What a difference a few years make. The number of houses, co-ops and condominiums for sale has grown steadily while demand and prices have fallen off dramatically. Clearly, it's not the best market in which to sell your home.
But if you absolutely must sell, don't panic. There are ways to find a viable buyer. The traditional rules of selling - making the right improvements and finding the right broker - are more important now than ever. But there are also creative techniques that can give you an edge on your neighbors.For starters, Robert Irwin, author of Tips and Traps When Selling a House (McGraw Hill), advises owners to concentrate on landscaping and exterior painting. "Then check the carpets," he says. "They're the first thing people see inside."
Martin Shenkman, an attorney who specializes in real estate and taxes in New York, says even simple improvements can carry a lot of weight with apartment buyers. When he and his wife were selling their New York co-op last year, they arranged for maid service and fresh flowers twice a week. They washed all of the windows and turned on every lamp. "You want to make sure every ray of light gets in," Shenkman says. "A clean, bright house says something."
Making structural improvements to your home is also important, but some are clearly more profitable than others. According to Remodeling magazine, you can expect to recoup 88 percent of the cost of the average kitchen renovation, compared with 85 percent for adding a bathroom, 79 percent for converting a master bedroom in a suite and 76 percent for adding a family room with a fireplace.As for an apartment, nothing beats a fresh coat of paint. It also pays to fix up the kitchen, perhaps by retiling the floors or putting in new countertops. Don't spend too much, and keep the decor simple, You want potential buyers to be able to visualize their own renovation plans. You shouldn't let the amount you paid for your home dictate your selling price either. In fact, overzealous pricing is the biggest mistake most home sellers make. The rule of thumb, says Mike Evans, a regional real estate director with the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, is to set a reasonable price during the first two weeks of listing, when foot traffic is high. If the response is poor through the third week, don't wait a second longer. Consider dropping the price.
Then there's the question of a broker. In a slow market, it may be tempting to try to maximize your profits by avoiding a real-estate agent's commission. But think twice. A good broker will help you price, show and advertise your home. You may even want to give your broker an extra percentage-point commission if he or she sells the house quickly.
For those who are confident enough to sell their homes themselves, there are a number of ways to break through the clutter. You can ask nearby universities to list you home in their off-campus-residence file. Apartment owners also can offer doormen a cash commission for steering buyers their way.
Buyer incentives are popular, too. These can range from a no-fee closing to free furniture or even a car.
Above all, be aware that you may have to settle for less than you'd have liked. Just remember that your next home probably will cost less than it would have several years ago. It all balances out in the end.
Copyright © Dian Stanley 1999, 2000,01, 02