This article was last updated on March 14, 2011.
Home sellers, buckle up: Spring selling season is almost here, and it's going to be a bumpy ride.
While home prices are headed higher in a few markets, mortgage rates are edging up, deals are fragile, and lenders are on edge. "Last-minute glitches are holding up things far longer than we have ever seen before," says Michael Onorato, president of the Illinois Association of Realtors.
Just because you have a real estate agent, that doesn't mean you can sit back and let the pro sell your house. To get top dollar, you'll need to take control of the relationship and micro-manage like nobody's business. Follow these four steps to sell your house fast.
1. Keep Your Agent on a Tight Leash
Make sure your agent pre-qualifies potential buyers before wasting your time with pointless house showings, says Jack LeRose, president of Southeast Wisconsin Mortgage Corp. “Make your agent find out what the buyers will list their own house for,” he says.
Insist your agent confirm that the buyer’s loan prequalification is from a real, live, bricks-and-mortar lender. Quick preapprovals from online lenders typically are based only on the buyer’s credit score and may not stick, says LeRose.
2. Prove Your Home’s Value
To help your pro convince would-be buyers that your asking price is fair, arm your agent with documentation of anything and everything supporting it: receipts for home improvements, new appliances and maintenance, as well as low crime statistics for your neighborhood and top rankings for area schools. (Your mayor’s office, Chamber of Commerce or real estate agent’s firm may offer that data for free. If not, neighborhoodscout.com offers crime and school data for $29 with a one-month subscription.)
Ask your agent to show you three recent sales prices of comparable homes to yours, too.
3. Get a Fair Appraisal
Ridiculously low faulty appraisals are poisoning countless deals these days. You and your agent should do what you can to ensure that the appraisal from the buyer’s lender is reasonable.
The less an appraiser knows about your neighborhood, the shakier the analysis and the greater the chance the appraiser will undervalue your house. Then, if the appraisal doesn’t square with the buyer’s offer, the lender won’t provide the mortgage. Result? No sale.
Some lenders and agents hide behind the 2009 Home Valuation Code of Conduct (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rules regulating appraisers) to avoid the extra work of dealing directly with appraisers. Don’t let them, says Leslie Sellers, president of the Appraisal Institute and a Knoxville, Tenn., appraiser. “You can’t specify a particular person, but you can specify competency,” says Sellers. “And put it in writing.”
Ask the buyer’s lender for a “senior residential appraiser” who can provide proof that he is competent to evaluate sales locally. Otherwise, the lender will be free to hire the cheapest appraiser it can find, even if the appraiser wouldn’t know your neighborhood from one 50 miles away.
Have your agent meet the appraiser at your house armed with evidence supporting the sale price. And watch out: Appraisers sometimes wind up low-balling their estimates because they include foreclosures in their mix of comparable sales. The best way to avoid this is with a pre-emptive strike: Ask your agent to give the appraiser a list of recent local foreclosures and distress sales to be sure they’re not included in the comparables. (That said, if distressed properties make up a significant share of the sales in your neighborhood, they may have to be factored into the comps.)
And finally, ask the lender to send you the appraisal, so you can review it for accuracy.
4. Get Your Home Staged
- Look at before-and-after photos on stagers’ Web sites. See how the stagers arrange furniture to draw the eye to a room’s focal points and then do the same in your house.
- Move accent lamps away from bedside tables and desks. Instead, put them where they brighten shadowy corners and draw attention to special features.
- Position something intriguing to entice buyers into each room. It might be something like a mirror or a drawn-back curtain that frames a pretty view.
Staging — making your house more appealing by removing knick-knacks and moving furniture around — can help you sell your home. Just keep in mind that in today’s sluggish housing market, you may end up living in your staged house for months. So you could find yourself wondering when the Pottery Barn poltergeist took possession as you furiously hunt for your toaster.
Some agents include staging in the cost of marketing. If yours doesn’t, you may want to hire a professional stager and work with your agent as a three-person team. (See if your agent will provide a rebate on the staging fee at the closing, especially if the agent recommended hiring the stager.)
Expect to pay $200 to $350 for a consultation with a stager, diagnosing the problems and recommending solutions. You and your agent could take it from there. Or, you might want to hire the stager to do the actual work, for another $500 to $1,200, says Barb Schwarz, founder and president of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.
If you’re a ruthless declutterer, you could try to stage your house on your own by following these tips:
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