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No question, selling your home is no easy process; even for the pros, it can be emotionally draining and fraught with unexpected pitfalls. Of course, selling can also be far easier and more lucrative for brokers than us civilians. So when it comes time to market their own apartments, how do brokers handle the transaction? And more importantly, what can we learn from their successes (and missteps)?
We talked to brokers who've recently sold their own places. Here's what really happens when the script gets flipped:
THE SCENARIO: THE "FSBO" FIZZLE
Before moving into his current Bushwick townhouse, Citi Habitats Managing Director Fabrizio Uberti-Bona sold four of his own apartments—two in Manhattan, two in Williamsburg—and found that selling a place you've actually lived in comes with its perks, like knowing the nuances that make it a great proposition. "For my first two sales, my selling point was that I'd actually lived there—I knew the super by name and had his number, I knew everything about the block, I could wake up at 5 a.m. and get a beautiful picture of the sunrise to add to the listing," he says. "I told people what I'd want to be told when I was buying—inside information like the fact that the place across the hall was a pied-a-terre, and the guy is never there."
The one time things didn't go so smoothly? "When I decided to sell [a second Williamsburg apartment], I did it 'for sale by owner,' since the price [and therefore the cost of commission] was especially high" says Uberti-Bona, "and it was a flop!" After two months, he found himself with no takers, and had to lower the asking price. "I ran into the same problem that I always warn people about with FSBO," he says. "You have some money to list your place on StreetEasy and in the New York Times, but no access to the brokerage community," since a FSBO listing doesn't go into the MLS, the database widely used by brokers. Eventually, he re-listed—but with himself as the official agent, as he had done with his other apartments—and ended up selling at his original, higher asking price.
The takeaway: The more personalized details you can give your broker to work with, the better. Tips about the building, the neighborhood, and the apartment itself can potentially convince buyers who are on the fence. (Also, if you're trying to do FSBO and it's not going so hot, you're not alone.)
THE SCENARIO: ESCAPE TO THE HAMPTONS
Usually, when selling her own apartment, Douglas Elliman broker Jessica Cohen usually assigned someone from her own team to handle appointments and showings. "I want to let the buyer feel comfortable and not intimidated by having to meet the seller," she says. But when it came time to sell the four-bedroom co-op she'd lived in for five years—and in which she'd done an intricate renovation to combine two units—she decided to take a different approach.
"I felt like I added value by being able to detail for them what had been done and let them know what considerations had been vetted by the architect, and what the building was or wasn’t willing to allow should they want to do more," she explains. "So I put myself on the front line. But I actually had to extricate myself from the process. I could see buyers a little nervous not wanting really to show their cards about whether they liked the property, or whether they liked my renovation or wanted to do something different. " Eventually, Cohen decamped for her home in Southampton and delegated the job to colleagues, who quickly found a few potential takers.
Another major factor? Finding compatible new neighbors for the couple who shared the hallway landing, who "had become almost like grandparents," Cohen says. She ultimately accepted an offer that was $50,000 below the highest bid because, "I felt comfortable leaving [these buyers] living next to that couple," she says, adding, "If I just had a broker presenting offers to me, I would have accepted the higher bid instead."
The takeaway: There is such a thing as too much information when you're talking to buyers. If you're attending your own open house, stay out of the way during showings and let your broker do the talking unless buyers have specific questions for you.
THE SCENARIO: THE FAMILY AFFAIR
When it came time to sell her mother's Riverdale one-bedroom—currently on the market—Halstead Property agent Vicki Green initially took on the task herself. "I'm the administrator of my mother's estate, which of course puts a whole different emotional spin on it," she says. "And when people came to see it, that put sort of a different emotional spin on it for them. I sensed that they didn't feel free to tell me what they really thought, and that there might have been things that other buyers would have been critical of or asked questions about."
Plus, for this kind of sale, she says, "I had my whole family to answer to, as well," which comes with its own set of complications. After a few months, Green is now working "from the sidelines" while another agent from her office formally handles the listing. "Since I've done that, I've gotten much more response and positive feedback," she says, as prospective buyers feel more open to asking tough questions and don't feel like they're stepping into the middle of familial drama.
The Takeaway: When there's family involved (or any other reason to be particularly sensitive about the sale), a hands-off approach is easiest for everyone involved.
THE SCENARIO: TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Traditionally, sellers skip their own open houses. But if you're brokering your own apartment that's not an option, and things can get uncomfortable, fast. "When I sold my Gramercy two-bedroom, people came in and said things that were so insulting!" says Bellmarc broker Janice Silver. "They'd say 'too bad it doesn't have another bedroom,' and I'd think 'well of course it doesn't!' I'd take it personally, or I'd feel like 'how dare they not take off their shoes!'" Silver adds, "Some people are almost rude on purpose, which happens in the business anyway, but is much worse when they're doing it to your own apartment."
To make matters more difficult, Silver was still living there at the time, leaving all her belongings (and even her pets) open to scrutiny. "One woman said 'You have cats? I hate cats,'" she says. "It's terrible living there while showing." And once she did find buyers, they wanted to move in right away, even as she was still in the process of moving out herself. "It was a duplex, and they asked to just move in downstairs. They wanted to bring their dog, too, and I have two cats," she says. "I'm sure they would have made that request via the broker, too, if I had had one, but it might have been easier to deal with" through a third party.
The Takeaway: There's also such a thing as too much information when you're hearing from buyers; critiques on your own apartment can feel surprisingly personal, all the more reason to avoid the open house when you can. But if you're selling without a broker, prepare to do your own dirty work, including fielding invasive requests from potential buyers.
THE SCENARIO: THE DREAM CLIENT
"When I sold my apartment in Williamsburg, I saw this as an opportunity to do a textbook marketing program," says Michael Graves, a broker with Douglas Elliman. "Usually, brokers have all these obstacles when selling because people aren't willing to go the extra step to show their apartment in the best light. In a way, I was my own ideal client."
Instead of rushing a sale, Graves and his family moved into their new place, and while he waited out winter for the market to hit its summertime peak, he put in around $100,000 worth of work on the apartment, building out the terrace, refinishing every surface, staging it with brand new furniture, adding a sound system, artwork, and outdoor plants, and taking high-end listing photos. "I didn't worry about how much money I put into it or how much time it would take," he says, confident that with the right upgrades, staging, and marketing, he'd recoup his investment, and then some.
"There's risk whenever you go that far with it," Graves acknowledges, but when the place did hit the market, it closed with an all-cash deal in just 11 days for a record-breaking price per square foot for the neighborhood. "After I sold it, I felt like, 'why didn't I do this when I was living here,'" he says.
The Takeaway: If you can move out of your apartment before you start selling, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches. And if you stage well and invest in upgrades that your target buyers will appreciate—e.g. the artwork and sound system catering to the Williamsburg crowd, in this case—the work (and money) you put in is likely to come with a serious payoff.