Every week, we ask a Houston real estate professional for their thoughts on the top three stories from the week before. This week, we spoke with Sissy Lappin, the broker-owner of Lappin Properties working in Houston.
Houston Agent (HA): A recent article Houston Agent ran discussed the benefits of curbside appeal, citing survey evidence suggesting it really does make a difference to buyers. What things do you do to make sure your listings look as buyable as possible?
Sissy Lappin (SL): A book is judged by its cover, and so is a home. Curb appeal is critical even if it is an older home.
A little bit of sprucing up can go a long way toward making your house memorable for the right reasons. People will remember a house that makes them feel good. If a house has the feel of being maintained, buyers conclude that the house was loved and has good memories. Buying a house is a visual and emotional experience, something that’s often overlooked.
If buyers see a gorgeous home when they drive by it, they are much more likely to start a serious inquiry. These drive-bys are important, because even though research starts on the Internet, it ends on the ground. More than 50 percent of the calls I’ve received from buyers were ultimately prompted by an attractive drive-by.
Walk outside and view your home with a buyer’s eyes. Is the yard landscaped and well maintained? Is the yard lush and trimmed? Use some fertilizer to fill out the yard, or add some grass if its winter; if it’s summer, remember that your grass grows very quickly and it might not be a bad idea to have it mowed twice a week.
Pick up any clutter from the yard, and get the dead branches and leaves out of the gutters. Trim down or remove dead bushes. Put a pot of colorful flowers near the front door as an easy, personal touch. I also recommend repainting your front door.
There are many great TV shows now about home “staging,” or the act of dressing up your house to look its best. Go to the HGTV web site, type in “staging” and watch some of the impressive transformations they’ve done. You can hire professionals to do this kind of work, but if you watch a couple of episodes you’ll be able to do a great job. It’s addictive so watch out!
If you want to take it a step further, which you should, spruce up the inside, as well. People love bright clean homes. Nothing is as depressing as a dim, drab-looking room – so lighten it up. Paint the walls a softer shade if you have to. Buy more lamps and turn them on, but not too many.
Buyers think clutter is contagious! If you have too much stuff in your house, they will subconsciously doubt that all their stuff will fit. In my experience, clutter can actually shave five to 15 percent off a home’s value.
Having clutter is like having a strip club across the street: no one will want to live there! So go through each room, including the kids’ rooms, and meticulously purge your excess belongings. If you don’t want to throw them away, put them in storage.
HA: According to a recent report from CoreLogic, cash sales across the country are falling, particularly in Texas, where cash sales made up 30 percent of total sales in May, a few points below the national average. Specifically in Houston, have you noticed cash leaving the market, and if so, what do you think is driving this trend?
SL: There is less cash because the stock market has been on such a role! After 2008, people did not want their money in the market and took their cash and put it into real estate. They now want it in the market. If we have a correction, this trend will change. In Houston, people are investing in their businesses. And since business is good, they want to expand and that takes cash.
I have client who could pay cash for their homes but would prefer to borrow the money at four percent because it allows them to further invest in their businesses and make a greater return.
Also, there are just simply not as many investors in the market. In 2008, the market was saturated with cash investors, all here to make money on the plethora of post-bubble deals. But as demand increased, so did the market, followed closely by local property taxes. The numbers no longer make real estate as lucrative as it once was, which is why they’re now on the sidelines.
HA: While much of a real estate agent’s business is generated via referrals, social media still plays a role in helping that agent establish themselves as an online resource and a presence in the online community. What social media outlets do you use, what do you do on them, and which has proven to be most effective?
SL: Something I’ve found particularly useful has been keeping a blog. While I’m not incredibly active online, keeping a blog, I’ve found, helps build a sense of credibility and allows clients to get to know you on a more intimate level. People want to work with someone who they like and can connect with, and a blog helps facilitate that.
I do use social media, I have a Facebook page, but, again, a lot of my business comes from referral, so I’m not incredibly active. I will say, however, that one thing I’ve noticed about social media, especially Facebook, is that it’s becoming a new platform for referrals. I had a friend who was leaving the area, and I suggested she throw up a post online asking if anyone knew an agent in the area she was moving to. Shortly after, three of her friends responded with recommendations.
So while Facebook and social might now be the ultimate lead generation tools, they can help grow your business and expand your client base.