The devil really may be in the details.
The owners of a Ridgewood, N.J., home were eager to sell because they had already bought another place. After a couple of months went by without an offer, they cut the price and stripped the outdated paneling from one room. But buyers weren’t biting, and they thought they knew why: Their street address was 666 — which some Christians believe is a sign of the devil, based on a biblical passage.
So the homeowners got the address changed to 668, and the place sold.
It was just one example of how seemingly minor issues can make — or break — real estate transactions. In most cases, there are only a couple of big-picture items that sellers can control when they put their homes on the market: the home’s condition and its price. For that reason, sellers are usually urged to set a competitive asking price and spruce up the property by painting, refinishing hardwood floors and upgrading the landscaping.
But sometimes, unexpected or oddball details — not always in a homeowner’s control — can be the difference between success and failure.
“A home purchase is a very emotional thing,” said Beth Freed, an agent with Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Ridgewood. “If you feel at home, for one reason or another, that very often is all it takes.”
Jeana Cowie, listing agent on the Ridgewood house that used to be No. 666, said she was surprised when people commented that the address might be a problem. One buyer at an open house told her it was a “weird number.”
To change the address, the homeowner went to Village Hall; each town has its own procedure for this, but usually the tax assessor has to be consulted to make sure there’s no conflict with another address. Emergency services and the U.S. Postal Service must also be notified.
“I don’t want to say that 668 sold the house,” Cowie said. But she thinks it helped.
Hedy Weiss, a Coldwell Banker agent in Franklin Lakes, N.J., also closed a sale after the homeowner changed the address. The house was on a corner in Franklin Lakes, facing a busy street, but also had an entrance on the side street.
“Because people could see it was on a main street, a lot of people didn’t pursue it,” she said. The homeowner had the address changed to the side street.
“We started getting more showings with the new address,” Weiss said.
Within two months, the house was sold.
Freed says one of her home sellers got a boost when the village lowered the speed limit on the street to 25 mph. Suddenly, the property became more attractive to families with young children, and it sold soon after.
Other numbers also can make a difference. Some agents have favorite pricing tricks. Orly Steinberg, a Coldwell Banker agent in Ridgewood, for example, ends her prices in “888.” She started doing it 20 years ago, to catch the eye of agents paging through big multiple listing books. She wanted to be listed just ahead of the agents pricing their listings at more common numbers using 9s — for example, pricing a home at $299,888, instead of $299,900. Over time, it became her signature; her license plate even reads “SOLD888.”
“It gets you a little bit more attention, which is what you want,” Steinberg said. Later, she discovered that 8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture.
For that reason, 8s are included in 20 percent of the asking prices in real estate markets with a large Asian population, the real estate website Trulia recently reported. (And 13 is uncommon in prices everywhere, Trulia says.)
While many buyers are turned off by wallpaper, Freed has seen it help close a deal. Real estate agents usually tell sellers to remove wallpaper and paint the room a neutral color, and that’s Freed’s typical advice.
“If you’ve ever tried taking it down, it’s really disgusting,” Freed said. “People do not want to do it, and they think it costs a fortune to (pay someone to) do it.”
But when she and her husband sold their own house years ago, they left up the ballerina wallpaper in their daughter’s room. The buyers’ daughter loved it, and Freed thinks that was a factor in the family’s decision to purchase.
She saw that happen another time with a listing that had been on the market for nine months.
“A buyer came in and saw the same wallpaper she had just put up in her current house,” Freed said. “She saw it as a sign from above that this house was meant for her. They bought the house.”
Often, small issues will squelch a deal rather than seal it. New Jersey real estate agent Angele Ekert was involved in a sale where everything was fine until the home inspection. The buyers spotted mice in the attic, and that was the end of that.
“That turned the buyers off completely, even though mice can easily be remedied,” she said.
Another one of her deals fell through years ago, when the buyer discovered that someone had died in the house.
Ruby Kaplan of Vera & Nechama Real Estate in Teaneck, N.J., says a sale in that town almost fell apart over a backyard swing set. The buyer thought the swings should be included in the sale, but the sellers wanted to take the swings to their new home. Kaplan says she persuaded the seller to leave the swing set behind, since moving it would cost money and antagonize the buyers.
Freed recalls a $1 million sale that almost collapsed because the buyer and seller couldn’t agree on who would pay $500 to remove a tree that the home inspector said was dying.
“That was fun,” she said. In the end, she said, the buyer paid.