real estate

How to sell a home in a buyer's market

Woman's hand holding wooden house for sale
Highlights
  • Sellers have "a gazillion ways" to make themselves uncompetitive.
  • Think of what the home is worth, not how much you have spent on it.
  • If you want the house to languish on the market, keep the clutter.

In a market where homebuyers rule, sellers have it rough.

But with a little savvy and a lot of hard work and flexibility, you can make your home stand out in a crowded field. And if you get it right from the start, you might not even have to stick those dreaded words "price reduced" next to that ad for your house.

"There are a gazillion ways sellers shoot themselves in the foot," says Rona Fischman, principal broker of 4 Buyers Real Estate in Cambridge, Mass. "If the house is not inviting, it's not going to sell."

Here's how to make your home a winner in a market filled with losers.

When it comes to brokers, choose straight talk over happy talk

Perfect hair and a golden smile might be great, but they won't sell your home. You want a straight shooter who will tell you what your home is truly worth instead of pandering to your price fantasies. The truth hurts -- but facing reality is the first step toward snagging a buyer. If the advice sounds too good to be true, send the broker packing. "I think it's better for the client to have an agent who is going to give them the real facts, at this point, this is where your house falls," says Ellen Murphy, a Coldwell Banker broker in Westfield, N.J.

It's all about the eyeballs, baby

You want as many pairs of eyeballs -- of course, with money to buy -- looking at your house as possible. It starts with the price. If you get that right and don't overshoot the mark, many more people will look at your house than if you overprice it. But you need to get decent inside-outside shots taken and get your house up on as many online real estate portals as possible.

On price, think like a buyer

Time for a rude awakening here. No buyer in this market is going to stretch to buy your home, no matter how unique or wonderful you think it is. Buyers want a decent price. They shun homes whose owners are seen as grasping. The aim is to steer clear of the high end of the price scale when looking at comps -- the middle of the pack works fine, Murphy says.

Get shoveling

If you look to sell in winter and live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, you deal with snow. OK, it's not your job to plow the sidewalks and make sure cars can park on the street. But it is your job to sell your house, and it won't happen if buyers can't park or have to trudge through a foot or two of snow to make it down the sidewalk and up your steps. Fischman says of sellers who fail to clear a path: "People are looking and saying in this weather, 'I don't want to live here.'"

Goodbye clutter, hello buyer

In selling a house, less is more, especially when it comes to furniture and personal possessions. Jeff Kitchen, a broker owner at Century 21 Affiliated in Beaver Dam, Wis., recently sold a house that had been languishing on the market for months. He removed a lot of the furniture and cleared out the clutter. "You owe it to your clients to tell them upfront, to say, 'You have to get rid of that clutter.'"

The final word

If you don't absolutely, positively have to sell in a buyer's market, don't.

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