5 Steps to Sell Your House in Any Market

CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- With housing prices inching gradually upward, would-be home sellers might finally be ready to take the plunge. But the days of simply putting out a "For Sale" sign are over. Though summer is traditionally a busy season for home sales, attracting serious buyers remains a struggle. Here's how to make your property stand out from the pack.

Step One: Price It Right: "Price is everything," says Barbara Kennon of Coldwell Banker/Kennon, Parker, Duncan & Key Realtors in Columbus, Ga., and a regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors. "If a house is realistically priced, we're seeing some upswing in certain markets."

The key is "realistically." Prices may be trending upward in your city or state, but all real estate is local, and your particular area may still be in a slump. Even if you consider your suggested price a bargain, buyers will pass right by if it's not competitive with the rest of your neighborhood.

That means you've got to do your homework. Check your local newspaper or sites such as Domania.com and Zillow.com for recent home-sale records. If you're hoping for a quick sale, work with an experienced realtor who has made sales despite the down market. Then go with the price he or she suggests -- even if it makes you wince.

Step Two: Invest in Updates: "If your house needs new paint or some repairs, get it done," says Kennon. "I've had listings that didn't sell for months and months, while I begged the owners to get new carpets and paint. Once they finally did it, the house would sell in a few weeks. I can't tell you how many times that has happened."

That doesn't mean tackling a full-on kitchen renovation. But you should do whatever you can to make the property look clean, bright and refreshed. Buyers who have just made repairs to their own house in order to sell it won't relish the thought of fixing up their new place as well.

Step Three: Set the Stage: Staging your home is the key to making buyers feel welcome and comfortable. Staging can include anything from putting fresh flowers in a vase in the hallway to moving out some furniture to make the rooms seem larger. "Give me a couple of hours, and I can add value to a home without spending any money," says Kennon.

Step Four: Lay Low: Make your home available for showings at any time, and make sure you're gone when they're scheduled. (No one wants to tour a home under the watchful eyes of the current owner.) Yes, that means you have to keep your house neat, and your schedule may be unpredictable. But if it's a choice between a would-be buyer's convenience and your own, guess which comes first?

Step Five: Accept Your Losses: If you bought your house in the past few years, you're most likely selling at a loss. Even those lucky sellers making a profit may regret not putting their homes on the market three years ago, when they could have doubled their money.

Kiss those regrets goodbye. Thinking about what could have been will only prevent you from accepting what's now considered a reasonable offer. Remember that if you're moving on to a new house yourself, you'll reap the benefit of lower prices on the back end. "Buyers have got to realize that they may lose something when they sell," says Kennon, "but they'll get that back when they buy."

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Elizabeth Blackwell is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is the author of Frommer's Chicago guidebook, and writes for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago, and other national magazines.

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