Living Smart: How to sell the unsellable house

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Do you think your house is unsellable due to its location? Highly rated real estate agents on Angieís List explain how to sell a house, even in the most undesirable spot.

If the most important thing in real estate is "location, location, location," how do you sell your house if itís in a bad one?

Whether thereís a freeway running overhead or a strip mall next door, a challenging piece of real estate isnít unsellable. "There are three components to selling a house: price, location and condition," says Realtor Kelly Clevenger of Coldwell Banker, Wallace & Wallace in Knoxville, Tenn. "Thatís the mixture you have to balance in order to sell. If your location is a negative, then your price in comparison to the homes around it is going to have to be lower, and the homeís condition has to be better."

Clevenger says he recently represented a house for sale that backed up to railroad tracks. "People would be in the house and hear the train go by, and it would unnerve them," he says. "They loved the house, but couldnít get over the noise."

His strategy in selling the home was twofold: Get as many prospective buyers as he could through the door during open houses, and then have them talk to the neighbors, who offered assurance theyíd get used to the noise. "The truth of it is, thereís not a perfect home or a perfect location," he says. "Even if youíre buying in the million-dollar range, itís still not going to be 100 percent perfect. Itís just accepting that, hey, this home is 90 percent of what I want and Iím OK with that." Clevengerís approach with the railroad home, combined with aggressive pricing, led to a sale in 63 days.

With a difficult location, an adjustment in pricing compared to other nearby homes that have recently sold is inevitable. "Sometimes this can be a 10 to 20 percent differential, depending on the severity of the location versus alternative properties for sale," says Realtor Wendy Tanson of Re/Max Winning Edge in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Itís important to play up the positives of the location, such as access to highways and amenities. The property needs to be in fantastic condition and staged as well."

After nine years and two children, Angieís List member Elle Barwidi was ready to sell her familyís home in Twinsburg, Ohio. But she knew it was going to be a challenge because the house was on a very busy street. "With people watching so many popular housing shows, such as ĎHouse Huntersí and ĎProperty Virgins,í where location is stressed so highly, I knew weíd have pickier buyers," she says. "I had to make the inside super appealing."

With the guidance of Realtor Will Penney of Penney Real Estate in Stow, Ohio, Barwidi committed to decluttering the home and applying a fresh coat of paint both inside and out. "We had made several updates to the interior of the house throughout our time living there, so Willís suggestions of how to declutter and make each room look large and appealing was great," she says. "It certainly helped with the overall sale."

Barwidiís efforts paid off, and the family received a contract from a buyer after four months on the market. "If youíre trying to sell a house thatís in a tricky location, hold tight," she advises. "Thereís a perfect buyer for every house."

Buying in a new neighborhood?

On the flip side, homebuyers looking to build in a new development need to be aware that some lots are going to be less desirable than others. Whether a particular lot has electrical towers in the backyard or bumps up to a busy street, there is a temptation to invest in such a lot because it will be less expensive.

"The biggest factor is going to be how long do you hope to live in this home?" says real estate broker Lori Jo Smith of Bellingham, Wash. "If you live in it long term, at least 10 years, the consequences that are negative are going to diminish." But keep your expectations realistic and purchase the lot for the level of discount that you think youíll assume when you sell the house.

"Itís also key to not build the most expensive house on the street," Tanson says. "Given that your home will be sold at a discount relative to others, you will gain more of your investment if you donít build the premium home on the least premium lot."

Keeping resale value in mind is key. "You have to think like a seller while you buy it," says Realtor Sally Messinger of Howard Hanna Real Estate in Pepper Pike, Ohio. "Youíre buying it new, so itís got a bang to it. Once the houses are built, itís a little less shiny. If you have the one house that has the highway behind it, youíre going to have trouble with that. I tell people: if you buy that house, and you call me to sell it, donít be surprised when I list it for less than what youíve bought it for."

Of course, sometimes a house in an unfortunate location isnít any fault of the owners. "Some properties were in the right location when they bought them, but now theyíre in the wrong location, whether something was built up next to it, or things have moved out," Messinger says. "Price cures all ills. When the price is right, thereís someone who will buy it. There may be a limited number of buyers, but at the right price, you can sell a house in the middle of a cemetery."