If you’re trying to sell a home in the current overstocked real-estate market, you already know that the days of white-hot bidding wars and quick-flipped condos are long gone. The National Association of Realtors says that 2008 home sales will be the lowest since 2002. And early numbers are bearing that out. Nationwide, home sales are down 24 percent from last year, while home prices have dropped 8.2 percent. If that weren’t worrisome enough, the U.S. housing inventory remains bloated and the subprime mortgage crisis has made it tougher for buyers to secure loans.
How can you make your home stand out from all the others on the market? Real-estate specialists offer the following tips:
Pick the right broker. Look for local agents who are listing, marketing, and selling in your community even if the market is slow. Ask several of them to make a "listing presentation" to discuss your home’s value, justify their numbers, and how they would market your property.Peter G. Miller, a syndicated real-estate columnist and creator of OurBroker.com, suggests that you visit open houses held by the brokers you’re considering to see how they handle a listing. Did the broker greet people? Was the home shown to its best advantage? (This includes details like removing pets. Miller recalls one open house where the owner’s roaming dog with "more teeth than a zipper" kept potential buyers from inspecting the backyard.) Once you decide on a broker, you have three types of listing options. In an open listing, you reserve the right to sell the home yourself and not pay a commission, but you also allow one or more brokers to offer the property. With an exclusive-agency listing, you have one broker but reserve the right to sell the property yourself. An exclusive-right-to-sell listing gives only one broker the right to represent you during the listing term and guarantees the broker a commission. Most Multiple Listing Services will post exclusive-agency and exclusive-right-to-sell listings.
Understand the real marketplace. To negotiate effectively, you need to know up-to-the-minute sale prices—not just what your neighbor’s house sold for last year—and the deal-making behind them. For example, two homes may each have sold for $400,000, but if one owner gave a 3 percent credit for deck repair and a new furnace, that’s a $12,000 reduction. Your agent should be knowledgeable about the details of sales in your area and be nimble enough to revise the marketing plan for your home to reflect changing conditions.
Sweeten the deal. Sellers are reportedly offering some unusual sales incentives—plasma TVs, cars, boat slips, vacations, and golf carts—but cash may still be king. For example, some sellers have agreed to pay condo maintenance fees for the buyer. "If six similar condos are on the market, and a seller offers to pay the first quarter’s maintenance fees—which run from $225 to $250 a month in this area—that $750 can help make a deal," she says. Other ideas include covering moving expenses or a month’s mortgage payment.In a slow market, offering to pay a "seller contribution" toward the buyer’s closing costs may make more sense than lowering the sales price. The closing costs include such items as the appraisal fee and title search, points to reduce the mortgage, and attorney and recording fees. Individual mortgage programs often allow seller contributions ranging from 3 to 6 percent. Borrowers need to check with lenders to see what’s allowed.
Offer a warranty against defects. A home warranty provides protection for mechanical systems and certain appliances against unexpected repairs in the first year. The cost ranges from $250 to around $400, depending on coverage. Companies that sell warranties include American Home Shield and First American Home Buyers Protection Corp.
Be flexible on the deposit. To "bind" a deal, the buyer should put down a deposit (separate from the down payment), which varies widely depending on the local market. You’d like the biggest deposit you can get, but in a slow market you may have to settle for less.
Curb your enthusiasm. Walk down your street, then walk back to your home and try to see what other people see. Tend to any overgrown landscaping, and make sure shrubs are nicely trimmed.
Use staging to enhance the home’s appeal. A professional home stager can make over your home to de-emphasize your personal taste and become more visually appealing to a broader range of buyers. Pros say the key is to clear out clutter and clean, clean, clean. Staging can extend from rearranging your furniture to preparing an entire house for sale with rented furniture and accessories. A two-hour consultation with written recommendations for do-it-yourselfers costs around $300. But a full staging of a large home could range from $500 to $5,000. Costs average around $1,800 in the Midwest, $2,800 on the West Coast, and $3,800 on the East Coast. Those fees are paid up front to professional stagers, but many real-estate agents include some staging as part of the services they offer that are covered by their commission.
Be ready to negotiate. Buyers are likely to be demanding in today’s market, so be prepared for hardball negotiating. Some brokers advise that you remove anything you absolutely can’t part with before you show the house.
Monitor and update your MLS listing. If it’s April, you don’t want the photo of your house on the Multiple Listing Service displaying a snowman on the lawn. An out-of-season picture is a dead giveaway that your home has been on the market for awhile. And with many buyers doing their first "look-see" on the Internet, the quality of the photos is paramount, too. Make sure that any unique qualities are emphasized in the write-up, which may not always be apparent, even to a broker. And proofreading the description of your home for the MLS and elsewhere is always a good idea.