6 steps to sell your Southern California home for top dollar in 30 days.

Selling for top dollar fast isn’t all that hard, even in today’s slow market. Last month we took three listings, and had all three in escrow within 14 days of hitting the market.

In fact, our 30 years of experience has taught us that if you don’t sell in 30 days, you almost certainly won’t get top dollar. You’ll also be more frustrated with the whole process.
It’s not rocket science, either. The technology’s changed, but the basic steps to selling fast for top dollar remain the same. We’ve been teaching classes on them for almost two decades. There are only six key steps, yet very few agents or sellers complete even four of them correctly:

1. Preview & plan with a trusted adviser, often a Realtor with at least 15 years experience–one who’s been through a few slumps before. Actually, the most important step seems to be picking the right agent, and then picking his or her brains as early in the process as possible. We recommend starting by checking out our “Top 5 Ways not to Pick a Listing Agent.”

Develop priorities for steps 2 & 3 below, discuss what would be the best time to get the home on the market, and get a rough idea of the price & net you can expect.

2. Prepare the property. By now you should have determined which repairs and upgrades deserve your attention, and the time you have to get them done. Most sellers focus on the wrong things–things that bug them, as residents, but that most buyers don’t even notice.

Concentrate on things that a person would notice when just spending 60 seconds touring the home, because the first 60 seconds are the critical first impression period. That means the front yard, the front room, the kitchen, baths, & master bedroom. Don’t even think about fixing broken things that aren’t obvious, like an inoperable dishwasher. Those will be negotiated after the home inspection, and the buyer may not even care.

3. Stage the home. This is putting your best foot forward–like shining your shoes before a job interview. It usually involves removing clutter and some furniture throughout the home. Sometimes we recommend adding or changing furniture so that the home will appeal to the most likely buyer. For example, many sellers have converted a bedroom into an office or den after their kids have moved out, but frequently buyers need an extra bedroom more than a den. We actually have an inventory of what we call “instant beds” to use in such a situation. The slower the market, the more critical this step is.

We also instruct our sellers how to stage the home before each showing, which usually includes turning on extra lights and moving to the front yard while the home is shown. We usually discuss the questions they can expect from buyers and agents, and the best ways to respond (rule #1 is “Never lie.”)

4. Price accurately. Not too high, not too low. Based not just on recent sales but also on an evaluation of your competition–the best priced, most attractive homes currently on the market. Not based on what the seller values, but on the values of the most likely buyers, who are usually quite a bit younger than the seller. Here’s another place where an inexperienced, dishonest or lazy agent can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Also one who isn’t familiar with your neighborhood.

5. Wise, aggressive marketing. This involves doing dozens of things right: flyers, Multiple Listing Information & photos, web photos and virtual tours, property search placement, web and print advertising, open houses, etc. There’s a right way and many wrong ways to do each one.

For example, the only phone numbers on our signs and flyers are our cell phones. Sign calls don’t go to an 18 year old receptionist who’s never seen the property, but to one of the two listing agents, day or night. We’re even careful about the time of day and day of the week we input our listings. We shoot our own virtual tours because Blair’s a great photographer and we know what buyers are looking for (for an example, check out LosAlDreamHome.com.  Each home gets it’s own website with an appropriate domain we buy just for it. Our goal is to obtain competing offers the first weekend or two. By the way, we’re counting the 30 days to sell from the day it hits the market to the day you accept an offer.

5. Negotiate wisely. Again, dozens of things that need to be done right. Herb Cohen’s You Can Negotiate Anything is one of my favorite layman’s books on negotiations, but the real secret is to find an agent who’s an expert at it. It’s not just about price–terms, time frames, repairs, deposits, release of deposits, and the buyers’ ability to qualify & intention to close are also critical.

6. Disclose wisely, follow up regularly, and don’t blow it during the escrow. My mentor used to say 90% of our work is done once the escrow’s opened. With today’s crazy news and lending climate, that’s even more true today than it was in 1980.

We’re talking about correct execution of basic fundamentals.

Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Back to basics.”

And yes, you still can sell your home for top dollar in 30 days, with the right approach and the right help.

For a real-life example of the sort of teamwork necessary to implement this approach in today’s market, including some of the challenges, check out “The team that made it happen.”

As always, your questions, comments, and feedback is appreciated. You can also call us directly at 562.822.SOLD.

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7 Responses to “6 steps to sell your Southern California home for top dollar in 30 days.”

  1. Frustrated Seller Says:

    Sounds good, but I’ve already been on the market for three months with no offers. I’m not happy with my agent, either. What’s worse, she never told me that the listing contract I signed was for six months, so I’m stuck with her for another six months. What should I do?

    Dave Emerson here: Good questions! Unfortunately, you’ve got lots of company in your situation. As you discovered, it’s easy to miss something important when signing 5 – 15 pages of legal forms. There are several things to look for, including the length of the listing. Good topic for a future post.We offer all of our sellers an “easy out” satisfaction guarantee, which also facilitates communication & keeps everyone honest from the get-go. But that’s hindsight. Here are some thoughts:

    1. Getting out of an unsatisfactory listing: This depends on if the problem is mostly with you, with the agent, or just a matter of communication. Are you doing your part? If the patient’s not taking the medicine, the problem may not be with the doctor.

    If the problem really is with the agent’s incompetence, it usually isn’t that hard to negotiate a way out of the contract, especially if the listing’s overpriced and won’t sell anyway. Call the agent, & see if they’ll agree to simply cancel the listing, with no future obligations on your part. I’d try a non-accusatory approach initially: “Sue, for whatever reason, Bill & I have decided that this just isn’t working out. Let’s just agree to disagree and cancel the listing now, so that we can all move on and still remain on cordial terms without generating any unnecessary animosity.”

    If the agent complains about the time & money they’ve spent, you might offer to reimburse a part of that, maybe $100, if they agree to cancel the listing that afternoon–immediately. We’ve had situations where we’ve taken over listings and agreed to pay a small referral fee when we close the escrow to the previous listing agent who had cancelled .

    If the agent hides behind the manager or broker or regulations, it may be best to take it up with the manager directly. At this point, you may need to be prepared to discuss a few of the worst offenses the agent committed and how you’ve actually been harmed. Most (but not all) managers would rather cancel a listing than face a lawsuit. At the minimum, the manager may agree to switch you to a different agent in the same office. You can usually decline that offer, saying it’s too late for that because the office already failed to properly supervise the current agent, or you may want to interview the other agent & give it a go for a month or two if you like her.

    Looks like we’ve got enough for a whole new post here as well–hope this helps for now, but I do want to touch on one more thing.

    2. Starting over Changing companies and agents gives you a bit of a fresh start–if you take advantage of it. But it’s pretty easy to just repeat your mistakes with a different agent if you’re not careful.

    First, be careful to select an agent that’s honest, experienced, knowledgeable, and diligent. We’ve got several referral sources we use to find good agents anywhere, and would be happy to pre-screen for you. Just call 562-822-SOLD, or post a comment indicating the area you’re located in.

    Second, be sure to really start over, going through the first four of the steps we listed in the article, and making sure the agent can handle the remaining two steps as well.

    If you and your agent do it right, odds are you’ll be able to be in escrow for top dollar within 30 days of your new listing hitting the market!
    Just be sure there’s no further requirement in the cancellation. I’m not a lawyer, but my preference is to write “Cancelled” over the initial contract & have everyone sign it, ultimately including the broker or office manager.

  2. Madelyne Says:

    I was in a very similar situation, A friend told me about a website that helps ForSaleByOwner sellers with information etc. I did not think it applied to me because I had a realtor.

    But what I learned was that I could use the information they provided to keep tabs on my realtor ask the appropriate questions to know that he was working, everyday to sell my house and when I started getting more involved in the process it sold.

    It was like before it was out of site out of mind. I am sure there are loads of sites that offer this type of advice, but I was glad i was turned onto that site it was http://www.MyHouseJustsold..com

    Good luck

  3. Madelyne Says:

    oh sorry i messed up the link for you, here it is

    http://www.MyHouseJustSold.com

  4. Blair Newman and Dave Emerson Says:

    Madelyne,

    Great idea!

    Actually, you don’t even have to leave this site to check on your SoCal Realtor, or to search any Southern California Multiple Listing Service.

    Even better, you don’t have to deal with any “Please register” hassles or even give up your e-mail to use our M.L.S. searches.

    We have links to virtually all Southern California Multiple Listing Services in the right column near the top under “SoCal Multiple Listing Services.” SoCalMLS covers Orange County and Southeastern Los Angeles County, including greater Long Beach.

    The “M.L.S. Alliance gets you into all major Multiple Listing Services from San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties south to the Mexican border.

    You can search by zip code, price range, bedroom count, etc. If you’re a seller, once your listing comes up, just click for more info & you can check out your agent’s photos, remarks, and more. There’s also a link with more helpful search tips.

    By the way, if you feel your agent truly isn’t living up to his or her part of the contract, which generally includes “diligence,” in this market you may be able to negotiate a cancellation. Just be sure there’s little or no remuneration required, and that there’s no agreement to relist with the same firm down the road.

  5. Lakewood’s two real estate cycles Says:

    [...] By “activity” we’re talking about homes going into escrow, which is what the average Californian means when she says “Our house just sold!” (Not that the average Californian is saying that much right now. But she would if she’d read our post on “How to Sell Your So Cal Home for Top Dollar in 30 Days in Any Market.”) [...]

  6. Mark Pederson Says:

    I’m looking for an agent to sell my home in Parc La Quinta, La Quinta, CA. I’ve interviewed 2 agents but not sure I’ve found the one that will work best for me.

    Can you recommend anyone?

  7. Phil H Says:

    We highly appreciate your blog post. There are actually so many techniques we could put it to really good use with a minimum of effort in time and hard earned cash. Thank you so much regarding helping make the post answer many questions we have experienced before now.

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