Home Not Selling? 5 Steps to Take

house for sale with
Shutterstock"Often sellers make the mistake of factoring in what price they need in order to sell the property."
By Geoff Williams

The housing market is faring much better than it was a few years ago, but sales have slowed from 2013. If that "for sale" sign has been on your front lawn a lot longer than you expected, you may be wondering: What do most homeowners do in this situation? It's best to consult your real estate agent, assuming you have one, but you may also want to consider the following suggestions to sell your home quickly.

Lower the price. This is the most obvious suggestion, but price is often the problem. "Often sellers make the mistake of factoring in what price they need in order to sell the property," says Rob Anzalone, co-founder of Fenwick Keats Real Estate, a New York City residential brokerage and property management firm. "Need is desire and isn't a factor in establishing market value."

Another reason sellers price their home above the market value, Anzalone says, is because they're afraid they'll sell for too low of a price and then look like a sucker. But he adds: "It's very difficult to underprice a property. If the price is too low, buyers will bid it up to market value with multiple offers."

[Read: 7 Reasons Your House Isn't Selling.]

As for how low to go, make it count, says Margaux Pelegrin, a Realtor at Philadelphia-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors. "A $1,000 price reduction won't be effective on a $400,000 listing," she says. "The price should be reduced a minimum of 2 percent."
She adds that one large price reduction is always better than lowering the price in small increments.

Deep clean. Hopefully this is the first thing you did before putting the house on the market, but maybe you didn't clean as thoroughly as you thought. "Cleaning up the interior and exterior by painting, replanting or updating carpet can make a big difference," says Leslie Piper, a housing specialist with Realtor.com. Another benefit is that you'll pare down your personal belongings and you'll "make the home look larger," she adds.

Also consider keeping your pets out of the house during the selling period. "If the pet smell is apparent, it can be a real turnoff to prospective buyers," Piper says. She suggests removing them from the home when prospective buyers are wandering through the house, and, if possible, boarding them at the house of a friend or family member.

And pay special attention to the home's entrance, suggests Jennifer Darby Metzger, a broker with ERA Justin Realty Co., in Rutherford, N.J. "Can you put down some fresh mulch to tidy up the curb appeal?" Metzger asks. "Sometimes just taking out old rugs, giving a fresh coat of paint and beautifying the entrance can help the house sell."

Consider finding a new real estate agent. If you get the sense that your agent never has time for you or your home has been on the market forever, it may be time to work with someone else.

"It's imperative that when listing your property to go with a local expert – a broker who is knowledgeable and has a solid marketing plan," Anzalone says. "Often sellers will go with the broker that discounts their fees the greatest."

[Read: 5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Real Estate Agent.]

That's understandable, since you want to keep as much profit as you can, but real estate agents exist for a reason. The good ones know what they're doing. The bad ones, Anzalone says, may not have the budget or expertise to market your house effectively.

If you decide to make a switch, be sure to dissolve your contract. You don't want the agent still working to sell your house while you're working with someone else.

Fix what needs to be fixed. This is easy to do if there's a glaring problem with your home, but what if there is something subtle you haven't noticed?

Liz Lucchesi, an agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc. Realtors, based in Alexandria, Va., says she and her homeowner clients keep a feedback spreadsheet for this sort of problem. If you had a number of potential homebuyers marching through your house and eyeing but not buying, you can start to look for patterns.

"Is there a consistent deficiency noted by each and every buyer who has come in the door?" she asks.

If so, fix the problem, and let everyone know about the changes, Lucchesi advises. "Take pictures of the changed areas that were addressed and post them every and anywhere," she says. "Facebook, Twitter, the multiple listing service and the [home selling] websites."

Look at your photos again. That's right -- the photos on the websites where you're showcasing your house. "These days, most people begin their house hunt on the Internet. First impressions are everything when it comes to homebuying, especially online. The more photos, the better," says Erin Sartain, marketing and training director for NexTitle, a title and escrow agency based in Bellevue, Wash.

She stresses: "Turn on the lights. Too often we see listing photos that are taken inside and not a single light is turned on."

If you do that, she says you might as well describe your home as a cozy cave. "All small lamps, overhead lighting, porch light -- turn them all on for photos. Not only does it add warmth to a room, but it allows people to see the room they are looking at."

[See: 12 Ways to Save Money at Home.]

She suggests scrutinizing your photos, too, making sure the toilet seat is down in a bathroom photo, the bed is made in a bedroom picture, clutter is removed from the counters, there are no animals in the photos and cars are removed from the driveway. "You'd be amazed at how often these things are missed," she says.

Wait, no animals? Who would have anything against Fido? Besides, couldn't a few animals make you seem more likable to a pet owner buying your home?

Maybe, but you will also scare away other buyers, Sartain says. "It could be an instant turnoff for someone who is allergic. Some people see animals and immediately think, 'Oh, great, the carpets have been peed on.' It's just awkward to have animals in real estate photos," she says.

And, really, isn't selling a home awkward enough?

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