“Ilyce, we live in Baltimore and are trying to sell our house. My agent tells me that my listing has to be withdrawn from the local multiple listing service (MLS) for at least 6 months, otherwise the number of days on market will carry forward from my old listing to a new listing. Our house has been on the market for 9 months and we’re trying to find a way not to show that in the MLS.”

It’s a rough time to be a home seller. Unfortunately, there are more people trying to sell their homes than folks who want to buy them. That means there’s a lot of “excess inventory” (unsold houses, if you’re looking to get around the jargon) that has to be sold before the current housing market turns around.

Sellers are desperate to show their homes off in as good a light as possible. One sticking point is that today’s MLSs track how long a home has been for sale. And, as this reader points out, there is some concern that the technology employed by MLS systems will continue to monitor a property, even if it has been pulled off the market.

So does a Baltimore house listed in the local MLS have to be off the market for 6 months in order to get a new number? Nope.

According to Jonathan Hill, vice president of business development for Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS), which is the MLS that includes Baltimore, the reader’s agent is providing incorrect information.

“At MRIS, if a new listing for a particular property is added 91 days after any previous listing was withdrawn or expired, it will be considered a ‘new’ listing. The history of days any previous listing was on the market will not attach to this new listing,” Hill wrote in an email.

A spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a non-profit trade association that acts as a hub for state and local Realtor associations, says that each MLS develops its own rules regarding how long a property is tracked after it is pulled off the market. In some markets, you’ll have to wait a month, in others several months. You can doublecheck the accuracy of your agent’s information on this point by chatting with the managing broker in the office or by calling the local MLS directly.

(Of course, the information the broker may have been giving the reader who wrote to me may have been somewhat cryptic. The broker may know that it might take only three months for to relist the home and receive a new listing number but may have been advising a six-month cooling off period with the hope that the local real estate market might pick up.)

Freshening up a listing by withdrawing it and relisting it several months later is a trick that has been used for a long time. It is particularly popular when properties have languished from one year into the next, since the numbers assigned within an MLS system correlate to the year, and sometimes the date, the property is listed.

In other words, if you listed your property in 2007, and you don’t want a 2007 listing number, you can pull the property off the market and relist it with a 2008 number.

But whether the listing is old or new probably won’t make as much of a difference as the condition, price and how the local neighborhood economy is functioning.

Baltimore, like Miami, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and virtually the entire state of Michigan, among other metro areas, has too many sellers and not enough buyers. Relisting your home might entice some people to take another look, but it doesn’t mean that the house will sell any faster. It won’t, for example, fix the fact that there are a bunch of identical houses in your neighborhood or subdivision for sale, half of them foreclosures, with banks undercutting your price.

If you hire a real estate agent who belongs to the MLS, you’ll have to live by the MLS’s rules regarding relisting your property no matter where you live. But if you’re a seller, there are a few things you can do to try to help your situation:

  1. Stage your house. If you haven’t already hired a pro to come in and help you stage your house, you might want to. Staging is the art of taking what you have and either moving it around or packing it away to show off each room’s best feature. You’re creating a scene (like a theatrical production) where you are showing the buyer what you want him or her to see about your house. The results can be dramatic.

I filmed a rather “blah” townhouse for a staging video this past winter in Chicago. The agent was not excited at all about the project, and the homeowners didn’t really know what to do. With an investment of about $650, plus furniture rental, the stager transformed the house. When the agent came back, she was stunned. She immediately put up new photos on the web, held an open house, and the property had 5 offers on that day. The homeowners accepted a very good offer two days later.

If you want to see some of these staging videos, check out www.expertrealestatetips.net.

  1. Reevaluate your price. Even if your house is staged perfectly, you won’t be able to compete if six similar houses on the block are priced 20 or 30 percent below your list price. Banks have begun to cut their prices in order to get thousands of foreclosed homes off their books. While you may believe your home is worth more (and at one time I’m sure you were right), you may have to cut your price in order to sell soon. If you don’t feel like competing on price, then consider taking your property off the market until next year.

  2. Make better use of Internet. More than 85 percent of buyers start their search for a home on the web. Although the property is listed in the local MLS, and your agent may have uploaded that information to national real estate portals like Trulia.com and Realtor.com, there are plenty of online opportunities for you to market your home.

Consider creating a website for your house using the address as the URL. Upload as many gorgeous photos of the property as possible, and perhaps even a video of yourself describing why you have loved living in this house. You can upload the video to YouTube, which will allow you to email it to everyone you know.

This is called viral marketing. By sending this to everyone you know, they might know someone who is interested in your neighborhood. As my mother, a longtime agent in Chicago likes to say, “It only takes one buyer.” With the Internet, you’re marketing to the world.

  1. Offer something extra. Want to generate some heat inside your own MLS? Offer to buy down the buyer’s mortgage. Offer a bonus to the agent who brings the successful buyer to your door. Raise the commission you’re paying and give the buyer’s agent a bigger share (rather than an equal share). Forget about giving away cars, your old outdoor furniture, or a trip to Disneyland. Today, currency is king, and I’d rather see you use your money in a productive way.

If you and your agent are already doing these things, and you still haven’t sold, then you may just have to postpone your plans to move until the market in your neighborhood turns around. But, I wouldn’t give it up without a good fight.