If you’re thinking about buying or selling a home this fall, you don’t have a moment to lose. As the trees start to turn, and kids head back to school, now is the time you should be completing your Fall housing research for your neighborhood.

In addition to that, there are preparations to make, houses to clean and spruce up, and boxes to pack. If you’re planning on selling and buying at the same time, your job is that much more difficult.

Here’s a quick guide to some things home sellers should be thinking about and doing right now in order to sell before the year ends. Next week, we’ll look at what buyers should be doing:

For those sellers who live in a perfectly painted and maintained home with all the amenities you could ever want, skip down to the next section.

But if you’re like most sellers, you’ve grown accustomed to the warps and dents, scratched walls, and tiny handprints on the wallpaper. You no longer notice much that the bathroom sink drips all night no matter how hard you turn off the handle. Same goes for the squeaky dining room door, the kitchen cabinet that sticks, and the refrigerator lightbulbs that you unscrewed because somewhere along the line it stopped turning off and in the middle of the night warmed the milk.

Buyers, however, will notice, and all of these items just give them enough reason to pause over your property and pass it up. Obviously, as a seller (one who really wants to get rid of his or her property as opposed to someone who still thinks of the house as his or her castle), this will irritate you. Your primary job as seller is to get your property sold, by almost any legal means.

So start by looking at your home through the buyer’s eyes. Step back to the curb (yes, that’s where that phrase “curb appeal” comes from) and see how your property fares compared to other house facades in the neighborhood. Take your car and drive by your property. Give yourself the six seconds from lot line to lot line that a prospective buyers will give you. If your house doesn’t make you gasp with excitement, you’ve got a heck of a lot of work to do.

Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of your house. This includes everything from cleaning the rugs to polishing the floors, to moving furniture to get rid of those 7-year old dust bunnies you thought no one would ever see. Next, repair these nagging little problems. If you’re not equipped to do it yourself, consider hiring a local handyman to come in and spend a day making sure everything works well.

Don’t neglect the exterior of your house. If your paint is peeling and looks shabby, invest in a paint job (white houses tend to sell faster and for more money than houses of other colors). Give your lawn a good going over, or treat yourself to a couple of sessions with a professional landscaper. Plant some fall flowers, like mums, that will bloom throughout the fall and perk up your house. Do a nice display with pumpkins from mid-October through Thanksgiving. But go easy on the holiday decorations. A little goes a long way.

You should spruce up your home, too. Should you replace the carpet and repaint? These are relatively inexpensive things to do and could well return many times the investment. Certainly, you should repair or replace peeling wallpaper, peeling paint, and the loose rug on the stair.

Finally, pack away, give away, or throw away anything you haven’t used or seen in the last three to five years. Store excess furniture (the emptiness makes your house look bigger), clear off all countertops, piano tops, and bookshelves. You can take your kids’ toothbrushes off the sink and put them into a drawer.

This is the biggest part of selling. Once you’re done, you need to make the decision about whether or not to sell your home yourself, or hire a real estate agent to handle the transaction for you. Whether or not you decide to turn FSBO (pronounced “fizz-bo” it means “for sale by owner” in real estate lingo) should depend on how fast homes are selling in your market.

So analyze the market. Look around and see what homes are going on the market and how long you’ve been there. Whether or not you intend to sell with a real estate agent today, you might in two months. So invite three agents in for a visit. Ask them to prepare a comparative marketing analysis of your home which should include their vision of the local market’s strength.

You’ll probably end up liking one of these agents, even though their suggested list price for your home may not be the highest. Choose the agent who seems to meet your needs, who seems to really listen to and understand your concerns. And, make sure to have a real estate attorney look over the terms of your listing contract before you sign it.

Remember, most homes (unless their underpriced) don’t sell within the first five minutes of being listed. If the average home in your area is selling in 45 to 60 days, that’s considered to be a very fast market. If time is passing too quickly for you in your life, list your house. Each day until you receive an offer will feel like an eternity.

Finally, sellers should choose a list price that realistically reflects what’s going on in the market. If you’re in a seller’s market (meaning, there are more buyers searching for the perfect house in your neighborhood than listing are available), you might get away with pricing your home a bit above the market. But in a slow buyer’s market (where there are too many houses for too few buyers), you won’t get away with this.

Sellers should remember that buyers have become infinitely more savvy in the past ten years. They wait until they’ve found what they want at the price they can afford. If you want to attract buyers, put your house in great shape and then price it right. You’ll get your first offer before you know what hit you.

August 18, 1997