Help a North York girl become a Junction woman
October 11, 2006 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Looking for creative ways to sell my condo...

I'm in an unfortunate real estate situation right now. Late last June I signed an agreement to buy a semi-detached house with, er, "lots of potential" in the Junction, Toronto, with a closing date of November 23.

Then of course I put the North York condo I currently own up for sale. But it hasn't sold. There's time yet, as people keep telling me, and there's the possibility of an extension until January as the current owner of the house in the Junction is buying a new condo which is not ready yet. But if it hasn't sold in five months, two more might not do the trick either.

My condo is a three bedroom and very large — 1200 sq feet, I think. It's very well-maintained. There have only been about 20 showings in about 3.5 months. The people who have seen it say they like it but the maintenance fees are too high. No argument there - they are indeed high, and the building is 30 years old, and has an indoor and an outdoor pool, and the fees are calculated based on the square footage of the apartment.

My realtors have it listed on MLS and featured on their own site. They took lovely photos of it which are used in both places. We have lowered the price recently to make it the lowest-priced three bedroom condo in my building. (There are two or three other three-bedroom units which have been up for sale as long as mine has, and none have sold.)

I'm getting increasingly freaked out about the prospect of losing my five-figure deposit (borrowed against my current mortgage on my condo) and the chance of buying the house it took me four months to find and really, really want. Because that roof top terrace and I were meant to be together, baby.

No, I can't go ahead and buy the house and just rent my condo if it doesn't sell in time. I'm single and make a very modest income for Toronto. I can't possibly carry the interest on the full price of the house plus the mortgage on my place plus operating costs for both places, even if any bank would finance it, which they won't. Moreover how would I sell the condo if it's rented out?

People tell me I should "pressure my realtors" or "get a new realtor", but this real estate office has won the ReMax "best office in Toronto" annual award for the past ten years running. I've worked with them before, and they are very hard working and professional, so I think they know what they're doing.

I guess what I'm looking for here is out-of-the-box ways to sell my place, other options, and/or ways to feel less like a deer caught in headlights.
posted by orange swan to Home & Garden (25 answers total)
It's probably illegal, but could you do a raffle?
posted by Mister_A at 7:38 AM on October 11, 2006

Well, little things count. Can you change the hardware on the cabinets? Afford new kitchen appliances that look newer? Hire a staging company to decorate the place for an open house? How about some nice rugs to break up all that carpet?
posted by stormygrey at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2006

You may want to de-list and re-list it. As a house hunter, you tend to wonder why places that have been on the market for a long time aren't selling and assume there's a problem. It's unfair, but there it is.

Also, 20 showings seems pretty good. No reason to give up hope yet!
posted by GuyZero at 7:47 AM on October 11, 2006

Yeah, it's very important to make the place look as nice as possible, where "nice" means not "what I like" but "what Joe Buyer likes." Get rid of clutter (I put half my books in storage), bring in as much outside light as you can... well, just ask your real estate guy what you should do, and do it, no matter how inconvenient. My wife and I did this and our condo sold at a good price while another, theoretically more desirable, one in the same development was still languishing (with its dark furniture and piles of knicknacks).
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on October 11, 2006

I would also recommend painting over the lovely tealish/blue (I like it, but a lot of people won't). People will see it as work they immediately have to do and will be put off - go with a warm neutral that will compliment the carpeting. You might also want to hang some artwork - the rooms look really bare and un-lived in. Clean off the fridge and counters, maybe put a plant or a bowl of fresh fruit in the kitchen too. Make it look homey - a 3 bedroom condo will probably sell to a family, you will want to play up to that.
posted by blackkar at 7:54 AM on October 11, 2006

I've done all the things my realtor suggested in terms of sprucing the place up (i.e., regrouting around the tub, repainting the rather vividly green backsplash in my kitchen to cream). The hardware on the kitchen cabinets IS fairly new — I installed those Regency brass handles myself, replacing ugly black plastic ones.

Painting over my beloved turquoise paint *is* something I might ask my realtor if I should do. People either love it or hate it.

But honestly, I don't think it's my place that is the problem or that fixing it up will help. Everyone says how much they like it and that it looks like such a nice clean place, but the maintenance fees are too high.

The MLS listings expire afer 60 days and so it has been recently relisted.
posted by orange swan at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2006

Ditto blackkar. The teal blue would totally turn me off. I'd suggest painting it something neutral, as well - that becomes a selling point, too - It then becomes neutral decor!

I'd also suggest renting furniture and putting your stuff in storage.
posted by Not in my backyard at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2006

Lose the blue (I like it too, so?). Hang some art on the walls. Tell the realtors you're willing to pay the first 6 months of building fees for the new owner. Offer to buy new carpet to the buyer's specification. Put some furniture on the balcony and put something out there to make people linger.

Make your own fliers and put them up in the area - universities, community centers, building lobby, big area employers, cafes, etc. Talk to the realtors, in the US there were rules about what you could and couldn't put on the sign, but this is how we sold our place in a slow market in May. Make the flier in color with photos and put the specific dates of your open houses. Don't ask your realtor to do this, do it yourself.

Last time I was in Toronto there were a ton of high-rises going up. What differentiates you from new construction?
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:06 AM on October 11, 2006

Make the flier in color with photos and put the specific dates of your open houses. Don't ask your realtor to do this, do it yourself.

I actually have colour-photo-filled, detailed fliers that the realtor's office made. They sit in a plastic case on my dining room table and people who come to view the place take one or two.
posted by orange swan at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2006

The teal has to go, there needs to be some art on the walls, the stove and fridge look like they're waiting to die (which I'm sure isn't the case, but it's looks not facts that you happen to be chasing here). I would get rid of that mirror in the kitchen as well. The dining area looks empty and lonely with just a table and chairs. Can you get some sort of buffet or sideboard that goes with that table? Or a china cabinet?

What we're not seeing in this apartment is a person's life, the huge shelf of books would be fine as momentos in my life, but if I were trying to imagine any of the memories you've made in this home, I'd be hard pressed to do it. (Unless I could see the things on the Fridge better, but then, I imagine thats' all just lists and schedules and stuff, nothing like fun postcards from friends or drawings in crayon from a neice or nephew)

I must suggest something like a staging service where they come in and figure out what things need to be added and/or subtracted to appeal to buyers.

With any luck you will get a team so good that you may fall even more in love with your apartment than you have been. It just doesn't feel loved.

In the meantime, start looking at new appliances, but if you think you might go with a staging company, see what they suggest for appliances, because an extra $100 upgrade on a stove might make the apartment sell right away, who knows?
posted by bilabial at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2006

The 2 keys to home selling (I've sold over 500 properties in 6 years) are price & exposure.
If your agent gave the place ample exposure, you have to, unfortunately, reduce the price to make it an excellent "buy" for the buyer.
You want to get a certain price for what you think it's worth, but closing on time is worth X number of dollars to you (= being able to get the dream house you have your eyes on), so you must bite the bullit & reduce it.
posted by growabrain at 8:20 AM on October 11, 2006

The fliers that your viewers are taking with them are the visual aid that they are using when they compare your home to others after viewing eight or a dozen. The fliers are not going from your dining room table to Other Potential Buyers.

What you need is fliers for the OPB in other places - coffee shops, the school bulletin boards near you, offices, heck see if you can get them in employee lounges at hospitals and other big employers and you must have visuals for the people who have been to take and add to what they already know about the home. This would include:

Information about the schools in the area
Restaurants nearby
Convenience to parks and recreation
Any neat history in your neighborhood
A reminder about how quiet your building is, or how many vibrant young families there are (whatever is true and appealing that makes those high fees worth paying - do your building managers paint the hallways and doors frequently, is there security all the time)
Photos of the pools that the new owners will be using

Show the people who come through that they already know how it feels to live in your home. (Which is why mirrors in halls are nice, it gets people to see themselves, in your beautiful surroundings, it becomes theirs!)

I've never heard of this next one before, but see if you could send people home with a Polaroid of them in your house, ostensibly for them to remember some aspect of it that they remark on. If you aren't around for the showings your realtor may not be keen on doing the picture taking, but heck, might be worth a shot!

Good luck.
posted by bilabial at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2006

Agree with socahtoa, include payment of some of the maintenance fees as part of the buyer's deal. You may have to raise the price of the condo by a slim margin to cover this on your end, but you'll have fewer people balking at the idea of additional fee payments. Also, yes, repaint to neutral, update the furniture (through rental/Craigslist/borrowing), reduce clutter, and stow away things that look stale (like that crockpot). Also, there's not much to do about it unless you have gleaming hardwood planks below, but just make sure the carpet is as inoffensive as possible!
posted by superfem at 8:22 AM on October 11, 2006

Lower the price. 2005 is so last year, and it's only going to get worse. Lowest price in the building means nothing if the condo is still 30% overpriced. With all the speculation taken out of the market, it's time to get to reality.. If you really like your place in Toronto, set an appropriate price on your condo and sell it -- give up on thinking what the condo would've been worth at its peak.
posted by eas98 at 8:28 AM on October 11, 2006

I have already lowered the asking price by $7K, and of course if I get an offer it'll be negotiated down further.

I simply can't afford to buy all new appliances and pay maintenance fees for six months as well.
posted by orange swan at 8:29 AM on October 11, 2006

I can't go ahead and buy the house and just rent my condo if it doesn't sell in time.

How long would being in this negative cash flow take to equal losing your 5-figure deposit? It might be cash-negative, but if it buys you 6 months, it could be a better option.

I have already lowered the asking price by $7K

How long would that pay the fees for? 7K won't look like a lot on the bottom line, but it can sound like a lot if it's "two years free HOAs"

Good luck. It's a cute place. I love the electric blue.
posted by scarabic at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2006

Can you offer to pick up the cost of a year's worth of fees?

I'm not sure what your fees are, but it would probably be less then whatever you lowered the price to, and it would probably sound like somebody was really getting a deal. Could be a big selling feature with high perceived value. It would be particularly attractive to a younger buyer.

It also gives you a negotiating point when they ask you to lower the price. Well, I could do that, but then I wouldn't be able to offer the paid fees, etc.
posted by willnot at 8:36 AM on October 11, 2006

Totally declutter everything personal. No family pictures or personal knicknacks. Take all the stuff off the fridge. Buyers want to imagine themselves in the space; give them a blank canvas, with touches that appeal to desire to "move up", so they think they're making an upward move. Paint over the teal walls with a warm neutral. It's pretty, but neutral is the key. They don't want to have to paint; make it easy for them to just move right on in, knowing their furniture and stuff with fit with the condo.

Make sure all the rooms are obvious as to what their functions are. Stage it to impress.

Upgrade the curtains in the office/den, and make the most of that window. You definitely need something in the dining room to 'warm' it up--a vase of flowers, a nice place setting. Hokey, but it works. Think of magazine layouts with chic, casual accessories.

What does the place smell like? I know that's a potentially offensive question, but if it smells stale, or of cooking odours, or worse, pet odours, people think "dirty" and it turns them off.

This I got from "Sell This House" on A & E, which I watch every Sunday, even though I'm not trying to sell a house.
posted by Savannah at 8:37 AM on October 11, 2006

Oh, just saw the balcony pictures. That's a big balcony and a nice view.

Why isn't there some lovely plants, and two nice chairs set up with a table and something else? You need to feature that great balcony, pull people out to walk over there and see the view. Stage it so it looks inviting, like you just want to sit down and have a drink and enjoy the view. The concrete, not so welcoming.

One of those rugs that you can get--I don't know if they're rattan or what, but something on the concrete, some cheap but attractive chairs, and some big plants. Seriously, dress that gorgeous balcony.
posted by Savannah at 8:42 AM on October 11, 2006

And for some less practical advice - Always have some cookies baking in the oven when people are coming over to look at it, and bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down somewhere on your property.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2006

I third (fifth? tenth?) the suggestion about really staging your place by putting some of your items in storage (maybe store it at a friend's house to say money?). I also like the suggestion of staging one bedroom as a child's bedroom. Perhaps you know people that could lend you the appropriate furniture, so you don't have to buy any.

Also, I'd highlight of those full-length windows in the livingroom by moving the plant shelf. Either disperse the plants around the living area or give them to a neighbor to care for until you move. Those windows are awesome, and they're the key to the amazing view, so you want people to be drawn to them immediately.

Personally, I'd use the full-length windows to create a "soho loft" kind of feel in the place... maybe repaint the teal in the livingroom to be a more neutral color, or (my favorite) to be a brick red to simulate loft living. (Check google images for inspiration.) Maybe remove the draperies altogether?

Paint the kitchen white, unless that makes the tile blacksplash look dingy; otherwise, consult with a paint store to find out what color you could use that would make the cabinets and appliances look fresher/cleaner.

It's too bad that it's getting to be winter because I'd recommend that you put some plants on the balcony. At the very least, though, you need some furniture out there -- it's such a large balcony and a really great bonus for the place.

Good luck!
posted by parilous at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2006

I don't know this of Toronto in particular, but many real estate markets (and condos especially) are poised to start the downside of the recent boom.

Right now there is a stalemate between buyers and sellers in many markets. Number of sales are decreasing, inventory of housing for sale is increasing. Buyers see more choices and are more hesitant and demanding; sellers remember past pricing and appraisals and refuse to lower or negotiate.

Ask your agent what condos similar in size/location/condition to yours have sold for in the past several weeks. If they are significantly below yours, then you will need to LOWER YOUR PRICE until you reach the point at which you begin get offers.

It may be painful, but I highly recommend that you reduce quickly and aggressively. Do not "chase the market down" to sell it for 15% less in January when you could have sold it for 7% less this month.

Do you have any negotiating ability on the price of your new place? The seller of the new place may be in a similar predicament to you.
posted by de void at 11:13 AM on October 11, 2006

I just sold my Vancouver condo for close to list after 40 days. (Places listing now are staying on the market longer, selling for more below list, and the list prices are lower, so I did very well.)

I painted everything neutral colours. Touched up all the walls. Removed all personal effects, including replacing my wedding pics with shots of local architecture. Bowl of green apples. Fresh flowers every 2-3 days. Planters full of flowers on the balcony. Everything arranged. We had renovated, so we didn't need to change cabinet hardware, flooring, etc. However, you might want to.

Consider putting new carpets/laminate. People have a hard time visualizing how things will look and having it done means more than having money to spend.

Your blue wall is cool, but not everyone will think that. We painted our lovely blue bedroom taupe to sell it.

As for maintenance fees, some people thought ours were high. However, they didn't know that this included heat and hot water. Is this the case for you?
posted by acoutu at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2006

Professional fluffers (stagers?) can be expensive - so you might just want to watch/rent a few episodes of "queer eye for the straight guy" to get some ideas — they do amazing transformations on a modest budget. i agree with others — your place has potential - it just needs less bad personality (e.g. remove the clutter from the fridge) and more good personality. (Something to fill up those bare walls and go with the funky blue. That little mirror and clock look lost on those big walls.) And definitely, sell the patio a bit more (it looks like there is mold growing on the concrete in the photo). Some plants would do wonders - and IKEA has some cheap wooden outdoor/garden furniture.

about the blue walls - i don't know if going to a generic beige is going to impress anyone. at least with the blue people have an easy way to distinguish your condo from all the others! ;)
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:59 PM on October 11, 2006

Growabrain's advice is right, unfortunately. Your condo is overpriced. If you haven't even received any lowball offers, it's probably way overpriced.

Somewhere out there is a buyer. On some subliminal level, sure, that buyer wants to see eggshell colored walls that he can imagine hanging his Klee prints on and putting his brown sofa in front of. But by far the more important characteristic of your buyer is that she's decided she wants to live in North York and she has a price in mind.

Putting cookies in the oven will not change the amount of money she can pay. And all indicators are that values will drop before they go up, which is making buyers very skittish.

Drop your price.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:39 AM on October 13, 2006

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