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Price it right

Ask too much in a down market and you may lose

The real estate market in Stoughton, a middle-class suburb south of Boston, is faring slightly better than the rest of eastern Mass. The real estate market in Stoughton, a middle-class suburb south of Boston, is faring slightly better than the rest of eastern Mass. (Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Vanessa Parks
Globe Correspondent / September 16, 2007

STOUGHTON - When Paul Rappoli Jr. put his four-bedroom Colonial on the market for $449,900 in June 2006, he felt good about its chances of selling. After all, it had an updated kitchen, a finished basement, and a winning backyard.

Eight months later, the house finally sold for nearly $75,000 less than the initial asking price.

"It was a long, drawn-out, frustrating ordeal, and it was unfortunate," said Rappoli. "I felt like we were constantly chasing the market, just constantly chasing it."

Why didn't the house sell sooner? That's easy: the price.

"It was a beautiful house in a great neighborhood. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. In the home inspection, nothing came up," said Jeffrey Ledin, a broker with Century 21 C&S Properties in Stoughton who stepped in after Rappoli's contract with his first broker expired. "The problem was the price."

When Ledin took over the listing, he repriced the house at $379,900. Just nine days later, it sold for $375,000.

"We had eight showings in the first three days," Ledin said. "The price sold it."

You hear it again and again from brokers, the notion that even in this sluggish real estate market, a house will sell if it's priced right. But what, exactly, does that mean, to be priced right?

An exact definition is elusive. Though real estate brokers analyze recent sales to help determine a price, there isn't a handy formula that can punch out a good number at will. Rather, brokers said they rely on their experience to gauge whether a home is too high for a given market. And in a down market, it pays not to be too much above the typical price for the neighborhood and type of home.

"You need three ingredients to sell in this market," said James Gibbons of RE/MAX Landmark Realtors in Stoughton. "The house has to be in a good location. Second, it has to be in great condition, which wasn't necessarily a factor three or four years ago. And the most important factor is price. You have to be, in a nutshell, the best property out there in the price range you're in."

Take, for example, three homes that recently sold in that town for $375,000: two were listed at starting prices far above the average for Stoughton and spent longer than seven months on the market; they had to come down in price $43,000, and $75,000 before selling. The third was listed close to the town average, and sold in less three weeks, for $4,000 below its original asking price.

Rappoli's 2,026 square foot four-bedroom house on Trowbridge Circle was built in 1960. After listing it for $449,900 in June 2006, the price dropped steadily, first to $424,900 in August, and eventually to $399,900 in December. He did get two offers: One buyer couldn't sell his own house, the other backed out days before the scheduled closing.

Peggy Buresh of Condon & Walsh Real Estate in Quincy initially had the Rappoli listing. She said they were building a new house in Foxborough and were willing to take a bit of time selling. She priced it at the high end, thinking, "Let's just try it and see what happens. Then the market started to change."

Rappoli, who had grown up in the house, said, "Part of it had to do with what I thought I'd like to get and what other homes in the neighborhood had gone for."

Now, he advises buyers, "Forget about what you want, about what you could have gotten a year ago, what your neighbor got two years ago - those days are gone."

Ledin, who eventually sold the house, said it probably was overpriced by about $50,000 when it first went on the market. That made it hard for price reductions to keep pace.

"The market was dropping faster than they were dropping the price," he said.

A few miles away on Britton Street, a 1,900-square foot home on nearly a half-acre went on the market in July 2006 for $417,900. By November, the price had dropped to $397,900 and still no takers. In February, the owner hired a new realtor, Kathleen Doherty of Layton Real Estate.

She listed the house for $389,900 and two and a half weeks later, it sold for $375,000. Besides dropping the price, she suggested the owners clear out some belongings and replace the brown, faux-wood linoleum in the kitchen. "That took the age off the first impression. It was a quick fix and it really paid off."

"It was an older home, ranch style - that's a first-time buyer," she said. In her marketing materials, she emphasized the family room, the location at the end of the cul de sac, and two-car garage.

The third house was a 2,276-square-foot four-bedroom cape on Johnson Road. Gibbons listed it for $379,000 and it sold 17 days later for $375,000.

Was he surprised? "No, I can't say I was. It was a great house. It was a big house, it had a beautiful yard, a Jacuzzi, and big deck. It just had some nice bells and whistles," Gibbons said. "If you price correctly and aggressively from the start, buyers are going to recognize it instantly as a good deal. But if you don't get it right at the outset, it's like chasing a runaway train."

Brokers arrive at a listing price by comparing the home as closely as possible to three or four other homes of the same style and condition, built around the same time, and with similar upgrades in the same neighborhood.

"You want to look at sold property because those are facts," said Susan Renfrew of Renfrew Real Estate in Greenfield and president-elect of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. In this market, agents look at homes that sold no more than 90 days ago; they check to see how long the homes were on the market and whether incentives were offered to close the deal.

They also review prices on homes under agreement, but no longer use original asking prices as a guideline. There are just too many overpriced homes on the market.

Rappoli's was one of them.

"The biggest lesson I learned is you really have to get someone who knows the market like the back of their hand and is not afraid to tell what the real value of your house is," he said.

He realizes that had his house been priced properly at the outset, it probably would have sold for more than it ultimately did. But he's philosophical about it.

"It could have been a lot better, but believe me, it could have been a lot, lot worse from a financial standpoint," Rappoli said. "I look at the big picture, going back to when we bought the house, and we still made money. I'm surprised it didn't go sooner, but I'm glad the people who got it, got it."

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