Spring is in the air with temperatures rivalling those on the Continent this week. Alongside the bulbs and birds, buyers are starting to emerge. Now is the time to get your property on the market.
Spring is traditionally one of the busiest times in the housing market, especially for country properties and family homes with gardens. Yet with house prices slowing and sales in many parts of the country taking longer than usual, it will pay to get the basics right.
As Brendan Roberts, a director of the Aylesford International estate agency, says: “It’s the four Ps — price, price, price and presentation.” Here are the experts’ tips on how to secure a sale.
“Spring is earlier than you think,” says George Franks, a director at Douglas & Gordon, the estate agency. “We are entering the spring market now, and are already seeing a surge in applications. My advice would be not to wait,” he says.
Edward Church, the head of Strutt & Parker in Canterbury, agrees: “To sell your house in spring, start advertising it straight away, before spring begins on March 20. People often wait too late — the market is busy now.”
James Mackenzie, the head of Strutt & Parker’s country house department, says: “It is important to be prepared in this type of market — spring is around the corner coinciding with Article 50, creating a sense of ‘anything can happen’. When a buyer comes, you must be ready. Instruct your solicitor before you launch to ensure all the documentation is in hand.”
On average, a third of properties are discounted on the property portal Zoopla. The market is subdued and houses are taking longer to sell.
Michael Sands, an associate at Knight Frank’s Kensington office, says: “With the political and economic changes in the past 12 months, it is more crucial than ever to take the correct advice on price. If not the vendor is in danger of getting stuck on the market longer than they should be.”
However, there are reports of agents, eager for work in a slow market, overinflating prices. Sands says: “You need to look at the agent’s track record. Ask about the properties they have sold and the prices achieved and compare them with your property. It is important to look at recent track records — sales made since the autumn rather than in 2013-14.”
Forget about adding “room to negotiate”. Edward Thomson, an associate at the Strutt & Parker Chelsea office, says: “Do not arbitrarily add 10 per cent to what you think it’s worth — this doesn’t work.”
Miles Shipside, a director at Rightmove, says: “The majority of the market is price sensitive, with most agents reporting that possible buyers are reluctant to inquire about a property a few per cent too high in price.
“With the annual rate of price increase at 2.3 per cent, a property that is overpriced by more than 5 per cent will have to wait more than two years for the market to catch up with it,” he says. “Overpricing loses you that vital initial interest and impetus, and buyers often have reservations about a property that has had a price reduction.”
In the first three weeks, agents would expect an average of ten to twelve viewings. After that, if nothing is happening, the chances are that you have misjudged the market and may need to review your expectations.
If your property has been on the market through the winter and you want to give it a spring boost, consider dropping the price by 5 to 10 per cent.
“If there is no offer on the table after ten viewings, the property is clearly overpriced by at least 10 per cent. If after a month — perhaps two months for rural properties — there are not ten viewings booked, the property is also likely to be listed at the wrong price,” says Edward Hartshorne, a director of Blenkin & Co, an estate agency based in York.
Refresh your marketing. Franks says: “If you are remarketing, then you have to change the photos. Nothing is more of a giveaway that it has been sitting on the market than a winter tree. Buy some tubs with flowering plants and dress up the house and garden a bit.
“We find there are a lot of people watching the portals and websites, keeping an eye out for price changes. So consider a price drop into another search category to get it in front of a new audience and maybe take photographs from a different angle and freshen up the decor with a new throw or rug. Small things can make a big difference.”
Simon Backhouse, a partner in the Strutt & Parker Canterbury office, says: “Sometimes reducing the price is about rebranding, to make a house and its land look and feel different. For example, rewording the brochure to emphasise a certain aspect, or taking away the land and marketing this instead through ‘separate negotiation’.”
Will Peppitt, a director in the country house department at Savills, says: “Before a buyer so much as sets foot in one’s home, it’s time to call upon a best friend and get their opinion. Invite them to cast a critical eye over your home and view it as a buyer would — it’s about identifying the features and details that, as an owner, you fail to see. With any luck your friend will draw up a list of small changes and improvements that will make all the difference.”
Next declutter, clean the windows, put some flowers in vases and invite the photographer in. Mackenzie says: “Photos are the ‘shop window’ to selling your house and should be of the highest quality. Ask to approve the photography and don’t be scared to ask for it to be reshot if it is not good enough.”
Rupert Sweeting, the head of the country house department at Knight Frank, says: “Make sure you have a great brochure with fantastic photographs, floor plans and not too much text. Don’t put photographs of everything in the house in the brochure — it is supposed to be a teaser to get the buyers in to view, rather than give everything away.”
Nigel Mitchell, the regional chairman for Surrey and Sussex at Knight Frank, says: “If your house has obvious planning potential, get a letter from an independent planning consultant as to what can be done.”
What agents call “kerb appeal” is important: put down fresh gravel, make sure the garden looks good and paint exterior woodwork. Lindsay Johnn, a negotiator at the Savills Winchester office, says: “Thinking seasonally when selling is very important. Come spring, buyers are more inclined to think about the importance of outside space and will spend as much time examining the garden as they might the kitchen. Mow the lawn, cut back any trees and bushes, tidy up the garden furniture, hide the children’s plastic toys and plant some inexpensive, colourful flowers.”
Try to make the inside as perfect as possible too. Ian Camplin, the head of residential at the Savills Cobham office, says: “Redecorate if it is not flawless. Buyers often only see the surface and there is an expectation for paintwork, carpets and other furnishings to be perfect, especially when new developments are furnished like five-star hotels.”
Stay or go?
Peppitt says: “With all the prep work done to make one’s home as visually pleasing as possible, it’s time to brew the coffee and bake that bread, creating an inviting and homely aroma that will make would-be buyers feel that this is a home they want to live in.”
Lucy Priestley, a negotiator in the Strutt & Parker Harrogate office, suggests playing a radio to make the property feel more homely. Although, Rupert Coles, a country house specialist with Private Property Search, a buying agent, says that it may not be helpful for you to be present at viewings. “Let your agent have a key. Make yourself scarce so everyone can speak candidly. As a buyer’s representative, I want my clients to be able to wander around freely so they can absorb and feel what the house would mean to them.”