Tara from Trulia.com had a great article:

A few weeks back, we talked all about (and I mean all about!) statements sellers should avoid making while they’re engaged in what I like to call ‘verbal staging:’drafting the listing description and marketing materials that create prospective buyers’ expectations about your home. 

Though the subject started a rollicking conversation, many of you posed the sensible follow-up question:

Okay – then what should sellers say??

As you might have guessed, I have some thoughts on that matter, too!  Here are 5 ‘verbal staging’ statements sellers should at least seriously consider making, when they’re working with their agent to market their home for sale:

1.  Do Tell: Anything in or around your home that is ‘new’ (or nearly so). To a buyer, seeing features, amenities and appliances described as new-ish creates several connotations beyond the dictionary meaning of the word:  

  • ‘New’ implies modern: in look and functionality. New appliances, furnaces, and finishes like paint and flooring simply have efficiencies, functions and an aesthetic style that older ones don’t.  
  • ‘New’ implies clean: the suggestion is that even the most germaphobic buyer won’t have to fumigate the place with various disinfectant sprays to expunge decades’ worth of cooties (imaginary or otherwise).
  • ‘New’ implies less work for your home’s eventual buyers – especially if what’s new is a necessity that home buyers often have to buy before they can move in or a cosmetic item that home buyers often like to replace (i.e., carpet, paint, fridge, etc.).
That said, you should actually avoid using the word ‘new’  – unless something has been installed since you’ve moved out, and has truly never been lived in or with. Better to specify ‘recently remodeled,’ ‘installed this year,’ or ‘updated in 2011,’ to avoid legal problems later.

Think broadly when you’re thinking about how to apply this advice – work with your agent to determine whether to call out anything that’s new-ish about your home, whether that be appliances, a recent kitchen remodel, paint or landscaping. For that matter, look beyond your home with this point, to anything new in the neighborhood that might be relevant to buyers-to-be, like a new school, park, subway station, shopping strip or Farmer’s Market.

2.  Do Tell: Your home’s dominant features. Ask yourself: what’s the very best thing about this place?  Then ask again until you have maybe a handful of items. That handful of things may contain great fodder for your home’s marketing materials. If you have to choose, prioritize features that (a) visitors to your home often comment on, and/or (b) that you have immensely enjoyed while living in the place.  And think outside the box: consider things like the light, the floor plan flow, the amazing block parties, the Zen you achieve sitting in your garden, the smells and sounds and the nearby attractions you haunt. (Did I already mention the neighborhood Farmer’s Market?)

3.  Do Tell: Anything that’s exceptional about your home – the things that differentiate your home from the competition. Is your home larger or does it have more bedrooms than the average home in your neck of the woods?  Is your lot bigger or more private? Is your home a ‘regular’ sale in a sea of short sales, or the lowest priced listing in your super-chic subdivision? Does it have panoramic water views in an area where most homes overlook a canyon?  No rear neighbors where most properties are surrounded?

I’m not suggesting that if you live in an Agrestic-style tract of cookie-cutter homes, that you stretch to find something – anything! – you can say about how your home is different.  But you’d be amazed at how many home listings fail to point out the differentiators buyers really do care about.  

Don’t let your home’s listing be one of those. To avoid that dire fate, it might be helpful to take notes when you ask prospective listing agents for their first impressions of your home as compared to others in the area. Another strategy is to revisit your listing description after your agent has collected the feedback of Open House hunters. What you’re looking for is not something to exaggerate into a stunning selling point; rather, the goal is to find something that’s unique about your home relative to other nearby or competitive properties. 

4.  Do Tell: The features your home has that you know buyers crave. If your home has uniquely compelling features compared with its competition, then say so. But even if your home’s features are not so unique, if it has some nuts-and-bolts features that give it wide desirability for a large segment of buyers in your area, it behooves you to express and emphasize them.

If people buy homes in your area because of its great school district and family-friendly activities, then mention the big, level backyard; the play structure and the fenced/covered pool. If your target buyers are looking for chic, car-free, urban living, talk about the Whole Foods Market and the gym on the ground floor of your building and the multiple public transport options within spitting distance. 

Here’s where it’s good to mention any such features your home has that you know buyers in your area tend to look for that may be pleasantly surprising to those who just see your home onliner. This may include the actual size of very large rooms, the fact that you have a living room and a den, or all the amazing built-ins and customizations you’ve had professionally installed in your kitchen, closets, office, workshop, craft room or garage.

5.  Do Tell: Incentives, extras and details that make the transaction easier or more favorable than a buyer would expect. If you or anyone else is providing any sort of bonus or incentive that promises to make the transaction even a small amount less expensive, smoother, easier or faster than the norm in your area, call it out!  

This may include:

  • HOA or closing cost credits paid by you (or your bank or relocation company)
  • Personal property you’re willing to leave behind (i.e., furniture, electronics, yard equipment)
  • Your willingness to finance part or all of the sale price
  • The fact that your listing is not a short sale or foreclosure – or anything else of this sort.
Because you’re probably not nearly as well versed in what area buyers expect from a transaction as your agent is, this is one particular area in which you should look to your agent for strategic counsel.

Insider Secret: Keep in mind that prospective buyers may only see a few lines of your home’s description online, and may not be able to see everything that would go on a flyer, or even the detailed or agent-only remarks that local agents can see on MLS listings. So after you talk with your agent about which of these ‘verbal staging’ points to include, it’s important to actually view your home’s online listings to ensure that buyers can actually see the important points.

Agents:  Besides the basics (beds, baths, square feet and the like), what home descriptors fall into your bucket of things you must include in a listing description or property flyer?

Rising Home Prices: Coming to a Market Near You

One month ago, we introduced the Trulia Price Monitor and Trulia Rent Monitor as the earliest leading indicators of how asking prices and rents are trending nationally and locally. So what happened to prices and rents in April?

April’s Price Rise Makes a Three-Month Streak

Nationally, housing prices have bottomed and are on the rise. Asking prices onfor-sale homes were 1.9% higher in April than one quarter ago. A 0.5% month-over-month rise in April, on top of month-over-month price increases in March and February, makes for three months in a row of rising asking prices, after adjusting for typical seasonal trends. In fact, prices have been stable or rising for the past eight months, except for a dip in December 2011. This marks a new milestone: asking prices were 0.2% higher in April than a year ago. Before April, prices were still falling year-over-year.

Trulia Price Monitor - Line Graph - April 2012

Not only are rising prices starting to look like a real trend: they’re also coming to a market near you — if they haven’t already. Asking prices increased year-over-year in 44 out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, with Miami andPhoenix leading the charge.

Why these markets? One factor is job growth, which boosts housing demand. Miami, Phoenix, Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills (suburban Detroit) and Denverall saw strong employment gains in the past year. Another factor is the big price declines after the bubble, which attracted house hunters and investors searching for bargains to those markets. Most of the metros with the largest price increases in the last year had huge price declines during the bust, including Phoenix, Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills and the four Florida metros in the top ten. But among the metros with the largest price declines over the past year, only three–SacramentoLas Vegas and Fresno–had huge overall price drops after the bubble burst.

Note: Rankings based on the year-over-year changes in asking price among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Seattleites, take heart: in the most recent quarter, most of the metros with year-over-over price declines have turned around. Prices rose quarter over quarter in 92 of the 100 largest metros, including in Seattle, Las Vegas andAtlanta.

Rents Keep Marching Upward

Rental demand remains strong, with rents rising 5.6% nationally year over year. One reason for this continuous climb is job growth, as the metros with the largest rent increases tend to have fast job growth, like San Francisco andSan Jose. But another reason why rents keep going up is the decline in homeownership: foreclosures forced some owners to become renters, while tight credit and the weak job market put homeownership out of reach for many others. The result: rents have risen even while prices were falling, and now that prices are rising, rents are rising even faster.

Note: Rankings based on the year-over-year changes in asking rents among the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Let’s Get Local: What About Prices and Rents in My Neighborhood?

Even within a metro area, neighborhoods have their own price and rent trends. This month we looked at trends within five large metros: New YorkLos AngelesChicagoWashington DC and the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the New York area, prices rose year over year in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, while declining in the rest of the region. But rents rose everywhere – both in the City and suburban areas.

Note: In these tables, asterisks (*) denote areas where sample sizes are too small to report year-over-year changes in rents.

In Los Angeles, asking prices increased only in the downtown area. Prices fell elsewhere throughout the region, most of all in Long Beach. As in New York, though, rents rose throughout the region, except for Long Beach, with downtown LA experiencing both the biggest increases in prices and rents.

In Chicago, asking prices fell in all areas, but the northern and southern suburbs fared worst.

In the Washington DC area, prices rose throughout the region, though least in Prince George’s County, MD.

Note: Fairfax county includes Falls Church and Fairfax cities. Prince William county includes Manassas and Manassas Park cities.

Finally, in the San Francisco Bay Area, rents were on a tear, rising more than 10% in San Francisco itself, San Mateo county and Alameda county. But asking prices were up in San Francisco while down in Oakland.

What patterns emerge? Among these large metros, the most central urban areas tend to have larger price increases (or smaller declines) than suburban areas, but there are exceptions – and there’s no general pattern across the US overall. In the Atlanta region, prices year on year were down less (-2.9%) in Atlanta (404 area code) than in the suburban areas (-5.5%, outside the 404 area code). However, in the Seattle region, prices year on year were down more (-6.6%) in Seattle itself (206 area code) – than on the Eastside (-5.2%, 425 area code). But what the quarter-over-quarter trend tells us is that it’s going to get harder to find neighborhoods where prices are declining.

Will the rise in asking prices and rents continue next month? Check back in on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 10AM ET to find out when we release the findings from May.

How did we put this report together? To recap the methodology, the Trulia Price Monitor and the Trulia Rent Monitor track asking home prices and rents on a monthly basis, adjusting for the changing composition of listed homes. The Trulia Price Monitor also accounts for the regular seasonal fluctuations in asking prices in order to reveal the underlying trend in prices. The Monitors can detect price movements at least three months before the major sales-price indexes do.Last month’s post explains how the Monitors compare with other price indexes out there, and our FAQs provide all the technical details.