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Internet information makes buyers more value conscious

Buying and selling a home is no longer just about location, location, location. Given the instability of the Dow Jones and the housing market, buyers have become more discerning and are now focusing on value, value, value.

And we are living in a virtual marketplace, said Dana Cohen, a Realtor with the Grubb Company, with 10 years experience in Piedmont, Oakland, Berkeley and Albany.

“Today, over 90 percent of buyers use the Internet to search for a home.  Often, ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decisions are made with a few clicks of the mouse.”

Looks really do matter — at leasts when it comes to selling homes in a competitive marketplace.

Cohen added: “The Internet has altered two key services of a real estate agent: the property selection process and the home tour. Today, buyers select a list of homes that meet their criteria (size, price, bedrooms, location) by using websites like Realtor.com or Trulia.com.”

So what can homeowners do to prepare their homes for sale in times of uncertainty and virtual overload?

“Homes that show well sell for the highest price and in the quickest time,” said Cohen. “Particularly important are the conditions of the front garden and walkways and especially the front door, since the first impression creates an instant and lasting image in the mind of a potential buyer.”

Cohen said that everyone wants value and to feel that they’re getting “a good deal.”

Susan Sims, a Realtor with Alain Pinel in Los Altos, agreed that appearances definitely matter and add to a home’s saleable value.

“People need to make their homes as visually appealing as possible,” said Sims, who has worked in the industry for eight years.

She recommended that sellers clean out their homes, repaint the interiors and exteriors, polish or replace the flooring, and undertake massive landscaping.

Deborah Lopez of the Paragon Real Estate Group in San Francisco said homeowners need to “clear out all the clutter and personal belongings. Make the house look as spacious as possible.”

Lopez, with 35 years experience as a Realtor in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, went on to say that homeowners should also “wash all windows and clean or paint the front. And if budget permits, refinish hardwood floors and repaint the interior.”

She added that sellers’ makeovers prior to putting a house on the market depend on their budgets.

“Does this mean that every home needs the $10,000 to $20,000 investment to be showcased?” Cohen asked.  “Not necessarily, but its price will need to be adjusted downward enough to make its primary appeal one of ‘value’ in relation to its competition.”

Cohen also counseled that preparing a house for sale includes everything from “having carpets and upholstery professionally cleaned to repairing all leaks, replacing all bulbs, and putting new batteries in all the smoke detectors to dusting and vacuuming constantly.”

After upgrading the home’s appearance, the next big step a homeowner can take to increase the house’s value is to “stage” it. Realtors hire a design company to bring in furniture that, according to Cohen, can “show off the beauty, features and benefits of your home.”

Sims added: “Staging can make the difference in a house selling right away at the highest possible price. It gives the buyer a chance to envision how the house could look.”

The third area for homeowners to concentrate on is disclosures and inspections. “We do all the inspections upfront,” said Sims, who covers the Peninsula and the South Bay, “so the buyer can review everything before they prepare an offer. Buyers don’t like surprises.”

Then, Sims said, the buyer and seller avoid going into any kind of renegotiation which could sabotage the deal. Getting all the revelatory paperwork done beforehand ensures the smoothest transaction.

Even after a seller takes all the proper measures to prepare the home for sale, there is still a lot of other legwork to complete.

“Sellers need to learn as much as possible about the market so they can understand pricing,” said Mara Kahn, with Wine Country Group Realtors in Sonoma and Napa, a real estate agent for nearly five years.

Sims said that “pricing is the number one important thing” for a seller to consider before putting a house on the market.“ No matter how great the house looks, there will not be many offers if it’s overpriced. People must have a realistic price.”

She added that the real estate market is “a unique business because every listing is different,” and this forces sellers to labor to showcase their homes.

“The optimum price for your home should relate to recent selling prices of comparable properties in the immediate neighborhood, not to their asking prices,” recommended the Grubb Company’s Cohen. “After the initial marketing impact, evaluate the number of showings and offers received. If there is too little action, be aggressive and drop the price significantly every 3 to 4 weeks to meet the market.”

After everything is said and done and the house has been scrubbed clean inside and out and a staging company has it ready to appear in a Hollywood film, Kahn offered one last bit of advice: “Trust your Realtor to be able to help you.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.