It can happen in a cool real estate market or a boiling one. Curiously, a good-looking house in a nice neighborhood languishes unsold for what seems to its exasperated owners as an endless length of time.
What’s wrong? Perhaps obvious repairs have gone undone or the decor needs updating. Maybe the sellers have failed to weed through their clutter, leaving the place unappealingly crowded. Or it could be that the list price is too high for the neighborhood, the most common explanation.
When should the owners start to worry that their home has become shopworn? As a rule of thumb, Brandi Pearl Thompson, a real estate broker affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), said you should think seriously about a substantial price cut if you’ve had 10 showings but not a single offer.
She said sellers who enter the market with an overly high list price typically hurt themselves in the long run.
“If your house has been sitting and you take a price cut late in the game, buyers believe you’re desperate. They think something is seriously wrong with your house,” she said.
Thompson said some sellers operate on the mistaken belief that it’s a good idea to “push”the opening list price to test the market. And she said some listing agents go along.
But as she noted, it’s the market that determines property values; wishful thinking makes no difference.
Along with off-target pricing, other factors — including poor photography — can seriously affect selling time, according to Thompson. She said that many buyers will reject a property solely on the basis that it looks unappealing in the first four photos they see online.
Pictures can make or break you, she said.
She said smart phones can take good photos, but that those who use more advanced digital cameras can often take shots that look better in print and online advertising.
“Hiring a professional photographer for your home is worth every penny,” Thompson said.
Here are a few other pointers for home sellers:
Seek out feedback from savvy real estate specialists.
Once a listing agreement expires, many home sellers decide to renew the agreement with the same agent, while others choose to switch agents.
“When a house isn’t selling, some people blame the agent. But it makes no sense to blame the agent if you didn’t follow their recommendations,” said Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and the co-author of “House Selling for Dummies.”
Perhaps you want to change agents, if only to gain a fresh perspective. In that case, Tyson said it’s wise to take advantage of the interviewing process to solicit feedback from the candidates.
This isn’t the time to solicit compliments on your property. Besides seeking realistic pricing guidance, ask for recommendations on how to improve your home’s condition. For example, do you still have peeling paint on the front door, or kitchen appliances that need replacing?
If your house has been sitting unsold for a long time, you can’t afford to ignore constructive comments made by agents who come by for a visit, Tyson said.
Lighten up a dark interior.
Nowadays, buyers are nearly unanimous in their preference for light, bright living spaces. That’s why properties with high ceilings and large windows are so popular. That’s also why dark-colored walls and heavy draperies are so unpopular.
If you have dark paneling anywhere in your house, seriously consider painting over it in a light, neutral color, he said.
Rethink your clutter situation.
Before their home hits the market, most sellers have had their agents tell them about the importance of dispensing with clutter. By then, many sellers have managed to de-clutter a number of areas, including closets bulging with shoes and kitchen countertops loaded with gadgets.
Even so, if your home has been sitting unsold for a lengthy period, Tyson urges you to reconsider your clutter situation and see whether there’s more to do. Also, think about whether you’ve lowered your standards of cleanliness and order.
Clutter removal is a major issue. That’s because rooms look a lot smaller when they’re overfilled. Remember that the eyes of buyers will be naturally drawn to all that stuff rather than the good qualities of your house, Tyson said.
He said many sellers can make their homes much more appealing by removing at least a quarter to a half of all their furniture, including oversized recliners, clunky coffee tables and heavy bedroom furnishings.
Reduce your asking price to help rekindle buyer interest.
Thompson said homebuyers are acutely aware of home values and resent sellers they suspect of trying to price-gouge.
“It’s not about how much money you want to get out of the house. It’s about what the market believes your home is worth,” she said.
Though it’s far preferable to price correctly from the first day your place hits the market, Thompson said those who asked too much at the outset should try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible with a price reduction.
“If your neighborhood has shifted up or down — for example, because mortgage rates have changed — you have to take that into account,” she said.
The good news is that sellers who agree to a belated price reduction can often capture a second round of buyer interest and perhaps even a couple offers at that late stage.
“It’s inexplicable as to why. But sometimes one offer leads immediately to another, even though the two buyers never spoke to each other,” Thompson said.
Ellen James Martin, a former real estate editor at The Baltimore Sun, gives advice for anyone buying, selling or financing a home.