Beware the hitch that halts a sale

What are today's home buyers really looking for?

Most real estate agents will tell you that location remains the No. 1 consideration, followed closely by a price that's properly suited to the market.

Among first-time buyers, said Ruth Feldman of Weichert Realtors-McCarthy Associates in Northwest Philadelphia, "there is also increased competition for the best houses - condition and location - in the $100,000-to-$350,000 range that is experiencing an inventory shortage."

When it comes to condition, said Martin Millner, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hearthside Real Estate in Yardley, the first-time buyer's requirements can depend on where he or she is on life's journey.

"I have had a couple of clients who are just waiting for 'job clarity,' before moving forward with a house purchase," he said.

One couple, in their early 30s, are getting married this fall, and they intend to buy either just before or just after their wedding.

Millner has another client, in her late 20s, who recently finished a graduate program and is looking to buy as soon as "her job choice is clear."

"The folks getting married are looking for a single-family house and want something that is basically move-in ready, while the other client is looking for a condo or townhouse and doesn't mind some work, as long as the property represents a good investment," he said.

But even after a buyer finds exactly what he or she wants, at the right price and in the right condition and location, there is no guarantee the transaction will go smoothly.

Enter the deal-killer.

That isn't necessarily a person, although it could be human, Chris Somers, broker/owner of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties, pointed out.

If a property has been occupied by a tenant because the owner wasn't able to sell it during the real estate downturn, the renter might sabotage the deal by saying bad things about the property or declining to leave the premises, Somers said.

In rowhouses, the deal-killer might be water in the basement, which "freaks out buyers," he said.

In Center City, it might be a "three-story spiral staircase," said Mark Wade, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors, who specializes in mid-rise condos there.

In that market, he said, another turnoff might be "unattractive common areas that clearly show wear and neglect, as if no one really cares or is taking care of the place."

"It is not uncommon for a buyer to approach the unit door and say they don't want to live in the building, even before seeing the condo," Wade said.

Listings that linger on the market?

"Some buyers also say that an extended 'days-on-market' clock will cause them to shy away," Wade said.

"It can be a sign, however, of a very good value if the seller has continued to lower his price," he added.

John Duffy, of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line, said deal-killers typically show up after the home inspection: knob-and-tube wiring, although he notes that a buyer can obtain homeowners' insurance anyway; an immediate need to replace major elements such as the heater/central air-conditioning and the roof; and structural concerns to both the house and outbuildings.

Mickey Pascarella, of Keller Williams Real Estate in Center City, said sellers who balk at repair requests will kill a deal.

"An inspector notes a crack in the exterior masonry below a rear window and inadequate airflow coming out of the third-floor air-conditioning supply vents," Pascarella said. "While you might be tempted to say, 'Hey, buyer, this ain't the Taj Mahal,' the prudent call is to bite the bullet and have those defects repaired."

The alternative is to let the buyers walk, forcing you to put the home back on the market, he said.

And don't show an empty house, Pascarella said.

"Homes look bigger and more appealing after they are staged, period," he said, so spend the $2,500 on a reputable staging company.

"Major retailers spend kazillons on merchandising. You'll have to spend some, too."