Real Estate News

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Why Houses Do Not Sell

Apr 9, 2019 11:34:00 PM


As we approach the end of 2018, and I’m making the holiday party rounds, one question people keep asking me is, “why does it seem like so many house didn’t sell this year?” This is a great question. If you’ve either been trying to sell your house, or plan to sell in 2019, you need to make sure you understand the answer to why houses do not sell.

First, it’s not that so many houses did not sell. Rather, it’s an issue of it taking LONGER to sell houses across the board, AND that SOME houses did not sell. For example, in Alexandria with approximately 3,952 total listings priced over 100k, there were 54 Withdrawn listings, 86 Expired listings, and 649 Canceled listings. All together there were 789 listings that failed to sell. The total failure rate was approximately 20%.

Second, some of those failed listings came back to the market as new listings and ultimately sold. Some listing agents withdraw and relist listings in an attempt to mask the failure rate so the number can be misleading. However, the total failure rate of 20% isn’t what we are worried about, what we want to know is why do so many listings not sell.

In order to understand why house do not sell, let’s look at the five primary reasons which include; price, condition, seller behavior, marketing, and negotiations.


Write this down. Seller’s don’t determine the price. Listing agents don’t determine the price. The MARKET determines the price. The only decision the seller has to make is whether they are willing to accept MARKET price, or not. Buyers in Northern Virginia are extremely well informed. They know what houses have been selling for, and they are not inclined to overpay for a home. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the Sales Price to List Price Ratio for Alexandria, VA. Out of 2,667 closed sales, the ratio is 99.1%. When we look at the ratio of Sales Price to Original List Price we find the ratio is 98%. The difference between original list price and list price takes into account if there has been a list price reduction during the marketing of the home. Clearly, the market requires homes to be priced within a very tight ratio to what buyers are willing to pay.


The main reason why homes don’t sell is that the current condition of the home doesn’t match the target buyers’ expectations. Keep in mind that the biggest issue facing home buyers is not interest rates, or mortgage qualifications. The biggest issue holding buyers back is the cash required to purchase a home. When you are buying a home between 400-1,000k and trying to put 10% or more down on the home you are looking at 40k – 100k as a down payment. In addition, you will have another 1-2% of the sales price as closing costs.

With so much money required buyers have little appetite for expensive home improvement projects post settlement. That’s why buyers are so drawn to homes that are in “move-in-ready” condition. They just don’t have the cash left to upgrade after settlement. For example, they’d gladly pay an extra 50k for a house that’s good to go, rather than renovate. The additional down payment and closings cost might be 5-6k, vs having to come up with 50k in cash to make the upgrades themselves.

Note, you don’t have to have your house in premium condition, but if you don’t then you have to price the home accordingly. Since you are going to miss out on the majority of home buyers, the only option is to price your home to appeal to the investor, fixer-upper, flipper, super value minded buyers. This is a much smaller segment of the buyer pool and these buyers are even more price sensitive than buyers looking for premium condition properties.

If you want the house to sell then you have to make sure you align condition and price with your target buyers’ expectations.

Seller Behavior

One of the most puzzling reasons why houses do not sell is due to seller behavior. You might think sellers would always act in their best interest when selling a house, but this is not true. A house that is failing to sell will almost always have at least one of the following issues. First, the seller makes the house impossible to show. They may impose unrealistic showing restrictions. Only allowing showings every third Tuesday after a full moon and between the hours of 1 pm – 1:30 pm isn’t going to help. Second, they may not keep the house in showing condition. Buyers are immediately turned off by dirty homes, or homes with bad smells. Third, they may be slow to respond to offers and/or agent communications. Our economy moves fast, sellers that aren’t prepared to engage quickly will struggle to sell their home.


Let’s face it, the elephant in the room when it comes to why houses do not sell is often the agent you picked to sell your home. If you’re selling on your own, or with a limited service firm, then this applies directly to you. Most agents have a four point marketing plan, which consists of sign, lockbox, open house, and hope for the best. In our market, this is a sure fire way to underperform and net less money on the sale of your home. I’ve seen time and time again, where listing descriptions are WRONG or inaccurate. I’ve seen listings with the wrong map location, the wrong schools, and all kinds of mistakes. I’ve seen listings with TERRIBLE photos that look like they were taken by a troll with a pocket camera. Buyers don’t want to waste their time, and no one wants to buy a home that looks unsafe or seems risky.

An open houses is not a marketing strategy, it’s an event. Hope is wonderful, but it’s not a strategy. Houses do not sell when the marketing either is non-existent, or fails to reach the target market that is willing to buy the home.


Please, please, please, if you get nothing else from this article, remember that you are selling a highly valuable asset to a real human being. That real human being has emotions, and is scared of buying the wrong house. Often, they will move on to the next house as soon as they find a reason, any reason, to scratch your house off their list. Therefore, DO NOT act like an ass in your negotiations with a buyer. Treat them with respect NO MATTER WHAT they offer you on your home. This means you promptly respond to all inquiries and offers. You thoughtfully consider all requests, and you look for solutions that will solve the buyers concerns.

You also most focus on what the buyer wants and factor this into your negotiation strategy BEFORE your home even hits the market. We know that all buyers are going to want to buy a safe home, so the fact that you tried to hide a safety issue and HOPE it doesn’t come up during the inspection is a sure way to unravel the negotiation and can lead to why your house does not sell.

You can’t sell your house without a contract, which means there will always be some sort of negotiations. Even when parties agree on price, there are many other terms and conditions which must be agreed. If a contract falls out and a house does not sell you can be sure there was a mistake made in the negotiation process along the way.

Bottom line

Houses in Alexandria sell successfully 80% of the time. That’s a great average, as long as you are in the 80%! It’s a disaster for the 20% that don’t sell because of all the time, energy, money, and emotion they have wasted along the way. Fact is all houses should sell, but you have to make sure your price, condition, behavior, marketing, and negotiations are aligned with buyer expectations.

Also, just because houses sell, doesn’t mean they sold for the maximum price possible, but that’s an article for another day!



Topics: Insider

David Zadareky
Written by David Zadareky

David has spent the last 26 years working the Northern Virginia real estate market. As a self described real estate junkie, he employs the best of big-data with hyper-local street level expertise to bring you a comprehensive insider’s view of local market conditions.

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