Business Tips Features Market Trends

Selling the Unsellable

A home next to a highway? One with a seven-car garage? One that’s fire damaged? They usually sell at a snail’s pace, but here’s how some ‘unmarketable’ homes sold quickly.

By Daniel Rome Levine

Many REALTORS® would have taken one look at the burnt-out, garbage-strewn home and said, “No, thanks.” But not Betty Kerr, CRS, with RE/MAX Evolution in Orange County, California. “Every home has a buyer,” she told the desperate owner, an elderly woman who had been trying to sell the house herself for years after it had gone up in flames.

As if that wasn’t enough to deter potential buyers, the city had boarded up the home after deeming it too dangerous to live in. Mounds of trash and other debris littered the front yard. “So much for curb appeal,” Kerr says.

So-called “unmarketable homes” may take longer to sell, but with the right approach, you will find a buyer who thinks it’s just right for them.

Kerr had handled numerous so-called unsellable homes in her more than 30 years in the business, but she knew this one would take a special effort. She spent a week personally helping clean up the garbage outside. Then she drafted a letter and sent it to more than 50 neighbors, investors and contractors. Not stopping there, she went door-to-door in the neighborhood hitting 20 homes a day, five days a week, drumming up interest in the property.

Six weeks later, her hard work and outreach paid off. An investor and builder who lived two blocks away bought the home.

Tough-to-sell houses are a true test of an agent’s skills and patience. Conventional real estate marketing is not enough to move these properties. When it comes to homes that are considered unmarketable, REALTORS® have to think creatively and employ unconventional, novel tactics to generate buyer interest.

Margaret Rome, CRS, broker/owner of HomeRome Realty in Baltimore, Maryland, lives for the challenge these homes present. “It’s like a dare,” she says. “Tell me all the reasons why I can’t sell it, and it’s going to make me want to do it even more.”

Highway Living

One of her first experiences with such a property was a home that sat right next to the Baltimore beltway, Interstate 695, on two acres. It also had five bathrooms and two bedrooms. Five other agents had already tried selling the home using traditional marketing methods and all had given up.

Rome did things differently. First, she took down the “For Sale” sign, not wanting to draw attention to how long the home had been on the market. She also stopped holding open houses, preferring a more targeted marketing approach that highlighted the home’s convenient access to the highway.

Being Present and Patient

Because of the quirky nature of these homes, selling them requires a personal touch. “Anybody can put a lockbox on a house, put it in the multiple listing service and wait for the right buyer to come along, but I want to meet every prospective buyer and agent at the property so I can personally explain the home’s unique qualities,” says Margaret Rome, broker/owner at HomeRome Realty in Baltimore, Maryland. She also makes her own appointments so that before the people come out, she can explain to the agent what is different about the house so they are forewarned and there are no surprises.

Selling these types of houses also requires a great deal of patience. “You can’t worry about days on market,” Rome says. “A lot of times when agents ask me how long one of these houses has been on the market, I say, ‘A little longer than forever.’ It may take longer to move these properties, but we end up selling them to the right people.”

Instead of being defensive and evasive about the location when asked by potential buyers, she played it up. If they asked if you could hear the roar of the cars zooming past, she enthusiastically answered, “Yes, not only can you hear it, but if they slow down enough you can read the license plates.”

Rome ended up selling the home not long after to a young musician who wanted the freedom to rehearse at all hours and not worry about bothering the neighbors. Rome even sold the home a second time using the same marketing approach to a couple whose top priority was direct access to the highway without having to worry about bad weather ever blocking their way.

Motor Home

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Linda DeVlieg, CRS, is selling an unusual home, she tries to imagine what type of person would be attracted to the property’s unique features and then targets them in her marketing. “Especially with these types of homes, we REALTORS® too often make the mistake of marketing to other real estate agents using agent-speak instead of advertising directly to potential buyers using plain language that highlights the features and benefits of a house.”

DeVlieg, with Keller Williams Realty, recalls the time she took on the sale of a property that had a seven-car garage, two bedrooms and one bathroom after several other agents had declined to work with the seller because of the challenging configuration. She targeted her advertising campaign directly at car aficionados and even used humor to play up the huge garage. “Want to live in your garage? Here’s the perfect house.” Her marketing plan worked. “By targeting the car fanatic or the person who likes to fix them up, we were able to find a buyer who said this was his dream property,” she says. “What may look on the surface like a drawback to one person may be a positive to someone else.”

Personal Touch

Bruce Ailion, CRS, with RE/MAX Town and Country, in Atlanta, Georgia, saw this firsthand when his firm listed a home on a very busy street several years ago. Not only was traffic an issue, but the house was in a flood zone. The rustic contemporary home also had several unique design features such as a tall, soaring roof and numerous large windows that offered little privacy. The house had been on the market for more than two years and several different agents from other firms had failed to sell it. When Ailion’s firm took it on as an expired listing, it was obvious that a different, more hands-on approach would be needed.

Ailion and an agent in his office came up with a plan to keep the home open every day, six days a week, and have the agent set up a desk there to establish a near-permanent presence so he could be sure to interact with anyone who came in. It worked. The home sold four months later. “Because we were open all the time, there was a constant flow of potential buyers coming in and asking questions,” Ailion says.

“When selling an unusual, unique home, my advice is to be there as much as possible,” he says. “You have to sit somewhere to do your daily work—make calls, negotiate contracts, research properties—why not do these things at the unique property you are trying to sell?”

Daniel Rome Levine is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area.

If you have an unmarketable home, turn to our We Are CRS Facebook group for advice. CRS Designees and candidates are there to help bounce around ideas or hone unusual tactics.