Selling Your Silicon Valley Home: Staging & Color

When Silicon Valley home owners prepare their property for the competitive real estate market, they want to get a good return on their investment of time and money.  Often the best staging work is a matter of decluttering, updating or improving floor coverings, wall coverings fixtures and countertops.  It’s what I call “lipstick and rouge” rather than cosmetic surgery.  Please remember that the shift is from this being “your home” and a reflection of you to a product you wish to sell.  So it’s got to be appealing to the market more than anything else – and that means taking your own personal taste out of the equation.

Today let’s talk staging color.

Color for Staging

Years ago, the conventional wisdom was that all San Jose, Los Gatos or Santa Clara County home buyers wanted white walls “because it makes a home look bigger”. It is true that lighter colors tend to help with the light, bright and airy look, but all white is also all boring.  All white homes can be difficult to sell and too frequently those homes sell for much less or do not sell at all!

Do you find that the all-white look is the most appealing? Most buyers would say not – that a splash of color makes the room “pop” and more interesting and desirable. At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm them with it!


The three greatest temptations for sellers in a raging hot market

House for saleIn a raging hot seller’s market such as we are experiencing today in Silicon Valley, home owners may be subject to some very costly temptations.

Home seller temptation # 1: overconfidence on the market

Because folks read about the dozens of offers on some homes, by extension, it’s easy to believe that every home sells, for top dollar, with no effort or planning on the part of the seller. This is a huge mistake. Perhaps we should even call it a myth since it may be commonly believed.

In today’s wildly hot market, there are still some homes that DO NOT SELL. 

What are the odds that your home won’t sell?

I just pulled some numbers from the MLS today, July 23, 2018. You may find them surprising!

  • In Santa Clara County, there are currently 1274 single family homes on the market
    • 490 of them have been on the market at least 30 days – 38% are not moving quickly & likely need a price reduction, if it hasn’t already been done
    • 211 of the 1274 have been for sale for at least 60 days – 17% have had 2 months worth of open houses, keeping the home spotless, etc.
    • 107 of the 1274 have a “days on market” of 90 days or more – 8% have serious market rejection
  • These are not all luxury homes!
    • 9 are listed at under $1 million
    •  13 are offered between $1 million and $1,499,999 (“normal” houses in our area)
    •  9 are on the market between $1.5 mil and $1,999,999
    • 14 are listed at $2 million to $2,499,999 (these are still not luxury homes in most cases)
    • 11 are priced between $2.5 mil and $2,999,999
    • That’s 56 homes of 107 that are under $3 million. The balance are “high end homes”, which usually are more challenging to sell

The best homes, those which are well priced, well marketed, and are easily shown, sell within 2-3 weeks. After that, home buyers view them as stale listings and assume something terrible is wrong with them. After three weeks, unless the home gets a deep price reduction, it’s unlikely to get multiple offers.

This first temptation is the greatest one, and it often leads to mistakes in areas #2 and #3, listed below. (more…)

Why are some agents on Zillow, but others not there?

Question_markRecently an old friend asked me why some Realtors are on Zillow but not all Realtors are found there.  She was wondering if perhaps they weren’t really Realtors if they weren’t on that site. This is a very smart lady, and I thought if she was confused about it, anyone could be.  So today I wanted to go over that question.

When you see a real estate agent’s name and image on Zillow, it’s either because that person is the listing agent of the property being viewed, meaning that he or she represents the seller of that home, or is someone advertising on Zillow in that zip code.   The same applies with Trulia and nearly all online real estate portals or websites.

Why do some Realtors or real estate licensees choose to spend their advertising dollars on Zillow, Trulia Yelp, Angie’s List, FindTheHome, Movoto, Redfin, etc., and others do not?

Simple: it is how they decide to run their business, and how they expect to see a return on investment.

Often consumers believe that Realtors just help peopole to buy and sell homes.  It is true that we do that, but we are also business owners.  We spend time “on” the business, planning its growth, creating what should be future business, paying our work related bills.  We need to budget carefully and allocate our marketing and advertising dollars wisely or we end up with little to show for our hard work. Real estate is an expensive business – agents (usually) split income with a broker, pay business fees (thousands of dollars per year) to that company, pay dues for the MLS and Realtor associations, and many other things.    It is not uncommon for real estate agents to spend 20-40% of their net (after splitting with their broker) on marketing costs (fliers for listings, postcards, the for sale signs, photography, print ads, online ads and so on).

For some people, having an ad on the San Jose Mercury’s website, or Facebook, or any online site seems like a good idea and will help clients to remember that Realtor.  For others, their main marketing is print advertising, open house work (more time than money), or door knocking, or cold calling, email marketing, video email marketing, blogging, social media marketing, contacting for sale by owners or expired listing home owners, or simply keeping in touch with their sphere of influence and requesting referrals from them.  For most, a solid business plan includes several sources of new clients at all times, so most agents do some sort of combination of these or other avenues to grow their business.

Zillow is a very popular real estate site for home buyers and sellers all across the U.S.  Many real estate agents have decided that advertising there will bring them business.  Others would rather spend marketing dollars elsewhere.   It is neither to their credit nor to their discredit if they advertise on that site or any other.  It’s simply a business owner aiming for a good return on dollars spent.   There are good agents found on those sites and there are good agents who will not spend their money on those sites. Don’t be fooled into thinking that being on them makes a Realtor better, or that being off them makes a Realtor worse.  They are just agents who spend their money differently to grow their business.




Buying and selling real estate vs. lifestyle

Real Estate is Far More Than LifestyleThere are real estate marketing trends that Silicon Valley home buyers and home sellers are exposed to from realty professionals trying to win new clients, and perhaps many of these consumers do not realize the shifts in the marketing messages when they happen.  One such trend that we are seeing now is to try to focus consumers’ attention on “lifestyle”. The hope of this movement is to sell you on the idea that you’re not just buying (or selling) real estate, but a whole way of life.   To that end, a lot of energy and attention go toward the benefits of living in particular communities.

It’s all well and good to appreciate community events, great schools, beautiful parks, or whatever the neighborhood has to offer.

But at the end of the day, you aren’t buying lifestyle.  You aren’t purchasing the free concerts (they could disappear).  You aren’t buying the “walking distance” to the neighborhood grocery store (it could close).  And you certainly aren’t buying the nifty shops a half mile away (they could get seedy over the next 20 years and).

You’re buying or selling real estate, a house, a condominium, a townhouse.  In most cases, that means you are selling or purchasing land with some sort of housing on top of it (and if not buying it directly, as with a condo, you’re buying a percentage of it).  There are real estate contracts to be navigated, with very important ramifications resulting from the many, many choices made within it.  There’s a gauntlet of disclosures to complete and digest, a minefield of hints about property condition which should not be treated lightly for either buyer (who could get a lemon) or seller (who could get a lawsuit).  The neighborhood needs to be analyzed too, but not for the fun stuff that “lifestyle selling” peddles.   San Jose area home buyers will want to know if there are problem neighbors (most communities have at least one) and what issues do they bring – honking, screaming, garbage cans out all week?  Or are their brief visits from other people to that home’s doorstep at all hours of the day or night?  Is the property in a natural hazard zone? (more…)

Photos of your furniture or wall will not make buyers want to purchase your home!

Photograph things which stay with the home

Photograph things which stay with the home

Silicon Valley home buyers shop for their new house online first, and the most important element in their shopping (once price, size and location are considered) is the property condition.  That translates to this: photographs are extremely important!  After price, I would say that photos are the most important element of marketing a home for sale today.

In the past, I have ranted a little about agents who take or use poor quality photos, ones which are dark, blurry, involve clutter (such as cars in the driveway) etc.  Some listing agents are very sloppy, and their clients do not seem to notice, incredibly.  Even if the condominium is “distressed”, that doesn’t mean that the photos need to be!

Even when the images are clear and well illuminated, though, there’s a tendency of agents or home owners (who sometimes provide the photography) to include scenes which are pretty, but not relevant.

I’m talking about your piano, your bed against the wall, or that inviting leather chair and ottoman with a reading lamp in the corner.  None of these appealing pieces of furniture will stay with the house, and home buyers know it.  A wall is a wall…. And that means it’s not a helpful shot in terms of marketing your home.

Home buyers want to see the kitchen, the bathrooms, windows and doors. Closeups of tile work, leaded glass windows or an amazing front door work well, because these items all stay. They would like to get a sense of every major room and area in the house – but not your decor!  If the focus of the photo is on your sleigh bed or giant hutch against a long wall in the dining room, the mark is missed.

Most professional photographers will show how a room is used, so a dining room shot will include the furniture.  But the image will usually show more than furniture and walls – it will normally also display the light fixture, the flooring, doors or windows – all of which stay.




What do real estate agents think you want to know about them? Possibly nothing at all!

Who are you?The way that Realtors and other real estate licensees market themselves may impact the way the home buying and selling public view them – or even which questions to ask during an interview.  Ten or twenty years ago, realty professionals did a lot of “me, me, me” marketing.  We were told to have career books to show to prospective clients so they’d understand our value and what makes us unique in the sea of competition.  A lot of print advertising is still very much that way, as in “look what I sold”.  Online, though, and in person, the trend is to turn away from agent-centric marketing.

We in the business are told that consumers don’t care about us, they only care about themselves, and to tailor our messages accordingly.  “Don’t make it about you!  Make it about your potential clients!”  So many salespeople have little or no information about them, their experience, background, awards, etc. findable on the web or in the material they bring along when first meeting prospective clients.

To me, this is a very weird (but common) state. Why would a consumer want to hire someone to assist with an enormous financial decision, the contract, the marketing (if selling), the labyrinth of disclosures and inspections without a sense of who this person is or how qualified he or she might be?  Who does this “make it all about them” marketing approach serve? In my view, it helps the new, inexperienced or not so successful agent to appear to be even with those who are much better skilled and better respected in their industry. (more…)

Do You Need a Buyer’s Agent? Or Should You Find a Home, Then Use the Listing Agent?

curvy-roadA few years back, I took a client of mine to see about a half dozen homes in San Jose (Cambrian and Blossom Valley areas) and Campbell; all of them happened to be Open Houses situations filled with unrepresented buyers (people who did not have a buyer’s agent). We saw an incredible range of marketing styles on the part of the open house host. Some agents were so “sleepy” that they didn’t get up to greet us. Others were orchestrating traffic of such high levels that we felt like it was some sort of over-packed party. It was so busy that you could hardly even pay attention to the house.

In that last example, with the frantic levels of visitors to the property, the listing agents had grossly under-priced the house to attract attention. It did – there was virtually no place to park on the street!

Why would the Realtors under price a home by a very large amount? Here are a few reasons why they might:

  • traffic – the agent can bring a lot of people through the house (granted, many cannot afford what it’s actually worth)
  • that traffic can provide great leads to the agents for future buyers and sellers – the spin is “look how differently I market the home”
  • get a ridiculous number of offers on the home – with more offers, agents hope to get massive overbidding and sell at a premium (some of them, of course, will be lowball offers as they will come in at or close to list price, which is far below market value)

By creating an extraordinarily chaotic environment, the listing agents hope to motivate serious buyers so that they feel compelled to write their best offer. But if it’s under-priced by 25% or more, how many of those buyers will be able to compete or really understand the game at hand to write a viable offer on the home?

Those browsing Silicon Valley real estate & visiting open homes may not be armed with a good agent. In a scenario like the one I described above, hapless consumers may find themselves with an aggressive listing agent who’s (understandably) anxious to claim more clients. My client and I overheard a consumer speak with an agent and tippy toe around the subject of whether or not he had a Realtor. “You’re working with me, now!” exclaimed the hungry agent. It felt downright predatory.

Should the buyer work with that agent to write an offer on the home, or work with a buyer’s agent? Would you work with any agent who happened to have the listing or who held the home open? Would you feel like you and your best interests would be represented?


Understanding Descriptions in the Listing Remarks

glassesYou’re browsing through the online list of Silicon Valley homes for sale and only want a turnkey home. How can you tell, from the description, what the home’s true condition is? (Photos are often the biggest help, but some agents don’t post enough of them, or the quality is poor.)

Often it’s not what the Silicon Valley real estate agent says, it’s what he or she doesn’t say.

For example, when a home’s been remodeled, normally the agent will try very hard to convey this in the allowed words in the public remarks section. If anything has been replaced or updated, it will be in the remarks unless the agent is really not good at marketing the home. The comments should say “remodeled kitchen and baths” if that’s the case. If the kitchen and baths aren’t mentioned at all, normally that means that either they are original or are otherwise in need of remodeling now.

Silicon Valley Holiday Home Selling: Good or Bad Idea?

Christmas TreeShould you market your home for sale through the holidays?  It’s now early November, and if your property has been listed for sale but not gotten an acceptable purchase offer, you may be thinking of taking your house or condo off the market until sometime in the new year. Or you may be ready to sell but thinking that holding out until the new year will benefit you more. Is that a good idea?  Below, please find some considerations for you as you decide what to do.

Pricing: will the home sell for more now, or in the new year or spring?

No one can tell you whether prices will be better or worse in the first quarter of 2013 than they are now.  Prices are rising overall right now, in most areas of Santa Clara County.  But we do not know what will happen with the “fiscal cliff”.  We don’t know if the wonderful gains that 2012 brought will roll back in 2013 – we don’t expect them to, the economists believe that prices will continue going up, but no one can guarantee anything.  The market is never 100% uniform; even if the San Jose area as a whole appreciates or depreciates, it could be different from one price point to the next or one area to the next, with different markets in Almaden, Cambrian, or Los Gatos, or in your subdivision or school area.  But bottom line: we really don’t know what pricing will do, we only know the probable buyer’s value – a range of likely sales prices – right now.  Inventory is critically low, so there’s a far better chance of problem homes selling right now than when there’s a lot of competition.  Even homes with no issues will find that less competition is a big boon for selling.

Being disturbed during the holidays

Many home owners really don’t want a lot of traffic coming through the home from Thanksgiving through the New Year due to visiting relatives, events planned such as parties at the home, the presence of gifts and concerns over theft, etc.  They may also be worried about rainy weather and carpets getting soiled.

At the same time, though, during the holidays many of us make our homes warm, bright and inviting, particularly if we decorate for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, etc.  Even the smells can do wonders: gingerbread cookies, Christmas trees, hot mulled wine…. With family and friends coming to visit, we tend to “deck the halls” and make our houses really feel like homes.  For many condos, townhouses and houses, during the holidays these homes really show at their best. (more…)

How important is Social Media for selling a home in Silicon Valley?

Home sellers in Silicon Valley today worry about things they never had to worry about10 years ago, many of which they have little control over.  Like what? Much of it has to do with online or web marketing via websites, blogs, web portals and social media sites.   Here are a few:

  • County records on properties are now public and available online almost everywhere, including permit records, info on the structure and lot size, etc.  If the public or county records are incorrect, buyers still use them – so wrong info on home size, bedrooms, baths etc. can hurt market value, as can incomplete or missing permit files online with the city, town or county.
  • If the Google street view of the property happened on a bad day (say, the neighbors were having some sort of RV get together and the street was jammed with trucks and motorhomes or the yard happened to be in disarray), it can kill viewings.  Buyers and agents may skip that house all together if the “street view” makes it look bad.
  • Some websites that display the information on listed homes permit consumers to blog or comment about the home.  Consumer comments online  can be devastating if the remarks aren’t good!
  • If homes need good “social media exposure” to sell for top dollar, how can home owners know what constitutes good social media marketing – especially if I’m not on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or any of those popular sites? (Do I need to be on every site?)
  • Syndicated errors: If a home’s marketing is incorrect on the MLS but corrected later, will all of the sites it was syndicated to get the correction, or will the info stay wrong and cause us harm in marketing the house or condo? (more…)