What to do when house won't sell?
December 8, 2014 10:07 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I recently moved to be near my family (we have a 2 year old and a newborn). We are staying at my moms until our house sells and it just won't sell. We are cramped here and I hate the feeling of being stuck for the foreseeable future. We can't move out on our own until the house sells. How do we sell a house that just won't sell, and how do we make our situation more bearable until it does sell?

My husband and I bought a house in April 2012 near where his family lives. After a year or so, for many reasons, I decided I wanted to be closer to my family and convinced my husband to look for jobs in my hometown. He found a great job and a few months ago we moved. We planned to stay at my moms temporarily until our house sold.

Since then we have had two house contracts fall apart and so are stuck at my moms for the foreseeable future. This has been very difficult for us for many reasons. From my mom's house he has an extremely long commute (and expensive due to gas, tolls and mileage). In addition, we had our second baby a month ago and he doesn't even have a bedroom, and our living quarters are very cramped. My mom is wonderful and generous and helpful, but we really just need our own space and to be able to start building our new life in our new city.

We cannot afford to rent or buy until we sell our house. There have been over 30 showings and no more offers. The house has a steep driveway, which is the reason every buyer has cited for not liking the house (something we obviously can't fix). We can't lower the price anymore without losing money, which we can't afford to do. We don't really want to be landlords, either. I feel so stuck and have nightmares about either having to move back or walk away from the house, both of which I know aren't real options. Any advice on what our options could be to help sell our house or how we can make our current living situation more bearable?
posted by flower777 to Work & Money (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why did the two contracts fall apart? That is the root issue.
posted by Flood at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

We don't really want to be landlords, either.

That might be a better situation than your current one, though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:14 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Can you look into "rent-to-buy" options and see if that might be something you'd be willing to offer to potential buyers? This could make your property attractive to renters who'd really rather buy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: The two contracts fell apart for different reasons. The first didn't give a reason, just said buyers remorse and that they just changed their mind. The second contract was contingent on the buyers home selling and their contract fell through with their buyers. They have said they would be back if and when they sell their house but it seems they are having trouble selling also.
posted by flower777 at 10:24 AM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: The realtor is optimistic that he can get it sold still without major price cuts. We are going to do a bit of a price cut right after the holidays for the new year. However, it's difficult for me to remain optimistic when the driveway is the thing everyone hates and we are approaching snowy icy season. I feel like there's no chance until spring!
posted by flower777 at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2014

Not knowing anything about the house and your local market, you may be facing a choice of dropping the price and bringing money to the table now, or of paying your mortgage for however many months and possibly getting a higher offer but also possibly needing to still drop the price and bring money to the table.

The sellers of my current house had to do that and it must have sucked for them but the alternative was no sale. It happens and either you rent it out or you sell at a loss.

But with two offers already you might not be crazy high, just a bit. A good realtor who knows the market may be able to offer suggestions on price or condition (paint is cheap, for example). Good luck!
posted by Dip Flash at 10:33 AM on December 8, 2014

Take the house off the market until the springtime, letting the second contract buyers know that you are holding it for them (you aren't, really, you just don't want to be that house that stays on the market). Ask your realtor about renting it furnished for short term lease. Your target renter would be a professional that is moving to the area for work and doesn't want to live in an apartment while they find their dream home. In the meantime, use your mother as a built in babysitter and go out with your husband every chance you get, even if it is a picnic dinner in the car. Anything to be alone together. You could make this into something really great for your marriage. There aren't many people with two kids who can find time to spend together just the two of them. Keep this going until the beginning of the year and commit to spending any tax refund on an apartment (short lease).
posted by myselfasme at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2014 [23 favorites]

I feel your pain, because I recently had to move in with my parents for a few months while I closed on a house, and we have a toddler too.

Regarding your situation, assuming you are going to stay where you are, your options are
1) Drop price on the house
2) Rent the house
3) Keep trying to sell the house at current price

If you're unwilling/unable to do 1 or 2, there really aren't any other options. You say you don't want to be landlords, but you clearly don't want to own this house anymore either, so you have to decide which is worse. I've been a landlord before and I'm a landlord right now, and it's not great, but it helped me get the home of my dreams, so I'm fine with it - it's way better than living as a guest for months in an inconvenient location, even if you like your parents!

The only other idea I have is to take a look at the house and see if there are any cosmetic sorts of things you can do to fix it up that won't cost much but will help improve the curb appeal and initial impressions from buyers. Stuff like paint, new cabinet handles, new light fixtures, etc. The house we bought, the owners put zero effort into any of this stuff, and I was really grateful for it because it's an amazing property but the house was all 90s style, ugly decor and I was able to fix it up immensely without that much effort, just by painting all the walls and trim back to white, replacing the fixtures and the cabinet handles. I feel like we could probably get $50K more for it if we put it back on the market, even though I only put less than $10K into improvements myself (would have been less but I paid for professional painters for the entire hours)

Regarding your current situation, I think you just need to look on the brighter side about it. There is nothing you can do to change the commute issue (I mean, get a gas station credit card, use grocery points towards gas, etc and you could make it a little cheaper, but you can't change the distance). Is carpooling with anyone else an option? As for the new baby…. 1 month olds don't need their own bedrooms. I know what you mean about wanting more space (at my parents' house we had a bedroom for us and then my daughter was sleeping in a pack and play in my mom's office), but focus on what's important - most babies in the world don't have their own bedrooms, and middle of the night wake ups are more convenient when you don't have to go far to get to them. Make sure you're not just venting frustration about other things towards stuff that isn't really a big deal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:05 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

However, it's difficult for me to remain optimistic when the driveway is the thing everyone hates and we are approaching snowy icy season. I feel like there's no chance until spring!

Nobody wants to buy a house with a steep drive in snow season. I agree you are unlikely to sell until April. I say this as someone who's parents now live in a house with a steep drive they frequently cannot get up in winter, which they stupidly bought in the summer.

You can try knocking 4 - 6 months of mortgage payments off now and seeing if that stimulates viewings or offers, but the driveway issue is such a real, unsolvable issue I don't know it will help.

But I think it's like pregnancy: you just have to accept that it's gonna suck and will take forever and you just have to know you'll get through it.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:20 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take the house off the market. You want to reset the clock. Steel yourself for having to stay at your Mom's until spring.

Also, you say you can't afford to sell for less. Is that because you'd otherwise have to come to the table with money, or is it because you want a certain amount of money out of the house? These are very different things. We sold our house at a loss and paid a ton to get out of it. Oh well, easy come, easy go. We're living in an apartment now and we love it.

If you need to get a profit out of the house to buy another house, re-frame the question. Take that profit, and use that to bring the price down. you will save on mortgage, you'll get out of your Mom's faster and with two little ones at home, do you REALLY want to do homeowner stuff right now?

You may not want to live in a apartment as a permanent thing, but it can really work for a couple of years while you save up for a new house.

You have to decide what the actual goal is here. Is it making a profit on the house, or is it getting out of your Mom's house? Because those things might be mutually exclusive.

You can also bury a St. Joseph statue (in the back yard, by the mailbox, upside down--it varies.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Rent it out with a property management firm. You'll get money, not as much, but they'll handle most of the headaches.

Sell it with a benefit: Seller pays for driveway snow/ice removal until end of March, 2015.

Letting a house sit unheated and vacant through the winter? I'd be too worried about something leaking going unnoticed for weeks or months, or being an attractive nuisance for vandals.
posted by sageleaf at 12:05 PM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your responses. I understand more and more that taking a loss in some form is probably our only option, and also that we will likely be here until spring.

We can't lower the price because we would have to bring money to the table, not because we would eat away at the profit (we can afford about $10k less, which is what we plan to lower it by after the holidays). Now I'm wondering if we should just take off the market. It's just so tough to feel like we wouldn't be actively trying to do anything at all to improve our situation then but I do think maybe it would be for the best.

Treehorn+bunny - I agree that the baby doesn't need his own bedroom. However he has been sleeping in the bathroom lately due to lack of options! He's so loud while sleeping that we can't share with him anymore and there are no other options, so the bassinet is in the bathroom in order to keep him close but separated from us. I do appreciate your input though and I am trying to not get too negative about aspects of our situation that maybe aren't that bad. Such as the live in babysitter/third parent!

I go back to work in a month and things will be even more difficult with my husband not around much due to his long commute, but that's another challenge I'm trying not to dwell on too much until it's time to.
posted by flower777 at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2014

Can you sell it for less if you use the money you've put aside for a down payment on a new place?

Can you throw in a home warranty, or a year of lawn service, or some other thing that might make it more attractive?

Have you had an open house yet? If not, that's another thing that might get people to take a second look. Also, can you make your listing more descriptive or attractive? More/better pictures, really talk it up?

Re-do the staging to make it look cozy for the holidays? Tree, lights, etc?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:21 PM on December 8, 2014

Response by poster: We don't really have anything set aside for a new down payment. I'm on unpaid maternity leave with hospital bills like crazy so there's not a lot of extra cash right now.

We have the warranty offered...staging is tough because we live 5 hours away now. We actually moved everything out the week before the first deal was supposed to close so unfortunately the house isn't even staged, but aside from paying the movers to take the stuff back across the state we have to leave it that way.
posted by flower777 at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2014

Winter is the slowest time for home sales (in snowy regions.)
Many parents don't start looking until Spring due to not wishing to pull their kid's school district.
As others mention Staging can do wonders [the only stats I've seen are from realtors and Staging Pros so the claims can seem overdone. That said, Staging has worked for me.]
Slow selling properties often come with Buyer Perks like Seller assuming closing costs and, as others have mentioned, Home Warranties.
Ask your realtor for suggestions.
Lastly run the numbers: Keeping the house on the market (while paying the mortgage AND property taxes AND upkeep) VS. lowering the sale price VS. Keeping the house as a rental. If you keep the property as a rental your next house mortgage will take that $$income into account [for me they took 70% of the rental income, as stated on the lease form and shown as income on our IRS 1040. Only crediting your rental income @70% of the lease amount offsets the risk of the rental property not being leased/tenant breaking the lease etc.]
In almost every market EVERY any house will sell if the price's low enough. [Detroit and blighted areas may be an exception.] best of luck.
posted by Twist at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2014

If you feel that the home suffers form lack of staging, one thing you can do is go back and get a "skeleton crew" of furniture to stage the home.

1. Get a sofa from a thrift store and put it in the living room.

2. Check out this blog that gives ideas for how to stage a master bedroom with a fake bed made of boxes.

You get the idea. I especially like the closet. You can do a lot with 12 white plastic hangers, and some white shirts you buy at the thrift store. Or just a fluffy robe! A fancy shopping bag with tissue in it is a nice touch as well.

Start looking for cheap bedding to use for staging. Go back to the house, deep clean it, and then stage it with the stuff you've acquired. You might spend $200 but it will help you sell faster.

Good luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2014

after seeing your latest comment wrt moving furniture back to the house--I wouldn't do it. A spotlessly clean house can and usually does beat houses where the owners are still living [because most people understandably can't keep the clutter down. one person's clutter's another person's distraction.]
Just make sure the house's spotless and ask your realtor about any distracting paint colors or fixtures that can easily be changed. Your realtor will know.
You can also use zillow.com--type in your address and look at the recent sales in your neighborhood (or atleast same school district.) Look at similar era houses (many times they still have the inside shots up) and sale price on $/square foot. Look at the houses currently on the market and compare them to yours. This is basically what realestate appraisers and realtors do. good luck.
posted by Twist at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2014

zillow.com also has "days on the market" listed for houses on the market. Scrolling down the page, zillow will list the last sale's date and price. You can also see if a house has been taken off the market and repeatedly put back up for sale.
caveat: this is true in my housing market for zillow but not in some areas. so if it's not true with your property you'll have to depend on your realtor's knowledge.
posted by Twist at 1:39 PM on December 8, 2014

If you keep the property as a rental your next house mortgage will take that $$income into account [for me they took 70% of the rental income, as stated on the lease form and shown as income on our IRS 1040. Only crediting your rental income @70% of the lease amount offsets the risk of the rental property not being leased/tenant breaking the lease etc.]

This usually won't work in your favor, since they also take the fact that you're paying a mortgage on it into account. If you have less than 30% equity (which it sounds like you do) and have been a landlord for less than 2 years, it will be hard to convince the bank to even consider the rental income, unless you have major cash reserves (which it sounds like you don't).

I am in a similar situation and have run the numbers. Definitely do whatever it takes to offload it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2014

What rabbitrabbit says just above IS TRUE. [the 70% I quoted is based on the "For Me" in my comment.]
It depends on the mortgage company you go for when buying your next home. In MY case a local lender (local bank) did credit us with the rental income. Mortgage company reps will be able to point you to a lender if they can't help you themselves. In our case we went directly to a local mortgage broker who sent us to the local bank that DID credit our rental income.
That said, having a rental property in an area far from where you live is a incredible hassle. I would almost never suggest it. [In our case we wanted to keep several properties as investments and we managed them ourselves AND we stayed locally.]
In almost every case you will lose money and time keeping a far away investment property SO make sure you factor that in.
Property management fees can be quoted to you by most realtors...zillow also list "For Rent" properties so you can call the rental listing agent, call several, for the $ charged. You can also see "Days on the Market" for the rental listings on zillow, if houses in your area are not being snapped up beware listing yours for rent.
posted by Twist at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2014

Remember, a bowl of fruit helps stuff sell. I suggest apples, they keep for a long time (generally speaking). Or fake fruit.
posted by lizbunny at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the house is priced right there are buyers for every house at every time of the year. So every monthly mortgage payment and associated carrying cost payment (utility, taxes, management fees) you make on the old house is a price reduction you could have made 30 days earlier to help price the residence correctly.

I do not recommend renting out your house for a number of reasons. You have to pay to rent your house, even if you are doing it yourself. Listing and marketing fees, cleaning, repairs, increased insurance, tenant management etc. This will quickly eat away a lot of your time and money. And, based on personal experience, renters have zero interest in helping you show your home. The house cannot be managed for sale with an uninterested party in situ; the house is dirty and cluttered looking even on the best of days, and what if the tenant refuses to let showings happen? And Real Estate God help us all, what if the tenant refuses to leave the property when the home sells or when the lease expires? It's not unheard of and can sink a sale right quick. My advice, do not have renters and work with your agent to come to an agreement on vacant property management to include light staging and home maintenance with snow removal and checking in on the the house for leaks and damage. An unoccupied house can pretty quickly deteriorate.

Here are some legitimate marketing tricks that should be in place for every showing: Open all drapes and curtains, turn on every single light in the house including closet lights and the oven light, have the heat or air on so that the house is comfortable, and do not scent the air. People think you are covering up bad smells when there are air fresheners or cookies or whatever smelling up the house. Before your next showing, have the house deep cleaned - the cleaning may not be all that expensive because your house is empty and the cleaning company can blow through it in a couple hours. If any walls need paint touch up, have it done and if you are fully repainting anything, paint it Home Sale Beige.

For most Americans, your home sale and home purchase are two of the most financially impactful transaction you will even make, so remember that you and your Realtor are in a business transaction. You do not need to make your Realtor comfortable and you do not need them to be your friend. Tell them what you want and expect from them, and negotiate from that point so that you and the Realtor are in agreement to concessions, open houses, marketing, and showing availability. I would suggest you immediately find out when your current contract with your Realtor expires, and have a plan to re-negotiate at minimum their realtor fee. I would suggest you ask for a 1% concession on their fee. If they won't do it, source another agent either as leverage with your current agent or just go with the next qualified agent who agrees to a reduced commission. Real estate is a cut-throat industry and you should not be afraid to play hardball. For instance, on my last home sale I negotiated a cash rebate of 40% of the 3% sale agent's commission. This is highly irregular because I knew that based on location, comparables and my initial list price my home would have an offer in 2 weeks and close in 45 days from the first list date. This means that the Realtor had very little sunk costs in the sale of my home and their commission was almost "Hey Look, Free Money!" I mention it because it can be done even your current situation and Realtors would rather have a sale and some money in their pocket than continue to market and spend time on a home for sale and have no money in their pocket.

While you and your Realtor should be in a professional business relationship where you are pressing them hard to sell your home, your Realtor cannot be afraid to give you the honest truth about your residence's cleanliness, marketability, functional obsolescence, comparable sales, local markets, normal and customary seller concessions. You must then be receptive of their information and advice. Hopefully, you are already in this situation.

Your house went a bit "stale" after only a few weeks on the market, unfortunately. It's like this for every residence, not just yours, so you've missed the sweet spot of being the fresh new house on the market. If you take your house off the market, just putting it back on the market doesn't automatically refresh the house's sweet spot because even a Realtor on their first day on the job will look at how many total days a home has been on the market, and unless you can show that you have made improvements to the residence, taking the home on an off the market can have an air of desperation. And if you home is off the market, no one can make an offer on your home! My advise as a real estate manager is to keep your home on the market unless you literally are ripping the roof off to put on a new roof.

I have seen too many houses sit around and languish because the seller was afraid to ask the Realtor to reduce the commission, or to spring for some type of sales benefit (staging, concession) out of the Realtor's pocket. I've also seen a lot of really good Realtors want to pull their hair out because the seller is unrealistic as to any number of things, mostly involving price.

Trust your Realtor's advice and push your Realtor hard to get your home sold.
posted by lstanley at 4:34 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you arrange it that the driveway is plowed and salted immediately after every snowfall? That might take out some of the ouch factor. It's amazing how people can overlook an inconvenience if the inconvenience isn't quite as obvious.

(Yeah, the driveway fairies must have kept it clear)
posted by BlueHorse at 8:44 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my area, sellers often offer allowances to fix things that are not perfect with the house. For example, one seller was disabled and several of the rooms had bolt patterns in the carpet where lifts had been installed. Instead of replacing the carpet with something buyers may not have liked, they offered a $5,000 "Flooring Allowance." This is a win all around as the seller does not have to pay anything up front for the repairs, the agent gets a higher commission, the buyer gets to pick the quality of work they want, has a higher last sale price when they go to sell, and these repairs get rolled into the mortgage which is the cheapest type of loan around. This may not be legal in all areas, and some might say it would be defrauding the bank. But here the bank would be aware of it, the amount would be a small percentage of the cost of the house, and the house would appraise for the higher loan value regardless. In your case, you already had two solid offers at that price, so the appraisal would be reasonable.

In your case, you claim nothing can be done about the steep driveway, but could it? For $10,000 could you flatten it a bit and add a retaining wall? For $5,000 could you add steps along the side and a railing? By lowering the price, you are just offering a cheaper house with a steep driveway. The real estate line would be: "Yes, others have mentioned the driveway grade. The current owners have never had an issue, but they are offering a $5,000 allowance for driveway improvements, snowblower, commercial clearing, etc.." At the end of the day, most people are going to think: "You know, they driveway isn't that bad, but I could used that money for _________"

Check with your realtor to see if this is an option. It may not hurt to have quotes from local contractors to see what could be done.
posted by Yorrick at 12:07 AM on December 9, 2014

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