Selling real estate is a unique career. Agents come in all shapes and sizes, with diverse backgrounds ranging from business management to entertainment to homemaking to everything else under the sun. Given these vast differences in abilities and past experience, your process working with a real estate agent can vary dramatically from one to the next. And yet among every single agent, there’s one skill that matters more than all the others. One skill which can make or break your sale. One skill which is truly the heart and soul of an agent’s work.
“So, what is it?” you say. “Spit it out! What’s the most important skill that every agent needs?”
Well, since you asked so nicely: It’s setting the listing price.
Buy Low, Sell High
We all know that negotiations are the name of the game when buying or selling a home. You want an agent who will apply force to every lever of a deal, fighting at every opportunity to save you money or boost your closing price. What you may not know is that a properly priced listing can earn you more money right from the outset. Conversely, an agent who can spot an improperly priced home might just snag you a deal.
In nautical terms, setting your listing price means choosing where to drop anchor. Once you’ve settled on a location, you throw out your bait to see what house-hunting fish swim in for a nibble. Yet no matter how tasty the bait or how shiny your lure, if you price too high, you simply won’t get any bites.
This metaphor is particularly apt when you consider broader business strategies. An “anchor price” is a widely used tactic that companies use to establish a psychological baseline for their products. If the shoe store says some boots are worth $200, then you’re getting a great deal when they’re on sale for just $100, right? (Even if they cost the store just $5.) While it’s exceedingly rare to see a home listing’s price drop anywhere near 50%, real estate is still affected by this psychology—with very real effects.
Bigger Might Not Be Better
Those effects are most clear in an overpriced listing. If you list too high, you’ll be subject to lowball bids, upturned noses, and open houses as empty as a ghost town. New listings tend to see the most activity and buyer interest within their first few weeks on the market. When your listing is overpriced, you’ve essentially wasted the most crucial days of your home’s marketing period.
After a few lonely weeks with too few or too poor of offers, you’ll likely consider a price reduction. Mind you that price reductions are a completely valid tactic in many cases, as markets can shift during the listing period for a myriad of reasons which may be impossible to foresee. However, it’s not a fun thing to do, if the lack of interest stems from simply pricing too high for the current market at the time of listing.
Ultimately, an overpriced listing is one of the great tragedies of real estate. The reverse, however, is not so dire. Let’s look at underpriced listings next.
How Low Can You Go?
An under-priced listing is not nearly the same catastrophe as an overpriced listing. In fact, setting your home’s listing price below its current market value can be a compelling strategy. Like a Black Friday sale, a low listing price can draw folks out of the woodwork to take a look at your home. Remember that the first few weeks of a new listing are the most important—a low listing price can pack those weeks with open house visitors, agent showing requests, and “saves” on sites like Zillow and Trulia.
That’s not to say that pricing low doesn’t come with risks. If your home still garners less than the critical mass of interest needed to boost offers and counters above market value, you’ll wind up in another sad state of affairs. In a worst case scenario, the market may shift under your listing and (like current interest rates) you’ll have little room to maneuver the lows any lower amidst an economic downturn.
The safest bet for most sellers and agents, especially those with less experience under their belts, remains to price a listing right around market value.
Finding the Sweet Spot
So how does an agent find exactly the right price to drum up the most interest and highest offers on a listing? The best tools at an agent’s disposal are the recent sales around your home.
When you first meet with an agent, they’ll likely provide you with a CMA, or Comparative Market Analysis, detailing the price and statistics of recent listings in your area. Much like an official appraisal, CMAs compare the sold homes in your area, their features, amenities, and the dates they sold, against your own. They’ll also compare the homes that are active and pending right now, more indicators of your current local market conditions.
By comparing and contrasting your home with other listings in your neighborhood, your agent can triangulate a ballpark figure for your home’s value. That’s the science of setting a listing price. Popular home search tools like Zillow have grown that science into complex algorithms which claim to output estimates within a few percentage points of error.
Then there’s the art of pricing a home. Like painting a masterpiece, it takes years of experience and a profound professional insight to obtain an organic sense for pricing. Through dozens of transactions and persistent study of the local market, consumer tastes, national trends and lender criteria, a seasoned agent has the acumen to see beyond the comparables. Even in a subdivision with identical floor plans, every home is unique. To assess every variable and produce a strategic, targeted price is a talent which not every agent possesses.
Your Local Experts
At Danielle Lazier + Associates, we’ve been working in your neighborhood for years. We know what works, what sells and how much it sells for. If you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in San Francisco, let us know. We’d be happy to discuss your options during a free, no-pressure consultation. Real estate is our passion. We’re excited to share that passion with you, to match you with the great results that you deserve!