10 Reasons Why Empty Homes Don’t Sell Easily

Story Highlights
  • They lack emotional connection
  • Buyers have no point of reference
  • Buyers tend to focus on the negatives
  • Curb appeal will most likely be lacking
  • People first try to sell the home vacant
  • Price seems to be the only marketing strategy
  • Staging is considered a cost
  • They're hard to differentiate from the competition
  • They attract less buyer traffic
  • There's a perception of desparation

As exciting as most real estate agents find selling houses, the majority of adults involved in the property market find it one of life’s most unpleasant experiences.

If a recent poll indicates that selling a house is more stressful than bankruptcy, divorce and even the death of a loved one, imagine how much more nail-biting selling an empty home must be?!

So, why would someone actually be selling an empty house?

Well, it actually happens more often than one realizes: how about a newly-built property? Or a property with a recently-moved out tenant? Heck, the owners may have bought elsewhere and have already moved all of their belongings and the house now stands empty!

Whichever the case may be, these homeowners are facing ever-increasing costs related to the empty property; ranging from basic maintenance costs, insurance fees, and other smaller costs, all on top of the much-dreaded monthly mortgage payment.

With every month that goes by, the empty home is costing the owner dearly. Hence, the need to get the empty house sold as soon as possible!

Unfortunately, empty homes don’t sell as fast as occupied homes. Here are the main 10 reasons why empty homes don’t sell easily:

Reason #1 – They lack that emotional connection

Before deciding to go ahead with one of life’s most expensive purchases, we obviously like to visit the property and get a personal feel of the house as one walks through the rooms. How would our coffee table look in this reception area or will this dining room be big enough for our 12-seater setup?

After all, people aren’t buying houses: they’re buying homes —  and they’re buying lifestyles!

How can one possibly make that emotional connection with an empty property?

An empty house doesn’t have any imagination nor feeling, which normally turns a house into a home! With only 10% of the buyers able to actually visualize the house’s potential, an empty house is likely setting itself up for disappointment for 90% of buyers.

Without any existing furniture to initiate the buyer’s imagination and feelings, it gets quite tough to get emotional about the empty home. After all, an empty property is nothing more than a series of rooms, consisting of four walls and a ceiling, put together under one roof, while a furnished property immediately becomes somebody’s home.

Reason #2 – Buyers have no point of reference

Buyers struggle to picture how their furniture would be set up when walking into an empty room. Contrary to popular belief, empty rooms don’t look bigger but actually smaller.

A furnished room will give the buyer a measurement scale to compare things to.

Where would my HD TV go? Is there enough room in the dining for those new Persian rugs I recently bought?

If that particular room were filled with modern furniture, floor-to-ceiling curtains, colorful paintings, or beautiful rugs etc, as buyers, we are already replacing the current setup with our own furniture: How and where would each piece of our furniture fit in here?

Reason #3 – Buyers tend to focus on the negatives

If you walk into an empty room, and have a 30-second look around, how high are the odds that you’ll spot that tiny crack in the corner of the ceiling, a blemish on the wall or potentially some damp underneath the window sill?

One may have heard that an empty house leaves an empty canvass to paint on, however most interested buyers’ eyes will only be drawn to the property’s imperfections, which become very evident without any furniture in the house.

If there’s nothing in the room, one tends to focus on the negative elements. Why would any buyer in his right mind get excited about the negative aspects of a home? Unless of course, they’re looking for a bargain, in which case the level of their offer will reflect that thinking.

Reason #4 – Curb appeal will most likely be lacking

Going up someone’s driveway or pathway, one cannot but notice the colorful mailbox, welcoming doormat, warm porch lights or the nicely tucked away window curtains with a faint reading light behind them. There are so many elements one can add to a house to turn it into a home.

Yet, when these features are lacking, the house remains just that. A building in need of TLC; left behind; all by itself.

Okay, we are dramatizing here but you get the point. What was supposed to make it more homely and comfy is not there.

Today’s buyers are looking to upgrade their lifestyle and an empty house with poor curb appeal doesn’t necessarily exude that stylish homely feeling!

Reason #5 – People first try to sell the home vacant

I don’t have a problem with selling the home vacant as such, it’s just that any property that goes on the market needs to be properly prepared.

Doesn’t the old adage say, “You only have one chance to make a first impression?” It takes a person on average 5-10 seconds to have made up their minds and walking into an empty home isn’t that inducive to getting them excited about the property!

When homeowners are persistent in wanting to see “what the market will pay for just selling the home vacant”, it immediately reminds me of those sellers who are adamant that the estate agent must “test the market at that extra higher price to see if there might be someone interested.”

Guess what?

Both of these strategies have a very high probability of a negative outcome!

Even worse, you have more than likely just undermined your next serious marketing strategy. Most of the interested buyers can’t be bothered to come back again after that ‘test trial’ you initiated in the first month of marketing the property, even if it’s been marketed at the correct price. They’ve seen it, judged it and moved on to the next candidate home.

Reason #6 – Price seems to be the only marketing strategy

As with any other product going through the sales process, a property has a particular set of marketing factors: the price being the most important one, location is another big one, and finally, presentation and marketing (promotion) being the remaining ones.

Starting with the latter, there’s only so much marketing can do if there’s only an empty presentation to work with (even if there were professional pictures).

Furthermore, we know that location is a given factor, which cannot be changed.

That kind of leaves us with the price as the only marketing strategy. With no clear emotional elements available to influence the buyer’s decision, any adjustment in price seems unlikely to happen to the upside, if anything it’ll be to the downside.

Reason #7 – Staging is considered a cost

How many homeowners are aware of the upside potential of staging?

How many agents are convinced that staging adds dollars to the net bottom line for the seller?

The complaints about the layout and use of space are very well known. Yet, most agents are more likely to suggest a price reduction a couple of weeks into the marketing of the property than initially going for the staging option (with the former costing a multiple of the latter)?

Statistics indicate that a cost of 1-3% of the asking price to professionally stage a property could result in a 5-10% higher sales price.

Every room’s features get emphasized, such that no buyer will have any doubts about the likely use of space. On a small note, a recent study found that the best rooms to stage (in order of value for money) would be the living room, kitchen, master bedroom, and dining room.

Not only does one get a better sales price, but it will also very likely result in getting the house sold faster, hereby potentially saving a number of mortgage payments and other monthly costs!

One can say that staging has a 4-fold effect:

  • it draws more traffic to the property,
  • it enhances the buyers’ visualization of the property’s potential,
  • the property is likely to sell at a higher price than an empty home and last but not least,
  • the property will sell faster!

Now you tell me: is one erring too much on the side of caution by referring to staging as a cost or can one refer to it as an investment?

Reason #8 – They’re hard to differentiate from the competition

Let’s start the home buying process: you’ve decided to look at what a particular housing market has to offer. Just like the other 94% of home buyers, you open up the laptop and go online to one of the popular property listing portals. Within minutes, you’ve found a few interesting listings, displaying a series of pictures and attractive descriptions.

Selling empty homes does present an interesting dilemma: your interested buyer has now 3 other listings open with exactly the same-looking empty living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms et? Unless your empty home has a particular feature, why ought any interested buyer prefer your empty home over the other 3?

First impressions come back into play with a vengeance. The abovementioned process might literally take seconds and guess how quickly a decision has been made not to click further on your property pictures and expansive description?

How many interested home buyers might do exactly the same and skip your empty home listing for something else that drew their attention?

Reason #9 – They don’t sell easily due to less buyer traffic

Having an open house at an empty home isn’t ideal either. As mentioned above, there are a number of reasons why there would be less buyer traffic coming to listings of empty homes. Open houses would definitely not be attracting too much buyer traffic.

A different angle can be taken from holding an open house at an empty home: the greater downside risk.

Individuals with less home buying intention and more ‘home stealing’ intentions might be on the lookout for empty homes as their next stakeout place before hitting the neighborhood with their next burglary spree. During the walk around the property, some easy access points might sneakily be opened, in order to regain entry at a later stage.

Sometimes access is all they want, as whatever (new) material has been used to refurbish the empty home is now their salvage target; ranging from plug points, copper wires, kitchen appliances, to complete wooden doors!

Consequently, more homeowners are encouraged to take on a separate empty home insurance policy, which isn’t cheap!

Reason #10 – There’s a perception of desperation

As they enter an empty home, interested buyers must be wondering why that particular house is empty. At some point, the thought of there being more room for negotiation enters their minds.

Would it be too farfetched to assume that the seller might be rather in a hurry to sell and might be looking at lower-than-market offers?

Not at all!

Is the home seller not serious about selling? Unfortunately, many such homeowners are indeed genuine sellers, looking for a fair market price for their property and didn’t think much about the fact that selling their empty home might actually affect their final sales price negatively.

Closing thoughts

In the end, there are so many different factors involved in determining how much a specific property is worth. And more importantly, how much the market is willing to pay for them!

If selling a house is already considered as one of life’s most unpleasant experiences, why make it even harder on oneself and go through the painful process of selling an empty home?

Is one erring on the side of caution by referring to staging as a cost or has it become an investment?

Whenever possible, make the extra effort in keeping as much of the home furnished as possible, or at least involve a stager in helping out getting the property marketing ready!

At this point, it ought to be clear to both the real estate agent and homeowner that home staging does have a positive effect on the entire home selling experience.

A staged home won’t leave the buyers doubtful about the use of space, but will allow them to visualize the rooms with their own furniture and envisioning spending family time there!

Bottom line: empty homes don’t sell as easily as occupied homes.

Thus, don’t let selling your empty home become another housing market statistic, a bad example of how not to and most of all, cost you a lot of money and time in the process!

Other Helpful Selling Empty Homes Advice & Related Resources:

Please use the above-mentioned helpful information when selling empty homes! It might actually save you thousands of bucks!

If you found this article interesting, help share it across your social media networks!

About the author: The above article 10 Reasons Why Empty Homes Don’t Sell Easily was written by Xavier De Buck, your top-producing Johannesburg real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty. Xavier has been nationally recognized and awarded for providing service excellence, exceptional property sales, whilst exhibiting the highest level of professionalism. With over 17 years of combined experience as a real estate agent, real estate investor and landlord, if you’re thinking of buying or selling a home in Johannesburg, Xavier would love to share his property knowledge and expertise.

Make sure to connect with him via these social media platforms: Facebook, TwitterPinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn.

© 2020, Xavier De Buck. All Rights Reserved.

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