Has Apathy Struck Our Real Estate Industry?

Apathy can be cruel as by its very nature its victim is often the last to know.

My recent column, Thailand’s 10-year economic cycle, obviously was punctual in reporting that market downturns strike once a decade—in those years ending with the number seven. And here we are once again!

The good news is that the real estate booms that followed the last two crashes were incredible, boosting Eastern Seaboard property prices and sales volumes to new highs.

Now, however, on the heels of a protracted slump, I fear that real estate agents and private home sellers are suffering from a deep sense of apathy. The question that must be asked is: How do we best begin our journey back to prosperous times?

On this very subject, I found a Pattaya Today article written by Khun Dee nearly 10 years ago in which he points to the lingering apathy that then plagued the market. The writer’s observations are no less valid today for every real estate agent and individual home seller. To wit:

Are you an apathetic seller

As I explored neighborhoods in and around Pattaya recently–looking through the eyes of a friend who was shopping for a home, it occurred to me that there are an inordinate number of condominiums, townhouses and single family homes available for sale. That in itself was not surprising, of course. It was more of a recognition that this decade’s seemingly-giddy building spree so sharply contrasts with the current doldrums plaguing the local economy, tourism and the property market.

What was surprising was how apathetic so many sellers are. Not that I expected open houses with balloons, clowns and free refreshments; but I did expect smiles, enthusiasm and presentable properties.

My friend and I were attracted by one home with excellent curb appeal. Unfortunately, that’s where the appeal ended. Inside we were half-heartedly greeted by a cheerless woman, four overly-affectionate cats and offensive odors emanating from litter boxes.  Before I could exit, my friend had already climbed over boxes and shoes scattered in the entryway and was well on his way to the kitchen. That room could have been a deal clincher for him because cooking is his passion. Instead, we found unwashed pots and pans in the sink and a fifth cat eating leftovers out of breakfast dishes on the counter. The floor was lined with newspapers under cat bowls. And what was once an impressive stove-and-oven appliance had been allowed to deteriorate into a grimy grease pit.

Before making my escape, I wandered around the dreary house enough to find that discarded clothing had been left here and there, that the floor and furniture were dusty, and that the bed had not been made.

I could see past the bad housekeeping and recognize that the house itself had some lovely features and an underlying quality that would impress knowledgeable homebuyers. But most visitors would be put off by such slovenliness; they would not even consider looking beyond the superficial. Instead they probably would be inclined to ask themselves: if the owner has so little regard for those areas of the home that are accessible and visible to prospective buyers, how has he maintained those areas that are inaccessible? The roof? The air conditioner? The plumbing? And how much will it cost me to repair those failings?

Regrettably, that house was not unique in being unprepared for market. Nor was the cheerless woman the only apathetic home seller we met. It cannot be stressed enough that if you’re sincere about wanting to sell your home you can’t afford to be apathetic in your preparation or in your attitude. Particularly now when there are so many other homes available–homes which have been well-maintained and convey the owners’ sense of pride.

Granted, it may be that some owners are of the opinion that homes just aren’t selling now so why bother making an effort? Which makes sense if you don’t really care whether or not you sell. But if you do care, then adverse market conditions should provide even more incentive to redouble your efforts to attract and impress the few potential buyers who do exist.

Your real estate agent will probably advise you on such basics as: pick up your clothes, clean everything, eradicate the odors and eliminate the pets (at least temporarily). But that’s just the beginning of the checklist that you should follow prior to showing your home. Here are some additional suggestions:

* Clean behind and under all appliances; remove dust.

* Clean floors.

* Dust and clean all light fixtures.

* Clean windows and window coverings.

* Wash walls and baseboards; touch up scuffs with paint.

* Clean and polish the furniture.

* Clean out your closets. Expect visitors to open every door. Do what you can to make closets look spacious; storage space is appealing.

* Clean your kitchen pantry and all cabinets.

* Dust and vacuum every room in your home thoroughly before each showing.

* Scrub all areas of your bathroom, removing any soap scum and mildew. Make the porcelain and chrome shine. Use air fresheners in the bathroom and any other room that might need help. Display your best towels.

* Clear as much clutter as you can from every room, particularly from counter surfaces. In the bathroom, for example, remove personal items (toothbrushes, combs and grooming supplies) from vanities. Appliances and tools that you typically keep out on the kitchen counter should be stored under the sink or somewhere out of sight. Clutter creates the illusion of less space (i.e., less counter space).

* If you have excess furniture in any room, either sell it or store it. Your goal should be to create as much open space as possible throughout every room in your house.

* If a wall needs painting, or you painted a wall or two some unorthodox color, repaint it white or neutral. They are the most universally appealing shades and they open up rooms, making them appear larger.

* Open up drapes and blinds to invite natural light into your home. If a room tends to be dark, purchase light bulbs with brighter wattage or add lamps.

One final thought. Curb appeal is the home’s exterior appearance–that quality which lures buyers inside. So even before you begin to prepare your home’s interior, focus on the exterior.

Begin by looking at your house from across the street; look at nearby houses, too. How does yours compare? Is your landscaping at least average for the neighborhood? Is your yard neat and trimmed? If your house looks faded, a paint job may be in order; it’s a good investment. Spruce up the front door, polish fixtures, refinish windows if needed, and repair the doorbell.  Remove exterior clutter: clear your lawn and driveway of all toys, equipment and debris. Consider adding some flowers and plants, and definitely get a new welcome mat and augment it with a welcoming attitude. Remember, you are setting the tone for the rest of the showing.

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Despite the article being 10 years old, I feel it has a ring of insight and helpful truths that we, as real estate agents, should take to heart even today.

Let’s all sellers and agents alike start moving from apathy to inspiration. The next fantastic real estate cycle just might be at our doorstep.

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