In Weak Housing Market, Can Sellers Stand Out?

For millions of home sellers, it’s been a hot summer but a chilly housing market.

Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes plunged last month to the lowest level in 15 years, despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades and bargain prices in many areas.

July's sales fell by more than 27 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.83 million, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. It was the largest monthly drop on records dating back to 1968, and sharp declines were recorded in all regions of the country.

The weak economy and high unemployment rate, a standoff between buyers and sellers over price and the expiration of government tax credits are all playing a role in keeping the housing market weak.

For home buyers, the glut of houses means they can be as picky as they please about everything from the home’s price to the neighborhood it’s in to whether they like the kitchen faucet.

For home sellers, it’s more important than ever to stick out among the pack. asked real estate agents in several markets for five tips for actually selling your home in a sluggish market.

1. Price, price, price
In a market thick with foreclosed homes and short sales, even people who are selling their homes the traditional way need to make sure they are priced competitively, said Robyn Yates, a broker/owner with Windermere Real Estate who has been selling homes in the Las Vegas area for 15 years.

“If a regular seller can price their property the same as the bank-owned property or the short sale (property), then they’re going to be in very good shape,” Yates said.

A buyer in this market may be turned off by a home that is priced too high, because they don’t want to deal with the headache of negotiating to a lower selling price when the next house over is already at that lower price.

2. We’re not in foreclosure!
That said, Yates noted that there are advantages to being a traditional seller, and sellers who are not looking for a short-sale or a foreclosure can use that as a differentiator.

Besides the potential financial headaches of buying a distressed home, a traditional seller is more likely to have kept the lawn alive, the house clean and the appliances intact.

Greg Herb of Herb Real Estate in Gilbertsville, Pa., said he is still seeing that sellers are able to command a higher price over homes that are not in foreclosure, especially in markets where foreclosures aren’t as rampant. He said that’s because they can show that their home is in better shape than a foreclosed home, and will not require as much work before the buyer moves in.

Traditional home sellers also can differentiate themselves by offering little perks, such as a credit toward closing costs, money to repaint the house or a one-year home warranty.

3. Looking your best
The tried-and-true tips for selling a home still apply.

“You’ve got to make sure that one the house definitely has wonderful curb appeal,” said Ennis Antoine, associate broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers in the Atlanta area, who has been a real estate agent since 1986.

Clean the house well, add fresh flowers and sprinkle around some brightly colored towels to give your house an appealing look. Sometimes just moving around the furniture can make a huge difference, Herb said.

“You want to lead with your best foot and showcase your property as best you can,” he said.

If you can afford it, hire someone to professionally stage the house. If you aren’t living in the house, Antoine recommends finding someone who can stay in the house, keeping it clean and furnished.

Antoine also recommends showcasing the house in a non-traditional way, such as holding a wine-and-cheese for potential sellers.

4. Ditch the point and shoot
These days, most buyers are looking at homes online first, so some real estate agents strongly recommend hiring a professional photographer who can showcase the home in the best light possible.

Post as many photographs online as you can, and think seriously about a virtual tour or even a video, Antoine said.

Yates also recommends going beyond just the rooms and yard. A few photos of the neighborhood also can make a huge difference, especially if your home is near a park or if you can show that there aren’t that many homes for sale – or in distress - on your street.

“It’s not just about the house, it’s also about the neighborhood,” Yates said.

Don’t forget the details, either, Yates said. You may also catch a potential buyer’s eye with a photograph of a lovely fixture or beautiful plant.

5. Consider leasing
If you absolutely can’t find a buyer at the price you want, consider leasing the property to a family that is having trouble buying. Antoine said he’s seeing a lot more leasing activity in the Atlanta area, and that it's especially appealing to people who want to live in a particular area but can’t buy for one reason or another.

In the Las Vegas area, Yates said she’s seeing a lot of people switching up.

“The renters in our market are now becoming home buyers and the people that used to own homes are now becoming renters,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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