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Dollars and Sense

Selling your home? Here’s why it’s finally time to get real on pricing and adjust those expectations

Photograph: istock/skodonnell

When the Great Recession hit the real estate market, houses in the area lost upwards of 25 percent of their value, and yet most sellers remained convinced their homes were exceptions to market conditions. The result was a glut of high-priced inventory that sat unsold until asking prices were reduced or the properties were taken off the market. This season, there’s good news for homebuyers fresh out of hibernation: They’re more likely to find the house of their dreams at a cost that is much more realistic than it may have been in the past.

The New Attitude
“Pricing is typically extremely important, but in the current market it really is everything,” says Hugh Halsell, president of Brotherhood and Higley Real Estate and a longtime New Canaan resident. “Prices in this area have not seen any great appreciation from the lows of 2008 and 2009, but the local market is better now that sellers are realizing their houses aren’t worth what they thought they were. Sellers, it seems, have finally adjusted their expectations.”

How It Evolved
It’s taken a while for sellers to let go of those unrealistic expectations that took root in the boom decade prior to the recession, back when homes were skyrocketing in value. And those expectations were strengthened by an inaccurate perception of the way listing brokers price properties. “Some people assume brokers price houses simply to move them quickly,” says Halsell. “But good brokers look out for the sellers’ interests and are going to give sellers their best pricing advice.”

Another presumption among sellers has been that high listing prices can always be negotiated down, so why not list the house at pre-recession levels? There’s a problem with that logic: namely, buyers who look for houses in New Canaan and Darien are savvy, sophisticated and well-educated about the local market. “They have a good sense of relative values and are attracted to well-priced houses,” says Halsell. “They generally don’t pursue houses they perceive to be overpriced. They assume that if the owner is asking too high a price, chances are good he is not going to come down very much.” Instead, these buyers choose to look closely at homes that have competitive prices to begin with.

Market Outlook
The good news? The real estate market in our towns is heating up again. “There hasn’t been enough inventory, and the weather this winter really hurt our area,” Halsell says. “But things are coming on left and right, with houses under $2 million the strongest part of the market.” More expensive properties still sell, he adds, but “the upper price range has been more challenging.”

Sellers’ Mantra
Regardless of the market segment, Halsell’s advice to sellers remains consistent and upbeat. “The right price will do it,” he says. “Pricing is everything.” To increase the odds of selling a home at the price you want, Halsell suggests weeding out the clutter. “Remove the unnecessary stuff,” he says. “You’re going to have to get rid of it anyway when you move.” Cleaning up the grounds can make a property more attractive, too. “These aren’t expensive fixes, and they’ll help you put your best foot forward.”