10 'must-do' steps to sell your home this year

If you're selling your home this year, be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint.

In most places, those heady days of putting a property on the market, receiving multiple bids, getting more than you expected, and accepting an offer in just days -- or weeks -- are over.

Now, for most houses in most parts of the country, it's a buyer's market. That means that more houses are for sale, there are longer stretches on the market, and prices have slowed, plateaued or, in some places, decreased.

Sellers "need to be prepared for a sustained effort," says Colby Sambrotto, chief operating officer of

Homes are staying on the market for about four months, according to the most recent national averages from the National Association of Realtors.

10 steps to selling your home

Traditionally, spring and summer are "prime time" in most areas of the country when it comes to buying and selling homes. If that's when you plan to plant your "for sale" sign, here are 10 things you can do beforehand:

  1. Recognize every market is different.
  2. Get your home inspected.
  3. Shape up before marketing.
  4. Devise a marketing plan.
  5. Check into company relocation assistance.
  6. Interview real estate agents.
  7. Set a price.
  8. Understand your price.
  9. Get rid of the junk.
  10. Stay on top of the market.

1. Recognize every market is different. Your state, town or neighborhood could dovetail with national numbers or buck the trend entirely. "There really is no national market," says Sambrotto. "There's a patchwork of regional markets." Never rely solely on one person's advice or opinon. Talk to a handful of professionals, do your own research and listen to your gut instinct.

2. Get your home inspected. "Before I would even call a real estate agent, I'd have my home inspected," says attorney Diana Brodman Summers, author of "How to Buy Your First Home." Some real estate agents advise against spending the money (most basic inspections range from $200 and $400, according to a 2004 survey from the American Society of Home Inspectors), because the buyers will get one anyway prior to closing. Others recommend it, because it gives sellers an early warning on any repairs they might have to make. But in this market, it's better to be proactive, says Summers. "I would rather know what the inspector is going to find and be able to fix it -- and pick who will fix it," she says. Her method also

3. Shape up before marketing. A buyer's market means you've got more competition. "You want to put your best foot forward," says Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies." If your home isn't appealing and in good repair, potential buyers won't even stop. Some sellers feel it's OK to skip this step and take less, but if the house is not appealing you may not get the chance to negotiate. "Six weeks before you want to put it on the market is a great time to get it done," says Summers. You don't need to renovate, but make sure everything looks great and works well. There are some things you can do to make your home stand out:

  • New paint. Paint the whole house, if it needs it, or just the trim, shutters and door to freshen up.
  • A clean entry way. Sweep or pressure-wash the front walk and porch. Polish the outdoor metalwork, clean the windows and glass and replace any burnt-out bulbs in outdoor lighting. And, if you can, add planters with flowers.
  • Lush landscaping. Think new mulch, sharp edging, a healthy lawn and beds of flowers.
  • "Maximize your chances of people being excited about your listing when it hits the market," says Tyson.

4. Devise a marketing plan. Do you want to use a real estate agent or would you rather sell it yourself? If you try doing it yourself, have you set a time limit after which you want to enlist the aid of a professional? Selling it yourself can save you the real estate commission (often about 6 percent), which can be an advantage in a tight market. But a buyer's market (or rapidly changing market) is also a good time to have a little professional expertise to price, market and move your property. And don't forget, potential buyers may feel that if there's no agent involved the price should already be 6 percent less. Both the buyer and the seller can't save the same 6 percent.

5. Check into company relocation assistance. Are you moving to take a new job or position? If so, the company might offer some resources to make things easier, says Summers. Some companies will even provide a list of real estate pros who will work with you at a discount. If you're selling in a tight market, every little bit helps. Best source: call your human resources department.

6. Interview real estate agents. If you're interested in using an agent, interview several early on about listing your home, says Tyson. "Ask them for their advice," he says. "That's a good way to select an agent." What would they highlight about your home? What would they change before it goes on the market?


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