences. Your estate agent may want to edit your text slightly to make sure it not only complies with the Consumer Protection Regulations but also so it fits in with their own style; do however really impress upon them the importance of your property description standing out among your competition. After all, it is you who has the most to gain – or lose – by your property advert.
13. Insist on quality
The same rule applies to your property brochure. If your estate agent produces property details on the office printer, don’t accept it. Brochures should be printed professionally on quality card so that your photographs look as attractive as possible.
14. Name your price
The final decision to make before you are ready to re-launch your home to the market, is the asking price. There are several factors to consider when setting your price:
- Does your agent support it? If you set your asking price way above that which the agent recommends, their lack of support could well be evident in the way they talk about your property to their team and also to buyers. If they are strongly against your preferred asking price, it may be time to rethink your choice of agent, or your price.
- Is there precedent? If your home is unique, there may well be a lack of comparable properties, and therefore you have much more flexibility in the price you choose to market your home at. However, if you are in a row of similar properties, chances are that there will be plenty of historical evidence to guide you into choosing an asking price that fits in with those of your neighbouring properties.
- Does it fit in with an online search? Nowadays more than 90% of property searches are done online, so you need to select an asking price that will ensure your home is found by the maximum number of buyers searching the property portals. To maximise the number of buyers who will see your property, stay away from the 9s, such as £499,999, and instead choose a rounded figure that fits in with the price bandings the online portals use, such as £500,000.
15. Choose your time of the week
You’re ready to go back to market! Plan to re-launch your home to the market on a Thursday or Friday, to generate weekend viewings. The first four to six weeks are key to successful selling – research shows that any offers you receive during this time are more than likely to be the best you will ever get on your property.
16. Tidy up – and stay tidy!
Once you are on the market, keep your home spick and span, and beautifully tidy. Buy fresh flowers, and keep new towels and bed linen just for viewings, so you can quickly freshen up your home with minimum effort when a buyer books a viewing.
Try to make sure that no matter how little notice you receive of a viewing, you’re ready and willing to show your home and to be proud of it. I know this isn’t easy, especially if you have a busy family life, but buyers are often spontaneous when it comes to viewings, and will sometimes call the number on the board while sitting outside your house, wanting a viewing there and then! Don’t lose them just because your home is untidy and you don’t feel confident about showing it to them. After all, they could make an offer.
17. Make sure your agent is working for you
Keep in touch with your agent at least once a week, if not more frequently. Ask to see your Rightmove Property Performance Report and any other indicators of activity by buyers online.