Heading into her stint last year as president of Connecticut Realtors, ERA Sargis-Breen Real Estate agent and Newington resident Joanne Breen had expected much of 2020 to be spent commemorating the real estate professional society’s centennial year. Instead, the year was consumed dealing with the biggest pandemic in just over a century, initially in helping agents prepare to list and show homes safely as “essential” businesses in Connecticut, then dealing with a deluge of deals as New York City denizens drove the hottest market in years. Breen expects the 2021 season will be as active or more so, with many sellers taking time to decide last year before listing in 2021 — and plenty of buyers interested to see what is hitting the market. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What features are at the top of the list for buyers?
This is the first time I can remember where buyers are saying, “It’s not a deal killer if a property doesn’t have one, but we either would like a pool or have enough room to put in a pool.” I truly think it’s the idea of recreation at home. Every young buyer I am talking to is saying, “I’m going to put the fire pit in out back, I am going to have the deck or the patio.” They envision that yard as the recreation area.
The other thing I think loosened up a little bit — not entirely — is the condition of a property. Being a turnkey property will always put you in the absolute best place. If your house is all updated and they can just move in, you’re going to do very, very well on the market. Last year I noticed that buyers, for the first time in a few years, were at least willing to consider the properties that weren’t absolutely turnkey, that needed a little work, because of the lack of inventory.
People love an updated kitchen, but now it’s that they want a bigger space. The kitchen island has become a great office and homework space. I think because of that the larger kitchen is even more popular than it was.
The other thing is a finished basement or attic area. I’ve noticed that the houses that have those additional spaces, the value has gone higher than it used to be. When you are looking at these smaller starter homes, having that finished basement gives you a lot of extra space. If you have a 1,200-square-foot ranch, you’re getting another 1,200 square feet downstairs. That’s a lot of extra living space.
Best advice for sellers?
First impression — make sure that when they walk up to that front door, everything is freshly painted, looks nice and neat and clean [and] the landscaping looks, at the very least, neat and well manicured. Inside, get rid of all the clutter, even if you have to get POD storage to put stuff in. Don’t have it so filled up with stuff that they can’t see anything beyond that.
Updated kitchens and bathrooms are always going to be really important, and if they are not updated you are going to have to take that into consideration with your pricing. Sometimes it can be just freshly painting the kitchen cabinets and putting in new stainless steel appliances — makes a huge difference for that first impression when they walk in.
If you are looking to move just because you are expecting you are going to outgrow your house in four or five years — for whatever reason — do it now.
I always believe in getting your asking price close to the range where you believe the property is really going to sell; stay as close to that as possible. I think grossly overpricing a property is always a mistake — I don’t care what kind of market it is. Even in this market, you will do so much better if a buyer perceives it as a good deal. They’re not going to be the only one, and if you have multiple offers, that’s going to work out better. I’ve had the same philosophy for my entire real estate career: when a buyer submits a written offer, that is when they are most excited about your home. To hold them off too long is never a wise move.
If you are looking to move just because you are expecting you are going to outgrow your house in four or five years — for whatever reason — I would say do it now. If you are going to have a mortgage, interest rates are so low and I don’t know how much longer that will go on.
Best advice for buyers?
Line up with one Realtor who knows what you need and want in a house. That relationship is more important than ever in a fast-moving market like this. Trying to just shop online on your own is never going to be as effective as having a relationship with a Realtor who can set you up with automatic searches in the MLS and advise you how to make an offer as strong and appealing as possible.
Get your financing 100 percent solid and in order. Get lined up with a lender, get pre-approved, do everything they tell you to do and get ready, so there are no glitches when you get into the transaction.
Have an open mind and be ready to look at those properties that, when you walk in, don’t look like they are turnkey. There are a lot of properties that have been very well maintained over the years, but they haven’t been updated and prettied up. But they are solid — they’ve got the newer mechanicals, the newer roof, the newer siding. I just sold one in my neighborhood — the place was impeccable. It needs updating — it’s got older kitchen counters, the original bathroom fixtures. But it’s a problem-free house, and that buyer was smart enough to recognize that. So now you can go in and spend on the stuff that really shows — you are not doing maintenance that should already have been done.