Determined Owners Build Site to Sell Home

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HomesA buyer’s market may not be the best time to sell a house on your own, without a Realtor, but Richard and Celia Brown of Media, Pa., are trying to anyway.

Their marketing plan: technology, including a website and heavy use of social media; professional photography; high-end for-sale signs; and personal contact with potential buyers.

The Browns are not up against a deadline to sell their five-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath, 3,080-square-foot townhouse. Both have solid jobs: Richard, 37, is a patent lawyer; Celia, 32, is a marketing executive at a Dell division that produces cloud-based software.

But they do want a house with a yard for Alex, 3, and Jonah, 6 months. So they’re giving do-it-yourself real estate a shot.

In three weeks — and for an investment of about $300 — their website (http://www.mediatownhouse.com) garnered 300-plus hits, and the Browns showed the house five times.

That’s as many showings as there were between mid-March and mid-June, when they listed the house with Realtors, Celia Brown said.

She was quick to praise the agents’ professionalism, saying they “did their best” given the market.

In addition, she said, the original $499,000 price — about what the Browns paid 51/2 years ago — was difficult to support because of the absence of comparable sales.

This time, they’re asking $479,000, noting that a comparable townhouse sold for close to that in August.

While lauding Brown for her marketing skills and correct pricing, one real estate broker said she believed the couple could have sold their townhouse last year had they kept it on the market longer.

Noelle Barbone, office manager of Weichert Realtors in Media, said the comparable sale had been on the market for 155 days in 2009 but had been removed that September. After returning to the market in May, she said, that townhouse sold for $476,000 in 85 days.

The Browns “may not have given it enough time,” Barbone said. If they had, the buyer of the comparable townhouse might have purchased theirs, “because in looking at the photos, (theirs) shows beautifully, while the other did not look as good.”

County sales statistics show that homes in the $450,000-to-$500,000 range are moving slowly.

Celia Brown acknowledged that one reason for selling the house themselves was “to reduce the burden of a real estate commission, which will allow us to sell our home at a lower price.”

But Jeff Block, a Prudential Fox & Roach agent in Philadelphia, argued that “you do not save money with for-sale-by-owner, any more than you save money by growing your own food.”

“You will get less because you lack the experience and understanding of the most sophisticated agents,” Block said. “Any money you net you did not actually save. Rather, you earned it, because there are few things more time-consuming than properly marketing and selling a home.”

Once a buyer surfaces, price and terms must be negotiated, and then there are more negotiations after inspections, Barbone said.

“The savings of commission may not be worth the cost of defense should a buyer find fault with the property after settlement,” she said.

Philadelphia-area broker John Duffy said website “hits mean nothing” unless a qualified buyer steps up to the table.

And buyers assume they can negotiate the price down by the commission amount, Duffy and Barbone said.

“The seller markets and sells the home at a reduced price … for free,” Duffy said.

In today’s market, Celia Brown believes, the traditional real estate agency model is no longer suitable.

“Real estate has gone from being purely transactional to a process that requires nurturing and persuasive selling to a target market of potential buyers,” she said.

Cheryl Miller of Long & Foster Real Estate in Blue Bell, Pa., said there was “some degree of truth” in that.

“Things have changed. Times have changed,” Miller said, and Celia Brown “is doing a lot of things right. She feels empowered because she can track the traffic in and through the various avenues of her marketing efforts.”

Miller said she would never have allowed the Browns to take the house off the market when they did. The expiration of the federal tax credit last year was followed by price corrections, she said, meaning that sale prices will be much lower this year.

“Wise counsel,” in addition to marketing, is what she and others offer, Miller said.

Barbone agreed that Brown had “the right idea in that many real estate agencies have not upgraded how they market property today.”

“I would like to reach out to her to see if she would be interested in getting her real estate license.”
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HOW TO MARKET A HOUSE ONLINE:
Tapping into technology is the right way to sell a house today, the experts say, whether they agree with Celia and Richard Brown’s for-sale-by-owner approach or not.

And you don’t need a degree in IT to put the tools the Browns are using in place.

Look at some real estate websites. To market just one property, you won’t need anything cutting-edge. Don’t spend too much. But don’t spend too little, either: Chintzy isn’t pretty.

You’ll need a domain name. For the Browns’ site, www.mediatownhouse.com, the cost was $12.99 for a year. And you’ll need a host for your site. With free hosts, you may get what you pay for. There are always deals, however — $7 a month for unlimited storage is good.

One Web page will probably be enough. Some hosts provide a choice of templates and step-by-step instructions on how to get the site up and running without much fuss.

The Browns’ host supports a 360-degree slide show and a photo album; their photographs were taken professionally. But if you are handy with a digital camera, you can take the photos yourself. Your computer likely has software for editing and sizing for the Web, creating slide shows and albums, and maybe audio for synchronized narration.

Remember, presentation is important. Litter the site with too many bells and whistles, and the message “House for Sale” could get lost.

Social media? Sign up at www.twitter.com and www.facebook.com and start following and friending. Set up links to both on your website.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, a real estate agent should be able to handle it.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.