This blog is fundamentally about helping owners of midcentury and vintage homes find the products and services they need to renovate, refurbish, remodel and decorate in a style that is sympathetic to their house’s original style. It’s for folks who want to be in these house. But sometimes, yes, we must move out of the house we love. Fairly regularly, I get the question, more or less stated:
How can I sell my midcentury home — with all its lovely original features — when real estate agents seem to be telling me that what buyers want today are new kitchens, new bathrooms, granite countertops and neutral decor?
I’ve written before about what I think to look for, when buying a midcentury house. But to help answer the question about preparing to sell, I turned to three real estate agents who specialize in selling midcentury homes — modern and modest alike. The agents are in different parts of the country: Martie Lieberman in Sarasota, Florida… Robert Searcy in Houston, Texas… and Alyssa Starelli in Portland, Oregon… for their opinions. They did a great job with my open-ended question. Read on… and then we’d love to hear what readers think — especially if you have recent experience as a seller, or a buyer of an original condition midcentury home.
Specialists in midcentury real estate offer advice on how to prepare to sell
Martie Lieberman, Sarasota, Florida:
“Help buyers fall in love with the original features that drew you to the home in the first place.”
First up, I checked with Martie Lieberman, who I know from visiting the Sarasota area several times over the past two years. DH and I have been poking around, looking at snowbird condos to maybe purchase when we get closer to retirement. Martie’s website is ModernSarasota.com. I knew she would have thoughtful advice. Here’s what Martie has to say:
Question: How do I sell my mid-century house, especially MY HOUSE, with all its wonderful, original features? As a Realtor who specializes in mid-century and unique architecture in Sarasota, Florida, I get asked this question a lot. My answer: Help buyers fall in love with the original features that drew you to the home in the first place.Here is how to do it:.#1: Hire a Realtor that is experienced in working with mid-century or unique properties. Why? Because 9 out of 10 buyers find their own properties online now, but the websites those buyers use are still fed by the Realtor’s MLS system. So get it listed for the maximum possible exposure and reach more qualified buyers. Those interested enough to see your house will call their Realtor or yours, wanting to see it. It’s about numbers. The more people interested, the more offers, and the highest possible sales price..#2: Hire a professional photographer. To find the best in your area, check out the high-end real estate listings, and look for the photography that shows good composition, good lighting, true color, and a sense of what is important. You’ll usually find the photographer’s website listed on the virtual tour or slideshow. For a very dramatic effect, ask your Realtor to arrange for a “dusk” photography shoot, like I did for this property. Ask for as many photographs as possible, and don’t forget the details, such as kitchen features, bathrooms, storage, closets, etc. Have a slide-show or virtual tour made that tells a complete visual story about your mid-century house and all its best bits. Don’t forget to have your Realtor post a video on YouTube..#3: Clear out all excess stuff from closets, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, every room. Put things in storage temporarily, if you have to. When in doubt, remove. Less is definitely more in photos. Get to the bare bones of your house..#4 Get your house inspected by a licensed real estate inspector. Understand what your buyer will find out, so you are ready to negotiate a fair price, or get things fixed before you sell..#5 Have your house appraised. Most people get a free opinion from area Realtors, but if you really want to know what your property is worth, especially if your buyer is likely to get a loan, you will want to have this information..#6 Make your house available for showings within an hour, but only to qualified buyers. Make sure your Realtor understands this rule, and says “no” to looky-loos. Have Open House dates scheduled so unqualified buyers, looky-loos and people seeking decorating tips can come see your house and tell their buyer friends all about it. But when qualified buyers are ready to see your house, open up and let them in so they can fall in love with your amazing house..Good luck and have fun!
Robert Searcy, Houston, Texas:
“…One person’s lack of updates is a mid-century enthusiast’s vintage details intact and unspoiled. If you have an agent that understands this, you start out ahead of the game.”
First off, the basics still apply, the house has to be clean, minor things need to be fixed, de-cluttered, etc. Sometimes a little bit of neutralizing things & making the colors a little less personal still helps too, even with mid-century homes..The first recommendation I would make is research to see if there are any agents in your city that specialize or are particularly knowledgeable about mid-century modern or ranch styles. They are more likely to have sympathetic buyers because if any are moving, they may have researched and found that same agent. They will also have a better idea of what to promote in verbiage and photographs. I often times see very experienced and competent agents who just don’t have to be well versed in mid-century, fail to talk about the things that appeal to the mid-century niche market. I have often said that one person’s lack of updates is a mid-century enthusiasts vintage details intact and unspoiled. If you have an agent that understands this, you start out ahead of the game..If you don’t have a mid-century specialists in your city, then you may have to educate and monitor your agent a bit more. Make sure you review the wording and pictures that will be posted on the local MLS to insure the focus has been placed on your vintage home’s true assets. Often times descriptions of perfect condition original homes include: “Needs updating” or “fixer upper” and comments along those lines. They fail to focus on architectural elements that are appealing to mid-century buyers, such as poured in place terrazzo, roman brick, cove lighting, floating cabinetry, clerestory windows and other elements common to the period that are sought after. I have seen the architectural details that are important to mid-century buyers that you would think would be more obvious, like skylight bathrooms or atriums, also fail to get mention in the description in favor of phrases like “ready for your remodeling touches” or “bring your contractor and your imagination.” Or the worst one we have here in Houston, “great building site.” Pay attention to what your agent is saying about your home..I would also recommend googling around to find any message boards that might have real estate sections targeting mid-century modern and ranch house buyers. A couple of examples include lottaliving.com, which has a free real estate posting site, and movemodern.com, which also allows free posting and has both ranch house and mod house sections. Something as mundane as keeping it on craigslist can help too. If someone is moving to your city and is interested in a mid-century home, they may google “mid century modern or “atomic ranch” and if you have terms like that in your listing, it can pop up. If you have a local message board about architecture or something along those lines, check those out as well. Dig for any resources on line. And if it is a really fabulous house, then send it to Pam so we can ALL see it!
Thank you, Robert. You are a good marketer, making me feel all special-like by reminding all your real estate colleagues to send me their hot hotter hottest time capsule photos, stat! Yes: Help get the word out. I especially am grateful for the permission to feature these photos so that we can archive them for all to see for years to come. Readers, Robert has a blog, too, check it out.
Alyssa Starelli, Portland, Oregon:
“… The good news is that there are always buyers like us, those who really ‘get’ it…. Instead of remodeling for quick sale, focus on the items every buyer and appraiser wants to see — well working ‘mechanicals’.”
Finally, I asked Alyssa Starelli to share her experience. I met AlyStar when I visited Portland a few years. She is also a regular commenter on the blog. I love her homepage which underscores, like we do here: “Whether it be granny… or modern… it’s midcentury, and we love it!” Aly’s take on our question:
I hear this question quite a bit, the good news is that there are always buyers like us, those who really ‘get’ it. They see the quality of original materials, the beauty of period design, and ultimately if you’re willing to wait to find the right buyer, you will find them. Heck, maybe you’ll entice them with those buzz words ‘mid-century, vintage, original or retro’!.But, many realtors don’t want to wait, or work hard for their commission. They will come up with a bevy of reasons why you should modernize your home to reach a larger market, and sure, logically they’re right, everyone loves flipper beige, right? Or wait, maybe they’re wrong…!!.From my experience, you might even detract the right buyer by a haphazard, low-end remodel. What you will definitely do, is remove the opportunity for the purchaser to remodel (or not) in his or her own taste, and they will feel as they are paying through the nose for that slab of new granite they didn’t want in the first place. It will affect negotiations, and you may not see a return on those funds at all. [Note from Pam: See my cautionary story about remodeling ROI that the home remodeling industry tries to obfuscate, "Remodel and watch your 'investment' plunge."].So instead of remodeling for quick sale, focus on the items every buyer and appraiser wants to see — well working ‘mechanicals’. No realtor or buyer can balk at a new roof, a recently inspected well-running furnace, updated electrical panel, unobstructed sewer line, oil tank decommissioning, extra insulation, radon mitigation, upgraded plumbing, storm windows, etc. If you spend money on a kitchen remodel, but your sewer line is bad, you are going to be woefully surprised by the double whammy you experience in inspection negotiation — that new kitchen suddenly doesn’t mean a thing! The same money could have been used towards something necessary, but now it’s lost in the cosmetic. Ouch..Though a ‘buyer in love’ will buy a house dirty or clean, if you’re the detailed sort and want the most for your realtor dollars, take a look around your house — spruce up, declutter, and de-grannify! If things are falling apart, fix them! If there’s dry rot, cure it! If the paneling needs oiling, get buffing. If the Formica has popped up, glue it down. Prove to the buyers that this house is amazing vintage or new! Safely scrub, bleach, re-grout, paint (not the paneling!). Then after all that, if a realtor can’t sell that house, it’s the price that is the problem, not the house. Price cures EVERYTHING!
What do you think, readers,
about the advice from Martie, Robert and Alyssa?
Do you have your own advice to share –
learned from selling, or buying, a midcentury house
with lots of intact original features?