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Things Homebuyers Should Never Say During an Open House

Touring open houses in a quest to find your new home is exciting for any homebuyer. And while it’s necessary to ask questions while checking out a home, there are some comments potential buyers should keep to themselves.

First, real estate agents, the home’s sellers and the neighbors all have a vested interest in what you say during a tour. Some agents and sellers have even been known to plant recording devices to capture your opinions on the home. This can be a problem for candid buyers, whose comments may leave a bad impression on the seller. The owner could retaliate by being less cooperative or less likely to sell to you based on your opinions.

Second, it can be dangerous to state your opinion of the price of the home. Claiming that the home is too expensive or asking about a specific price before making an offer will give the seller and listing agent more power in the negotiating process. It’s best to discuss a home’s price once you’ve left the property and are with people you trust with that information. Once you’ve made up your mind, making an official offer is the best way to proceed.

Last, don’t forget that the property you’re touring is still the seller’s home. Don’t offend the seller with negative comments about their home’s decor, furniture or personal effects. Focus on the layout and imagine how your own furniture and design elements would look instead. This is a professional transaction, so it’s best to act accordingly and avoid transmitting negative feedback to the seller.

Once you’ve figured out what questions to ask and what comments to keep to yourself, you’ll be able to navigate open houses successfully and, with any luck, find the home of your dreams.

Read the full list of things buyers should never say during a tour, here.

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How FSBO Sellers Can Get the Same Exposure as Agents

More than 80 percent of homes sold are on the MLS, so it makes good business sense for FSBO sellers to think and market like agents — and respect what they bring to the table.

But because by-owner sellers have so many resources at their command these days, they can successfully accomplish the tasks of a home sale, such as pricing and marketing their property, that were once considered the exclusive domain of real estate agents.

In fact, thanks to online services, selling a home is well within the capabilities of anybody willing to follow a series of step-by-step home sale instructions.

“Sellers reach motivated buyers who are conducting their own home searches regardless of whether they’re working with an agent or not,” says Eddie Tyner, general manager of ForSaleByOwner.com, one of several online services that help sellers bypass real estate agents and their 6 percent commissions.

FSBO sellers can achieve the same results as agents by following their exact steps:

  • Use the Multiple Listing Service. “Harnessing the power of MLS is key to getting maximum exposure for any listing,” Tyner explains. “FSBO sellers with listings on their local MLS get their homes in front of the entire buyer agent community.”
  • Be seen on other home-buying websites. Agents don’t rely solely on the MLS; they cover all possible online bases, including Zillow.com, Realtor.com, Yahoo Real Estate and Craigslist. A good online service will automatically syndicate by-owner listings to these resources.
  • Create a professional listing for your property. Because most buyers begin their home search online, an attractive listing with creative text and compelling photos is essential.
  • Market smart by networking. Successful sellers know that people talk. That’s why printing fliers, advertising in community newspapers, mailing postcards to all of your neighbors and telling everybody you know about your property is so important. You never know who might have a friend who’s looking for a house just like yours.
  • Have an open house. This is where many by-owner sellers fail to emulate the pros, according to Derek Morgan, manager of broker services at ForSaleByOwner.com. “Too many sellers just stick a sign in the yard,” he notes. A top-notch open house requires that it be promoted several weeks in advance, that signs be placed around the neighborhood and that visitors be screened to determine which ones are seriously interested in the property and deserve follow-up contact.
  • Assemble a team of professionals. FSBO sellers can’t do it all themselves. Just like agents, they need to have an experienced real-estate attorney and title agency in on the deal. Tyner describes hiring a lawyer — usually for no more than $500 or so — as one of the most cost-effective steps in selling a home.

When FSBO Sellers Will Want to See an Agent
Although a by-owner seller won’t need an agent to sell a home, often a buyer will bring his or hers to the table. At this point, you’ll need to realize that an agent who delivers a high-quality buyer deserves to be compensated. Typically, you’ll grant them a 3 percent commission.

“We are in favor, actually, of paying an agent if they bring you a buyer, as this is value you might not otherwise get,” Tyner says. “But listing the house, getting it on the MLS and all that, we just don’t think it’s worth the tens of thousands of dollars that some people pay.”

Read more: The Shocking Truth About FSBO Home Sales and Agents

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Always Be Closing: Work-Live Space Closes a FSBO Home Sale

Aaron Stanton has been working out of his home office for the past 23 years. The location of that home office has changed a few times, but Stanton’s basic need for a personal space to work from has remained the same.

“I sell industrial materials for a variety of vendors, so I spend some of my time on the road and the rest of my time working from home,” Stanton says. “And each time I moved, I made sure to upgrade my home office. I spend a lot of time there, so I want to make sure it’s something I like.”

When Stanton decided to sell his house in San Diego, he knew he could use his home office — “the office of my dreams,” he says — as a selling point for like-minded individuals.

“Working from home, especially if you do it for years, requires a strong sense of focus and perseverance,” Stanton says. “If you have a great home office, it helps you stay focused. It becomes a key part of your career.”

The 47-year-old father of two says he targeted salespeople when he listed and marketed his home, which he did without the help of a real estate agent. “I spread the word with colleagues, I posted about my home office on some social media groups, and I mentioned it to several of the companies I have as clients, just because most of them had their own sales reps who worked from home,” he says. “You just hit your own circles of personal and professional contacts and hope something sticks.”

Stanton’s most recent office (at the home in San Diego) featured expansive windows, bamboo flooring and an 18-foot ceiling. “The ceiling was key,” Stanton says. “I never felt like I was closed in. I always felt like I was in an open space.”

That feeling, Stanton says, was much different from those in previous home offices. “I’ve sat at a kitchen table, an old door propped up on two file cabinets, a desk I bought at a garage sale and the typical Ikea desk,” Stanton says. “The rooms ranged from an enclosed screen porch to a cramped attic to the end of a hallway.”

Still, Stanton knew that his task was always the same, no matter the setting: sell. “If you’re in sales, you work the phones and your email constantly,” he says. “If you don’t, you’re not working. There’s no stagnation in sales, no dead time. You always have to be looking for the next lead or trying to close the latest deal.”

Because of that constant need for movement, Stanton made sure he kept his home office in a perpetual state of “controlled panic” when he had showings scheduled for potential buyers. “It would drive my wife crazy because she said the rest of the house was so clean and the office was a mess — but it wasn’t,” Stanton says. “I had lots of dates and notes on my whiteboard, lots of papers on my desk, lots of Post-it notes stuck to my phone.”

Stanton, who moved to Northern California to help care for his parents, says his strategy paid off, although in a way he hadn’t intended. “I did get a few inquiries from some colleagues and peers, but to be honest, the house was priced a bit beyond them,” he says. “The irony was that I eventually sold it to a real estate agent who was checking out the place for a client but ended up loving that office. She said she needed a better place to work every day, and that when she saw my office, she knew she’d found it.”

Read more: 6 Step Guide to Showing Your Home

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Selling a Single-Family Home With Big Appeal

If your house has a piece of furniture or art that’s prominently featured, it might be a good idea to work with it instead of against it when staging your home to sell.

That’s what Fort Myers, Florida, resident Laura Brown did. Or at least that’s what she did when she decided to let the contract with a local real estate agent expire and sell her house on her own. “I had this big table and my agent hated it,” says Brown. “She made me move it into the garage when we started showing the house because she thought it would make people feel like they had to have a big family to buy my house.”

A big family certainly wasn’t necessary, says Brown, but she did feel like the new owners should be people who enjoyed entertaining others in their home. “When my husband and I bought this house 20 years ago, we did it because our six children were all grown up and had moved out on their own,” say Brown, who sold their four-bedroom home in Cape Coral, Florida, before moving to the house they most recently sold in Fort Myers. “At the time, people our age kept talking about downsizing but we had six kids, seven grandchildren and lots of good friends. We figured a house with a big pool and a big kitchen would be a nice place for people to get together.”

It certainly has been. Brown now has 14 grandchildren and says “I make a new friend every day,” so the large home has come in handy when entertaining others.

And the most important item in their home? “It has to be the big table,” says Brown. “It’s where everyone sits and eats together.”

Brown, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 31 years, first envisioned life with a spacious table after seeing the movie Big Night in the mid-1990s. After watching the film’s actors laughing and talking across a large table, she knew something like that had to have a prominent place in her home. “Just the idea of all these friends and relatives sitting around a big table, enjoying a big meal together, it just made me happy,” says Brown. “I figured that it was what I wanted my retirement to be all about.”

Brown convinced her husband to hire contractors to knock out a wall and open the kitchen’s space dramatically. When the room was ready, the hunt for the big table began. The Browns finally located one at an estate sale at a family farm in Georgia. “It was just this massive thing,” Brown says. “And it came with 14 beautiful chairs. It was perfect.”

Upon moving the table to their home, Brown says their lives changed for the better. “We’d host large dinner parties on Sunday nights,” she says. “All these old men and women drinking wine, eating food, arguing and laughing. It was wonderful.”

But last year, after Brown’s husband Nick suffered a stroke, the couple decided to move to an assisted living community. When her real estate agent saw the table, she asked Brown to move it out of the kitchen so it wouldn’t intimidate people who didn’t have larger families or a large group of friends. Brown had the table moved to the garage, where it sat for six months while potential buyers filed in and out of her home, none of whom made a serious offer.

When the agent’s contract was up, Brown decided to embrace the table and its meaning when she showed the home on her own. “We put it back in the kitchen and the house felt whole again,” she says. “And people liked it. It gave us a chance to tell them why we did it and they seemed to pick up on the strong vibes.”

Brown went as far as serving food during two separate open houses, inviting her guests to stop and eat as they walked through her home.

“It might not have been too effective, but I wanted people to see what it felt like,” she says. “It did end up helping us out, though. One of the men walking through the house called his sister, who also had six children, and told her he had found just what she was looking for.”

When the woman made an offer, she asked that the table be included with the house. “I didn’t mind,” Brown says. “I’d rather it be used than sit in storage.”

On the day before the closing, Brown and her grandchildren scratched their names into the underside of the table. On the day after the closing, Brown and one of her daughters were invited to join the new owners of her home for dinner. They gladly accepted.

“We talked about the house, the pool, the neighbors, where we shopped, where we ordered food, but mostly it was just therapeutic, to be honest,” says Brown. “Her kids were loud and obnoxious and all over the place. Her brother and his wife were there and so was one of their old neighbors, who helped them move. It was just a nice crowd sitting around the table. It was perfect.”

Read more: 7 Tactics for Preparing to Negotiate

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How to Design an Online Listing That Draws the Most Buyers

Nothing attracts a shopper’s attention like a good price and a pretty picture, and the same is true when it comes to home sales.

Online services are a great way for a seller to reach thousands of prospective buyers — but if your listing ad is poorly written, has blurry photos and an inflated asking price, no one will bother calling for a showing.

Creating a listing that stands out from the rest falls under “marketing,” squarely in the middle of ForSaleByOwner.com’s five-step process for selling a home.

“These steps are exactly the same regardless of whether you use an agent or sell a home yourself,” says Eddie Tyner, general manager of ForSaleByOwner.com. “The key to success is to think like a professional and create a professional-looking listing.”

The importance of a good-looking online listing can’t be overemphasized, Tyner says, since nine in 10 buyers used the Internet at some point while looking for a home, and more than half started their search online, according to the National Association of Realtors.

3 Key Elements of a Good Property Listing:

  1. A traditional real-estate industry description of the property for easy recognition by Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) and real estate listing websites
     
  2. An amplified description of the home that piques prospective buyer interest with amenities and unique features
     
  3. A gallery of attractive photos and, possibly, a brief video, to get house hunters to click from search results into the listing itself

Why Listing Ads Keep It Short and Sweet
While online listings typically offer up to 2,500 characters for a description, some outlets offer far less. “Real estate ads in newspapers often have a 50-character limit, and the MLS usually has up to a 500-character limit,” says Derek Morgan, manager of broker services at ForSaleByOwner.com.

Keep this in mind as you’re writing, and break your description into two paragraphs: The first paragraph should contain a complete walking tour of your home in less than 500 characters so you’re sure your home’s key features will be highlighted everywhere your listing appears. The second paragraph of your description tells the story of your house. Here is where you can further accentuate the unique benefits and emotional appeal of your property.

How to Write a Property Description
Morgan advises FSBO sellers not to reveal too much in their property description. He describes the problem as “push vs. pull” and warns that an overabundance of push turns off prospective buyers.

As an example, while it might be tempting to write something like: “Let the good times roll! Wonderful wood-paneled, fully finished basement with wet bar, recessed appliances, carpeting and built-in THX sound system …”

More prospective buyers would actually be pulled in by: “Finished basement with amenities; great for entertaining.”

Morgan emphasizes that the first 500 words of a property description ought to be “well rounded” and “complement” and expand on the initial blurb.

“I’d say the initial, short description is the sign in the yard, and the expanded description is the virtual walk-through,” he says.

The vital part of that walk-through is the photo gallery.

The Best Photos for a Listing
The easiest way to get high-quality photos for your listing is to hire a professional photographer. Many professionals, such as Al Larson Photographic & Publishing of Cape Coral, Florida, offer affordable home listing packages.

Larson, a longtime professional, notes that experience and equipment can be the difference in making a home really shine photographically. Lighting, choice of camera and lens, and enhancements during editing are important skills that the average FSBO seller might not possess.

Larson notes that many FSBO sellers shoot their own photos using cameras on smartphones and tablets. The results can be disastrous: blurry images, crooked rooflines, poorly staged rooms and photographer reflections.

Photo Pointers for FSBO Sellers
Because so many sellers take a DIY approach to photography, ForSaleByOwner.com’s Morgan has a strategy for helping them create photos that are as good as possible. “The first step is to understand that a photo gallery is essentially a virtual walk-through of your home,” he says.

He suggests that the gallery start with an external front view of the home, then feature interior photos that progress logically through the property. “You don’t want prospective buyers to be looking at the 10th photo and be unsure whether they’re upstairs on downstairs,” he says.

Like Larson, Morgan warns sellers to make sure their home is ready before shooting the photos. In most cases, this will mean doing some serious decluttering and “depersonalization,” which will help prospective buyers project themselves into the space and feel a greater affinity for your home. If necessary, declutter rooms in sequence, moving and replacing contents as you shoot your way through the home, Morgan says.

Morgan also recommends using a high-end digital camera, if possible, and a wide angle lens. If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, use a wide-angle attachment or take photos using the device’s panoramic mode. “To prevent distortion, don’t sweep the camera through its full panoramic range,” Morgan says. “Only sweep wall to wall.”

He also suggests turning on all lights, opening blinds halfway and taking photos an hour or two after sunrise or before sunset so that soft light streams into rooms.

How to Photograph Your Home in 4 Steps

  1. Stage each room so that it appears as if it were in a new construction open house.
  2. Enter each room, walk to one corner, hold the camera about 5 feet high, angle it slightly downward and take one photo. Repeat this in all corners. The purpose of these shots is to illustrate the square footage.
  3. Take an overall photo of the room to portray it at its most beautiful. Consider this a “magazine shot.”
  4. Pick the best photos. For the listing, each room should use the “magazine shot” and the best one of the corner shots.

What About Video?
Video does have a place in an online listing, but moving images are more effective toward the end than at the beginning.

“The industry consensus on videos is that although sellers want them, buyers initially want photos, not videos,” Morgan says. “Photos are easier to navigate, easier to pick and choose.”

It’s still a good idea to include a simple 90-second walk-through video, though, he says. When prospective buyers are narrowing the selections of homes they would actually like to tour, a video often will help a property stand out and make the final cut.

Take a look: How to stage and shoot your home for your online listing

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Fresh Baked Goods Turn House Hunters Into Home Buyers

Anyone who has ever bought a home knows that there can be small, almost indescribable things that draw you to a particular house. Whether it’s a child playing next door in the front yard or a bird chirping happily in a nearby tree, prospective home buyers often tap into tiny details that give them that good feeling about a particular place.

For Kathleen Henon, that tiny detail came almost 30 years ago in the form of baked cookies. “I’ll never forget it,” says Henon. “My husband and I were looking at houses in Pittsburgh after he was transferred there for his job. We were in a rush to find something because I was six months pregnant and he needed to start right away, and he didn’t want to leave me behind in Ohio, which is where we were living at the time, until he found something.”

So the Henons went on an open-house blitz, looking at “at least 10” houses on a particular Sunday in the fall of 1984, with the full intent of making an offer on one of those houses the next day. “Most of the houses looked the same — all very lovely and suited to our needs, which at the time was at least three bedrooms because we knew we were starting a family.

Henon says their search stopped when they entered a home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for an open house. “As soon as you walked in the door, you were hit with the most wonderful smell of chocolate chip cookies,” Henon says. “I fell in love. I walked around the house and everything looked perfect. I saw myself making dinner for my kids in that kitchen, and I saw myself reading them stories in the bedrooms. The smell of the cookies was the draw into the house, like an invitation to realize its warmth. I felt that warmth when I looked around. It all came together.”

Unfortunately, the deal did not. The Henons lost out on the house to another buyer and ultimately found a similar home in the same neighborhood. But the lesson from Henon’s initial entry into the “cookie house,” as she calls it, stuck with her for years. “Each time we sold a home — and we’ve moved five times in the past 30 years — I would bake before anyone came to see the house,” Henon says. “Sometimes it would be cookies, sometimes bread, sometimes fruit pies. Regardless, it was always something. And as soon as people walked in our house to look around, you could see the look on their face, like they were in a warm place, a place they could see themselves in.”

Henon’s most recent sale was a home in Wayne, PA, where she and her husband moved to be closer to her oldest son to help him raise a child with special needs. “I think it’s important to make a connection with people when you sell your home,” Henon says. “You want to guide them a bit, make them see themselves in your home. Baking is one of those things. It’s universal. A young couple smells cookies and they think of their family sitting around the table with cookies and milk, or they think of a busy kitchen making cookies for Christmas. If you can get them to make a connection like that, they’re hooked.”

Tell us in the comments: What’s your go-to scent when hosting an open house or showing your home?

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5 Great Marketing Tips to Attract More Home Buyers [Infographic]

Help house hunters discover how great your home is. From the secret of photos to ways you can boost your listing’s exposure online, these effective marketing tips will bring home buyers to your door.

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To view, download and print 5 Great Marketing Tips to Attract More Home Buyers [Infographic] as a PDF, click here.

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Don’t Miss Open House Weekend on April 20-21

Here’s your chance to be a part of something big this month: Join realtors across the country as they participate in the 2013 Nationwide Open House Weekend on April 20-21. This event couldn’t come at a better time. Now that tax season is over, buyers will be exploring your neighborhood with their tax refunds in their pockets. Take advantage of this house-hunting momentum, and invite them in!

“By owner” open houses will benefit from traffic—online and on foot—generated by this nationwide campaign. The National Association of Realtors 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers reports that 45 percent of all buyers use open houses as a source in their home-search process. And 46 percent of buyers who went to open houses found them during internet searches.

This weekend full of open houses offers buyers a stress-free way to tour homes for sale; for sellers, the weekend provides extra visibility with little effort. And there’s still time for you to take part in this open house event that brings buyers and sellers together.

Three Ways to Advertise Your Open House Next Week

  • Advertise your open house on your ForSaleByOwner.com listing
  • Promote your open house using flyers, email and word of mouth—ask your neighbors to help spread the word
  • Use social media to create buzz before and during your open house

Open houses open doors to home sales. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more open house tips all week long.

Will there be snacks and beverages at your open house? Share your favorite tips below.