Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider!

Thinking about selling your luxury home in Atlanta? Here is our “Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider” checklist.  Check it out!

Top 10 Checklist for Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers

After nearly 20 years in Atlanta’s residential real estate trenches, we continue to see 80% of the homes struggle to sell in the Luxury niche.  Most people write that off to the uniquenesses of the homes in the most prestigious neighborhoods.  It is true.  When home automation systems and customized cabinets can each run $250,000, personal preferences can add up fast! Not to mention raw land value, stunning terrace levels and outdoor entertainment amenities.

So, we decided to use our insider perspective from previewing and selling these homes over the years to create a Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider checklist.  Our goal was to create a tool to use in interviewing various real estate professionals for the job of managing the sale if we were selling a luxury property in Atlanta today. Most real estate professionals can talk a good game and flatter your house.  They can also let you drive the process.  Why? Because getting their sign in your yard carries prestige and generates leads – whether your house sells or not.  That brings us to the difference between “Listing” your house and “Selling” it. We wanted to create a checklist that actually sells the house.

Here are our basic assumptions:

  1. The house is occupied and filled with personal furnishings.
  2. There is no financial pressure to sell fast – Selling is a lifestyle choice.
  3. In addition to this being our home, it is a large asset. We want an aggressive Realtor to manage the sale so that we know we got the highest price possible.

To get started, we used the basic categories for selling any home – Pricing, Condition, Marketing, Negotiations and Systems.

Pricing

1. Get a SOLID Pricing Plan based on objective market data.  Forget the slick real estate company marketing pieces and polished agent resume’s.  Everyone in real estate sales can cook their numbers to make themselves look good.  What really matters most is what someone is going to do for YOU.  Get a pricing strategy that looks like a well thought-out business plan – customized for your house.  The reality is that for the third quarter in 2014, 34% of luxury properties went thru multiple listing periods with 50% going through at least one price reduction.  So, your pricing plan also needs contingencies when life does not go exactly as planned. The odds for outright failure with homes listed above $1.5M stands at 57%!   Only 1 in 5 sellers get the strategy right from the start. You want to be one of those sellers. The key is market awareness and optimum price positioning.

Condition

2. Listen to the staging experts. We believe Sun Tzu made a great point when he a wrote “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”  Preparation is a HUGE part of the success formula when selling homes for the highest price in a reasonable period of time without major league hassles.  If you really are planning to move, start now! No one lives in a model home environment because model homes are set up to show the house in the best light – even if it is not functional for real life.  Sort of like airbrushing a magazine model or digitally altering a photograph to make it more flattering. Captivating the buyers takes effort and skill. We even use a 2-Step Process for Staging our listings.

3. Form a team so you can make things happen in a timely manner.  Most people do not have a list of contractors at their fingertips.  There are various sources for vendor  recommendations but do you really want to conduct multiple interviews ro get your house ready to sell? You need a list (or a person with a list) of good contractors who are reasonable AND trustworthy. You need contractors that will do a good job and stand behind their work because they may be called on something comes up on your Buyer’s home inspection.  These days, contractors are busier than ever.  Getting contractors out for small jobs can be a challenge because anyone who does good work is booked.  Your best bet is to hire a real estate professional who has people they use all the time so you can knock the to-do’s out on your schedule.  DO NOT WAIT until the items show up on an inspection report when you are under contract with the clock running.

Marketing

4. Your marketing plan HAS to be geared towards lifestyle rather than facts and features. Most full-time real estate professionals will have broad-spectrum internet syndication channels for marketing your home.  There is no need in getting too worked up about any particular website.  Try it out for yourself.  Where would you look for houses in a particular area? Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Redfin?? National real estate websites like Zillow have spoiled us all with the ease of access to listed properties.  They have revolutionized the initial phase of the house shopping process.  The result? Digging through printed magazines, newspapers and smaller niche websites feels like a real pain in comparison. So, people don’t do that much anymore.  Don’t worry, your house will get found.  What you should worry about is your story and your photos! MAKE SURE YOUR AGENT TELLS A STORY about your house THAT CAPTIVATES THE AUDIENCE.  In our view Staging is a given.  Professional photography is also a given. Storytelling, though, is an art. In the luxury realm, you do not need a book of features for a Buyer to labor through.  You need a story that they can’t stop reading.

5. Make SURE you get high quality photos. Today’s buyers are flooded with images from websites like Houzz and Pinterest.  Most of those images are painstakingly crafted to produce energy and emotion thus sparking some sort of dream.  An an example, some of our projects can be viewed on our YouTube Channel.  When it comes time to sell a house, home seller’s can easily underestimate the playing field because they are emotionally involved.  The tables get turned as sellers go from “being” the consumer to “having to appeal to” the consumer.  After reviewing countless photos, we have found that not all professional photographers have the same eye when it comes to capturing the strengths of a home.  Some photographers have a consistent hue on the coloring.  Some photographers do better with features and lighting.  Some make you just shake your head… The key again is to look at previous projects – that is how we found the photographer we use and we could not be happier!

6. Use special events, deadlines and timing to your advantage.  There is a reason companies like Sotheby’s use auctions to sell luxury items like art.  Buying luxury art involves discretionary spending.  Beauty and value are in the eye of the beholder.  In an Auction Environment, the pending sale deadline and competition drive the prices higher than they would get if simply advertised for sale with no specific sense of urgency.  The typical concern with real estate auctions is that they can come off sometimes looking like a bit of a cheap circus.   However with a known luxury auction service like our partner, Supreme Auctions, the luxury real estate auction experience has been redefined – not unlike how Cirque du Soleil approached the circus 🙂  Crisp, professional, exciting and well worth the price of admission.  Make sure your marketing plan includes some innovative steps to create auction environments.  You will net more money!

7. Video can only take you so far.  We have seen some really impressive video productions for houses that did not ever sell.  With most of these videos, the objective is image branding for the real estate agent rather than a high percentage shot for selling the house.  Why? Because time after time houses stand on their own.  Location, pricing and condition prevail.  The luxury buyer is well-educated in the market.  Some times even more so than most agents because the buyers are hyper focused on a market niche where they want to live.  Luxury buyers who are seriously in the market to buy spend their leisure time browsing and comparing properties on their tablet, phone or laptop.  They generally know when a house is out-of-bounds on pricing.  They may watch the slick video (if it is under 3 minutes), but they are not going to overpay for a house because of it.  If the photography is really good, the video is just a curiosity that may take too long to download on a mobile device.

Negotiations

8. Rehearse the contract negotiations in advance.  Make sure you hire a real estate professional who ACTIVELY previews properties in your price range and in your area.  There is no substitute for first hand knowledge when it comes to contract negotiations. Your Realtor also needs to have professional negotiation training and the poise to hold firm when necessary. If you are interviewing agents, go through some scenarios and role play to see how they would respond under pressure.  If you are not interviewing agents and already have one in mind to use,go through some scenarios and role play to see how they would respond under pressure 🙂  How would they defend your house? You may end up interviewing other agents after all… Tens of thousands of dollars are at stake here and you need someone who can manage the negotiations with confidence and skill.

Systems

9. Make sure you have an established routine for gathering information and follow-up.  Speaking of checklists… Make sure you have checklists throughout the process for monitoring your competition, following up on showings, sustaining the marketing campaign and promoting your property.  Top agents will have documented systems that they use routinely because predictable results come from systematic behaviors.   This is where the details matter.  Yes, your house could “fly off the shelf” with multiple offers and in that case, all the preparation and strategy worked to perfection.  That is just not very common in the luxury realm.  So, it is better to plan thoroughly so you can win the sale under average market conditions with other luxury sellers who have prepared well and have solid marketing strategies.  Real estate agents are usually very personable.  For the most part though, they are not naturally gifted with details.  Ask to see the checklists and systems! You do not want someone managing your sale who just wings it.

Google

10.  Google can reveal A LOT.  One thing people may not think of when interviewing real estate agents is to Google the agent’s name to see what comes up.  You might be surprised. Results vary from nothing, to mug shots, to social media posts to professional websites and blogs.  If nothing comes up, the agent is not very active online so they may have limited influence with organic marketing efforts.  If mug shots come up – well, you know what to do with that.  Usually, some sampling of the agent’s professional endeavors comes up and you can get a feel for who the agent is, how they approach their own marketing and whether or not you are impressed with that.  Can you lick up on the agent’s personality? Does it  feel generic (like some service is producing the content)? Chances are they will market your house with the same level of professionalism that they market themselves. Don’t expect them to change their approach just for you – while your sale hangs in the balance.

Bonus

11. Proactive Prospecting Increases Your Chances of Selling.  If you are looking for the X-Factor when is comes to selling houses it is probably prospecting.  If you are selling your house on your own, you will be faced with doing this and if you are not in the habit of prospecting it probably will not get done.  Hiring a real estate agent who has a daily routine for calling people they know to proactively prospects for buyers will give you an advantage over marketing plans that do not include prospecting.  THIS can be an interesting question to pose to a real estate agent in an interview – especially if they got into real estate for unlimited income and a flexible schedule.  Those notions fight against daily prospecting habits and systematized selling procedures.  We have found the most successful real estate agents manage their schedules well and thus can in turn manage your sale well too.

On second thought… this applies to just about any property!

Sure, you can borrow my Ferrari

Can you imagine saying “Sure, you can borrow my Ferrari” ?

FerrariMy guess is that when it comes to your own Ferrari, you think twice before tossing the keys to a friend or family member so they can take it for a spin.  My thoughts go to… I know you have a car – but this is not just any car. Do you know how to drive a manual transmission?  Can you take off on a hill? Have you ever driven a car this powerful before? Are you an aggressive driver? Are you a careful driver?

The reason I chose this analogy is that Ferrari’s cost as much as houses in some cases and even minor accidents result in costly repairs. In the case of a Ferrari, the repair cost for even minor damage can make your head spin. In the case of a selling a house, a lack of skill and experience can cause accidents too. In either case, you hope for minor accidents if you have any. Real estate licenses are relatively easy to obtain so many people have them even though real estate is not their full-time profession. That means we all probably have friends with real estate licenses. That does not mean they need to be “driving” our real estate moves though. Especially since the road to selling a house today is getting more and more complicated.  I am not talking about getting it under contract… I am talking about getting it closed.  And, without costly and stress-ridden surprises.

Look at it this way: While all of us have friends with a real estate license, very few of us have friends who are Ferrari experts. When it comes time to sell your house, treat it like a Ferrari! Get it detailed. Get it inspected. Get it appraised. And then toss the keys to a Ferrari expert so they can go get you the most money possible for it. You will be glad you did!

Choosing an Agent based on Price

Choosing an agent based on price can be a big mistake… Selecting the best agent can be counter-intuitive if you don’t look at this decision from all angles.

success

Sometimes, my assessment of the likely Sale Price is below what a Seller was hoping for.  Sure, I could be being overly conservative.  I also see Seller’s being gamed by agents too. So, here is the WARNING: I am setting my diplomatic filter aside on this post. If you are a potential Seller and are interviewing agents, here are 8 points to consider:

  1. Stretching the List Price is not necessarily a problem – as long as we can defend it and the property can appraise.  We have been very effective at defending our pricing on appraisals lately. No last minute contract amendments to lower the price because the property did not appraise. On the other hand, we have statistics that show Seller’s pay a “greed penalty” when the List Price is pushed above the limit. When we agree to list someone’s home, we take on responsibility for someone else’s money.  When someone else’s money is involved we have to live in the land of “probability” not “possibility”.  If a seller wants to gamble with their own money, we are happy to go on that ride up with them (up to a point) as long as they understand the risks.
  2. The most objective and accurate predictors of the value of your property are the recent sales. Those will be what buyer use, those will be what agents use, those will be what appraisers use.  Reality is in the numbers both from a timing perspective (i.e. the data shows sales for houses like this running about 1 sale every 3-4 weeks now) and value perspective (i.e. renovated homes like yours on the street are selling for $x).  Frankly, I am stunned when real estate agents could come up with a drastically different assessments.  But I see it. Your challenge is to keep asking questions to get at specific comparable properties to back up your price – not just an agents opinion.  They will not be able to bluff you past the appraiser.
  3. I do not think pricing is as much of a opinion question as it is an education process on how agents work.  There is a term for over-pricing listings just to get a sign in the yard –  it is called “buying” the listing. All agents know this term.  The agents who do this just concede the argument and assume the Seller will eventually cave in to the market reality of a lower price.  In the meantime, these agents know they will get visibility and sign calls from potential buyers which they hope to convert into clients.  Part of their motive is to get their sign in the Seller’s front yard as “bait” so that if the house does not sell, hopefully the agent will have at least picked up a buyer or two who will buy something else.
  4. We compete with agents day in and day out and our assessments of home values are sometimes higher and sometimes lower.  Pricing is really an art and a strategy rather than a hard answer. Our primary motive in any listing appointment is to figure out how to best project what the house will sell for in the current market.  It is not to hedge our bets and use the seller’s property to generate leads.  In the end, we believe we are positioning a property within the competition with both price and condition so yours is the best value. That should be your goal.
  5. We always seek to gain the Seller the highest possible price in the time they need with the least hassle. ALWAYS. Once Price and Condition line up, it is time to market the heck out of the property! Make sure your agent has a detailed plan for doing just that.  IF that plan includes sequenced price adjustments, make sure they are advancing your interests rather than the agent’s.
  6. You have access to discount brokerage models that offer lower fees.  We believe you get what you pay for.  So, if you are not paying very much… the agent will be covering their costs whether you sell or not. They will also probably be looking for compensation from other sources. Don’t overlook this conflict of interest. http://coachbunch.com/2013/02/08/selling-your-house-with-a-flat-fee-or-discount-broker/
  7. We do very well with isolating the strengths of a property.  We also have to be good at quantifying issues to be accurate on our projected sales prices.  When an interviewing agent mentions the weaknesses and offers strategies for overcoming them, please do not penalize them.  It is much cheaper to address issues ahead of time before you are under the microscope of being “on the market”.
  8. It is easy to hope in opinions about higher prices.  So just remember, agents are not bidding on your house by offering competing list prices.  You should however pay particular attention to how they handle themselves during a pricing discussion with you.  THIS will be a great indicator as to how they would negotiate for you down the road.

 

Estate Planning and Elder Law

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine enthusiastically referred me to an attorney who specializes in estate planning and elder law.  My friend and his wife are approaching retirement and these two topics were front and center in their mind. My guess is that most of us have heard the term “estate planning”.  The term Elder Law was new to me though.  So, I arranged a meeting with Victoria Collier to find out more.  After attending one of her workshops I got a sobering picture of what it can feel like to procrastinate in these areas.

Strategy and Planning result in the most informed decisions and fewest unpleasant surprises.  Estate Planning and Elder Law definitely fit into that category. I believe Victoria Collier will be a great asset to our team for our clients as we navigate complicated scenarios with their real estate.  One of the biggest ah-ha’s I had from the workshop is that estate planning and trusts are not just for the ultra-wealthy.  In fact the fewer resources one has available, the more crucial it becomes to stretch them as far as they will go!  The rules are complicated and even professionals can give erroneous advice if they do not specialize in this field.  These are crucial issues that unfold at the most vulnerable time of life.  Please, please plan ahead – at least for the basics.

Here is a link to Victoria and her firm.

Victoria Collier Law Firm

 Suspect someone you know is being affected by Alzheimer’s?  Click here for a resource Kit

 

When I read this testimonial, all I could say was “Wow”

When I read this testimonial, all I could say was “Wow”!  Do you have a dream that seems to keep getting so bombarded by life events to the point where you wonder if you should just back off?

Committed to QualityThis recent client testimonial did not just touch our hearts – it showed us our dream has come true!  So we are sharing it here not to brag for we are deeply humbled by it and know all too well how fragile great service can be. But rather because we are amazed at how well it articulates what we want every one of our clients to experience.  

We also understand many people are not on LinkedIn where this was published.  So here it is:

“Michael listed and sold my house in the Atlanta area. Given the current housing market conditions, it was amazing that he got it done in a little over 6 months. The reasons he was able to get it done and at a selling price that worked for me, are many:

  1. Integrity personified. Michael ensured we understood the challenges we would be facing trying to sell an upper-scale home in the current housing market (mid to late 2012). He never misrepresented anything and we went into it with eyes wide open. He handled all communications with prospective buyers in the same professional manner and was able to convey our terms to the prospects effectively.
  2. Superior communications skills. One of the things that impressed me the most about Michael is his ability to communicate clearly, completely, yet concisely both orally and in writing. When I spoke with Michael I always felt as if I were speaking to the CEO of a Fortune 100 corporation.
  3. Market knowledge. Michael knows the Atlanta real estate market better than anyone I know. He knew intricate details about recent comparable sales in my competitive area and was able to successfully position the listing price we selected to prospective buyers.
  4. Leadership. Michael’s team is truly top notch, undoubtedly due to his excellent leadership skills. Every member of his team did an absolutely wonderful job: The “stager”, the photographer and his office team, especially Mr. Bernie Sotola. Michael ensured that Bernie would follow up with every prospect who looked at my house and provided invaluable feedback to us so we always knew where we stood with each prospect.

I wholeheartedly recommend Michael Bunch and his team. I only wish I had him to assist us as we look for a new home in our new location!”

Here is the property: