5 Tips for Selling a House in a Slow Market

The slowdown doesn't mean your home won't sell, but it demands a different approach.

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The slowdown doesn't mean your home won't sell, but it demands a different approach.

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It's no secret that the days of houses selling like Beanie Babies are over. After real estate appreciated at jaw-dropping rates during the first half of the decade, home prices and sales tallies have dropped precipitously in recent months—tilting market dynamics to favor buyers over sellers. That doesn't mean your house won't sell, just that the playing field has changed. So here are five tips to help you get a timely sale at a fair price in today's reshuffled housing market.

1. Make those repairs. While in years past it may have been enough just to cut the grass and retouch the paint, anyone looking to sell in today's market will have to take care of those more onerous repair projects as well. "The buyer that might have bought a fixer-upper five years ago now has an opportunity to purchase a short sale or a foreclosure," says Ronald Phipps, president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. "So if you have a property that needs a lot of work, you are competing against real estate-owned [properties] that are compelling rather than interesting." So fix the leaky roof, call the plumber, and rebuild the staircase. "The modest repairs should be done," Phipps says. "Frankly, repairs period should be done."

2. Price to the market. Unfortunate though it may be for sellers, demand for real estate has softened significantly. That means, in many cases, sellers will have to bring down their asking price below what the house might have fetched just a couple of years back. "The best advice that real estate practitioners can give [home sellers] is, 'If you aren't prepared to sell at fair market value, then you probably ought to wait,' " Phipps says. "The properties that are selling are selling at or slightly less than fair market—it is very, very rare to have a premium house."

By setting an asking price above market value, homeowners risk driving potential buyers away. "People think, 'Well, I'll run it up the flag pole at [an above-market] price, and people will come along and make a [lower] offer. That is not really happening in this market," says Elizabeth Blakeslee of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Washington, D.C. "If people perceive your property is being overpriced, they will just move on to the next." Lowering the price may be difficult, but if you want to sell your home in today's market, grit your teeth and do it. "There is a buyer for every property if the pricing is right," says Lenn Harley, a broker at Homefinders.com.

3. Know your agent's stats: Finding an agent with experience selling homes in your market will help ensure correct pricing. When deciding on a real estate agent, find out how long it usually takes him or her to sell a house. It's best to choose an agent whose properties sell in an average of three or four months, a time frame that indicates the agent understands how to price the market, Harley says. "An agent whose average is six months is too long," Harley says. "Talk to an agent that has experience selling in your market."

4. Be flexible. Ensuring that your house is ready to show at all times will make it easier for prospective buyers to see it. So make your bed each morning and clean up the dishes before heading off to work, just in case someone may want to come by at the last minute. In addition, homeowners should be willing to disappear on Saturday and Sunday afternoons if potential buyers are free to see the property. "Access is very important," says Shari Kruse of Prudential Northwest Realty in Seattle. "Things like limiting the hours of showing or requiring an appointment because you have a pet are reasons for real estate agents to bypass your house when they go to show."

5. Bite your tongue: If a potential buyer comes in with an offer you consider too low, resist the urge to turn up your nose, Blakeslee says. After all, it takes a considerable amount of paperwork to make a formal offer, so even a low bid signals interest. "You need to respond—even though you are indignant and insulted," Blakeslee says. "Do a serious counteroffer. You have nothing to lose by countering, everything to lose by rejecting it out of hand."