There's no doubt about it: These are rocky times for homeowners. Many have watched their property values plummet, and would-be sellers are waiting longer stretches of time to sell their homes for less money than they had hoped to get. Despite the darkness of this landscape, there are steps you can take to protect your interests as a seller.
1Grit your teeth and lower your asking price. The best way to avoid months in sellers' purgatory is to ask slightly less than the prices of comparable homes in your neighborhood. If you don't get any offers after a month or two, reduce the price by about 5 percent. And if you really need to sell as quickly as possible, decide on the lowest price you're willing to accept and don't spurn offers you receive in that price range.
2Opt for a round number. Most real estate-related Web sites require buyers to input a desired price range, and those price ranges start and end with round numbers. So if you price your home at $200,000 instead of $199,000, your listing will be seen by all the shoppers in the $150,000-$200,000 range and in the $200,000-$250,000 range.
3Don't break the bank on remodeling projects. Sure, updating your home is a fine thing to do, but in this market you may not be able to recoup the expense of a costly kitchen or bathroom remodel. According to Consumer Reports and Remodeling magazines, home upgrades that tend to give sellers the greatest returns on investment are new energy-efficient windows, new siding or a new wood deck.
4Consider keeping your options open. If you're working with a real estate broker, you could choose to have an "exclusive agency listing" — a designation that means you agree to work with one broker, but you won't have to pay any commission if you manage to sell your home yourself. The other option is an "exclusive right-to-sell listing" — an arrangement that means only your broker can sell your home and you can't sell it yourself.
5Shop around for an effective agent. Meet with more than one in person and nail down specifics about how he or she would market your home. Make sure the marketing plan is included in writing in the agreement you sign.
6Break ties if necessary. If you can tell your agent isn't working hard enough in your behalf or following the agreed-upon marketing plan, it's time for a frank discussion. While you shouldn't expect miracles from this person — the market is bleak, after all — your best bet in certain cases may be to switch agents altogether.
7The commission is negotiable. You know the standard 6 percent commission sellers pay their agents? Well, guess what? Your agent may be willing to accept 3 percent or 4 percent from you instead — and sellers who pay lower commissions tend to be just as satisfied as sellers who pay the full 6 percent, a Consumer Reports survey found.
8Hire a pro to stage your home. The International Association of Home Staging Professionals (www.iahsp.com/ membersearch.php) can help you find someone to make your home look tasteful and visually appealing to a range of prospective buyers. Having your home professionally staged could cost you $500 to $5,000 — but that's money you stand to make back via a higher selling price for your home. You also can write off a stager's fees, just as you can with legal fees and your agent's commission.
9Or try staging your home yourself. Tricks to preparing your home for hyper-critical inspection include: eliminating all clutter and piles of stuff; helping rooms look more spacious by removing heavy drapes and excess pieces of furniture; arranging the remaining furniture so it draws attention to attractive focal points in each room; and opting for neutral tones when and where possible. Remember, a clutter-free, furnished home will be more pleasing to the eye than a completely empty home.
10Clean, clean, clean. Absolutely everything in your home — from dated appliances to scuffed wood floors — will look better if they're cleaned and polished to a high gloss. Remember to clean things you normally would never think of cleaning, such as the furnace, the water heater and every single light fixture and light bulb. To tackle pet or cigarette odors, apply a fresh coat of paint and have carpets shampooed.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org), MSN Money (http://moneycentral.msn.com), Bankrate.com (www.bankrate.com)