Reprinted From "Sellers: Plan Ahead, Be Realistic"
by Nancy Miller
So, you want to sell your house? Be prepared to get slapped around. Real-estate agents, if they are doing their jobs, won't let you ask for as much money as you probably think the house is worth. Potential buyers, if they appear, will delight in finding flaws in your home.

"The seller has to bite the bullet. Face facts. And take it like a man or a woman, "says Edith Lank, author of a real-estate column distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

What does that mean? Real-estate experts agree that it entails fixing up the house to tiptop shape, pricing it realistically and showing a willingness to negotiate with serious buyers.

But before all of that can happen, you need to decide on a marketing strategy. And that usually means hiring a real-estate agent.

Lank recommends interviewing three agents. First, find out who is working in your neighborhood and price range. After selecting several to interview, here's one way to judge which may do the best job: "I'd want an agent who already spent some time on my house before they walk in the door." For example, she says she would be impressed with an agent who had found out how much the taxes are on your home and who has a sense of how your home differs from the ones that have and haven't sold in your neighborhood.  Robert Bruss, another syndicated advice columnist, recommends that in a buyer's market, you hire an agent with experience. "Ask for references. The good agents give references without asking." Then call the people who have made the referrals and ask if they'd use the agent again. Next step: a pricing game plan. Lank says decide in advance to lower your price set amounts and at a regular intervals if serious buyers fail to materialize

But Rob Sennott, principal at Century 21 Westward in Wellesly Hills, Mass., says it's most important that you price your home realistically from Day One. Otherwise, if prices are falling, you end up "chasing" the market - lowering the price piecemeal to where the market was three months ago, and not to its current level.

Another important step: getting your home in showcase condition. Sally Bielaski, office manager for Coldwell Banker in Maryland's Howard County, says correct pricing on a home that is in mint condition can be a potent combination - even in today's market. To get that message across to sellers, Bielanski's office has recently launched a "Blue Ribbon" program - which means a home "looks like a model home and that it is priced at market or below." Homes that qualify, she says, typically sell within 27 days - more than twice as fast as comparable homes that haven't earned the Blue Ribbon.

In marketing your home, Bruss adds, you have a bevy of other tools at your disposal. You can entice buyers by allowing them to lease the home for a year with an option to buy. And you can let some of the rent apply toward a down payment. Bruss says he personally favors that strategy. Or if you can offer to pay some of the closing costs.

Other pluses: a neighborhood association that looks out for the interests of the residents. for example, a neighborhood group that is active in keeping the streets clean - and safe - can be a selling point.

But most important are pricing the home reasonably and showing a willingness to negotiate. "When you get a buyer, you really try to work out. You don't know when the next one will come along." says Zelda Abrams, an agent for Murphy Realty/ Better Homes and Gardens in Tenafly, N.J.

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