By Konrad Putzier
Once upon a time, brokers needed wise mentors and years of experience to figure out when to list an apartment and which words to use in the ad.
But with the proliferation of online listings, we now have an arguably more reliable source of knowledge: data.
Streeteasy, the online listing service owned by Zillow, recently mined through data from its site to figure out how brokers can maximize their chances of selling an apartment.
And some of the results are quite surprising.
For example, the report filtered out the best words to use in a listing (i.e. listings that included this word had a higher chance of closing quickly).
For Manhattan, one of the top three words wasn’t “subway”, or “park”, but “Trader Joe’s”. The other two were “pin-drop” and “kitchen cabinetry.”
Perhaps the next batch of luxury condo skyscrapers will be built not around Central Park, but around Trader Joe’s on Sixth and 20th?
“Be specific and elaborate on details that make a home unique,” the report’s author, Streeteasy data scientist Alan Lightfeldt, argued in the report.
“If a home is a short walk to the market, avoid phrases such as ‘close to shopping,’ and explain the apartment is ‘three blocks from Trader Joe’s.’ If you updated your kitchen, rather than generalizing with a phrase such as ‘modern kitchen,’ replace with specific components of the room.”
The report also advised that the best time to list is in February or March, just before the spring buying season.
“Our historical data shows that properties listed before the year’s largest peak in demand and peak in supply hit the sweet spot: Getting to the ‘top of the pile’ as buyers start to ramp up interest, but also getting ahead of the competition before it gets fierce,” the report noted.
So how do these observations compare to brokers’ own experiences?
Most agents interviewed for this story agreed that February and March are the best times to list, although some cautioned that seasons have lost some of their importance amid growing demand for apartments.
“The best time to list a couple of years ago no doubt was the spring selling season and fall selling season, those are the times that everyone is looking forward to,” said Corlie Ohl, an agent at Citi Habitats. “But I have to say In the last year I notice some incredibly packed open houses in January.”
Corcoran agent Jessica Buchman has had similar experiences. “Given that we’ve had such an inventory shortage, it seems like any time is a good time to list,” she said. “I don’t recommend to our sellers to wait to list.”
According to Buchman, the main criterion for when to list shouldn’t be the month, but the number of competing apartments already on the market: “It’s better to be one of two apartments on the market than one of 15,” she argued.
Doug Perlson, CEO of the brokerage RealDirect, agreed with Buchman.
“We look at the competition. If it’s very clear there are a lot of units on the market in a building in March, we may tell clients to hold off for a month,” he said.
While Buchman said the macro data gathered by Streeteasy can be useful, brokerages would have to dig deeper in order to find the optimal listing date.
Unlike the listing date, Streeteasy’s best words to use received a more critical response from brokers.
“I found it interesting that one of key words (in the Streeteasy report) was pin-drop. That would not have been a word that I would have thought was material,” Buchman claimed.
He explained that Real Direct has gathered survey responses from 25,000 users on its site, and found
that “bright” and “light” were the most important criteria in picking an apartment.
Unsurprisingly, the best words to use differ from borough to borough.
For Queens, Streeteasy advises brokers to use the words “Midtown Manhattan” and “minutes away”, indicating that the borough’s main appeal lies in its commuting distance.
And the best words for Brooklyn – “farmer’s market”, “exposed brick” and “French doors” – are in line with the borough’s unofficial title as U.S. capital for anything organic or vintage.
Aleksandra Scepanovic, co-founder of the Brooklyn-focused brokerage Ideal Properties Group, agreed with Streeteasy’s selection of words.
Her other favorites include: historic, period, tree-lined block, brownstone or surrounded by brownstones.
And unlike some other brokers, Scepanovic still sees real value in listing an apartment in February or March. “Winter is finally over, nice days are ahead and buyers are simply starting to wake up from their hibernation,” she argued.
Another advantage of listing in spring is that it coincides with tax season. “Come April, a lot of people
will be walking around Brooklyn with tax refund checks. It’s probably the best time to get the full asking price,” she added.
About a month ago, Ideal Properties Group took over a listing at 5 Plaza Street West in Park Slope that other brokerages had been unsuccessfully trying to sell for almost a year.
Scepanovic sold the property in less than a month for its asking price of $3.945 million, only needing one showing.
Although the brokerage spent $20,000 on staging, Scepanovic has a different explanation for her sudden success: she simply listed the townhouse in the right month.