Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

A Quick Sell

Smart home pricing and some “good housekeeping” will help sellers navigate a buyer's market

1. Jonathan Taylor

Taylor is the managing partner of Tutt , Taylor & Rankin Sotheby's International Realty. With over 50 agents in offi ces in Georgetown and Downtown Washington and nearly $500 million in sales in 2005, TTRSIR is one of the top independently owned and operated real estate fi rms in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The recent affi liation with Sotheby's International Realty brings an international network of contacts, marketing and technology to the clients of TTRSIR.


2. Karen Briscoe

Briscoe recently partnered with Sue Huckaby of Weichert Realtors to form The Huckaby Briscoe Group. The Huckaby Briscoe Group consistently sells over $100 million in the Northern Virginia market specializing in McLean, Great Falls and North Arlington. Briscoe began her real estate career 25 years ago developing residential lots for the Trammell Crow Co. in Dallas and relocated to the Northern Virginia area about 13 years ago.


3. Melinda Estridge

Estridge, of the Estridge Group, Long and Foster Real Estate, has been selling real estate in the Washington area for 25 years. She focuses primarily on Bethesda, Chevy Chase, South Potomac and Northwest Washington. Her full-time staff, buyer specialist and 7 daya- week real estate advice provide the highest level of service possible, placing Estridge in the top 1/2 percent of all agents nationwide.


4. Mark Bisnow

Bisnowhas been a lawyer, politico and businessman in Washington for nea r l y three decades and publishes a growing number of electronic newsletters, including Real Estate Weekly, which features i n t e r v i ews with top Wa s h i n g to n - a rea experts. He also writes a column called “BizKnow,” a weekly personality column in the Washington Business Journal.


Top local real estate agents Jonathan Taylor, Karen Briscoe and Melinda Estridge agree that it's a buyer's market out there, but a realistic attitude on pricing and making the most of a home's potential will still help those wanting to sell property here.

The Market
Mark Bisnow: Where is the real estate market?
Karen Briscoe:
I know the buyers are buying because I lost two contracts in a bidding war two days ago! If you look at January, February and March, we're pretty neck and neck with last year on the number of houses that have gone under contract in those three months. But what's different is that we have huge inventory and so buyers can be much more selective.

Bisnow: So days a house is on the market is longer than a year ago?
Double what it was last year.

Bisnow: Jonathan, how is D.C. looking?
Jonathan Taylor:
We're seeing a tremendous improvement in March.

Bisnow: How about all the condos that have poured into the market? Would you say the condo market looks overheated and overbuilt?
It appears that way. Although March condo sales were really up. It was the second-highest condo sale month in the history of D.C.

Bisnow: What about singlefamily houses?
In the last month I have seen a huge increase in townhouse sales in Dupont, Kalorama, Columbia triangle and Adams Morgan. These townhouses in the $1.5 million to $2 million range have been selling quite quickly. We just sold one on the 1700 block on R Street listed at $2.25 million.ea and his wife Elizabeth. The purchasers Rachel and Theodore Georgelas paid $65,000 less than the asking price.

Bisnow: How about the other areas of Northwest?
It is definitely a little sluggish and very price sensitive. People aren't afraid if they go away without making an offer on the house that it won't be there later.

Bisnow: Melinda, what are you seeing in terms of current trends in Maryland?
Melinda Estridge:
Houses are staying on the market longer - we have a glut of new homes in the $1.5 to $2 million range in Bethesda where builders are not able to sell them because there are so many choices. If the home is priced slightly above market then you might find the right buyer within 30 days. I always tell the seller if you have eight qualified people for your property then there should be a buyer for your property and those statistics work over and over again.

Bisnow: Are you seeing differences in the high end between Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac?
Not so much. Inventory in Chevy Chase is pretty low for certain kinds of product, so if you have something special that comes on the market buyers are all over it with multiple contracts.

The Price is Right

Bisnow: How do you arrive at the price for a client's property? And how do you persuade them if they don't agree? Briscoe: I would have to say a lot of it is viewing properties. It is a bit of a gut reaction. You have to know what your wildcard is on a property. Does it sit on a lot? Is it close to a busy street? How updated is it? Everybody knows it is a buyers market… price is everything. If it is priced right, it is going to sell. If people understand pricing strategies, they are much more likely to price where they need to be.

Bisnow: Do you have a formula of how long to wait before you have a heart to heart with the client if a property doesn't sell?
If it is overpriced then I try to do it within one week.
Taylor: Get feedback on why buyers aren't making offers and let the seller know. Sometimes it works. One of the lines I hear a lot (from sellers) is 'let them make an offer'. Well, they aren't making offers. People are far less prone to make offers now.

Bisnow: So if a qualified buyer doesn't come back for a second look that tells you to talk to the client about pricing. Briscoe: Right. Then we will do comparables to try and show them what their house compares to and what other houses our selling for. If they are serious about selling they will adjust their price.

Bisnow: What is the name of that Web site where you can type in your address and get the value of your house? Is it any good?.
Zillow.com. Yes, it's good, but most of the time prices are either too low or high depending on certain weights and calculations.
Briscoe: I think the hard thing we are seeing right now is people gettting their tax bills and their houses are worth less than their assessments.

Bisnow: Do you lose valuable time and momentum if you price wrong at the beginning? Taylor: Absolutely. Estridge: People are competing. A perfect example is a home on Bradley Boulevard that we priced at $1.2 million and then dropped it to one million. It opened up a whole new price range of buyers, and we had three contracts that drove the selling price up to $1.1 million.

Bisnow: If you ask other agents to drop by a house, fill out a form and let you know what they think, do you get a concensus on price? Briscoe: You have to ask the right persons.
We just did that in-house last week and we asked people from other companies too. People who are professionals in the market generally see eye to eye. A good agent will trust a lot of other agents to come in and assist pricing it.

Bisnow: I was very surprised Dan Snyder's house didn't sell for more. It was actually listed for over $5 million. It was on a well-known, beautiful street but only sold for $3.6. Do you know why it didn't sell for $5 million? Apparently he mis-priced it and he's mr. marketeer?
He's not a marketeer in real estate.
Taylor: Lots of these high-end buyers are cautious because they don't want their friends to think they made a mistake and overpaid.

Curb Appeal
Bisnow: Suppose you are thinking about putting your house on the market for $1.5 million or above. What things are reasonable for you to do to maximize its appeal?
It depends on what your daily maintenance patterns are with your house. For some people it is virtually nothing; for most people it's a lot of work cleaning up and putting clutter away.

Bisnow: Should you take out 50 percent of the things from your house?
That's a very good idea for some people. Sometimes it's 90 percent - including furniture. Just move it on out. Briscoe: That's what Pods are made for. Drag it away.

Bisnow: Would you paint it if it hasn't been painted for five years?
Yes. Or if the colors are outrageous.
Estridge: I have used interior decorators to help clients understand what they need to do. They meet with the clients to introduce some cleaning and paint colors. It's worth it to get that perspective on everything.

Bisnow: Would you hire a handyman for a month to go around and fix every little thing in the house?
We do pre-inspections and get a pretty good idea of what is wrong with the property. Then you choose what to fix and what not to fix so you essentially have an asset sale.

Bisnow: If your front lawn has lots of weeds but you're going to put it on the market in a couple of months would you dig up the lawn and put in sod?
It makes a difference, curb appeal is critical.
Estridge: If you price it low enough they might overlook weeds.

Briscoe: Yes, but if you are in a $1 - $2 million price range, I don't see how it would be acceptable to have a house with weeds.
You're selling a lifestyle as well as the property.

Briscoe: People want to see themselves living there. Estridge: And it needs to be sexy. Bisnow: What about updating interior features like dated kitchens and baths?
It's worthwhile if at the end of the renovation your house is worth that investment plus a substantial profit.

Bisnow: If it's a really high-priced house would you advise against renovating because the people who can buy that particular house would have their own taste and would end up ripping it out?
I hear more people in that price range say I would rather have nothing done so we could tear it out and do what we want. Kitchens and bathrooms are very particular for people.
Briscoe: If you get a $3.5 million house and it has an amazing kitchen and bathrooms that have been done tastefully then you would pick that over a house that is tired. Renovations take energy and time.

Bisnow: What should people do if they want to live in the house for a year or two and then sell?
Paint, redo floors, new carpet.
Taylor: Proper master bedroom and closet space. A lot of times in some of these renovations they would blow out the kitchen or family room in an older house. Let's say in Northwest a buyer is looking for that $1.5 million price range. But then it's got an old master bedroom and a bathroom that two people can't stand in at one time and it doesn't work for the person that has the $2 million dollars to spend.
Estridge: Proper landscaping. You have to drive up the appeal to make it more inviting. Bisnow: And if you do the whole redo to perfection then spending all the money pays off?
Taylor: Yes. It's not that hard to do it tastefully. It's amazing how many people personalize things too much - it just eliminates others from liking it.

The Closing
Bisnow: You know people like glamour. What's the highest end thing you're dealing with? Anything to get excited about?
We have some loft-style condos above what used to be City's Restaurant (now Left Bank in Adams Morgan). The properties are listed for $2.4 and $1.8 million and both of them are being pursued right now. We have a house in Kalorama at 1824 23rd Street that we have a great new price on. It started at $3.85 million and been on the market for about 6 months and just got to $2.995 million. It would have been history if had we started there - as we said high prices diminish the enthusiasm.
Estridge: I have a great town home in Gaithersburg. It's probably about $1.6 million and is not that huge, but it is a very interesting property because there are not many contemporaries around.

Bisnow: Fantastic, it's a wrap!!

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