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With so few apartments on the market, you’d think brokers would jump at the chance to list any old place. After all, more listings equals more commissions, right? Not necessarily.
In most cases, if you’re planning to hire a broker to sell your apartment, you'll be the one judging their record and picking someone who suits your home and your personality. That said, certain seller behaviors will make even the most seasoned real estate professional avoid your listing like an empty subway car. “Most sellers can be difficult, but some are just plain impossible,” says Jonathan Tager, a broker with MNS. “I do my best to stay away from those. Life is too short!” We spoke to several brokers to find out their top deal-breakers, so that you can be sure to get the help you need to unload your apartment as quickly and harmoniously as possible.
1. Sticking to an unrealistic price
A broker wants to list your apartment for the highest price possible--but only within reason. If you insist on an asking price that’s out of whack with what similar places are fetching, it’s likely you’ll have a tough time finding a professional to sell your apartment. After all, a home that’s on the market for a sum that will scare away buyers will linger, costing everyone involved money and time.
“This point can't be emphasized enough because for the right price anything will most likely sell,” says Mark Neuwirth, a broker with Bellmarc. “If the ask price is radically wrong, the credibility of both the seller and the listing agent are compromised.”
Some audacious (or inexperienced) agents will go along with sky-high asking prices just to get your business, but this isn't the best long-term strategy. "The owner may want to set the price based on what he dreams the apartment is worth, what his neighbor says or how much he paid," Neuwirth says. "The priority for the new agent is to get the listing at any cost. To do this they will tell the seller what he wants to hear and not what is actually in their best interests. In strong markets this approach has some chances of success. In transitional ones it's a recipe for disaster."
Indeed, when it comes to pricing an apartment, a broker’s reputation is on the line. “I'll list most properties if they are within the realm of reality, but every now and then you get something that isn't even close,” Tager says. “It makes you look unprofessional to the brokerage community. It's very important to be respected by your peers. They are who you'll do most of your deals with.”
Plus, even if you do get a buyer to bite, an appraiser may balk at the price, ruining the buyer’s chances of getting a mortgage, Neuwirth notes.
2. Objecting to the sales process
On a related note, if you’re unwilling to learn how the sales process works, that could be a problem. “In one case, an owner insisted that the listing agent could write the contract of sale and save attorney fees,” Neuwirth recalls. “This is against New York State Law.” In this instance, the owner didn't live in the city, and had experience selling properties in his home state, where the laws were different, Neuwirth explains.
"It's actually very common to find owners who don't understand many things about their sale regardless of whether they live in New York or not," he says. "This is logical because they are not brokers doing this every day. Most often they do want to learn about the market but are unsure about whom to trust." Doing your research, choosing the right broker, and finding an attorney who specializes in real estate transactions are good first steps. (See our guide to selling a New York City apartment for additional advice.)
3. Haggling too hard on the commission
Most brokers earn all their income through commissions, rather than salaries, and foot the bill for everything from listing photos to the h’ors d’oeuvres served at your open house. Some negotiation over the commission (6 percent is customary) is acceptable, but haggling for every last penny is a turnoff.
“They will tell me that other brokers are willing to work for them for less and I'll respond that if they are willing to give away their money so quickly, how quickly do you think they will give away your money,” Tager says.
Keep in mind that the bargaining is not simply about the commission percentage, but the terms of your exclusive contract as well; if you and your potential broker can’t agree on items like how long it will take to sell your apartment, it’s possible the broker will skip working with you. “It costs my company money when we list a property,” Tager explains. “It doesn't make sense if we don't give ourselves a decent opportunity to sell a property.”
Ari Harkov, a broker with Halstead Property, adds: “If it is an incredible property and well-priced but the client and we don’t see eye to eye on our terms and we feel it will not be a healthy relationship, we may not take on the listing.”
4. Living in a problematic apartment ...
Another consideration for brokers is, unsurprisingly, the apartment itself. “Is there a large or small buyer pool, is this type of property in vogue or not,” Harkov says. Similarly, is it renovated? Staged? Full of a pack rat’s knick knacks?
“In one case the apartment was overwhelmed with huge pieces of furniture, tons of clutter, strange (scary!) art, and the floors had been dripped with paint a la Jackson Pollock,” Neuwirth recalls. In other cases, renters make it difficult for brokers to show the place to prospective buyers. “The vast majority of tenants are very cooperative but some do not want a transaction to take place,” Neuwirth says.
That’s not to say that weird apartments don’t sell; it’s that as a seller of a place with issues, you’ll have to be more flexible on things like price. A broker may also try to persuade you to stage the apartment. “If it is a property we are super excited to represent and a client who is awesome but we’re pushing the envelope on price above what we think is appropriate, we might still agree [to take the listing],” Harkov says. “Or, if the property is in terrible condition and barely showable and the seller has no intention [or] desire to stage or prepare for showings but has realistic expectations about what the impact will be on the final sales price, then we might take the listing.”
5. ... or building
In New York, it’s just as likely that the building, rather than the home, will make a sale difficult, so brokers are also wary of taking on listings in properties where a buyer’s attorney will advise against a purchase or the bank won’t lend. “I have walked away from multiple listings in a building that was physically crumbling, a significant amount of the owners were not paying their maintenance, the building owed millions of dollars and had bad credit and it was not possible to get any credible answers,” Neuwirth says. “In one instance, various factions inside the building publicly posted letters in the halls and elevators yelling at each other.”
6. Not actually wanting to sell
It may seem counterintuitive, but some sellers put their apartments on the market for reasons other than the desire to ink a deal. Some may be testing the waters, or will only consider a sale at an astronomical price. “Maybe they are just bored with life or think they can get much more for their property than it's worth,” Tager says.
Either way, don’t expect a broker to go along for the ride. “I need my sellers to see the value in hiring me,” Tager adds, “and they need to want to actually sell.”
7. Being the wrong kind of crazy
New York is filled with eccentrics, and certainly even the wackiest of the city’s denizens have sold real estate before. But if your particular brand of crazy (or stubbornness) is going to throw off buyers and stand in the way of a sale, you may have a tough time hiring a broker.
For example, one couple Tager worked with demanded a "lease back," where they would remain in their Williamsburg condo after selling it--a situation that often puts off buyers to begin with. But to make matters worse, the couple wanted to stay for a full six months, and offered to pay only $3,200 a month in rent, though similar apartments in the building were going for several hundred dollars more. A buyer (who was prepared to pay the full $1 million asking price in cash) balked, but they wouldn't budge. Then, at an open house, the husband locked Tager’s colleague out after his wife had something like a “nervous breakdown.” The next day, Tager called them and “politely told them we should part ways,” he says. The apartment later sold for more than $100,000 below the asking price, Tager says. The lesson here? There’s only so much a broker will tolerate.
For Neuwirth, the dealbreaker was an unconventional pet belonging to the seller of a two-bedroom on the Lower East Side. “During a listing presentation,” he says, “I could not escape the feeling that something was very wrong. Subsequently one of my colleagues disclosed that during her visit she saw a six-foot snake in the smaller bedroom.” He never went back.