20 Pros, One Savvy Couple, A Fast Sale

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008

About 20 smartly dressed real estate agents, most of them women, most driving pricey cars, pull up on a tree-lined street in upper Northwest Washington one recent morning.

Without hesitation, they step inside a brick, English-style Colonial house on Utah Avenue NW, march around, upstairs and down, open and shut closet doors, peek in bathrooms and generally give the place a good once-over as if they own it -- or are about to.

Minutes later, on this intermittently drizzly day, the agents gather in the driveway to discuss a possible sales price and what, if anything, needs to be fixed up.

"It looks so perfect," says one agent, Catarina Bannier. "I would go least mid-800s."

"We're not in AU," says Nancy Wilson, the listing agent, a reference to the American University neighborhood, close to a Metro station. "I just want an honest price."

About 10 minutes of discussion ensues. Afterward, Wilson says: "I'm going to chew on it for an hour or two, and then I'm going to call" the owners. "I know they want it in the 800s."

What transpired that day, and in the days that followed, illustrates the hand-wringing process of pricing homes for sale in this down market, where competition can be fierce and where arriving at the right figure has become all the more important.

Price a house too high, and it can languish on the market, agents say. List it, then cut the price, and a prospective buyer may sense vulnerability and try to bid it down.

Dennis Melby, a real estate agent with Long & Foster in Bethesda and president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, said that with so many homes on the market, price "is one way" possible buyers narrow the field. "You don't want to price yourself out of the market," he said. "You can price your house too high, but you can't price it too low. The market usually makes up the difference" with multiple bids.

To arrive at the right price, a throng of agents from Evers & Co. venture out to a few homes every Tuesday to help their colleagues figure out the right price and what, if any, improvements need to be made before the property goes on the market.

The improvements may include fixing a fence or a roof, painting, removing clutter or getting the rabbit cage out of the den.

"When 25 people go through, people are more inclined to think, 'Maybe they do have some idea -- it's not just this person picking something off the top of their head," said Donna Evers of Evers & Co.

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