personal finances — October 25, 2011

Changing That For Sale Sign into SOLD

by Laura Tallent

selling your homeThe big news these days is the state of the real estate market. And while generally it can be said it's a buyer's market, it is possible to sell your home for a reasonable price. To get that extra edge that could find the right buyer for you, it takes a little homework and some elbow grease. Let's get started.

What's your home worth?

Before you pick up a shovel - or a pencil - you need to honestly answer a couple of questions. First, do you have to sell, or do you want to sell? How quickly you think a potential sale should move will drive your selling strategy.

You'll need an idea what similar homes in your area are going for, because that's what the buyer will be doing. Match apples to apples, bedrooms to bedrooms, and baths to baths. You can check the newspapers for homes for sale around you; go to the county courthouse to get the selling price of recent home sales nearby; and you can try some online sites that provide housing prices.

There are some things to remember when looking online, however. First, some online sites only carry the properties of agents who register or subscribe to their service, so you may not see everything that's out there. Second, if you live in a rural area, the online services may not have your location at all. They work best in large urban areas.

Does your home appeal?

Now that you have a ballpark idea of what your home may be worth, it's time to start making sure you can get your price. Realtors use the term "curb appeal" to describe how a home looks to the prospective buyer as he or she drives up for the first time. Curb appeal can sell a home on the spot. Or, if it's lacking, it can blind buyers to an otherwise hot property.

To get an idea of the curb appeal of your home, drive around and when you come home, look at the property with the eye of a first-time observer. Be brutally honest. Take a hard look at your lawn, your driveway and the landscaping. Does your house look like the home you'd want to buy? If you see things that need to be fixed in order to lure a curbside customer, get them repaired.

How about the inside?

And while you're at it, take a hard look inside your house as well for trouble spots that could stop an otherwise positive walk-through. Plumbing problems, drywall flaws, and a messy basement - whatever would stop a potential buyer in their tracks should be taken care of. And if you're balking at the expense, think about this: Chances are you'll have to spend that money before the buyer will accept the house anyway. Better to take those issues off the table now.

Since we're working to convince someone else to buy our home, we need to make that home appeal to them. And that means portraying it as a space they can craft to their liking. OK, so you really loved that indigo wall you painted in the bedroom. It's had its run. Paint the room white or some neutral color, something the potential homeowner could easily customize if they wish.

And while we're on interior decoration, you may opt for a little professional help, once you get ready to show your house to potential owners. Consider hiring a professional "home stager," who can advise you on how best to present your home's interior. From giving advice on electrical fixtures, to arranging furniture and even giving you a re-decorating plan, home stagers can help you secure a sale for more money. And, depending on the contract with your real estate agent, you might be able to split the cost with the realtor. Like any professional help, do your homework before you hire. Get advice from neighbors and friends, check referrals and get the contract in writing.

Marketing your home

Finally, let's talk about getting your home "out there," in front of your potential buyer. It wasn't too long ago that if we wanted to sell a house, we went to a real estate office, signed the contract - and waited. Now, we have more choices. Consider using the Internet to help sell your place. The majority of homebuyers now search online sometime during their quest. You can do a search for "free online real estate listing," or go to, where you can post your information and photos of your home for free. Once posted, you'll have a web address you can give or email in order to really put your house on the market.

These are just a few of the things sellers have found that help their properties stand out. And that is what sells. Make your property special, standing out in the marketplace. And in this economy - like every economy - creativity and hard work win the race.

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