Jennifer Carr decided to sell her Shirlington, Va.-area condo on something of a whim, after falling for a property she saw during an open house. Though her decision was quick, she still took the time to declutter and stage her condo to make it as appealing as possible to buyers. As a result, she got two offers from buyers who saw the place before she’d even held her open house. Her condo sold in five days.
“It was a bit overwhelming following the stager around as she marked the items that needed to go,” says Carr, 43, who works in fundraising at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “But once it was all done, it totally made sense and looked fantastic. It was a lot of work but absolutely worth it.”
A fantastically furnished and accessorized condo can definitely make buyers swoon. But that’s only part of the equation. There are other steps sellers can take to help secure a speedy sale.
Become an authority on where you live
Unlike single-family homes, a condo is part of a larger complex that’s run by an association. There are rules and regulations that condo owners must live by, which can vary from place to place.
Having a good understanding of the particulars of their development helps sellers address any questions buyers might ask.
“Dig out your condo documents and any amendments made since you’ve owned it,” says Lindsay Dreyer, broker/owner of D.C.-based City Chic Real Estate (202-470-0737). “So if someone asks, ‘Are the windows my responsibility?’ you have that information to tell them.”
Once an offer is made, a prospective buyer gets to review the official documents that detail the condo building’s management structure, budget and finances, and rules and regulations. Offering up the information ahead of time can help avoid any deal-breaking surprises later on.
Because condo owners are often collectively responsible for major building maintenance, sellers should find out if any special assessments are on the horizon requiring owners to pitch in a certain amount to, say, fix the roof or pave the parking lot. Carr learned that she’d have to pay her share of the building’s balcony-repair costs before selling her unit.
“It couldn’t be transferred to a buyer,” she says. “The balance was pretty low, so it wasn’t a big deal. But if it had been a bigger amount it would have been a bigger challenge.”
Sellers also need to learn some details about other units in their building, since that can impact a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage.
“Find out how many units are owner-occupied versus rented, because the higher the number of nonowner occupied units, the more difficult it is for buyers to find financing,” says Elizabeth Blakeslee, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in D.C. (202-625-3419). If a lot of owners have fallen behind on their condo fees, that could also cause problems.
On the plus side, if the building has gained the seal of approval of the Federal Housing Administration or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that could make it easier for buyers to find willing lenders.
Pick the right agent
Because a condo is such a different animal from a single-family home, sellers need to work with real estate agents who understand condo-specific things like special assessments and condo associations.
“You don’t want to hire your brother-in-law who lives 40 miles away and has never sold a condo in his life to market your condo,” says Thomas K. Meyer, president of Arlington-based real estate brokerage firm Condo 1 (703-228-9007). “You want to choose someone who has familiarity and experience with condos.”
Interview several different agents and ask for referrals and information about the condos they’ve sold in the past, things like how long they were on the market and how much the condo sold for versus the original asking price. Learn how an agent plans on marketing your listing, since a condo can present some unique challenges.
“Most of the time your condo building won’t allow you to put a yard sign out front, so your agent has to find other ways to let people know about your property,” says Dreyer.
Sellers also need to ensure that they’ll be able to work well with the agent they choose. “You want somebody with whom you’ll feel comfortable and who will give you frank but hopefully pleasant advice on how to best present your property,” says Blakeslee.
Check out your competition
A lot of condo units are pretty similar to one another when it comes to basic layout and architectural features. Sellers need to know what else is on the market in their complex and neighborhood.
“It’s important to educate yourself on the comparable properties in your building and surrounding area and how they compare to yours,” says Drew Scott, a real estate agent and co-host of the HGTV show “Property Brothers.”
“You don’t want to be the ugliest unit or most expensive listing in your building,” he says.
Once you’ve done your research, play up your unit’s strengths. Do you have a great view? Make sure your window treatments draw attention to the vista instead of hiding it. Have you made a lot of updates? Let buyers know with a flier that details all of the improvements.
You can also one-up your competition with architectural changes. It can be something as simple as putting up crown molding, or a more drastic change.
“Many condos that were built in the 1970s and ’80s are very compartmentalized,” says Scott. “Look at where you can open up a wall. You obviously have to get permission, but if you can open up a wall between the living room and kitchen it can really make the space look different and modern.”
Set the stage
Start with the basics: A good cleaning job is something many sellers overlook.
“Clean the windows and appliances, clean or replace the carpets, caulk the bathtub and organize the closets,” says Meyer. “People are going to check your closets; they’re going to open the oven and see the crud that’s in there.”
“Cleaning was one of the biggest things we did,” says Norma J. Schrock, 50, who recently sold a condo in Arlington that she and her husband used as a rental property. “We had the windows washed, the blinds dusted off, the area around the washer and dryer cleaned out. When you walk in and see dirt on the windows, it just leaves a completely different impression. The place looks used,” she says.
Make any necessary repairs, no matter how small they might seem. “It will make people think that you’ve really taken good care of your home,” says Blakeslee.
Then move on to decluttering, depersonalizing and decorating your space in a way that will appeal to as many buyers as possible.
“Buyers are really sophisticated now; they watch the same TV shows and see what people are doing, so they have certain expectations,” says Lauren Kline, a Realtor with Long and Foster Real Estate in Bethesda (301-518-9005). “You basically have to think of a model home, and no one really lives in a model home. No one has toothpaste out; there’s no toaster oven. It’s just this beautiful, pristine home. But that’s what sells and what sellers have to be prepared to do,” she says.
“My advice is to do as your stager and Realtor say,” says Carr. “They are the experts and know how to market your home to get the best offer. Don’t take it personally if they want your favorite piece of art removed.”