A tip for selling something: Stage another interested buyer

I stumbled into something today that I’m sure I’ve read elsewhere and had forgotten about.

We’re trying to rent this house out, you see. And so far, everyone I’ve showed it to has jerked me around about it. And most people don’t want to rent it. They want to buy it for nothing. It’s a little irritating, but I try to stay cheerful. I have to.

Today, I showed the house to a guy who kept going on and on about how it’s not very much house for what I’m asking–I’m asking what an experienced and successful realtor who knows the area says to ask–and finding tons of nitpicky things to dislike about it.

And then another car drove up.

I politely ended the conversation–the showing took an easy 15 minutes longer than it needed to take–and greeted the woman who got out of the car. She asked for me by name. She had seen the yard sign and called my wife, who told her to just drive over and meet me there, that I’d be happy to show the house.

So I invited her, her son, and her friend in to show the house. She seemed to like the house. She said nothing negative about it, but asked questions like what it’s like to have a dishwasher. I said you hate not having one, once you’ve had one. Her friend was impressed with the garage. And she said, “But I probably can’t use it. Most landlords keep their stuff in the garage, so you can’t use it.”

I gave her a puzzled look. “If you’re paying me rent every month, this garage is yours,” I said.

That’s not what I’m used to hearing. According to everyone else I’ve shown the house to so far, landlords gut the house and re-do everything to each new tenant’s specifications. Well, maybe not quite, but there was one woman I showed the house to last week who wanted me to do several thousand dollars’ worth of changes, then rent it to her for $100 less than I’m asking, and not charge a pet deposit or any extra fees for her two yappy little rat dogs.

I don’t think people realize that landlords pretty much operate on the same math. There are some variants on it, but, basically, the monthly rent is going to be 1% of what they have in the property. So if the going rate on a house in an area is $120,000, you’re not going to be able to rent for $700 a month. And if you see two comparable houses in the same area for the same rent, and one has a nicer kitchen, something in that house isn’t as nice as the other one.

And some landlords expect to continue to use the garage as a workshop, apparently.

I showed her around some more, and then we talked money. She seemed to be trying to talk herself out of the house, but clearly liked it a lot. But she wasn’t sure if she could afford it. I offered to run some numbers for her. So she told me what she makes from all sources of income, and I figured it up, and it was really close. Our attorney had told me exactly what you can afford–it turns out to be 35% of your income–but I couldn’t remember right then if it was 30, 33, or 35 percent. I told her I’d run the numbers at home just to make sure, and give her a call back.

After I went home, I ran the numbers, saw she could actually afford a little more than I’m asking, and called her with the good news. She told me she’d called her boss to ask about a promotion she’d been promised, which will pay her more. I said great, once you get that, this is a slam dunk, but in the meantime, you’re still in the clear.

She said she’d drop an application off in the morning.

Then I went back to the house to do a couple of quick things, and there was a strange truck parked in the driveway.

I got out of the car to investigate, and when I came back, the man I’d shown the house to earlier in the day was talking to my wife.

“I know you,” I said. “You came and looked at the house this afternoon.”

He asked me some more questions about the house. And the funny thing is, suddenly he didn’t have anything bad to say about it. What was not much house for the money a few hours ago was suddenly just perfect for his parents. But, he said, they really want to buy rather than rent.

There’s a house down the street for sale, and the asking price is a steal. I asked about that other house.

“That one isn’t as nice as this one,” he said.

It’s amazing how perceptions change when people think someone else wants it.

So it seems to me that when you’re trying to sell something or rent it out, that it makes sense to schedule all of your showings on the same day, adjacent to each other, so that everyone looking at it knows there’s someone else looking, too. And if you don’t mind being a little bit shady, schedule fake appointments if you don’t have real ones to sandwich a showing. Or at least take a phone call about it toward the end of the appointment.

One thought on “A tip for selling something: Stage another interested buyer

  • August 28, 2011 at 8:14 am
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    I’ve sold several cars and motorcycles via Craigslist over the past four or five years, and I’m always amazed at people who contact me the first day and then throw out really low ball offers. When people do that to me, I always tell them I have a buyer who’s willing to pay full price, but won’t have the money until the weekend, so I won’t be taking less until after that. Sometimes that gets people to ask full price and sometimes that makes them walk away, but it gets me out of haggling with tire kickers.

    My Dad once told me, if you’re selling a car in the newspaper, pick a time (noon on Saturday) and tell everybody that time. You’re right, nothing sells a car like seeing other sharks circling!

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