The biggest incentive packages are being offered by builders, Brown stresses. While many of those can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in the form of price breaks, throw-ins, credits and add-ons, buyers should be wary that the biggest home-value drops are also occurring in areas where there has been an abundance of new construction. Incentives offered by owners in more established, mature markets carry more relative weight, he notes.
There's a Catch-22 aspect to this, however. Too many concessions and incentives have a tendency to make buyers suspicious, says veteran Realtor Barb Schwarz, author of "How To List and Sell Residential Real Estate Successfully" and "Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money." "Buyers think: If they're going to do that, then they must really be desperate," she says. "And then they think, 'What's wrong with this house?'" When it all boils down, two things really sell a house, she says. "One is pricing and the other is staging."
Schwarz, who has sold more than 5,000 homes in her career and is considered a pioneer in the home-staging movement, says many homes languish on the market because they are cluttered, dirty and poorly presented and have been branded as tough sells by agents. "The agent doesn't want to show these because they are embarrassing and feel they are wasting people's time," she says.
The average investment in home staging -- about $2,200 -- costs far less than a price reduction on the average home, she says. Staging focuses on relatively simple touches that Schwarz calls the "three C's": cleaning, clutter removal and colors, the latter "C" calling for mostly neutral colors with splashes of bright accents thrown in for balance, she says. "Staging doesn't conceal, it reveals," she says. "No one will purchase your home unless they can imagine themselves living there."
A 2007 survey by HomeGains.com of 2,000 real estate agents in all regions of the U.S. indicates that staging a for-sale home nets a 343 percent return on investment. A survey of 400 homes in the U.S and Canada by Schwarz's own firm, Stagedhomes.com, says that homes prepped for sale by an accredited staging professional sold in an average 31.8 days compared with 161 days for nonstaged homes.