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It seems like 2020 has a new (and unpleasant) surprise for us at every turn, and the GTA real estate market is no exception. Buyer and Seller needs and motivations are changing fast, and with it, the state of the market. Selling strategies that worked in 2019 – or even 6 months ago – aren’t necessarily working these days. If you want to successfully sell your home for top dollar, with a minimal amount of pain and aggravation for you and your family, it’s time to re-think your strategy. 

Below, we outline 18 home selling strategies that aren’t working right now– and share our best advice for navigating the current real estate market. 

  1. Price your home for what you want, not what it’s worth. OK, this strategy was never a great one, but these days, getting your original listing price right is critical. Your home is most appealing to Buyers in the first few weeks that it’s listed for sale, so if you overprice by $50K, you’ll lose out on the initial Buyer excitement and your sale will be infinitely harder. Now is not the time to ‘test the market’ to see how much a Buyer may be willing to pay for your home. If you aren’t serious about selling, you shouldn’t be on the market right now. 
  2. Set yourself up for a bidding war on a condo. You’ve probably heard that the condo market is shifting – in fact, as of writing, there are twice as many condos listed for sale than normal. Bidding wars work when there are lots of buyers and not enough homes for sale, and they have to compete with each other to buy a home, thus driving up prices. If there are 19 condos for sale in your building, Buyers aren’t going to compete for your unit – simply because they don’t have to. While this strategy may still work for unique or rarely available condos or locations, that’s the exception, not the norm and you might waste valuable time testing the bidding war strategy.  
  3. Not staging your home (unless you live in the perfect home). There was a time (not that long ago) when professional home staging was a nice-to-have – a way to increase how much money you could sell your home for. These days, staging often makes the difference between getting an offer and selling your home vs. having it sit on the market for many months, unsold. On three occasions in the past few months, we listed unstaged tenanted homes for sale. Showings and interest were very low for weeks…then the tenants moved out, our Stagers worked their magic, and boom – we got offers on all 3 properties within 2 days of staging. [Related – you can read all about our home staging here – and yes, it’s included in our commission.]
  4. Stage your home the way you would have 12 months ago. During COVID, we’ve witnessed a huge shift in what people value in a home and your staging needs to reflect that. You need to showcase a work-from-home space (even if that means converting the 3rd bedroom to an office). Kid spaces need to be practical (and ideally away from the main living space in case Christmas break extends into March Break). Kitchens need to be inviting (everybody is cooking for themselves these days). Backyards and patio spaces need to be staged too – Buyers need to see themselves hosting a small group of friends for drinks instead of hitting up a local neighbourhood patio. And in terms of style? Think comfy and cozy, safe and warm. 
  5. Renovate before you sell. Nobody knows how the real estate market will change over the next few months and spending big money and time to fully renovate a kitchen or bathroom isn’t generally advisable right now. That’s not to say that home prep isn’t still important – a fresh coat of paint, decluttering, cleaning and fixing the small stuff will make a difference – but now is not the time to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a project in the hopes of recouping those costs in a sale. So much can happen between now and when your renos are complete. 
  6. Think of the Greater Toronto Area as one real estate market. Be wary about what you’re reading in the news and ‘Toronto’ real estate statistics. We have multiple micro-markets in Toronto, and they are operating quite differently these days. Base your decisions on what’s happening in your neighbourhood and for your type of property, and recognize that the market is fluid and changes all the time. If you meet with an agent today and they give you an estimated value of your home – be ready for that value to change (up or down) by the time you list your home for sale. 
  7. Anticipate dozens of in-person ‘showings’. Most Buyers are limiting the number of homes they see in person and have moved much of their home search online, so make sure your REALTOR is providing virtual showing options to potential Buyers. Re-set your expectations as to the number of people that will traipse through your house while it’s for sale – hope for quality of Buyers over quantity. 
  8. Not having a ‘safe showings’ strategy. These days, masks, hand-washing stations and safety kits are a must. Potential Buyers should be screened before entering the home and should be discouraged from bringing extra friends and family to a showing. Make sure to leave the lights on and keep the closet doors open to reduce the number of surfaces that potential Buyers will need to touch. 
  9. Not getting professional photos, floor plans and virtual tours. During COVID, potential Buyers are going to spend a lot of time touring your home from the comfort of their couch, so you need to make sure that it’s showcased at its absolute best online. That means you need pro HDR photos, floor plans and 3-D or virtual tours. Last year, you might have gotten away with crappy cell phone photos – but that won’t bring in today’s Buyers. [Click here to read more about how the BREL team markets homes for sale.]
  10. Just list it for sale on the MLS. While the MLS is still an important part of announcing that a home is for sale, digital marketing has taken on far more importance in a COVID-world. Just like your online habits have changed during the pandemic, so have those of your potential Buyers and the marketing for your home needs to reflect that. Buyers are spending WAY more time on the internet and on social media and are researching and shopping online in very different ways. When you’re interviewing REALTORS to list your home for sale, ask for details about their digital marketing plan and their results. How many potential Buyers saw the agent’s last listing on their website? How many were reached on Facebook and Instagram? How big is their email database and how engaged are they with the content? How many potential Buyers do they reach compared to realtor.ca?
  11. Host a public open house. Please don’t ask your REALTOR to host in-person open houses – they are currently not recommended in Ontario and in all honesty, they aren’t effective right now. Before you hire a listing agent, ask them how they approach virtual open houses – they’re surprisingly popular with potential Buyers and a much safer option during COVID. 
  12. Walk away from a low-ball offer. During the hot real estate market of the last decade, Toronto Sellers were more likely to walk away from a low-ball offer than negotiate – they knew the next offer would only be a few days away. If your home is listed for sale and not getting a lot of interest, don’t walk away from an offer – even if it’s a lowball. No, that doesn’t mean you should accept an offer you aren’t happy with – but it does mean negotiating your way through multiple rounds of counter-offers to see if you can reach a mutually acceptable price. There are plenty of nervous Buyers out there – and their first offer isn’t likely their last offer.  (Pro tip: Hire an agent with advanced negotiating training and skills – not just someone who knows how to orchestrate a bidding war.)
  13. Set it and forget it. It’s important to be flexible these days –  the set-it-and-forget-it strategy doesn’t work anymore. Be prepared to pivot in response to feedback and showing activity, whether that’s re-visiting your listing price or strategy, modifying the staging or asking your agent to revamp the marketing. If you can’t get the price you want in the current market (I’m talking to you condo owners), you might need to re-evaluate whether or not you even want to sell. Can you hold onto it for another 3, 5 or 10 years? Should you pivot your selling goals?
  14. Buy before selling. If you’re upgrading from a condo to a house, you can lessen your risk by selling your condo first, then buying a house. The condo market is slower right now and condo prices are decreasing in many pockets of the city. You’ll reduce the stress of upgrading to a new house if you don’t have to worry about not being able to sell your condo or getting less money for it than you were expecting. [Click here to read our expert advice about upsizing your home.]
  15. List your home for sale in the spring or fall. Everything is different in 2020 and we have every reason to believe that will continue into 2021. The typical seasonality of real estate in Toronto isn’t typical anymore and some of our traditionally ‘slow’ months were the busiest this year. [Click here to read more about When Is the Best Time to Sell Your Home.]
  16. Think short-term. In a shifting market, you need to think long-term. What are your goals and priorities? How might your life change? What’s your Plan B if the recession impacts the Toronto real estate market? It’s not a great time to take on a ‘flip’. It’s not a great time to make a quick return on a real estate investment. Be clear with yourself about what you want and need from the sale, and act accordingly. 
  17. Approach selling a tenanted home in the usual way. It’s always harder to sell a property that’s tenanted, and COVID has made things more complicated. While most of the usual best practices in selling a tenanted property apply, you’ll need to take the tenants safety and cooperation into consideration. Your REALTOR will be able to help guide you. [Read our pre-COVID advice on How to Sell a Tenanted Home.]
  18. Hire your friend/the newbie agent/your mom’s REALTOR/the part-time agent to represent you. The real estate agent you hire is more important than ever right now. Do your homework. Read reviews. Hire someone who is active in the market every day and understands how things are changing. Hire for negotiation skills, marketing expertise and premium services like staging. [Read: Q15 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Listing Agent.]

Thinking of selling and don’t know where to start? Get in touch!


First Time Seller Guide

100 Seller Mistakes

Resources for Sellers

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