5 slow-market strategies
It takes a little extra effort to move a home when the market has turned.

By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer
January 13, 2006

Sellers are having a harder time getting good prices for their homes. Even in the hottest markets, getting top dollar is a challenge when you don't have 20 buyers battling it out in a bidding war.

Owners can take some effective -- yet inexpensive -- measures to make their property more desirable, and valuable.

Debra Gould, owner ofSix Elements, a home-staging consultant in Toronto, consults with clients whose homes are not selling and supercharges their appeal. Her job, she says, and the job of anyone selling their home, is to make "as many people as possible fall in love with a house.


Check your home's "curb appeal."

First impressions count and the first thing most buyers see is the front yard. "Yards have always sold homes and they always will," said Ryan Thompson, who, with wife Tiffany, works as an agent with John L. Scott Realty in Seattle.

It's perhaps even more true today. Many shoppers now research on the Web and then do their own drive-bys before contacting an agent.

So mow those shaggy lawns and give the shrubs a buzz cut. Keep your gardens neat and healthy, and repair visible damage. Always keep junk, including trash barrels, out of sight.

Next, turn your attention to the house's exterior. Freshen up trim and touch up concrete steps. Give the front door a new coat of varnish or paint and toss that old, rusty mailbox in favor of a sleek, modern one.

Clear the clutter inside
Inside, personal touches have to go. "You want the buyers to think of it as their home," said Gould, "not someone else's." Get rid of family photos, diplomas, trophies, and souvenirs.
Get rid of excess furniture. "You don't want them bumping into a bureau and thinking that the bedrooms are too small," said Gould.

She also says dark and dinghy interiors turn off buyers. Brighten up interiors with better lighting and fresh coats of paint.

While you're at it, make sure to finish all the annoying little fix-it things that you've neglected. You've lived with these flaws for months (years) but nobody else wants to see them. Replace cracked light switches, spackle those dents in the wall, and fill in those baseboard gouges.
"It's like you're on a first date," said Gould. "If someone has a piece of spinach in his or her teeth, it kills the romance."

Don't skimp on look and feel
If you've already moved and your furniture is gone, rent some. There's a reason that developers show model homes furnished. People envision themselves living there much more readily if there are attractive, cozy furnishings.

"There are companies that will rent furniture for houses on sale," said Thompson. He reports it generally costs about $1 a square foot for three-months, with additional costs beyond that specified in the contract.

For a full consult with a home stager like Gould, expect to pay between $500 and $1,200 or more. If the stager provides the furnishings, the cost will run between $2,500 and $7,000 for most homes.

Adios Fido
One of the toughest hurdles for some houses to overcome is passing the "smell test." Keep your house free of pet messes and odors. If possible, keep Fido and Bootsie out of sight during showings.

Don't let anyone smoke in the house and keep the garbage disposal and drains clear and the cans emptied.

Thompson says many agents carry a bottle of vanilla extract. "You put a little on a light bulb, turn the switch and the vanilla heats up and disperses," he said.
The right person for the job

Besides improving the house's allure, homeowners should be pro-active when choosing their realtor. Most sellers will ask friends, relatives, and neighbors for recommendations. Now you can also get help on the Internet.

One Web site, Homethinking.com, enables consumers to punch in their home town or zip code to generate a list of real-estate brokers in their area. Consumers can view the properties agents have sold, how much the final sale price differed from the original asking price, and what their clients say about the jobs they did.

"There are 50 percent more realtors out there than five years ago. This service throws a light on the exceptional ones,"Homethinking's CEO Nick Scevak said.

Another new Web site, Hungryagents.com, helps consumers save money by finding agents who will offer their services at a discount. Sellers can register their properties online and invite realtors to bid for the right to represent them.

For those sellers who want to cut out commissions altogether and have the time, the expertise, and the stomach to handle the sale themselves, there is a lot more help available. Web sites like ForSaleByOwner.com publicize listings to a much wider audience than used to be possible.

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