Monday, October 17, 2016

Sell your House with Color

Sometimes a seemingly small interaction unexpectedly changes the way you fundamentally see things. Such an encounter happened to me recently. It altered the way I feel about using color to market San Antonio luxury homes.

A style some term "Transitional" is becoming as ubiquitous as "Tuscan" was 10 years ago. Just as people tired of faux paint done in beige, gold, and red, they will quickly reach critical mass with the white, grays, and chrome fixtures that can make you feel like you are living at Z Gallerie. To lazily steal from Batman, Color isn't the hero we deserve but it's the hero we need right now. 

Powder blue, gold, gray, and cream kitchen stands out. A little pattern added in white oak floors, tile, quartzite countertops, and the metal light fixtures.
I called a Realtor two weeks ago to discuss some feedback he sent me about one of my listings. He said to me "It showed like a Jason Glast house." I thought "Thank you???" but I had to clarify "What does that mean?" He responded, "You know, real clean and white."

The idea that the homes I represent and the brand I present could be summed up so quickly as "clean and white" threw me for a loop. I wanted to protest "I can't remember the last time I recommended white, I'm all about subtle variations of cream on the color wheel." But, I said thank you and hung up. As I thought about it though, I decided I am "guilty as charged."

When I gave up practicing law to become a Realtor 13 years ago, I decided to pursue the niche of luxury homes. My biggest challenge was figuring out what works in the San Antonio luxury home market. 

After lots of research I came to the realization that most luxury homes in the San Antonio area took a long time to sell and often sold for less than what the previous buyer paid. It was a very clear case of supply and demand deciding the fate of these homes. Homes priced under $250,000 ranged from 2-6 months of inventory depending on how hot the market was. In stark contrast, homes above $750,000 had 2-4 YEARS of inventory. Scary! 

But, when I drilled deeper into the numbers I noticed patterns. Every year, there were a few homes that wildly outperformed neighborhood averages for sales price, price per square foot, and days on the market. I saw some of these outliers in person but for many others I clicked through the photos online just like a buyer would. Initially, I thought the difference was that certain Realtors hired better photographers so the photos were superior. That was true but it was only a small piece of the puzzle. 

The key was actually that the interior of the home was light, uncluttered, de-personalized, and featured updated materials and fixtures. If the presentation at the home wasn't right the photographer's skill was nearly irrelevant.

I compared these photos to homes that lingered on the market or only sold once the price dropped to a "giving it away" level. The difference was striking. Most of the photos were dark, cluttered, personalized for the current owner and displayed features that automatically had a buyer thinking "I'll have to put in lots of time, effort, and money changing this." Not only did the homes not look good but they also looked the same. When there is lots of supply and little demand, you do not want to look the same as the competition.

This is where I went through a lengthy and crazy magazine phase to help me understand what looks good. I got my hands on any Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, House Beautiful and Veranda I could find. These titles have been around a long time and the photos looked like the San Antonio luxury homes that sold much better than the competition. They displayed myriad styles and weren't too niche for my purpose. It became apparent that the luxury homes that struggled had little in common with the homes featured in design magazines.

Blue, silver, black, purple, and cream. This serene bedroom starts with an extremely neutral palette but introduces color with decor and furnishings. The black iron and metal seen on the windows, curtain rods and bed make for a bold frame. From House Beautiful magazine. 

It wasn't about the money that the homeowners spent. It was simply a style they preferred or were convinced was on trend. I've heard that Tuscan became such a thing on the Northside of town outside 1604 because the southern edge of the Texas Hill Country starts there and developers creatively compared the land to Tuscany. Interior design usually veered toward a theme I like to call "WINE." Lots of burgundy and gold with heavy curtains obscuring often pretty views.

But, it's hard to create an authentic and classic Tuscan home because we aren't in Tuscany. The builders and architects miss or change details. Corners are cut to save money. It's no different than Las Vegas where The Venetian, Paris, and New York, New York are familiar copies but pale imitations of the originals.

Many custom luxury homes built between 2000 and 2013 featured this look. When these homes were marketed for resale they faced a triad of issues:
1) Out of style and/or cluttered;
2) They looked just like their competition;
3) Supply and demand for luxury homes favors a buyer.

When number one above is addressed it solves both two and three.

My job as a Realtor selling a home is to obtain the highest price in the least amount of time while eliminating stress for my client. I need to mitigate the issues above. My strategy is simple:
1) Make the house stylish and clutter-free;
2) Separate it from the competition;
3) Supply and demand for a stylish, clutter-free, and standout luxury home favors a seller.

I decided to go all in on trying to change colors from dark to light to make homes look larger, more modern, and clean. Paint makes such an enormous difference. Changing colors from a world of beige and brown to cream quickly showed excellent results. There were four or five variations of cream chosen to makeover these homes depending on the light. My listings looked better and different in photos and in person. My average sales price rose to number one in San Antonio. My strategy worked even better than I'd hoped.

When something works there is a hesitation to change. My clients that bought in to my requests saw tremendous results. That's why that call with the other Realtor I just had was an important wake up call. For several years now, national and state-wide builders have designed their new construction models with "Transitional" style. Light, painted cabinets, gray walls, glass tile, and chrome light fixtures became the new normal. Local luxury home builders pivoted toward this style as well so now we have a new trend.

Undoubtedly, this was a cleaner and more neutral presentation and a welcome 180 from previous trends. There is nothing inherently wrong with any color or material, however, when one style or color becomes pervasive there is the risk of a home dating itself and losing its uniqueness.

So, it's time for a shift toward color used in creative ways that still remains neutral and light. It can be tricky and there is no "one-size fits all" solution. I think the new, winning strategy for "designing to sell" is mixing striking colors with different textures and a mix of man-made and organic materials. Sometimes the color is on walls or on the cabinets. Sometimes it's in the metal on pendant lights. Notice how wood (brown isn't bad) is used to soften a space, bring natural texture to a scene, and act as dramatic focal point.

Dusty rose, brown, pewter and cream. Texture, color, and pattern added by the wood ceiling and metal chandelier

In these photos you see interesting colors but they do not make these spaces dark. Dark is challenging from a marketing standpoint because buyers and Realtors are looking initially at online photos, often on small screens like a phone. The first showing for any home is online today. That's how a buyer will choose if they will book an appointment to tour the house. Light shows better on a screen than dark does. That won't change.

As we approach 2017, think about using color to make your home standout in a crowded luxury home market. Don't hesitate to contact me if you are looking for advice. I can also recommend interior designers who are brilliant about using color in the right way.

Blue, gold, brown and cranberry. Pattern, color and texture added by rug, chairs, metal chandelier, wood beams and wallpaper. This is a combination I wouldn't have thought of but it's striking.

Sage, brown, pewter, copper and cream. I love this kitchen. The man made light quartz countertop and tile backsplash works beautifully with three different wood colors: painted cabinets, stained cabinets and stained floor. Also note the mix of metals in the vent hood, pendent lights, faucet and hardware.

Green, bronze, brown, and cream. I love this foyer. Four distinct textures working here: The hardwood floors in chevron pattern, the mirrored wall, marble table, and wallpaper. 

Lilac, blue, melon, cranberry, wheat, brown, cream. This eclectic room has a lot of pattern and color happening but it's peaceful and pretty rather than loud and overwhelming. Metals, fabrics, bamboo and leopard print carpet somehow works. Maybe because it's unexpected.

Beige, cream, gray, brown, and gold. Lest you think I don't care for beige, here's an example of classic neutrals used to great effect. It works because it's used in grasscloth and wood. The texture is what makes it different and exciting.

Jason Glast, Realtor / Attorney, an associate of Portfolio Real Estate, has been one of the top Realtors in the San Antonio area since 2003. Specializing in luxury homes, he has sold more million dollar properties than any other Realtor during his career. Earlier this year Jason Glast Luxury, his team with Elizabeth Priest, was ranked #1 in Luxury Real Estate by the San Antonio Business Journal. See or contact Jason at (210) 386-1833 for more information.

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