Sellers in Strong Buyers’ Markets Find Ways to Stand Out

When Mary Clark’s husband landed a new job in Utah, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy to sell her family’s home in University Heights, in the Cleveland suburbs.

Mary Clark's Cleveland-area home sold in a week.

Mary Clark’s Cleveland-area home sold in a week.

She had watched her neighbors struggle to sell their homes: dropping the price, changing listing agents, taking homes off the market only to re-list them a few days later. And their 4-bedroom, 1.5-bath brick and stone Colonial had competition: five other homes on their street were for sale.

“I was very worried,” she said.

She had good reason to be. According to a new Zillow analysis, sellers have less negotiating power in the Cleveland area than anywhere else in the country, leaving them scrambling to make their homes stand out in a sea of low-priced property.

In an analysis released today, Zillow ranked the five best markets in the country for sellers and buyers.  Zillow compared actual sale prices to asking prices and considered the number of days listings spent on Zillow and the percentage of homes on the market with a price cut in the country’s 35 biggest metropolitan areas.

The conclusion? Sellers have the upper hand on the West Coast, where San Jose and San Francisco top the list of sellers’ markets, followed by San Antonio, then Los Angeles and Seattle.

Best buyers’ markets

The best buyers’ markets are in cities still struggling to recover from the recession: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Those areas can be tough for sellers, but they offer great opportunities for investors who can afford to take advantage of still-low prices, said Tony Baroni, a Tampa-area real estate agent.

“We’re definitely a lot of bang for your buck,” he said.

Baroni said he hears from investors and people looking for a second home as they weigh properties in Tampa against other cities in Florida, like Sarasota, Fort Myers and Orlando. When he is talking to buyers, he uses the low prices to try to persuade them the best deals are in Tampa.

There isn’t an investor for every home, though, so buyers’ markets have plenty of homes languishing on the market. Philadelphia agent Curt Gasper, of Coldwell Banker Hearthside Realtors, said he often helps sellers who have been trying unsuccessfully to sell their home — sometimes for months. He almost always recommends they cut the price.

In some parts of Philadelphia and Cleveland, Zillow’s analysis found, 40 to 45 percent of the homes on the market have had a price cut. Contrast that to some of the popular areas around San Jose, where most homes sell at or above their asking price, and fewer than 10 percent of sellers cut the price.

Right asking price is important

Agents in the toughest markets for sellers say the right asking price is important, and so are the little repairs that improve curb appeal.

“I tell them they’ve got to stand out,” said Dennis Friedman, Mary Clark’s listing agent with Howard Hanna in the Cleveland area.

Clark gave herself six months to sell her family’s home. She bought pillows and rugs to add “extra fluff” and hid toys and clutter in an attic storage space. She took half the stuff out of the closets and stashed supplies under the baby’s crib.

Then the family listed the home at $154,900 — higher than the agent’s recommendation.

It sold in a week.

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