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Jun. 5, 2020
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Why can’t I sell my luxury home?

By Bev Knight
The concept of a “luxury” home has changed significantly since the great recession a decade ago. Before, luxury was all about square footage and showy features. It reflected the philosophy of “go big, or go home.” Today, affluent buyers are looking for manageable sized homes with extraordinary designer finishes and well-thought-out functionality. This creates challenges for homeowners who are trying to sell large homes built before 2007 even if they have the top-of-the-line finishes from that time. 
Technically, a “luxury” home is one that sells in the top 10 percent of that market; but, for the purpose of this discussion, we will call any lake home over $1 million a luxury home. Here are some tips and considerations in that category.
Numbers don’t lie: According to the FMLS 2019 stats, Lake Lanier homes listed at over $1 million sell at a rate of just under two per month. At the time of this writing, there are 47 for sale; so there is approximately 23 months of inventory in that market. Six months of inventory is considered a balanced market, so for luxury lake homes it’s definitely a buyer’s market.

Many frustrated owners withdraw their listings or let them expire because they are disappointed with the level of activity and don’t like the odds. Hopefully, the information below will help you make your home stand out. You don’t have to be the best home on the lake. You simply have to be near the top in your price range. Keep in mind that the average luxury lake home sells for around 92 percent of list price, so consider that in determining your pricing.
Buyer expectations: Buyers who can afford this type of home are usually smart, prepared, and picky. Typically, these are the features they’ll ask for: deep water, great view, easy walk to the lake, pool (or room to build one), completely up-to-date and offered at a great price. Some agents call that a “unicorn” because even in this price range, that is a hard-to-find combination. Many affluent buyers look for years without finding what they want and refuse to settle. Sometimes one outstanding feature, such as a fantastic lake lot, will trump the desire for a perfectly updated home. More often, a beautiful home is built on a mediocre lot, and those are the hardest to sell.

Keep in mind that every lake house is unique. You may know of another similar house that sold for more than the appraiser or your agent is suggesting yours is worth; however, they are also considering the view, walk to lake, water depth, type of dock, current demand, location and neighborhood. Those factors definitely affect the value. 
No showings: If your home is listed on the FMLS as well as the GA MLS and you’ve had no showings, you are way overpriced. Period. The end. You may want to consider getting an objective appraisal from a LAKE appraiser. It should cost under $500 and will save you months of frustration. Keep in mind that the appraiser may determine your top dollar, and you might not get that price from a buyer. But at the very least, the appraisal will help you develop realistic expectations of what your lake home might bring. An experienced lake agent should also be able to give you some guidance on a realistic list price.
Staging: If you have had showings but no offers, you may need help staging your home to sell. There are professional stagers as well as real estate agents who have staging expertise who can help. It is common to see a home that has languished on the market sell right away after it is properly staged. If you are hearing that your home is too small, you definitely need some staging advice. Are you blocking your lake view? Do you have cute personal pictures everywhere diverting the buyer’s attention from the house? Do you have too much furniture taking up all the floor space? To a buyer, floor space equals size. If they can’t see much floor, the home may seem smaller than it really is. Does your furniture arrangement point the room’s focus to the lake? Does your landscaping convey value and care for the home? These are questions a stager or agent with lake experience can help you answer.
Advertising: Does your agent do lake-targeted advertising? There’s no substitute for high-quality marketing that targets the right demographic. When you are interviewing agents, ask them about their marketing plans and make sure they’ve sold lake homes. It is a very unique market with a fairly well-defined demographic. There are specific phrases in ads that buyers look for. Do they know what those are? There are websites, designed for lake people and boaters, that pull listings based on certain lake-related phrases in the descriptions. Are you included on those? There are national organizations of lake agents who help each other and share leads.

Ask your agent how often they find the buyer for their lake listings. Marketing to reach buyers is very different from marketing to reach sellers. Does your agent know the difference? Does your home’s marketing literature imply value? Homemade flyers printed on a color printer with cell phone shots send the message that the house isn’t worth much effort. Does your agent do professional photography including a tour?
The FMLS will put together a quasi “tour” by just stringing together the still shots on the listing; but top agents do the nicer tours with motion video, aerial drone shots and more. This is so important for a lake house! Does your agent sponsor agent caravan events to raise awareness with other top agents in the area? Does the quality of your agent’s marketing match the quality of the house? Marketing matters, but keep in mind that no amount of marketing can overcome a home that is not properly priced.
Priced competitively, nicely staged, well-marketed – and still no offers: There are certain factors you just can’t control. The ones we hear most often are: walk to lake too steep, not enough view, don’t want stucco, water under dock too shallow, don’t like the neighborhood/area, too close to neighbors, ceilings too low, and the list goes on. This category of gripes can drive you crazy if you let it. You cannot control these aspects of the house, so try not to take it personally.

If every buyer cites the same issue, you may need to lower your price. You also need to keep in mind that you may not get back all the money you’ve put into improvements to the home. Besides the home itself, there may be other factors that create a price ceiling. It is usually not helpful to spend more money on an A-plus house that’s on a C- lot. It’s the lot that dictates the highest price you can get, i.e., the price ceiling. Instead, you get better results by improving the lot, for example by dredging the cove or opening up the view. Improving the house may help your salability, but it probably won’t add much to value since that number is capped by lot quality. 
Scarcity: In this case, be aware that there is a scarcity of buyers for luxury lake homes. The higher the price, the fewer buyers you’ll see. There is nothing you can do about this other than manage your own expectations and be prepared to wait. Even if you have the A-plus house on the A-plus lot, there may be only one or two buyers in that price range in a year. Some agents are starting to target elite markets in other states to try to reach out to buyers who don’t blink over a $2-$3 million price tag. Again, it may take time to reel them in. Try to be patient.
Bottom line: It’s hard to sell a luxury lake home. There simply aren’t enough buyers in that affluent demographic. They can afford to be picky, and they are. 
Bev Knight is lead agent and founder of The Good Life Group, Lake Lanier specialists with Keller Williams Lanier Partners. If you’d like to ask a question or suggest a topic for an article, reach out to her at 678-860-0990 or

Posted online 9.27.19
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