Pricing, staging and other tips from Montreal real-estate brokers

Montreal real-estate agents Bonnie Sandler (left) and Mary Lamey. (Photo: Caroline Ronalds)Montreal real-estate agents Bonnie Sandler (left) and Mary Lamey. (Photo: Caroline Ronalds)

It’s become a cliché—buying a home is probably the most important investment most of us make. But selling that home is at least as important.

To examine the state of the market in Montreal and get some advice for potential sellers, we consulted two knowledgeable and experienced real estate brokers.

Mary Lamey, a Century 21 Vision broker and former real estate columnist at The Montreal Gazette, says the question of whether this is a good time to sell or buy real estate depends on motivation.

“The first question a potential seller should be asking is, ‘Am I trying to cash in on the market?’ If so, this has to be considered carefully, especially if you don’t have a compelling reason to move. You have to live somewhere, and you have to factor in the stress, chaos and bother of moving. If you are thinking of selling because your house is too big and expenses and maintenance cost are too high, and you would rather have your money invested elsewhere, this is an excellent time to sell,” she says.

This is especially true if the property is in a mature, family-oriented neighbourhood such as Côte St. Luc or N.D.G.

“You are probably sitting on an asset that young families would be eager to purchase,” Lamey says. “If you have a duplex in any central neighbourhood, especially if it is relatively close to public transit, anywhere in the island, you will do very well.”

Among areas that are harder to sell, she notes the once booming and trendy Plateau neighbourhood, which she says, “has priced itself outrageously. Things are very slow in that area these days.”

Bonnie Sandler is a social worker specializing in issues affecting seniors. She became a real estate broker five years ago when the children of seniors she was advising, many of whom live outside Montreal, asked that she also help sell the family home.

Sandler notes that Montreal’s affordable real estate market, unlike those of Toronto and Vancouver, allows young families to buy a first home.

Buyers appear to be in a good position when it comes to condos notes Sandler. “There is an overstock of condos in Montreal, which makes it a buyer’s market, though there is a feeling that it is starting to balance out.”

Looking at prospects for the months ahead, Sandler says, “In general, things are getting busy, but who knows?”

Whatever the climate, both brokers agree that for sellers, “de-cluttering and staging” are essential. As in a stage play, staging means preparing the property to impress the buyer, with nothing to impart a negative impulse.

“You take two identical houses, and one is staged, it’s going to sell faster, and for a lot more money,” Sandler advises. “No personal belongings. A person has to walk in and feel they can move in with their stuff. Staging means the place should look modern and clean, with minimal and up-to-date furniture. No falling-apart couches.”

How much should a seller invest to spruce up a property? Both brokers agree that major renovations, such as upgrading kitchens and/or bathrooms, are not advisable.

“Repairing a driveway, a fresh coat of neutral white paint, after cleaning and de-cluttering, are all good,” Lamey says.

“When someone looks in your closet or pantry, they should not be overflowing. People are moving to get away from their own clutter, so they don’t want to see your clutter. Creating a sense of openness and space is not an expensive thing to do. Basic maintenance is important: clean your furnace, maybe replace an old water tank, but I would not spend $7,000 on a new roof—you will not necessarily get it back.”

Some buyers are looking for an older property, even if it needs lots of repairs, if they can get it for an attractive price.

“A real, real deal,” Sandler observes. Some of these are “flippers”—those who buy with plans to upgrade and resell. She contrasts these clients with others, often from Asia, who are looking for a property that is in near perfect move-in condition.

As a general rule, the right asking price is the key to grabbing a potential buyer for a rapid sale. “If you’re going to overprice it, nothing’s going to happen,” Sandler says.

Brokers usually do a comparative market analysis, studying sales of similar properties in the area over the past six months. For condos, the number of square feet is often an important indicator of market value.

“The market will determine the price,” Sandler says. “You should list a bit higher than what it should sell for, but not too far. The first few weeks are the most important, and that is when a good property, well priced could get multiple offers.

“Not long ago a listed house on a popular street priced competitively sold quickly, at $20,000 higher than asking,” Sandler recalls. “It was well-priced, but because it was on a desirable street, the interest pushed the price higher.
“Properties that are overpriced will sit and go stale.”

And should a homeowner try to sell the property herself to save on commission or hire a registered agent?

Both Lamey and Sandler emphasize there is no substitute for having a dedicated professional to advise, advertise, attract buyers, show the property, and help close a deal.

Commission, paid by the seller, can vary from three to six per cent, depending on the broker and can be negotiated, taking into account such costs as print advertising. Part of the commission paid goes to the agent’s brokerage firm. Apart from the various fees a registered broker has to pay, showing a property can be time consuming. If the property does not sell during the agreed upon time frame, the broker is left with nothing but costs.

“You want to make sure that the person you hire has integrity and is devoted to you,” Sandler says.

Real estate brokerage has been and continues to attract a large number of women agents. It is an attractive profession because, as Lamey says, “it’s still a way for women to launch themselves into business without a big capital outlay.

“You don’t have to buy inventory. You don’t have to rent an office. All you need are your wits, a good haircut, and a vehicle,” she observes.

“We are pretty good listeners, generally, maybe more intuitive. Women listen to what the clients are saying, and what they are not quite saying, and understand what’s really motivating them.”

More tips from brokers

Eric Goodman, Century 21 Vision, is a 40-year veteran of real estate sales.
His best suggestion: “Make your house buyer-neutral – even if you really like your hot pink room, you should paint it beige, or a more commonly preferred colour. Remove the idiosyncrasies that you love so that any buyer can picture himself in your house, not only people who have tastes like yours.”

Violeta Pirvu, independent real estate broker, cleanliness is key.
“Even if the house needs some improvements – that will depend on the purchaser – but as long as the house is spotless and clean, it will help sell the property.”

Ana Duque, Sutton Quebec Centre West, suggests putting things away, and making small repairs.
“Addressing a small crack on the wall that needs a little bit of paint, replacing loose door-handles: this will give the impression the house is well-maintained. It won’t take much to have a handyman come do a turn around the house. Small things can make a big difference.”

Caitlin Doyle, Royal LePage Village, says buyers want to see lots of natural light.
“Some people keep their blinds shut for privacy, but it is important to let in a lot of natural light. You could take down blinds, especially the older type, since styles and tastes do change. People who work at home are looking for lots of light. Make sure every room is heated, including those you don’t use where the doors are shut. When you’re showing and people walk into a cold room, it gives a bad impression.”

Jeannie Moosz, RE/MAX Royal broker, says sellers often ask if they should renovate.
“Making sure there is no crack in your foundation, that your roof is not leaking, and your plumbing and electrical are updated will sell your house much more in the end than a new kitchen that may not even be the style that a buyer is looking for.”

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