Something Old + Something New = Sold

How do you sell a house in Memphis in an overbuilt market and a mortgage crisis? For one couple, the answer was a few well-chosen words, smart remodeling, a Realtor, a little luck, and craigslist.

Best known for the free classified advertising on the Internet that is giving local print newspapers fits, craigslist, as FedEx used to say, also handles the big stuff.

For Midtowners Michael and Melinda Flurry Wayt, that meant connecting with Richard and Barb Dagger of Tempe, Arizona, who were looking for a house in Memphis to go with his new job teaching philosophy, religion, and political science at Rhodes College.

A Realtor from Crye-Leike, Betty Radford, also worked with the Daggers and earned a 3-percent commission. But it was craigslist that helped the Wayts get their house in front of a national Internet-savvy customer base.

Last fall, the Wayts put their 1900-square-foot bungalow in the Evergreen Historic District on the market. They were in no hurry to move, but were seriously looking at a newer home in Olive Branch for themselves, their 10-year-old son, and four pets. Michael, owner of a landscaping business in Midtown, had sold real estate for a year back in 2000. He put a "For Sale" sign in the yard and ran an ad in the daily paper. The asking price was $289,000.

"We had two open houses and got a lot of interest but decided the house was overpriced a little bit," he says. "So we took it off the market and put it back on this spring."

The Wayts hosted five more open houses. Again, several people came through, including Realtors and their clients, but nobody made an offer, even at the reduced price of $269,900. Then one day Michael was speaking with a friend in Los Angeles about real estate, and the friend suggested putting the house on craigslist.

Within two days of running the ad, the Wayts had a response. The Daggers had done their homework about Memphis and were looking for something close to Rhodes, in either the Hein Park or Evergreen neighborhood. They came to Memphis the next weekend to house shop with Radford.

"They came over and looked at the house on a Saturday, went on and looked at some others, and came back three hours later and said they were going to make an offer," says Melinda Wayt. Closing was set for June 23rd. The Wayts agreed to pay Radford, a friend and neighbor, a 3-percent commission, which is roughly half the full commission rate.

The cost of the ad in craigslist: Zero. While the exposure brought the house to the attention of homebuyers across the country, the Wayts say there were other secrets to their success. They emphasized words like "bungalow" and "historic district" to target specific buyers. They emphasized that the remodeled kitchen and bathroom complemented the historic integrity of the house. And they refused to let sentiment keep them from lowering their price.

"It was absolutely gut-wrenching to leave Evergreen," says Michael, a former neighborhood board member and current president of the Broad Avenue Business Association, where his office is located. "Right up to the day of closing we were not sure we were doing the right thing."

Barb Dagger, who calls herself "the semi-techie in the family," says she's used craigslist before to find vacation destinations. She has also used it, without success, to try to sell her small business in Arizona. Their house search was easier because they had been to Memphis in 2005 and knew which part of the city they liked.

"I find the whole idea of craigslist fascinating," she says. "I have bought and sold things on it before but never anything as big as a house."

Radford says she had previously heard of people using craigslist for rental property but not for sales. Realtors do not see it as either an aid or a threat to their business because to most of them it is still new, she says. In this case, "It helped everybody." 

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