JAN 6, 2012

Finding the Perfect Ally to Help You Sell Your Home

Like many homeowners, John Kennedy bought his Chicago condo when home prices were high. But when he got married and wanted a bigger place, selling his condo seemed out of the question because he owed more on his home than it was worth.

The solution for John and Gillian Kennedy was to sign an agreement with Marketplace Homes of Plymouth, Mich., which guaranteed it would rent the condo or cover the rental income while it tried to sell the property for them. This enabled the Kennedys to buy a row home at Lexington Square in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.

"We break even each month (on the condo) because the rent covers the mortgage and the real estate taxes," said Gillian Kennedy. "And we don't have to worry about being landlords. Marketplace does everything for us."

Like the Kennedys, many of today's home shoppers are eager to buy but are saddled with hefty mortgages and declining home values. Signing with a rental agent is one solution.

"Our typical client has a growing family and needs a bigger place," said Tim Binning, president of Free to Move Now (freetomovenow.com), a leasing program based in Bloomingdale. "They have the income to support a second mortgage but are upside down with their first mortgage, owing more than the house will sell for. They bought their first place when prices were high."

Free to Move Now and Marketplace Homes receive referrals from new-home builders or customers directly from their websites. They guarantee rental income to the homeowner for a year, even if the home is vacant. Contracts are renegotiable, and the companies handle property management, securing of tenants and eviction of bad tenants.

About 10 percent of Lexington Homes' buyers sign on with Marketplace Homes, said Jeff Benach, co-principal of Lexington Homes in Chicago.

The homebuilders that refer Marketplace to their clients pay commissions to the rental agent.

"Some people are perfectly happy putting their house on Craigslist.com and finding a tenant," said John Carroll, president of Ryland Chicago in West Dundee. "But not everyone can be a landlord. They want (a leasing agent) to do it all, from screening tenants to maintaining the property."

Homeowners who go this route often qualify for tax breaks for the homes they are renting, added Debbie Beaver, vice president of Schaumburg-based William Ryan Homes, which uses rental agents.

"They can write off their (homeowner association) fees and mortgage interest," she said.

Homeowners who are determined to sell their existing homes should ask if the homebuilder offers any help.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, 26 percent of builders help their buyers sell existing homes.

For example, DJK Inc. in Plainfield has home-selling tips on its website, plus names of real estate agents. William Ryan Homes accepts contingent offers from clients who work with one of its partner agents. Epcon Communities, which builds in Plainfield and Woodstock, offers seminars for its new-home buyers. Speakers include real estate agents, stagers and mortgage lenders.

Home staging

Interior stylist Sue Powell of InFocus Design in Crete recommends hiring a pro to prepare a house for sale.

"If you're moving your things to a new place, don't leave the leftovers at the old place," said Powell. "Use furniture that appeals to most buyers. Think Crate & Barrel and not dead Aunt Mabel's sofa."

Although paint is the easiest and least expensive way to spruce up your house, Powell said, "Don't listen to people who tell you to paint it all neutral. That neuters the house. Use some color to give rooms character and define them."

Update window treatments because old ones retain odors, said Powell. Use them to frame window views, not block them. Remove carpeting to reveal hardwood floors, she added.

"It's all about putting your best foot forward," said Powell. "You wear your best suit for a job interview. You detail your car before you sell it. For $500 to $1,000 you can have the house staged professionally, instead of selling it for $25,000 or $50,000 less."

Be sure to stage it before you list it on MLS, she added, so the online pictures are post-staging.

Helpful resources

Some community colleges offer classes in home selling. The College of DuPage, for example, will offer the two-hour "Get It Sold" class Feb. 18 and April 4.

Helpful books include "301 Simple Things You Can Do to Sell Your Home Now and For More Money Than You Thought: How to Inexpensively Reorganize, Stage, and Prepare Your Home for Sale," by Teri B. Clark, and "How to Sell Your Home in Any Market: 6 Reasons Why Your Home Isn't Selling … and What You Can Do to Fix Them," by Loren Keim.

Home-selling tutorials are just a click away on the Web. This Old House (thisoldhouse.com), for example, has a video with low-cost suggestions.

Look to the Internet and bookstores for for-sale-by-owner resources. Many of these tips also apply to homeowners who use real estate agents.

"After a year searching for a place to live (Chicago and Suburbs), I couldn't be happier with our choice to go with Lexington Homes."

- Keith Christensen