Unique properties and how to sell them

From the vain, opportunistic Evelyn Harper on “Two and a Half Men” to the klutzy-but-loveable charmer Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family”, real estate professionals are sometimes portrayed on TV comedies as weird and wacky eccentrics. The houses they sell are usually normal.

What if we turned that around? We thought it would be fun to tell you about a couple of salespeople who are neither weird nor wacky, but who have been involved in the sales of homes that aren’t exactly your typical two-bedroom starter home. These unique properties sometimes require a unique sales approach.

Home on the water

While showing homes to a client (who also happened to be her husband’s cousin), Denise Doucet was inspired to chart a new course in her career as a real estate professional.

Based on the client’s search criteria, one of the suitable options for showing was a floating home. This would prove to be a major turning point, both for the client and Doucet.

Bluffer’s Park Marina, which rests in Toronto’s east end beneath the Scarborough bluffs, hosts 25 floating homes. And it was here Doucet experienced the lifestyle that would soon change her life.

“It was actually the first time I had ever even seen them or experienced [floating homes],” said Doucet, a REALTOR® and salesperson with Royal LePage Signature Realty, Brokerage in Toronto. Doucet was so impressed she went home with the nagging sense, “I think I kind of like that lifestyle.”

And a short time later—after convincing her husband the amount of square footage they’d enjoy in a floating home exceeded the couple’s abode at the time—she set sail on a new life as a floating-homeowner. (The cousin/client also bought the floating home she was shown on that fateful first night.)

Doucet says there aren’t any unusual sales strategies for marketing floating homes, other than possessing an extensive knowledge of the lifestyle. It’s this knowledge, she said, that gives her an advantage, especially when she’s present at the same time the buyer’s agent arrives with clients for a showing.

“I always start the conversation by saying I’m happy to walk you through the entire property, answer any and all questions, and I’m happy to step out and you guys can continue on,” said Doucet. “And they do appreciate that, but nine times out of 10, they want me to stay because I can answer questions better than the other agent.”

While the sales process is essentially the same, there are some differences in the type of lawyer and financial provider used in deals involving a floating home. Floating homes are not classified in the same way as traditional condos; therefore, a typical condo status certificate does not apply.

More than eight years later, Doucet still enthuses about the floating home lifestyle, but her pitch is even more convincing because it’s imbued with details she’s experienced first-hand.

“It’s just such an amazing lifestyle. The community is amazing. Just things that occur that I can’t imagine happening in any other community, (like) impromptu gatherings, just because we can,” she said.

Take me to church

Real estate professionals aren’t always called upon to sell homes—sometimes they sell churches.

In 2019, during his first few weeks as president of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), Jason Stephen experienced another first—he sold a church, his first in his 20-year real estate career.

“It probably represents the most difficult transaction I’ve ever had. It wasn’t an easy transaction because churches aren’t exactly easy to finance,” he said, explaining there were extra layers of law he had to follow while representing the seller.

There were also other complications. In New Brunswick, there’s a land transfer tax and the church was assessed at $1.1 million—but it sold for just $175,000, meaning the buyer had to pay a hefty tax.

Then, just before closing the church’s pipes burst causing a delay.

“Everything about it was difficult,” said Stephen. “I think the pastor realized quickly how important it was to have a REALTOR® throughout every step of the process.”

The LiL Yellow House

In the heart of Toronto’s Beaches district sits the “Lil Yellow House,” which was written about in news stories and was the subject of a rap video that went viral.

Last year, when the owner wanted to sell, she contacted REALTOR® and salesperson Arty Basinski. Now, while the house is not without its charms it is rather small.

And then there’s that bright yellow exterior that deliberately draws attention to its size. And the exterior is not just yellow—it’s yellow.

“It was a very peculiar house to sell,” said Basinski. “An odd shape. There’s a big walkout basement, but the upstairs is very small … no bathroom.”

Basinski decided he would, for the first time in his real estate career, employ his personal creative touch and musical talents in the promotion of the sale of house. The idea came to him after learning the domain name LittleYellowHouse.com was taken, prompting him to try LilYellowHouse.com. The word “Lil” and its ubiquity in the rap world (Lil Kim, Lil Nas X) gave him an idea. 

Employing the services of friends in the music industry and even his own client (a musician herself, whom he describes as “quirky”), Basinski created a humorously cheesy—yet altogether engaging and informative, not to mention popular—advertisement for the house in the form of a rap video. 

“I’ve made music for years and years,” said Basinski, “but not rapping.”

Media coverage triggered thousands of views and comments, turning it into a viral sensation.

But that which goes viral is also subject to backlash. In spite of widespread media exposure, the strategy did not immediately convert into offers. The video got so big, said Basinski, “I [initially] got no offers because everyone was scared that there would be too many offers.” The house did eventually sell.

Turning barns into homes

Popular in rural England, barn conversions are unique properties for the buyer who wants to reshape something from the past. This property in Nova Scotia was originally a 1950s cattle barn and an eight-year renovation turned it into a stunning four-bedroom, energy-efficient home. The space features post and beam construction with natural wood surfaces throughout this four-bedroom residence with high ceilings situated on a five-acre lot. The converted barn was featured on HGTV’s website.  

REALTOR® and salesperson Lynn Zavitz was quite familiar with barn conversions, having grown up in New England. This listing posed other challenges.

“I think rural real estate practitioners face unique challenges. There are seldom comparable properties nearby and buyers are typically from more urban/suburban settings and are looking to simplify and ‘go rural,’” she said. “I see my responsibility as a combination of marketing and education. To honestly reflect both the property and the region so my clients can make informed long-term investments without the dreaded ‘buyers’ remorse.’”

Zavitz explained this property also had an income component with 800 blueberry bushes and three of the bedrooms were being used as vacation rentals.

“This was a great up sell as a value-added component and helped quell any objections about the barn being too large, just uberize the extra space and sell the berries,” she said.

Zavitz said excellent visuals and a well-written listing are important to garner interest.

“Then the real work begins,” she said.

Tips for selling a unique property

Because out-of-the-ordinary homes are, by definition, unusual, they can be more challenging to sell. One of the problems can be finding comparables to know at what price to list—that’s where getting a property appraisal can help. Also, while home selling often involves appealing to as broad of a market as possible, unique properties are niche listings that will appeal to a select crowd of home buyers, so you want to make sure you’re able to reach them.

Take photographs: A picture is worth a thousand words. If your listing is a school converted into a home, buyers want to know what it really looks like. If the environment or landscape is truly stunning, consider aerial photographs using a drone.

Cast a wider net: Get more potential buyers to see your listings by sharing via REALTOR.ca DDF® on websites like Kijiji, and get the word out through social media such as Facebook. You can also consider going international with CREA’s Global Affiliates program to connect with REALTORS® outside of Canada. Did you know that 7% of REALTOR.ca visitors are from outside Canada and account for 4% of leads? 

Target your marketing and advertising. Try niche publications to reach buyers with an interest in what that home is all about. At the same time, the more unusual the home is, the more apt large media outlets will be interested in covering it, resulting in a lot of buzz for your listing.

Make staging a priority. When you’re trying to sell a unique home, it can be harder for the prospective buyer to visualize how to live in the space. You want to stage it so the home’s unique features are showcased, but also display how liveable the home is.

Appeal to emotions. A unique home has to strike a chord for the prospective buyers. The sale will likely be less about making a financial investment for them as it will be about speaking to them emotionally. Tell the home’s story, how it will make the homeowner feel.

If you are looking for more marketing inspiration, check out our list of eight unique ways REALTORS® have marketed their listings.

Have you sold a unique property? Tell us about your experience in the Comments section.

The CREA Café team is responsible for the official blog of The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). The CREA Café is a cozy place for CREA to connect with our valued members and friends by sharing our thoughts and insights over a virtual cup of coffee.

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