In last week’s post, I talked about some of the challenges facing today’s home sellers, including record-high foreclosures, extremely high levels of unemployment, reduced income for many Americans, and the now-trashed credit profiles of millions of prospective home buyers.
These challenges are daunting. What can sellers do?
There aren’t a lot of easy choices, and what you choose to do will depend on how desperate you are to move out of your house.
Here’s the bottom line: If you want to sell your home next year, you have to make it look better than the other homes for sale and price it competitively—ideally, less than its closest competition.
If your house is underwater and you still want to leave, you should price your house at the market value and then figure out if you can raise enough cash to pay off the lender. If you simply don’t have the cash, you can contact your lender about a short sale (but be prepared to wait; short sales can take four to six months or more to complete).
Be sure to work with a top-notch real estate agent who is aggressive about marketing and showing your home and has a proven track record of success in your neighborhood with homes in your price range. You may have to shop around until you find a great real estate agent, but once you do, that individual will become your greatest asset.
The spring home-selling season is still the strongest. Traditionally, the first day of the spring selling season was the day after the Super Bowl. But now, January 2 is the unofficial opening of the spring selling season. And if you want to be ready, you’ll need to do your homework now, and follow these simple steps to get your home in selling shape:
- Clear out the clutter. What buyers want to see is a lot of wide-open space. So pack away, give away, or sell anything you haven’t used (or seen!) in the last three years. If you do this before the end of the year, you might wind up with a nice fat deduction for next year’s tax bill.
- Clean out the cobwebs. Buyers hate to see a dirty house. If they see a filthy floor, they immediately wonder what other maintenance tasks you’re skipping. So clean every inch of your home, and be sure to wash the windows (if the snow and ice aren’t too thick). Clean windows will let more light into your home.
- Change your lightbulbs. While we’re on the subject of light, make sure every room’s light fixtures have bulbs that work. A house that’s bright and well lit seems bigger.
- Empty your closets. Pack away the last two seasons’ worth of clothing (including coats and boots) so every closet seems bigger. Don’t forget to empty out and organize your linen closets, the area around your washer/dryer, and under every sink.
- Clean off your countertops. Kitchen and bathroom countertops should be completely cleaned off, except for one or two items.
- Repaint where necessary. If your paint isn’t in great shape, you might have to repaint a few rooms. Otherwise, touch-ups will still make your home feel as though it is well tended.
- Clean your carpets. Shampooing your carpets will help your whole house feel fresher and will help eliminate any unpleasant odors. (This is especially important if you have pets.)
- Match your decor. Each bathroom should have a set of newer (or new!) matching towels in a vibrant color. Don’t hesitate to replace your bedroom comforter and pillows with something fresh and modern that matches your bathroom’s decor. Being a little matchy-matchy with your decor helps buyers feel a house is more cohesive and needs less work.
- Store excess furniture, artwork, and books. If you don’t want to give away these possessions, store them until they’re needed in your future home. Remember, bigger, lighter, and brighter are the buzzwords for a successful house sale.
- Polish your exterior. If you live in a wintry climate, there’s little you can do to polish your exterior with all the snow and ice. But you can make sure your driveway and walkway are cleaned off and salted. Adding some winter plantings to your outdoor planters is also a nice touch.
Finally, if you’re doing holiday lights and decor, make sure they’re gone right after New Year’s. That way, you’ll be ready to list your home when the spring selling season starts on January 2.
Take a look at more Handyman and DIY Home Repair videos to help get your house ready for spring selling season.
Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.
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