A former editor of mine once hooked me up with a friend of hers who had built a fairly lucrative real estate consulting business.
The gist: If a house sat on the market without an offer for more than a couple of months, this consultant would be hired to figure out why.
What was unusual about this was that she would try to figure out whether or not the house was giving off bad vibes to potential buyers. This was before anyone outside the Asian community had heard of feng shui, so these problems had nothing to do with whether the front door opened on to the stairs, for example.
In one case, an occupant had died under mysterious circumstances 100 years before, and the consultant determined that this person's spirit was throwing off negative vibrations to prospective buyers.
I never got around to writing about the consultant because it was the middle of down market, and there were economic factors affecting home sales more than anything else.
I didn't dismiss the consultant's efforts, since my first brush with feng shui came shortly after, so it simply seemed to be another way of looking the same problem: Why some houses sell quickly and others do not.
There was a time when I could ask a real estate agent why a house wasn't selling and the answer would be "it isn't properly priced." But in the current market, where prices appreciate faster than anyone can keep track, "properly priced" means something different every few hours.
So it must be something else. But what?
The trend lately has been to bring in "staging" firms owned by professional designers to get houses selling quickly and for big bucks.
I don't know if TV started the trend or picked up on, but there is at least one cable show about staging.
"De-cluttering and cleaning, adding and rearranging home furnishings, minor remodeling projects and painting with updated color schemes are among the most common components of these types of projects," according to a press release from one of these companies.
This is the kind of thing that experienced real estate agents should know cold. For example, when I sold my last house, I used the same agent who has sold me the house 14 years before because she was top of the line and lived in the neighborhood.
The first thing she told me was to get rid of the dog smell, which was no easy task because the dog had the run of much of the house and was very old.
The best I could do in the time I had before we needed to get the house on the market was to minimize the odor, and pray that everyone who looked at the house was a dog owner.
We differed on how the job be done. The agent suggested that a hire a professional cleaning service at $90 an hour. I said I could do it myself.
I won, but I wonder if I should have hired the service. I did send the dog on vacation while the house was on the market -- all of three days -- but that had more to do with the fact that even at 15, she tended to climb on every visitor and lick their faces.
The services staging firms sell, at least as outlined by the press release, seem to be the same ones the veteran real estate agent is able to provide.
I would assume that an agent might bring in a stager when he or she is stumped why a house won't sell, or may do it for a high-end house with a limited clientele, or a one-of-a-kind house for which there is only one instead of the traditional three buyers, but for most houses, the agent should be enough.
As my example shows, the seller sometimes does not agree with all the agent's recommendations, so maybe bringing in a high-priced staging firm will get the most stubborn sellers moving.
Agents use open houses and showings by appointment not only as a selling tool, but as a way to obtain feedback from prospective buyers. If buyers mention the same problems over and over again, then it should be obvious to even the most stubborn seller that nothing is going to happen until there are some changes made.
No one likes being told what to do. One veteran agent told me that one of the reasons why there are for-sale-by-owners is that very fact. There are plenty of "rugged individualists" who prefer going their own way even when all the evidence is pointing in the opposite.
Agents point out to me constantly that there are a lot of Americans who truly believe that Realtors do little for their commission after obtaining a listing. The agents quickly add, however, that these are often same people who refuse to let them do their jobs.