2014  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   FROM DREAM TO REALITY: AN ALL-OUT EFFORT
TO SELL OUR HOUSE IN A MARKET
THAT STILL FAVORS BUYERS

THURSDAY, JUNE 26

"Selling Secret #10: Pricing it Right: Find out what your home is worth, then shave 15-20%   
off the price. You'll be stampeded by buyers with multiple bids -- even in the worst markets --
and they'll bid up the price over what it's worth. It takes real courage and most sellers
just don't want to risk it, but it's the single best strategy to sell a home in today's market."
 
~ "10 Best-Kept Secrets for Selling Your Home," from the HGTV website
 
 
That strategy might work in more urban and suburban areas of the country -- even Roanoke -- but that phenomenon isn't happening in our rural area of Virginia.

We did get a quick offer on our house at an acceptable price after making some improvements, however, and closed on the deal today.

A DYING AMERICAN DREAM?

For the past six or seven years there hasn't been a question of whether to sell our house and land in Virginia, just when to sell it so we didn't take a financial beating in the lousy U.S. housing market. Our goal was to be able to live and travel full time in our RV, free from the burden of home ownership.

Burden? Isn't it most Americans' dream to own a house??

For many decades it was. Owning a home represented stability, security, a certain measure of success, and the ability to make it their own. Folks who owned their home weren't at the mercy of a landlord and they could build equity in their investment.


(4-24-14)

Then along came the Great Recession at the end of 2007 and the American Dream took a big hit.

Many home owners learned the hard way when the housing market collapsed that they no longer had as much (or any) equity left in their houses.

Millions of people who lost their jobs or had some other type of financial emergency could no longer afford their mortgage payments and lost their homes to foreclosures and short sales. People who needed to move for job reasons often couldn't because they were either unable to find a buyer or they were "under water" on their mortgages and pretty much stuck where they were.

Jim and I were among a large group of home owners who have wanted to sell their homes for a variety of reasons but didn't really have to sell. Our properties were called the "shadow inventory." We were all just waiting "in the shadows" to sell until the housing market improved in our locale enough that we could retain most or all of our equity.


On the market finally   (5-3-14)

Many in this group intended to upsize, downsize, or move to another location.

We were different. Jim and I simply wanted to opt out of home ownership for a while, after each owning several houses throughout our adult lives. We had discovered that we no longer needed a home base while we traveled in our RV.

Today we finally succeeded in selling our house; the buyers signed all their paperwork this morning and the deed was recorded this afternoon. This four-page entry explains why we sold it and describes our efforts to help it sell as quickly as possible. Perhaps other potential sellers can gain some useful information from our experience. 

I've included a variety of photos in this series. In addition to house and travel-related pictures, some are from various locations around the Roanoke Valley and Blue Ridge Parkway where we hiked and cycled this spring.

MORPHING GOALS

When Jim retired in 2004 we owned a small three-bedroom house on a 1/4 acre lot in Billings, MT. We bought it new, five years earlier.

It was a practical size and layout for us but we always intended to sell it when Jim stopped working, not because we wanted to start full-time RVing but because it was in the wrong location weather-wise. Montana has a very long winter season and we both wanted a more moderate climate. Since we were both retired, we had the flexibility to move anywhere we could afford.


Enough of this stuff!!!   (Hitch Hiker parked in our back yard in January, 2004)

Both of us were long-distance runners in our 30s, 40s, and 50s. While Jim was still employed we enjoyed traveling in our small Prowler 5th-wheel camper to trail races out West. We knew when we were both retired that we could go on more extended trips.

Our dream retirement plan was to travel for a month or two at a time from a new home base in a moderate climate. We'd have the "best of both worlds" -- a stick house and a rolling residence.

When we sold the house in Billings we traveled in our new, larger 32-foot Hitch Hiker 5th-wheel trailer to a couple of races in Arizona and Virginia but our main focus was searching for a new location to call home. From our research we tentatively narrowed our two top choices to Asheville, NC and Roanoke, VA.


Camping at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix

At the time we didn't know anything about the full-time RV lifestyle. What was ironic was that we were full-time RVers then and didn't even realize it! We lived in the Hitch Hiker for five months before moving into our house near Roanoke, Virginia.

In retrospect we should have just kept traveling in our RV and not bought a house, especially one that was so big and so far from town.

But we didn't know that then. We'd always been homeowners and just assumed we needed a home base from which to travel. The good thing is that we bought the property two or three years before the cost of houses really skyrocketed during the frenzied housing bubble.


Big house, little house in our driveway  (3-23-11)

The excitement of our new (to us) house didn't last very long.

What we soon discovered is that we enjoyed the adventure of traveling across North America in our camper more than we liked living in the nicest house either of us had ever owned before -- that wasn't enough reason to spend more time there.

We had too much house and too much yard for our Gypsy lifestyle. It soon became more burden than retreat.

Another problem was the location of our property. It was in the East and we usually traveled out West for our races. Since no one was living in the house while we were gone for three, four, or five months at a time, we had concerns about Things Going Wrong while we were gone. We've been returning to the house in the spring and fall for a few weeks at a time ever since we bought it, mostly to make sure everything was OK and to keep up with routine maintenance.

That has meant a lot of cross-country driving twice a year.


10-5-13 RV Travel online newsletter edited by Chuck Woodbury

Fortunately, nothing bad has gone wrong in the last ten years that we've been gone a lot more than we've been at the house.

Our neighbors have been great with keeping an eye on our property, which was located on a little dead-end rural road. We paid a neighbor to mow the grass and gave him a house key so he could periodically check the inside of the house to be sure everything was OK. Volunteers with the Sheriff's Department also routinely checked the property for possible break-ins or vandalism.

We still worried about the place while we were gone, however.

YOU LIVE FULL TIME IN A WHAT??

As we traveled we met more and more people who lived full-time in their RVs. Most were fellow retirees. Some were younger people who had wanderlust and the ability to earn a living while traveling.

Their lifestyle intrigued us.


Small RVs owned by three of our ultra-running friends; two were full-timers at the time (2009)

The real tipping point for us was meeting another ultra runner whose influence led us to more seriously consider selling our house. We realized his reasons were valid. But it was soon after the housing market crash and we knew it would be difficult to get all of our equity out of our house.

Our friend seemed willing to take a financial loss when he sold his house to live full-time in his motorhome, pictured on the left in the photo above.

We weren't. We wanted a net profit; that was part of our retirement plan. We'd always considered home ownership as an investment as much as a haven; the economic realities during the Great Recession turned that historical expectation upside down. In most localities, including ours, houses lost value for several years instead of increasing in value.

Our timing in 2008 to consider selling our house to travel full time in our RV couldn't have been much worse for sellers, but in retrospect our friend was right -- we probably would have come out ahead financially in the long run if we'd sold our house back then.

FLEXIBILITY, TIMING . . . AND LOTS OF PATIENCE

Fortunately, we had the luxury of flexibility because we didn't have to sell our house when prices were so low. We had to learn to be patient until the housing market improved sufficiently in our area so we didn't lose our shirts financially.

It's been a long six or seven years in that regard but our patience paid off. We closed on the property this morning and didn't lose our shirts -- just the worry.


Pretty flowers on one of the fruit trees in our back yard  (4-4-14)

How did we know when the timing was right for us to sell the place?

By keeping up with local housing information and getting comps from several real estate agents and brokers every spring since 2008.

Until this year the news was not good for sellers in our rural area between Roanoke and Smith Mountain Lake. Even though housing values in town have recovered almost to their high 2006-7 levels, values farther out from town, and especially in the lake area near us, continue to be depressed seven years later.


Gorgeous color in a new azalea we planted near the front entry this spring  (4-27-14)

We thought the timing was right last spring. We made a few improvements to the house and found an agent we really liked who was willing to do a 60-day listing. We hoped someone would see our place and immediately fall in love with the interior and the setting as much as we did when we first saw it.

We figured if we didn't get a decent offer in 60 days, the timing wasn't right yet.

Unfortunately, very few people came out to look at the place and we got no offers. We assumed the timing wasn't right yet. We let the listing expire and left on another trip out West for several months.

The market did improve some for sellers in our area later in the summer. Perhaps we should have left our house on the market longer that time. Perhaps we should have done the upgrades then that we did this time. Perhaps the online photos weren't appealing enough. Perhaps the list price was too high for the condition of the house. Perhaps there weren't enough buyers willing and able to buy a country house with land right then.

We'll never know for sure but we decided to remedy all the possible problems over which we had control this time so we could get better results.

BRAINSTORMING RENO(VATION) IDEAS FROM AFAR 

I mentioned in the last entry that our focus during the winter while we were snow-birding farther south was coming up with ideas to upgrade our 25-year-old house sufficiently so someone would snap it up quickly at a price we considered acceptable.

That was harder to do long-distance than if we'd been at the house but we used our time wisely.

This time we talked by phone with seven -- seven -- real estate agents and brokers about the current trends in our area. Their opinions reflected the information about the housing market in the Roanoke Valley that we'd read online -- that buyers no longer had the upper hand in real estate transactions. Although it wasn't a "sellers' market" yet, sellers were finally beginning to hold out for higher prices.

We could see that the prices were indeed increasing. The comparable sales prices we got in January-February were higher than those we got last April.


Dogwood trees blooming along the Wolf Creek Greenway in April

Once we decided that yes, the time is finally right to sell our house, our focus was on what we needed to do to make it more appealing to buyers in our price range so we'd get as quick of a sale -- and at as good of a price -- as possible. We didn't want to risk doing either too much or too little to be cost-effective.

At that point we weren't sure what was "too little" and what was "too much" but we had fun coming up with ideas. The agents were even more helpful with that when they had the opportunity to see our house after we got back to Virginia in late February.


Scenic farm along the Wolf Creek Greenway

Thank goodness we had free cable TV at Kings Bay. We discovered HGTV (more about that later) and spent many hours watching shows about renovating houses either before they were sold by the sellers or after they were purchased by the buyers.

The most relevant shows were the two formats by Jonathan and Drew Scott AKA the Property Brothers (can we adopt them??) and the programs with JoAnn and Chip Gaines, who make older properties in Waco, TX look stunning. We were particularly encouraged by the Scott brothers' format, "Buying & Selling." It showed us that sellers who spend some money to update and stage their houses usually get a faster sale and a better return on their investment from today's buyers, who usually want a move-in ready house.

We also watched shows focusing on buyers; those opened our eyes to features many buyers not only want nowadays, but expect when they buy a new or used house. We haven't kept up with decorating trends since we got the house ten years ago.


Mid-April foliage and flowering trees along Wolf Creek

We did some other valuable research while we were at Kings Bay:

  • When talking with the real estate pros we ran our major ideas past them. At that point most of them had never been in our house but they were able to verify that new kitchen appliances and a new roof would definitely appeal to buyers. Those were the two big-ticket items we thought would make the most impact.
  • We researched types, styles, and prices of items online and visited local Lowe's and Home Depot stores in and near Jacksonville so we'd be more familiar with what we wanted and  could estimate the cost of various projects -- new appliances, new fixtures, tile for walls and floors, roofing materials, etc. Our research saved some time when we got back to the house.
  • We contacted half a dozen roofers by phone. We got their names from friends, neighbors, and real estate agents. Most were able to go out to the house before we returned to Virginia and give us cost estimates to do the job.


View from the Roanoke River Greenway in June

Once we had a good skeletal plan we decided to cut short our winter trip and return to the house in  mid-February so we could get started on our long list of projects.

We knew, for example, that roofers in our area were already booking jobs for the spring. We wanted the house to be ready to list in mid-April when the grass and leaves would be getting green and the azaleas, dogwoods, and other spring flowers would normally be at their peak.

We also hoped to beat some of the competition by listing that early. Our research indicated that lots of sellers would be "coming out of the woodwork" to finally list their houses this year.

HAS HGTV "RUINED" BUYERS??

My older brother, who also has a house that he wants to sell in a rural area in Ohio, dislikes HGTV as much as I love it!

Although his house is 35 years old he is very reluctant to put in new flooring or update the kitchen or bathrooms before trying to sell it. He's a handy guy and thinks there are still a lot of buyers who would prefer to do a renovation so they could choose their own colors, flooring, appliances, and finishes. He says he'll price his house low enough to attract those buyers, knowing upgrades are needed, rather than sink more money into it and maybe not recoup it.


Sue's brother's house and our camper during a visit several years ago

If there's anything I learned from overdosing on HGTV for two months -- and reading lots of home-selling information online -- it is that most of today's buyers prefer houses that are move-in ready. They seem to have more money than vision, time, or patience for renovations.

Bill thinks HGTV has "ruined" buyers by raising their expectations of what they want in a house and showing them how to get screaming deals.

We'll see whether my brother's plan or Jim's and my plan for selling is "right." Maybe we both are!

Continued on the next page: the next two busy months prepping the property for sale

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2014 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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