What Agents Look for When Listing Homes

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By Brendon DeSimone

After having toured thousands of homes over 10 years of selling real estate, there are certain things I look for immediately when assessing a property. In general, I’m looking for qualities that will help the home sell quickly — or warning signs it may be a tough sell.

Whether the property is in New York, New Haven or Nevada, here are 5 things I look for when evaluating a property. Keep in mind that these days, first impressions — a real estate agent's as well as those of buyers and sellers — are often formed online.

1. Location

When I see a new listing hit the market, the first thing I consider is its location. I know that if the property is on a prime block in a good neighborhood, it will automatically get a lot of credibility and attention from potential buyers. Conversely, if it’s on a bad block, or even a so-so, or good block in an undesirable neighborhood, it’s going to be a tough sell.

2. Period charm

The next thing I consider is if the property was built during a historic or earlier time period and if so, if it evokes the charm and style of its era. In San Francisco, for instance, you’ve got lots of peaked roof Victorians. In Los Angeles, there are mid-century modern-style homes. And in New York City, brownstones continue to be desirable.

Many buyers will pay more for a property with Old World charm and a type of construction that isn’t done anymore. It’s just not possible to rebuild in, say, the Art Deco or Victorian style, and expect the rebuild to have the same desirability as the original. Bottom line; If you own a piece of history, it will always hold more value than another property that lacks period character or charm, even if the historic property isn’t in the best condition.

3. Curb appeal and first impressions

Curb appeal, in the form of landscaping, the front door, and a front-yard flower garden, used to be the first impression most people had of a home for sale. Nowadays, many people get their first impressions of a home through a property listing or an email from their real estate agent. They may take a virtual tour of every room in the house, look up the sales or permit history, or even Google the seller before setting foot inside the home. And so, curb appeal has gone online, in a sense.

However, many times real estate agents will list a property online before they take photographs or without taking photographs. Or the agent may take pictures of the property with their phone’s camera — which often produces low-resolution images — and post these photos online. And so, prospective buyers get their first impressions of the property by looking at old pictures or low-quality photos. That’s why it’s so important to have sharp, high-resolution, professional photographs of your home taken before it’s listed. Those pictures are, in essence, the new curb appeal, and if done improperly, you may discourage prospective buyers from even driving by your home.

4. Fixtures and finishes

Let’s say you’ve got an attractive property in a desirable location. Excellent; you’re way ahead of the game. The next thing I look for is how up-to-date (or not) the fixtures and finishes are.

Many buyers tell me they can’t imagine renovating. They want a house that’s already “done done done.” Or they might say they’re OK with a small renovation over time, but that they want a property in move-in condition. Maybe they want to add value to the property by making more substantial upgrades on their own. I factor all of this in as I look closely at a property’s fixtures and finishes.

Do the bathrooms have high-end or cheap fixtures? Is the kitchen outfitted with modern Caesarstone countertops or older granite? Is the stove electric, the refrigerator a relic of the 70s? For kitchens and baths, I look to see if this property is move-in ready, if there’s room for a buyer to add value by updating or if the property needs a gut renovation.

The worst-case scenario is when I see a property that’s been recently renovated, but the fixtures, finishes or style of renovation aren’t appropriate to their particular market, or that obvious corners were cut to save money. A buyer isn’t going to pay top dollar for a renovated property if they have to re-do the second-rate renovations.

5. Layout

How the property is laid out makes a big difference to buyers. You can have an awesome renovated home in the best location. But if the layout of the house doesn’t fit the profile of buyers in your area, that can be a problem.

For example, many families in San Francisco look for homes with all bedrooms on one floor. This makes it easy to check on the kids or to have everyone nearby. A small mid-century home, in which the previous owners added a basement bedroom and bathroom, would therefore be a tougher sale in a San Francisco neighborhood popular with families.

Another example: Many people today like to entertain at home (a trend that’s likely to continue, especially during tough economic times), with guests hanging out in the kitchen together as the host cooks. As a result, a floor plan with an open living/kitchen/dining area will be more attractive than one in which the kitchen is tucked away at the end of a hallway, far from the living or entertaining areas.

Adding it all up

Of course, every market is different and every buyer has different needs, wants and requirements. There may be buyers out there who want to be in a less-desirable, but up-and-coming neighborhood. That buyer may also hate older homes and only wants something new and modern. Regardless of the buyer’s particular interests or needs, these five qualities will always be among the first things a realtor looks for when reviewing properties.

A seller can’t physically move his house to a better neighborhood or transform a 1980s home into a 1880s Victorian. Even so, the more you can do to make your property as attractive as possible in these five categories, the easier it will be to sell your home.

Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor and real estate expert based in San Francisco and New York. He is a contributor to Zillow Blog, has collaborated on multiple real estate books and is often quoted by major media outlets. You can follow Brendon on Twitter.

—For more tips and tricks on getting the most out of your home sale, visit MainStreet’s “Selling a Home” topic page for our latest coverage!

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