Ready or not, here it comes. The holiday season. And, for ever and ever, this has been known as a “slow season” for anyone who wants to sell or rent out an apartment. Looking ahead, we asked six savvy agents what they would suggest to move your property post haste.
The low inventory of available apartments and high demand could mean that this year won't be quite as slow as previous years.
“You see all those people walking on Fifth Avenue, visiting for the holiday?" says Mindy Feldman, a real estate broker at Halstead. "Some of them want to buy an apartment here and this is when they're in town and looking.”
And as Doug Heddings of Heddings Property Group reminds us: “People don't stop looking if they have to move.”
Here are a few suggestions to stir up some action:
1. Update your listing: If your apartment has been on the market for a while, give your listing a makeover.
“You want the buyer to look at it and think 'Did I ever see this one before?'" says Feldman
Spruce up the copy, freshen up the photos. If you have a view of the park, make sure it's a winter view, not a leafy green middle-of-July shot. Put some holiday bling into the thumbnails. Sparkling and twinkling gets attention--but don't go overboard, as too much holiday kitsch can turn off buyers.
2. Be flexible about viewing times. People are wildly busy during the holidays. You have to be able to accommodate a buyer's (or even a renter's) schedule. Weekend open houses don't make much sense. Give buyers a chance to see the apartment early in the morning or in the evening--and be sure that your broker understands just how important this ease of access is.
3. Plan a special event. Gary Malin of Citi Habitats suggests that since “the holidays are a perfect time for a party, invite your neighbors over for drinks and make sure that they know that your apartment is on the market. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, so let your friends and neighbors be your advocates.”
Feldman has her own ideas for a party. This one is for brokers and their buyers. First, schedule it so that it's easy for them to pop in and out of quickly. Include prizes linked to the holiday, the neighborhood and what the guests are interested in.
“We've given gift certificates for a staging by an expert , and a brunch at Cafe Boulud when the apartment was on the Upper East Side," she says.
4. Take another look at the price. “If your apartment has been listed for 45 days with little activity, it means that the current asking price isn't in line with current market conditions," says Malin.
Prices are determined simply by what people are willing to pay, so it's critical to be priced right. In fact, if you under-price slightly, it creates a sense of value and can result in multiple above-ask offers.”
Know the competition. Take a look at their listings—other apartments in your building that are for sale and apartments like yours in other buildings. Doug Perlson of Real Direct suggests coming in “just below the natural search break. If the competition is selling at $615,000 and the listing break [on a website] is $600,000, you may want to come in just below it.”
5. Consider increasing the commission percentage to brokers: Recently, when Mark Ski of Bond New York was hired to sell an East Village one-bedroom, one-bath co-op listed at $475,000, there were several similar one-bedroom apartments for sale in the same building. To spur activity on their apartment, the sellers offered the buyer's broker a 4% commission instead of the typical 3%.
"It brought the right buyer coming in at full asking price in one-day. The contracts were written, reviewed, signed, deposit received and fully executed in three days," says Ski.
Ski says he also used the strategy successfully in a situation where the sellers needed to sell their one-bedroom apartment quickly in order to close on another apartment: "Eight brokers scheduled appointments with me before the first open house, and we had two offers in the first 4 days, one at full-ask and one above ask."
Malin endorses the tactic, adding that a deadline should be put on the offer—something like “good until December 31.”
6. Freshen it up. There are no shortcuts here. As Scott Walsh of TF Cornerstone advised, “Get it so that you can eat on every surface.”
Sharon McIntosh, President of The McIntosh Company counsels: "While fresh flowers and bread baking in the oven may make a wonderful first impression, buyers are too savvy to be fooled. It's the well-organized kitchen counters, sparkling floors and woodwork, and spanking clean bathroom that really counts..... There is no doubt that a clean, fresh-looking apartment sells faster and at a higher price than one that looks tired and beaten up. We're talking thousands of dollars difference......”
She suggests that you rent a storage bin for your clutter, organize your clothes in the closets so that the space looks bigger, paint the walls, wax the floors or have them redone. Wash the windows, use high-wattage lightbulbs, give up fish and cigars for the duration and “when the broker is due to arrive with the client, leave! And take your children and the dogs with you.”
7. Be smart about holiday decorations. What you want to inspire in a buyer when he or she takes a look at your apartment, is the feeling that “Yes, this could be definitely be my home. I could be happy here.” That's not going to happen if the apartment is over-decorated for the holiday. Perlson suggest thinking of the holidays as “a cozy time of year” and not specific to any one set of customs (or religion). Dried corn on your door, the smell of mulled cider is fine. Keep it simple, keep it neutral.
It looks like rental prices across the city have peaked, and slow season has officially begun, according to the just-released MNS November 2012 Manhattan Rental Market Report. (Interestingly, Harlem is the only neighborhood that saw increases.)
If you're trying to rent out your place in the next month or two, you may want to:
1. Appeal to renters who don't meet standard job and income requirements. Landlords small and large can broaden the pool of acceptable renters at no extra cost--or risk--by permitting renters to use an institutional guarantor like Insurent Lease Guaranty. This means you can consider students, international renters, freelancers etc., who may make responsible tenants but don't have the income/job you would like to see, a U.S. credit history, the cash to pay a year's worth of rent upfront, and/or rich nearby relatives willing to guarantee their lease.
As the landlord, you pay nothing for the rent payment guarantee, and it just takes you a few minutes to set yourself up to accept Insurent; renters apply directly to Insurent and pay somewhere around a month's rent to guarantee their lease. Bonus: Besides increasing competition for your apartment, you don't have to lose a wink of sleep over the potential nightmare of a defaulting tenant.
2. Offer concessions. You may want to consider 'sweeteners' like paying the cable bill, covering gym fees, the broker fee and/or any application fees to your co-op or condo and maybe even a free month's rent. It can incentivize people to get moving when things are slow.