Who’s to blame when a house doesn’t sell quickly? If you ask the seller, he or she will often point to the broker.

But if you’re going to start pointing fingers, you might as well start with yourself. Regardless of what the broker says and does, it’s ultimately your home. And that means, it’s up to you to stay on top of things, pinpoint where things got out of whack and come up with a solution.

Consider the case of the elderly couple who have lived in their house for nearly fifty years. They decided they wanted something a little newer, possibly on one floor, so they hired a broker they knew, who immediately handed off the listing to a new associate. For four long months, only two people came to see the house. The broker never held an open house or a broker’s open. She rarely advertised the house for sale in the newspaper.

At the end of the four months, the couple terminated the listing agreement and hired a different brokerage firm. While they liked the managing broker, they didn’t like the agent they were given. After two weeks, they asked for a meeting to change agents, but the managing broker advised them to stick it out. The agent held a few open houses, advertised the house, and made a lot of phone calls. Still, no one made an offer. At the end of the 90-day listing, the couple fired the firm, and decided to wait until Spring to try to sell again.

If you’re asking the question, “What’s wrong with the house?” you’re on the right track. While the first broker just let the house sit there, she helped the owners set the original list price for the property. While the house is large, it is old and in need of some care.

In particular, the slate roof has a large spot of green mold growing on it, which is visible from the street. Though it wouldn’t cost much to have it removed, the owners have chosen not to do it, though they can show you several letters from roofers who attest to the excellent physical condition of the roof.

In the end, sellers must rely on their instincts to sell successfully. Think about these items before you list your house for sale:

Market Matters. The first things you need to do is find out how fast the market is moving in your neighborhood. How quickly are homes selling? How much less than the asking price are they selling for? Visit local open houses and check out the competition. Keep a folder of listing sheets so that you can track the progress of homes that sell.

Choosing The Right Agent. It’s extremely unlikely that the “right” agent is going to fall out of the sky and into your life. You’ll have better odds of choosing the best agent for your house if you actively solicit a “comparative marketing analysis” from three agents who work for separate real estate firms. A CMA will give you the rundown on which homes have sold recently in your neighborhood, and for how much. The agent should also tell you average number of listing days on the market, and come up with a suggested list price. The very best agents take the time to make sure you understand the process thoroughly. Choose the person who appears to be listening closely to you, with whom you feel you can establish a good rapport. Don’t necessarily choose the agent who suggests the highest list price. Remember, signing a listing agreement is like entering into a short-term marriage.

Establish Ground Rules Early On. Before you sign your listing agreement, you should spell out the rules that will govern your relationship with the agent. If you’re concerned about safety, you may request that the agent be present at every showing (the agent may not agree, however). If the agent holds an open house, you might request that at least two people host the showing, so that no one is walking around your house unescorted. Talk about how often you and the agent should contact each other. If you have other requests, such as no smoking in the house, and buyers must take off their shoes before entering, make sure these are either written into the listing agreement, or attached to it.

Read The Listing Agreement Before Signing It. Just because a listing agreement looks like a pre-printed form contract doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate the finer points. Everything is negotiable, including the sales commission, length of the listing term, the terms under which you can fire the agency, and how long after you terminate the listing you’ll still owe a commission. If you don’t understand what you’re signing, have your real estate attorney explain it to you.

Before You List It, Fix It, Clean It, Paint It. Whatever you decide to do to your home, the time to do it is before you’ve listed it. If you’re going to paint your home’s interior, powerwash the exterior, plant fall flowers, or give away boxes of old clothes in the basement, do it before the real estate agents come through to do their CMAs. The first impression your home makes is the most important, and today, many home buyers simply drive by a property and make a snap (if ill-informed) decision about whether or not they like the home enough to actually cross the threshold. Once an agent gets it into her head that your property is run-down, she’ll always feel that way, and may downgrade your suggested list price accordingly.

As for our elderly couple, perhaps they’ll spend a couple of hundred dollars and clean off their slate roof. By taking care of that problem, and adjusting their list price, they’re sure’ to sell quickly when Spring finally comes.