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"Caveat venditor!" | Despite sellers' market, sage wisdom for people listing their homes

The real estate market on the First Coast steeply favors sellers currently, but people listing homes should be careful and strategic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — First Coast News has covered several stories in the past weeks about the plight of those hoping to buy a home, struggling to make bids competitive in a housing market that’s currently flooded with cash offers from deep-pocketed outsiders.

“Homes are flying off the market in ten days, 21 days faster than they were a year ago,” Zillow home trends expert Amanda Pendleton explained. “And that’s actually four days faster than the national median. And about one in six homes are selling above list price.”

That seems to confirm what a bonanza the local market is for people selling, but that doesn’t mean they can’t, or shouldn’t, be careful. Pendleton was among several experts offering insight that can benefit those listing their homes.

First, she said, start preparing early.

“Even in a really hot market, we know the number-one regret that sellers have is that they haven’t given themselves enough time to prepare their homes for sale,” Pendleton explained. “We know most sellers make two improvements before listing their home. Painting and landscaping are the two most common.”

After all, sellers might be having an easy time getting multiple offers quickly, but they’re also competing with each other. Pendleton’s second piece of advice was, don’t ignore ‘online curb appeal.’

“The vast majority of buyers right now are starting their home searches online. So, make sure that you or your agent is investing in high-resolution photography, maybe even videography, drone photography," Pendleton said. “And make sure to have a virtual 3-D home tour. Our research finds that listings that have a virtual 3-D home tour get about 30% more views and saves than homes without.”

Her third suggestion was to consider a high-tech alternative to the traditional realtor route, using her own company as an example.

“You don’t have to do any open houses, no showings, you don’t have to make any repairs,” Pendleton said. “You set the closing date and you just sell directly to a company like Zillow. It’s really helpful because you’ve got a cash offer in hand from a buyer like Zillow, and then you can take that to the home you’re looking to buy and you can waive your sales contingencies. So, it gives you a leg up as a buyer in this kind of market and you know you’re going to get a fair price.”

However, for those who prefer a more conventional approach, financial planner Bob Horne at NuVenture Financial Group urged sellers to not go it alone.

“One of my big suggestions is to really consider talking to a real estate agent,” Horne said, “not only for a marketing perspective to help get the word out … but also from a legal perspective with the documentation that’s going to be required.”

Another benefit is help setting a realistic price.

“[A realtor will] know how to price a house specifically in the neighborhood that you’re […] selling in.” Horne explained.

On that note, realtor Berta Odom at Re/Max 100 Realty in St. Augustine cautioned sellers to price their homes accordingly.

Even in current market conditions, Odom, who is president of the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Board of Realtors, admonished that an inappropriately priced home can be relatively slow to move.

“If [sellers] are expecting it to go for over market then they don’t need to price it over market,” she said.

Thinking back on the topic of making improvements before listing, Horne pointed out another benefit realtors can offer.

“They’ll be able to answer these questions and tell you, ‘Yes, you should do this,' or 'No you shouldn’t do that,’ to help you put the minimum effort or money into your house to get the maximum value out of it,” Horne said.

Horne went on to echo Pendleton’s advice to use high-quality images in online listings.

“Because some of these cash buyers are coming from out-of-state and they’re literally buying these houses sight unseen,” Horne explained.

The industry professionals say they’re seeing cases of homeowners who had no existing plans to move suddenly swayed by the potential for hefty profits. However, they’re pointing out a common pitfall that can derail any take-the-money-and-run daydream.

“I’m not certain they’re thinking about where they’re going to live after that,” said board-certified real estate attorney Zach Roth with Ansbacher Law in Jacksonville. “So, unless you have somewhere to go, you’re not really making any money because you’re selling high but you’re buying high.”

“You’ve got to have a plan B,” Pendleton concurred. “You’ve got to say, ‘Okay, if I can sell my home but I can’t buy my next home, where am I going to go? Can I rent a place? Do I want to move twice?’”

One final piece of advice Horne offered is for sellers to make sure their bidders, whether financed or offering cash, really have the means to follow through with a purchase.

“You need to make sure you get a pre-approval letter,” he said in instances that buyers are mortgaging the purchase. “Or if it’s a cash buyer that’s not worried about interest rates, that’s going to be buying your house cash … I would absolutely encourage you to make sure that you [the buyer] has proof of funds and make sure that you’re not wasting your time.”