There's Nothing Sacred About Range Pricing in Real Estate

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A few days ago, I had an agent get angry at me about an offer below a range asking price. I had submitted the offer with extensive justification as to why it was an appropriate offer. Basically, this clown had overpriced the property, and thought that because he had put a range on it, people were somehow not supposed to make offers outside the range.

Just because you put range pricing on a property, does not, by itself, mean anything. As I've said before, you can ask for any price you want for your property. It doesn't mean the asking price is realistic. It means that you own the property and have the ability to put a price on the property that you want. This doesn't do you any good if the price is above what similar properties are selling for. Having been told it's for sale, buyers have the same options the seller does - they can offer any price they would be happy paying. The seller doesn't have to accept. In fact, the seller probably won't accept. If the buyer offers less than the property is really worth, than the seller is correct to reject the offer. On the other hand, if the buyer is offering what the property is really worth and the seller doesn't accept the offer, they are hurting only themselves.

Right now, most sellers and their agents are shooting themselves in both feet by overpricing the property. Right now there are some special circumstances in effect - the lending panic, the be precise. It's mostly psychological, as there are any number of very solvent lenders willing and able to fund loans, but hysterical reporting grabs attention (which is why they do it). The net effect is that many buyers who would otherwise be in the market are still sitting on the sidelines, and so the ratio of sellers to buyers locally has ballooned to 47 to 1. Imagine yourself in a situation where the ratio of men to women is 47 to 1. The social dynamics are going to favor the women. Even if she's a fat slovenly harridan at the tail end of middle age, she's going to have her pick of men. The men, for their part, are going to have be both good looking and well off to attract even the woman in the previous sentence, and keep working hard to keep the woman around. If you're not willing to do what it takes, and keep doing what it takes, you might as well not bother. Now imagine that people who want to sell are the men, and people who are willing to buy are the women. If you're not willing to out-compete the other 46 sellers, why is your property on the market? If you need to sell, then you need to do what is necessary to out-compete those other sellers. Make it pretty. Make it cheap. And you still better be willing to work when an offer comes calling. If you're not, get the property off the market until the climate changes. I don't think it's going to be long.

Range pricing a property at a value you're not willing to accept is a waste of everybody's time. There was a property on the market variable priced over $125,000 range, and my client made a very strong offer about $15,000 over the minimum. Lots of cash, good deposit, short escrow, no contingencies, etcetera. Under the circumstances, a very good offer considering what the property was really worth. Yet despite all the information we put in front of them, this seller kept countering at the same number, which was more than my client was willing to pay for that property. Net result: the whole process was a waste from the time we started driving to the property. Yes, they got a lot of activity, but since they weren't willing to sell for the price that generated the activity - or anything like that price - the property didn't sell. Since if the property doesn't sell, every penny you put into trying to sell is wasted, as is every second of your time, plus all of the carrying costs that you may incur. So the listing agent told me they'd had a dozen showings in a week - but if they're looking at the property because it's variable priced $75,000 below any offer the seller is willing to consider, well, self-stimulation may feel good but it doesn't produce anything. This entire situation is a failing on behalf of the listing agent, who is theoretically earning money because of their knowledge of the market and should know precisely how likely it is that buyers will agree to pay more than the comparable properties are selling for, which is to say, Not. Particularly in this market, which is still very weighted towards buyers, and will continue to be until Spring 2008, even after the lending panic subsides. Indeed, if you need to sell, you're almost certainly going to have to settle for less than comparable properties are asking. If you don't need to sell, get your property off the market, now. The sooner excess inventory clears, the sooner the turn towards sellers is going to happen. Not to mention your days on market keep climbing, and there's nothing beneficial about having a failed listing in a property's immediate past. The longer it sits unsold now, the harder it's going to be to sell for a good price later.

Properly used, variable or range pricing can increase the sales price of a property. But the catch is that it must still be priced correctly. Range pricing is not an excuse for a lazy or incompetent listing agent to build owner expectations above market level. The rule of thumb is that the bottom of the range should never be lower than a good "all cash, no contingencies" offer, and the top of the range should never be more than market plus a reasonable premium for dealing with the uncertainties of financing and contingencies. Both figures should be modified downwards if the seller is asking for something extra in the way of consideration from the buyer - for example, leasebacks of more than a week or two, seller contingencies, etcetera.

Matter of fact, the way the market is right now in most of the country, I'm inclining against range pricing. If it's priced correctly, that range is information I can use as a buyer's agent. Why would I want to hand the other side information I could put to use were I on the other side, especially when they already have the whip hand in negotiations? Range pricing is something that's primarily useful for sellers when the sellers have the power, and right now, it's the buyers that have the power. If it's not useful for the seller, why in the world would you want to put range pricing on a property? With blortloads of highly upgraded properties for sale right now, I have absolutely no hesitation in telling my buyer clients to offer what we think the property is worth to them under the circumstances, and let the sellers decide if they want to do what's necessary to get the property sold. If they don't want to play, somebody else will. Either way, the buyers are happy. This seller can either decide they'll be happy with an appropriate amount of money, or the property can sit unsold. Which is pretty much the situation as it always is.

Range pricing is not a panacea. Range pricing is not something lazy or fearful agents can use to "buy" a listing with impunity, confident it'll work out in the end (it won't). Range pricing is not an excuse not to price your property to market, or not to negotiate hard with all of the facts at your disposal (if you don't have enough favorable facts at your disposal as to what comparable properties are selling for, your negotiating position is not strong). Range pricing is a way to offer clues to buyers and get them to the table with an appropriate offer when sellers have significantly more negotiating power than buyers. Since in most of the country right now, sellers have no power, range pricing is something to use sparingly. There's nothing that says buyers have to offer you what you want. Not now, not ever. The only leverage sellers have over buyers is the fact that if this buyer won't offer something that is appropriate, somebody else will, and that's very weak leverage when there's 47 properties on the market for every buyer.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 21, 2007 10:01 AM.

Games Lenders Play, Part II was the previous entry in this blog.

Real Loans for Real People August 21st, 2007 is the next entry in this blog.

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