Home & Garden

Cures for selling a house that’s been languishing

Like the U.S. economy as a whole, the real estate market is supposed to be recovering. And many neighborhoods are now experiencing a shortage of available homes. So it’s doubly exasperating if your home is the outlier that languishes unsold for a lengthy period of time.

Sometimes the reason is easy to pinpoint. Perhaps your place is crying out for cosmetic improvements you’ve failed to do for cost reasons – like replacing a frayed carpet or repainting a purple dining room. Or maybe your price is just too high for the local market.

But in other cases, the problem is not your own. Perhaps your neighborhood market has lately cooled and your only option is to adapt, says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Selling a Home.”

There are many reasons why homes fly off the market in one neighborhood while they sit unsold in another. For example, job cuts by a nearby employer can dampen local sales, as can bad weather conditions.

Jeff Drerup, a mortgage lender who’s worked in the field since 1979, says tighter controls over the lending industry have made it harder and more time-consuming for borrowers to get their loans through, which in turn has hurt home sales.

Whatever the explanation for an unsold home, Davis says those who want or need to sell can generally meet with success if they’re strategic in their focus. Here are a few pointers for frustrated home sellers:

When assessing the situation related to your unsold home, Davis recommends you first gather data about your neighborhood. Ask your listing agent for a set of statistics known as “average days on market.” These data reflect the time it takes for a typical house to go from list to sale. Notice whether this average time span is narrowing (which indicates a warming market), or widening, (which indicates a cooling market).

If you determine your neighborhood is cooling and note that your place has remained unsold for fewer days than the average selling time, Davis counsels patience. But if you’re already over the typical norm, you probably have two options: improve the look and condition of your home or reduce the asking price.

Davis suggests cutting your home’s listing price should happen only after you’ve gone over steps you could take to make the property look fresher and more appealing.

“Homes that radiate a superior pride of ownership are much rarer than you imagine. If you can get your place in tip-top condition, with a superior paint job and sparkling clean windows, you’ll make selling much easier,” Davis says.

Sometimes minor issues can seriously hinder a potential sale. For example, don’t make the mistake of thinking buyers will overlook a little messiness, like dishes in the sink, piles of unsorted mail or an unkempt home office.

“Some people won’t even spend five minutes in a cluttered or dusty house, let alone put an offer on it,” Davis says.

He recommends that, if necessary, you hire a professional organizer and a cleaning service. Also, your odds of selling could improve substantially with a few relatively small expenditures in your bathrooms and kitchen and fresh paint throughout your place, he says.

As Davis says, it’s good for would-be sellers to receive feedback from buyers who visit their home. Such feedback can help you make mid-course corrections. For example, if visitors say the presence of your dog is off-putting, you’ll want to put the pet elsewhere when visitors next come through.

Customarily, visitor feedback reaches home sellers through their listing agent. And your agent should contact you on a routine basis. During your listing period, such contacts should occur every few days, if not once a day.

But when sellers become frustrated, Davis says some begin projecting their frustration onto their listing agent.

“Pestering your agent is totally counterproductive to your best interests,” he says.

Davis encourages discouraged home sellers to request a “sit down” with their listing agent to brainstorm on ways to gain momentum.

“The agent has the same goal as you – to get your property sold as quickly as possible and for the highest possible price. So, instead of becoming an irritant to the agent, aim to work as a team,” Davis says.

When a property sits unsold, people’s fears are manifested in various ways, from anger to insomnia, according to Davis.

Out-of-control emotions can undermine your plans if they’re telegraphed to the buying public through any kind of advertising that conveys desperation.

“You don’t want to tell potential buyers you ‘must sell’ because if you do, you’ll only attract vultures who will try to get your place for almost nothing. Desperation advertising sends the wrong message,” Davis says.

Have you decided to do upgrades to make your unsold property more salable? If so, Davis advises you to take your place off the market until the work is done.

“It’s a terrible idea to let people in before the work is over, because they’ll never be able to imagine how good the place will look once the drop cloths and ladders are gone,” he says.

Still, he says it’s usually a huge mistake to pull your place off the market for months on end, with the vague hope that selling conditions will improve later.

“Keep your original hopes for a speedy sale firmly in mind. That should motivate you to keep moving forward,” Davis says.