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Home Sellers: How to Stay a Step Ahead of Buyers

The author of 'Next Generation Real Estate' has eight tips to get your price

By Brendon DeSimone | June 13, 2014
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Brendon DeSimone is author of Next Generation Real Estate and writes a weekly Zillow Blog column that is syndicated to 250 newspapers and media properties, including MSN Real Estate, Yahoo! Homes and AOL Real Estate.

(This article is adapted from Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling by Brendon DeSimone.)

If you’re aiming to sell your home to what I call today’s “next generation” buyer, you need to get into the mind of that potential buyer.

And if you haven’t sold a home in a while, be prepared for much more knowledgeable buyers than in the past. The information buyers collect about your house, whether good or bad, can be used in your favor, as long as you anticipate what might arise in their minds.

(MORE: How Boomers Can Hook Millennial Buyers)

Doing some reconnaissance work in advance will inform you about things you may not have planned for and will allow you to take corrective actions before you put your home on the market. The goal is to eliminate as many red flags as possible in advance. That’s smart selling and more money in your pocket at closing.

Here are eight things you can do to stay one step ahead of the Next Generation buyer:

1. Google your address. You never know what will come up when you do.

I received a frantic email from a frantic seller who explained that five years earlier his bike was stolen out of his open garage. He filed a police report, which the neighborhood newspaper picked up. The seller had forgotten about this incident, but after the buyers Googled the address, they became concerned about crime and safety there.

Any number of things could come up in a search of your property address. Googling it ahead of time will allow you to come up with a strategy should questions arise.

(MORE: The End of the Suburbs)

2. Google Street View your block. I once took a listing on the ground floor of a three-story building in San Francisco. The windows were at sidewalk level and they had bars on them from years earlier. As part of the prepping process, we gave the home a new paint job and built out a small garden on the sidewalk next to the home to create a buffer between people walking on the sidewalk and the home.

Unbeknownst to us, a serious buyer Googled the address and looked on Street View. There was the same home, with a bad paint job and bars on the windows. It looked like a different home altogether and raised a huge red flag to the buyer about safety in the neighborhood.

3. Research your home at the local building or planning department. Nearly every municipality has online access to public records of each property. In the past, potential buyers had to spend hours scanning the microfiche in the basement of town hall to do their research. Today, they can do so with just a few clicks.

What should you be on the look out for?

One example is a wrong use code for your home; in essence, is it a legal two-family home but the city says single-family? Or you might find an old permit that was never signed off on when your contractor did some work for you a few years ago. This could pose a problem down the road. If you figure it out before you list, you can remedy it or present the solution in advance of the buyer asking for one.

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4. Search the address in the Kids Live Safe database. Buyers with children will certainly find this tool essential. And you might be taken aback once you see who’s living within a half-mile radius. Doing your due diligence on this sensitive and important issue will help you and your agent cut concerns off at the pass.

5. Read the police blotter. Although you might assume you’re living in a safe neighborhood because you’ve never had an issue, it’s possible there could have been some type of crime nearby.

6. Look up your listing and sales history. A property’s sales history, days on the market or previous sale used to be locked up in the real estate agent’s database and the only person with the key was the agent.

Now, it’s all out there.

Was your home listed a year earlier, but failed to sell? A buyer will see this and try to understand your history or motivations.  Did you buy the home two years earlier for 10 percent less — or 10 percent more — than your list price? Buyers may try to leverage history to their advantage.

7. Take a lot of quality photos. If you looked up the listing from when you bought your home, would you be satisfied with the photos that could still be out there in cyberspace?

Today’s buyers are high-tech, curious and research-oriented, which raises the risk that they’ll run into those not-so-flattering photos from the old listing.

So give the people what they want: pictures (lots of them), a 360-degree tour of your home and the ability to navigate your floor plan as they would a video game.

Some shortsighted buyers skip perfectly good listings simply because only a few photos are available and mostly of the same room. They think the seller is trying to hide something.

8. Know the most recent comps. Any good agent and seller will have studied the comparable houses in the neighborhood before setting a price or listing the home for sale. However, sometimes one comp is off the charts in a bad way. One home may have sold at a huge discount because of a death in it or due to an expensive structural issue. Know the backstory of any comps that aren’t in line with your list price.

Although these exercises may seem tedious and time consuming, you must assume that every serious buyer will use whatever information is available to pick your home apart before making a serious play for it. Be prepared.