Real Estate

Real Estate Matters: The quick and the slow

Two sides of the Palo Alto housing market

Why do some homes sell faster than others? That's a question those wanting to sell their homes have surely pondered in markets across the United States. In the Bay Area, we've heard all about record speeds at which homes are selling. But that doesn't mean every home here appears and then disappears from the market in the blink of an eye.

In Palo Alto, some homes are spending an amazingly short amount of time on the market. During a three-month span -- March, April and May -- the 107 single-family homes that were purchased averaged just 14.7 days on the market. That's fast by anybody's standard, particularly when you consider that most markets around the country measure the speed of homes sales in months, not days.

But what about the homes that get passed up? While certain homes are bought quickly, others stay on the market. In May, 35 homes were sold in an average of just 14 days. In that same month, 44 other homes stayed on the market.

Why does one home sell almost immediately while another languishes? Many factors come into play when answering this question. Here are three of them.

1. Priced to sell

When you're preparing to put your home on the market, one of your first considerations should be the listing price. Working with your Realtor, you can determine with reasonable accuracy the fair market value of your property. If you list too much higher than this figure, buyers may hesitate.

Along with fast sales, another real estate topic you hear a lot about in Palo Alto and throughout Silicon Valley is bidding wars, which typically involve multiple offers on homes that are 5, 10 or more percentage points above the list price. Aggressive buyers are willing to pay premiums for homes -- but they're not as willing to do this when the initial price of a home significantly exceeds the deduced market value. Advice to homeowners: too high a price might mean too long a wait to sell it.

2. Curb appeal

The quality of the impression your home makes on potential buyers has a lot to do with how motivated those buyers become in pursuing the deal. This impression is often largely based on curb appeal, which is the overall "look" of your home during a showing.

When a homeowner engages in little or no home staging in preparation for sale, the impression the home makes on buyers can be rather flat or downright unflattering. It's a proven fact that well-staged homes sell faster than those that are left alone. Advice to homeowners: present your home at its best at every showing.

3. Furnished or empty?

In almost every case, a home that is clean, de-cluttered, de-personalized and furnished nicely will sell faster than a home that is empty and full of echo. When planning the sale of a home that will shortly be completely moved out of, many agents strongly recommend filling the house with staging furniture so that buyers will get the visual impression of how the home might look if they lived in it.

An empty house doesn't have a lot of psychological appeal. This is why home builders go to great lengths to furnish their model homes. Vacant homes require much imagination on the parts of interested buyers; tastefully furnished homes paint a picture that's easily relatable to buyers. Advice to homeowners: make your home appear lived in, but not worn out.

All this isn't to say that the owners of homes that sit on the market have failed in the three areas. A whole host of factors affects how fast a home sells. But these three areas are very important aspects to consider when getting your home ready to be seen by buyers.

Hadar Guibara is a Realtor with Sereno Group of Palo Alto. She can be reached at

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