Real estate agents toughen up to sell their own homes

Cutting through emotions, embracing practicality to sell their homes

From left: Mark Martov, Ellen Sykes, and Sephrah Towbin
From left: Mark Martov, Ellen Sykes, and Sephrah Towbin (Getty, Corcoran)

Corcoran agent Sephrah Towbin spent 15 years in her Greenwood Heights condo before she decided it was time to put it on the market. 

It was a tough call for the Brooklyn native, who raised her daughter in the home. She and her husband bought the property back when no one wanted to live on that side of the Prospect Expressway.

“It certainly was emotional,” Towbin said. “But I tell you, the minute I decided we were selling, I just switched gears and did what I do with every client.”

For real estate agents, selling their own homes requires a thick skin. Emotions run high when there’s a personal connection to the property, and maintaining some objectivity is key for determining price points. But for those willing to take on the challenge, their intimate knowledge of the space can be an asset when pitching the home to buyers. 

“When you’re selling somebody’s house, and there’s a balcony off the primary bedroom, you always say, ‘Oh, you could have a cup of coffee there,’” said Corcoran agent Mark Martov. “But it’s very different when you actually have that balcony, and you’ve had a cup of coffee there while the sun hits you in the morning.”

Martov sold his South Brooklyn home last summer soon after his first child was born. His Seagate duplex no longer cut it as he and his wife tried to make space for their growing family.

When Martov started showing the place, he found that his descriptions of life in the home immediately connected him with buyers. As he moved through each room, he shared memories of afternoons in the backyard and explained the flow of the kitchen as he cooked his favorite recipes. 

“Ever since then, I constantly try to envision myself living in each home I sell,” Martov said. 

Most of Martov’s business comes from North Brooklyn, so to determine the price of his home, he ran his own assessment by two other agents with more experience in the neighborhood. He originally proposed $1.4 million as the asking price, which was on the high-end of the $1.2 million to $1.5 million price range suggested by his colleagues. 

Martov eventually dropped the price to $1.3 million after some back and forth on the decision. 

“I needed to be a realistic seller, unlike the 90 percent of sellers I meet every single day,” Martov said. “I didn’t want to be that guy.”

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Coldwell Banker Warburg broker Ellen Sykes — who has sold four of her own properties, primarily on the Upper East Side — said she consults one of her colleagues to help nail down a price. She typically invites him over to walk through the home and price it with her. 

Sykes had previously hired other brokers to negotiate a sale for her, but she said she considers herself to be tougher at bargaining. 

“She wasn’t interested in being as hard nosed as I was,” Sykes said of another broker. “I just got better at doing it myself.”

Sykes also stressed the importance of maintaining flexibility .  

“Once you put it on the market, it no longer belongs to you,” Sykes said. “Put a realistic price on it, and move that sucker.”

As a broker, showing your home to strangers and opening it for criticism adds another layer of challenges. 

When Towbin showed her Brooklyn apartment, she had one person come in without an appointment and tell her to move out of the way. 

“That moment has stuck with me this whole time as being the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my own home,” Towbin said. “If I got frazzled from that, can you imagine someone selling their own home that doesn’t do this for a living?”

Despite the rogue prospective buyer, Towbin and her husband quickly found a “lovely” family to purchase their apartment with the sale closing last April. Though the offer wasn’t the highest the couple received, Towbin said the family wanted it more than anyone else.

As she and her family packed up the rest of their furniture, Towbin laid on the floor and shed a few tears for all of the memories made in her home.

Throughout the process, Towbin said she felt a lot of internal pressure to turn around the sale. But she needn’t have worried — the condo sold in seven days.

“I’d hire me again in a heartbeat.”

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