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9 tips for homebuyers and sellers in 2009

9 tips for home sellers in 2009

1. Price correctly from the get-go.  Unless you're living in a handful of relatively stable U.S. markets, don't start out too high-priced just to "test the waters." Your backup plan of adjusting on the fly may prove futile. Keep that window of opportunity open from the first time the "for sale" sign appears on your lawn. The first 30 days a home is on the market are when it gets the most attention from potential buyers and their agents.

2. Fix earlier pricing mistakes.  If you've already made the above pricing mistake, consider taking the home off the market and repositioning it for later entry. If you simply persist with that original, now-discounted offering and keep dropping the price as the months go by, lowball buyers and their brokers will be waiting in the wings to see how low you'll go next month. If you do take it off, make some relatively simple cosmetic improvements such as new paint and landscaping, then list it again, but at the right price this time.

3. Looks do matter.  Don't underestimate the importance of curb appeal. Not only is there an acute price war going on out there, there's also a beauty contest being staged. You may be strategically located in a quiet cul-de-sac, near great schools, great health-care facilities and fabulous shopping, and you may have easy highway access for that morning commute, but unless your exterior is well coifed and in sparkling condition, other offerings will outshine it. If your home's outside doesn't pass the drive-by test, the interior won't, because it will not be viewed by serious buyers, who are already off to view the next home on their list.

4. Don't overdo it.  By contrast, if you go too far in improving your place, you likely will not be able to recoup your remodeling investment. Don't over-invest to the point where your home greatly exceeds competing properties in your price range and neighborhood. And keep colors schemes neutral for best sale potential.

5. Don't be an ambiguous seller.  Either you are going to sell or you aren't. Why waste everyone's time, including yours? If you manage to fetch a decent offer with a test listing in this market, commit to sell. You may be able to buy a better replacement house at a disproportionately lower price with so many steals still out there.

6. Be an energy miser.  A low- or mid-grade energy retrofit will make your home greener and more marketable and it won't bankrupt you. The selling point of "seeing thousands of dollars in energy savings down the road" is a timely one.

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Add a programmable thermostat, re-insulate the attic and water heater and caulk around doors, windows, eaves, edges and joints to better seal them. Consider having a professional energy audit performed. They're relatively cheap. At least one Web site, Home Energy Saver, offers a do-it-yourself audit tool.

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