Pleasanton Weekly

Real Estate - March 4, 2011

House appeal: Selling your home to first-time buyers

Survey shows what kind of starter home they're looking for

by Rick Turley

Remember the saying "know your audience"?

That advice couldn't be more relevant when it comes to selling your home. From the moment the for-sale sign is posted in your front yard, dozens, possibly even hundreds of potential buyers will visit for a tour. So who are they and, most importantly, what do they want? The answers may surprise you.

According to the National Association of Realtors, first-time home buyers accounted for half of the market in 2010. Attracted to the market by an abundance of low-priced homes and low interest rates, this group of buyers is larger than any time in recent memory.

So in an effort to gain some insight, Coldwell Banker Real Estate recently surveyed 300 consumers who purchased their first home during the last year. They were asked about their experiences and perceptions of the home buying process and what they wanted in their first home. The results showed that the days of first-timers settling for a fixer-upper are over. They are looking for a new kind of starter home.

Several consumers experienced unexpected benefits after buying their first home:

* 67 percent said the market gave them the chance to buy a home sooner than expected;

* Half said they found a home in a more desirable neighborhood;

* 61 percent were able to get the home at a better price;

* 40 percent got more space;

* 43 percent locked in a lower interest rate.

When it came to what kind of home they were looking for, of those surveyed, 87 percent said finding a move-in ready home is important to them. In addition, the old adage "location, location, location" still holds true:

78 percent said the home had to be in an area convenient to shops and services;

Three-quarters of buyers said it was important to be close to their place of work;

Nearly two-thirds said it was important to be near "highly-rated" schools.

On top of that, our agents have reported that on average, first-time homebuyers now look at more than 11 homes before making decisions, a number that's higher than in the past. They can be choosy about what appeals to them and recognize the benefits of a wide selection of homes. But sellers looking to attract this coveted demographic don't need to do a complete design overhaul. Preparing to show your home to first-time buyers is easier than you might think.

Stage rooms with one purpose. Extra rooms that have a mishmash of uses can confuse and even deter first-time homebuyers, so staging rooms with one purpose is vital. Keep in mind that these buyers are generally young couples without children, and rooms should be presented as areas equipped to meet their needs. So turn those playrooms and storage dens into a home office or the kids' bedroom into a guest bedroom.

Tackle the easy "do-it-yourself" projects. Keeping in mind that first-time buyers consider move-in conditions to be very important, ensure your home is in tip top shape by replacing outdated kitchen and bathroom fixtures, applying a fresh coat of paint to a worn wall and refinishing the kitchen cabinets. The less work they have to do when they move in, the faster they may be willing to make an offer.

Clear the room of family portraits. First-time homebuyers are looking for a home they can picture their family living in, not yours. Take down family portraits, personal collections and knickknacks. Removing these items will also eliminate clutter and ensure that people are looking at the house for sale, not at the photos from your last family vacation.

Focus on the living areas. A living room is an area in which potential first-time buyers should be able to envision themselves entertaining friends or gathering with their family. With that in mind, consider making the area appear as large and functional as possible by removing any unnecessary furniture and decorations.

Don't forget to spruce up the yard. First impressions often play a role in a consumer's decision making process. Make sure the home's exterior is inviting by trimming the bushes, mowing the lawn and painting faded window trim. Couples looking for their first home often have less yard work under their belts and will appreciate the seller's attention to detail.

The market has changed over the past several years and so have buyers. But by knowing your audience and what they're looking for, you may have a leg up. Go through your home with a fresh pair of eyes and ask yourself, "Would I want this to be my first home?" Chances are, the next person through your door will be asking themselves the same question and with a few simple changes or improvements, their answer could be, "yes!"

Editor's note: A real estate veteran with more than two decades of experience, Rick Turley is the president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the San Francisco Bay Area, incorporating offices in Pleasanton and 48 other communities.

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