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Buying For Resale

By VALERIE FINHOLM | Special to The Courant | April 12, 2009

When Joseph Grabicki and his wife started looking for a house, they had a list of what they wanted. One of the most important things: How easy would it be to resell?

"We didn't know how long we were going to be here," said Grabicki, who is a physical therapist. "You never know."

The couple ended up buying a 2,100-square-foot four-bedroom colonial in the Buena Vista neighborhood of West Hartford. The house has four bedrooms, a den, 2 1/2 baths and an attached two-car garage.

In today's shaky economy and slow housing market, buying a house that can be sold easily and at a profit has taken on more importance than falling in love with a particular house, area real estate agents say.

Grabicki is confident that his new house would be easy to sell if the couple had to move within the next few years.

What makes a house marketable?

"Buy a house that appeals to everybody," said Karen Conniff, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Old Lyme.

"We call these mainstream homes," said Grabicki's agent, Rob Giuffria, a broker with Prudential Premier Homes who specializes in homes in Greater Hartford.

Grabicki's house fits the description of what Giuffria and Conniff say is the "safest" house to buy in Connecticut: A colonial-style house with three to four bedrooms, 2 to 2 1/2 baths, and 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.

"That's what 70 percent of the buyers want," Giuffria said.

Outside The Mainstream

Buyers unsure of how long they will stay in a house should steer away from homes outside the mainstream, agents say.

For instance, one- or two-bedroom houses are difficult to sell, because they appeal primarily to single people or couples without children. Also, houses with five or more bedrooms are often considered too big for an average-sized family and raise concerns about the costs of heating and cooling. Houses with bedrooms in the basement are also a hard sell because families tend to want bedrooms on the same floor.

Style makes a difference, too. In Connecticut, colonials rule, although ranches are popular with empty-nesters, agents say.

Location trumps everything else that makes a house highly marketable. Buyers often overlook negatives in a house if it has a great location, particularly if it is in a town with good schools.

"It's always safer for resale to buy a smaller house in a good location than a larger house in a bad location," Giuffria said.

It also is important for a house to be comparable to houses nearby, said Norman Kilcomons, owner of Property Consultants, an appraisal company based in Farmington.

"You never want to [have] the most expensive house in a neighborhood unless you want to die there," he said.

Garages Matter

Other characteristics that help with marketability, agents say, include a two-car garage, a level lot, a quiet street, a dry basement and energy efficiency.

Garages are important. Most home buyers want a two-car attached garage. For an older home, a two-car detached garage will do.

Houses with one-car garages or no garages sell for less, Giuffria said. Adds Conniff: "If a house doesn't have a garage, it's a big deal."

A house on a busy road will be harder to sell than a house on a quiet street.

"If you can hear the cars inside the house it devalues the property," Conniff said.

Conniff knows of a couple who fell in love with an antique house near the shoreline that is within 200 feet of a busy road.

"They did a beautiful job of restoring it," she said, but now they are having trouble selling the house because of its location. Despite price cuts, it has lingered on the market for 10 months without any offers.

If the same house were situated on a quiet, winding road, it would have been sold by now, Conniff said.

She advises buyers to think of a house as an investment as well as a home.

"You can't fool yourself and say, 'I don't hear the noise,' from a busy road, because everybody else does."

She also said that many people don't want to buy a house on a steep lot below a road. "They think of water running into their basement."

As for that basement, buyers want one, but they want it to be full-size and dry so they can use it for storage, she said.

Conniff has found that overall, buyers want "a relatively mainstream house they can upgrade."

She said most of her clients describe themselves as "colonial people." They're not interested in contemporary homes, she says.

But what if you're trying to sell a house outside the mainstream?

"The best thing you can do is make it really 'wow' inside," Conniff says. "Upgrade the kitchens and bathrooms, make it as appealing to everybody as possible. That includes landscaping. And don't paint it a weird color."

She said buyers today feel empowered - and they are picky. Landscaping should be mature and well thought-out. Everything down to the quality of the paving on the driveway is examined.

"If they have to think twice [about a house], they'll go for another," she said. "Buyers are not willing to compromise anymore. "There are lots of things to look at - they can get exactly what they want."

Why Has A Home Been On The Market A Long, Long Time? The Price (West Hartford, CT)

by Robin Stansbury | Hartford Courant

COVER STORY - Hartford Courant, Real Estate Section

Why Has A Home Been On The Market A Long, Long Time? The Price

By ROBIN STANSBURY | Hartford Courant | March 29, 2009                  

It's taking longer for homes to sell in the Greater Hartford area, an average of more than two months. But some homes seem to sit - and sit and sit and sit - on the market much longer than others.

Like the historic home on North Main Street in Suffield that has been listed for sale for nearly 1,100 days, or the house on Avalon Drive in Middletown that has been for sale for more than 1,300 days, according to the Multiple Listing Service.

In both cases, that's more than three years. Yes, three years.

With no obvious flaws, agents say the most likely reason these homes and others linger comes down to one factor: price.

Local real estate agents insist that even in this economic downturn, homes are selling - sometimes within just a week or two of being listed, and occasionally with multiple offers - if they are in good condition and, most importantly, priced right.

"Any house that is on the market that long and hasn't sold, it is the price," said Susie Hatch, an agent with William Raveis Real Estate in West Hartford. "I don't care what town it is in, I don't care where it's located. I don't care if it is in Las Vegas, where there are literally thousands of houses on the market. It is price. If it is the right price, someone will buy it. Always."

But determining that magic asking price - not too high to detract buyers, not too low so sellers feel like they are giving it away- is especially difficult in this market, when fewer houses are selling. Without comparable home sales nearby - homes with similar size, style and condition - it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the ideal asking price.

"It's much harder in this type of a market. If a home has a negative about it, no matter what it may be, you're not sure how buyers are going to react to that negative," said Charlie Kaylor, owner/broker of RE/MAX Communities, based in Simsbury.

"Say you have a slightly awkward floor plan. How much of an adjustment do you make for that?" he said. "Pricing is just more difficult now and buyers are pickier. A few years ago, you used to look down the street at the neighbor's house that sold, add $10,000 and that's what you'd get. That's not how it is working right now."

But even steep price reductions sometimes aren't the answer.

A home in Westbrook, for instance, has been listed for sale for more than 1,100 days, first with an asking price of $999,000. The four-bedroom home, which is part of a private beach association, is now listed for sale for $695,000 and a buyer has yet to be found.

Location doesn't seem to be a problem in that case, but sometimes a bad location can stop a home from selling. Busy streets and sloping yards can derail a deal.

"Location definitely makes a difference," Hatch said, "but in this market it still comes back to price."

She said a home in West Hartford recently sold despite its bad location - the backyard backed up to Interstate 84 - and in horrible condition.

"Without a doubt, it was about the worst condition I've ever seen in a house," she said. "It was a foreclosure and the people walked out the door. There were open food containers in the kitchen. Clothes and shoes all over the floor. But it came on the market at $106,000, and they had 12 offers because you can't find anything in West Hartford at that price. People said, 'I can deal with the condition for that price.'"

Local agents said certain styles of homes, such as an historic home, and homes priced higher than $1 million naturally can take longer to sell because the pool of potential buyers is smaller than in the mainstream marketplace. In those cases, the agents said, sellers need more patience.

According to the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors, single-family homes in the region took an average of 67 days to sell in 2008, an 8 percent increase from 2007. In February 2009, the average days on market was 81, about 4 percent higher than in February a year ago.

So what's the best plan for sellers heading into the spring market?

Rob Giuffria, a broker with Prudential Premier Homes who specializes in high-end homes in Greater Hartford, said all homeowners need to take a hard look at their homes, identify any flaws and make price adjustments for things that can't be fixed.

"When a home hasn't sold, what I tell sellers is there is almost always a limiting factor impeding the home's ability to sell," Giuffria said. "There is always one factor that will stick out in a buyer's mind the most: a bad location because it's on a busy street, no bathtub on the second floor, no eat-in area off the kitchen.

"As a seller, you have to understand the factor that will most adversely affect the sale of your home," he said. "Once you figure out what that factor is, adjust your price to address it."

Giuffria said he recently sold a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in West Hartford with a new kitchen and hardwood floors for $364,000. The price suffered, he said, because it was by far the most expensive home on the street. "In another neighborhood, that home was worth $400,000," he said, "but not in the neighborhood where it was located."

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