Dry Your Eyes and Lower the Price

By ELSA BRENNER
NEVER in all his 17 years selling real estate has Mark Seiden gone through as many boxes of tissues as he has in the past 12 months. It’s not he who is crying, but some of his customers — as they come to grips with the reality that their houses are worth far less in today’s market than what they had hoped, said Mr. Seiden, who owns Mark J. Seiden Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor. But the sooner a seller faces reality on prices, he said, the sooner a sale can occur. As evidence, he cited Susan and Robert Whiting of Ossining, whose six-bedroom three-bath 1950s Cape had languished six months at $499,000 before they hired him. “At that price, nothing happened,” said Mrs. Whiting, a day care provider. “We didn’t even have one reasonable offer.” The first thing Mr. Seiden did was brandish the tissues and recommend a listing price of $60,000 less. “At first I was in shock,” Mrs. Whiting said. “But then I decided if we wanted to sell, this is what we better do.” A bidding war ensued, and some weeks later the house went into contract at $10,000 over the list price. A similar market awareness prompted four brokers from McClellan Sotheby’s in Pelham to form a pricing team for one of their properties, a sprawling 93-year English manor-style colonial. Armed with sobering home sales statistics, they persuaded the seller, Carolyn L. Noble-Morrissey, to list the house at $1.199 million — even though its assessed value was $1.25 million. “I was aware that houses weren’t selling any too quickly, so I took their advice and was pleasantly surprised,” said Ms. Noble-Morrissey, who has lived in the five-bedroom house for 43 years. It went into contract in less than a week. It came on the market on a Wednesday afternoon; by Friday the first bid was proffered; a second followed two days later. Because the closing has not yet taken place, the brokerage would not reveal the final sales price. But last year, homeowners in Pelham received on average only 91 percent of their asking prices, said Margaret Nicholson, the listing broker, citing sales statistics compiled by the pricing team. “That’s why we decided the time had come for a different approach,” she said. In the Ossining/Briarcliff market in 2009, homeowners received about 94 percent of their asking prices, according to Mr. Seiden. But he said the actual percentage was probably even lower, as the official one was calculated using the most recent listing price — very likely reduced from the original. In Larchmont, meanwhile, savvy pricing resulted in the quick sale of a 1950s three-bedroom two-bath colonial. “We wanted buyers to see this as such a good deal that they wouldn’t think they had to wait for the spring market to check out the choices,” said Mark Nadler of Prudential Centennial Realty, which has offices in Larchmont and Scarsdale. The colonial came on the market in December at $649,000. Mr. Nadler said that figure was influenced by the higher prices of houses on the same street that had had spent nine months or more on the market. A bidding war began within a week, and the house sold for $1,000 over asking. Mr. Nadler cited another Larchmont example: a three-bedroom two-bath prewar condo listed at $1.2 million whose owners “needed to be convinced” to drop the price. After generating only weak interest and unacceptable offers, they finally agreed to lower the price to $999,000 and then to $985,000. At that point, Mr. Nadler said, “the floodgates opened.” It sold for close to the final asking price, he said. Larchmont sellers last year ended up with 90 percent of their asking prices, Mr. Nadler said. In Scarsdale the figure was 87 percent — because, he said, brokers there tend to price houses higher. Price, of course, is not the only variable when selling a house in a down market. “Location, location, location still counts,” said Ms. Nicholson in Pelham, noting that Ms. Noble-Morrissey’s colonial is a block from a Metro-North station and within easy walking distance of the village’s business district. The first impression also still counts, which is why Richard and Marilyn Wishnie of Briarcliff Manor employed a home stager to help market their four-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath 1960s colonial. “The stager said to us, ‘Come with me to the front door and look at your house the way a buyer might,’ ” recalled Mr. Wishnie, a former county legislator. They did, and subsequently spent $2,500 to remove old wallpaper in the kitchen, replace carpeting in one bedroom and retile the floor in the front entrance. “She also told us to get rid of the clutter,” Mr. Wishnie said. “We had to realize that what made our home warm for us wasn’t going to sell the house to someone else.” But it was pricing that may ultimately have turned the tide in their favor. They listed the house at about $619,000 — far less than they had originally hoped — but it sold quickly, for $10,000 over asking. “We knew this was the worst possible time to try and sell a house, but it all worked out,” Mr. Wishnie said. Given the economy, now may indeed be a less than ideal time to sell. “That’s why we’re seeing a lot of analysis being done for clients by Realtors these days,” said P. Gilbert Mercurio, the chief executive of the listing service. That a well-priced property will sell more quickly is not a new concept. “That’s true in boom years, too,” Mr. Mercurio said, “although that applies more than ever now.”
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