Tips for selling a home in today’s market

Selling a home in today’s market can be tough. Here are a few suggestions that might help:

Get your own home inspection. Potential buyers who are serious will hire a home inspector to discover any flaws in the property. Consider hiring your own inspector first. You might discover things you can do to enhance the value of the home, such as installing more energy-efficient windows. You’ll also be prepared for any “surprise” problems that the buyer can use to back out of the deal or negotiate a lower price. Typically, the cost of fixing minor problems ahead of time yourself is a lot less than what a buyer will demand if the problems are discovered during an inspection.

Make major repairs. If there is a major problem with your home, consider having it fixed before the sale, even if you have to increase the price as a result.

In a typical seller’s market, a lot of people are looking for “fixer-uppers” that they can afford or that they can “flip” after making improvements. In today’s much tougher market, though, where people are worried about job security and where fewer people are buying real estate as an investment, fixer-uppers are a harder sell.

Sellers who make major repairs typically come out ahead. Consider a home that’s worth $250,000 but needs a $20,000 roof repair. If the seller offers the home “as is,” a buyer probably won’t offer $230,000 for it, because the buyer could simply pay $250,000 for a comparable home with a good roof and avoid the hassle. Most likely, a buyer would offer $200,000 or $210,000. So by investing $20,000 in a new roof, the seller could recoup $40,000 or $50,000.

Conserve energy. Many people who are thinking of purchasing a home will ask for copies of recent utility bills, so they can see what their monthly costs will be. For this reason, it’s a wise idea to turn down your heat or air conditioning, and turn off lights and appliances when not in use.

Go to open houses in your area and look at comparable homes. Seeing the “competition” will give you a much better sense of minor improvements you can make in your home to make it more attractive and saleable. Then drive by your own home and try to see it as if for the first time. What do you notice? Trimming the bushes, touching up the paint here and there, or cleaning the gutters can make a better first impression and a surprising difference in whether people decide to attend an open house.

Question your property taxes. Property taxes are calculated as a percentage of the assessed value of your property. In many communities, the current assessments are based on appraisals that were conducted at the height of the real estate boom. If the value of your property has declined since then, your assessment – and thus your taxes – might be too high. You might be able to get a lower tax rate by appealing your assessment, which could help you sell the property (and of course could help you even if you don’t sell the property).

Challenging an assessment might involve getting an independent appraisal. An appraiser will value your property by comparing it to the price recently paid for comparable properties in your area. If you want a low valuation, it wouldn’t hurt to point out to the appraiser the offering price on any foreclosure sales in the area, since foreclosed properties typically sell at a significant discount.

If your property has been on the market for a while at an offering price below the assessed value and it hasn’t sold, that could also be evidence that your assessment is too high.

If you do get an independent appraisal, it could have other benefits. For instance, if a buyer offers to purchase your home and he or she needs a mortgage, the lender will typically hire its own appraiser to value your property. If the appraiser values the property at less than what the buyer is offering, then the lender might refuse to approve a mortgage unless the buyer comes up with a larger down payment. In today’s economy, with banks being much more stringent about mortgages, a number of sales fall apart for this reason. Having an independent appraisal that backs up your figure could help the buyer. It could also help you set a “safe” selling price.

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