After spending more than two decades selling RVs, a sales manager in his early 60s wants to retire, buy a big motorhome and take the cross-country trip of a lifetime. To make that dream possible, he must first sell his suburban house -- a plan he hopes to accomplish this spring.
But like most would-be home sellers, the RV salesman has lots of prep work to do, says Sid Davis, the real estate broker representing him. He must de-clutter, clean carpets, paint and arrange for a myriad of small repairs.
"It's always an uphill battle making a house market worthy, especially if you've lived there a long time and have lots of junk," says Davis, author of "Home Makeovers that Sell" and other books on real estate.
Of course, not all sellers have the luxury of ample lead time. But he says sellers who do have sufficient time should take full advantage.
"When you have so much money at stake, why risk razor-thin timing? Remember, too, that selling a house in "as is" condition puts you at a tremendous disadvantage," Davis says.
So long as the economic recovery shows sustained strength, Davis predicts that this year's spring housing market should remain a positive one for sellers in many areas. Still, he says those who prepare now to jump-start an early spring sale will probably fare better than those who delay.
Here are a few pointers:
-- Engage a listing agent as early as possible.
"Ideally, you'll start prepping your property at least three months before you expect to list," Davis says.
Once you know you're definitely going to move, he says it's prudent to begin interviewing prospective listing agents and then to promptly select one to represent you.
"People who have enough time to get all their ducks in a row and use it wisely have a huge advantage over those who start late," Davis says.
One reason to start early is to give your listing agent enough time to help you strategize on the best steps to maximize your sale, whether these involve replacing a worn kitchen floor or rehabbing a deck. Also, the agent can exercise more care in selecting the right listing date.
"People who try to line up contractors to squeeze in their job at the last minute are more vulnerable to exploitation and can't be as picky about who they hire," Davis says.
-- Request data on selling times.
Suppose you're an IT specialist for a national consulting firm who's accepted a promotion in a faraway state. You have seven months to relocate. How can you estimate the time needed to go from list to sale?
Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.org) recommends you ask your agent for statistics on the average selling times for homes in your neighborhood.
"Keep in mind that the only numbers that are relevant are those for your own community. National statistics don't matter," Helfant says.
Take these local numbers, known as "days on market," and chart them over a six-month period.
"If your market is cooler than before, you'll want to give yourself at least one extra month beyond the average selling time to ensure a smooth transition," Helfant says.
-- Begin your packing process early.
In his experience, Davis says a majority of home sellers don't see the point of packing early for their move.
"Let's face it, we humans usually wait until the last inning to mobilize. We're a deadline-oriented species," he says.
Besides painting and repairs, nearly all sellers need to go through an exhaustive clearing-out process to ensure their property doesn't seem crowded. Your first step, Davis says, should be to remove any excess furnishings, like a large recliner or an oversized china cabinet. Then box up smaller items and position them neatly in your garage or a rented storage unit.
"It's very easy to underestimate how long it takes to go through all your personal things ... trust me, you won't miss all that extra stuff you've packed away," Davis says.
-- Give yourself extra selling time when moving to a brand-new home.
These days it's uncommon for a builder of new homes to sign a sales contract with a prospective buyer that's conditional on the sale of the buyer's property. This is called a "contingent contract."
"If the builder has a hot subdivision, he doesn't want to mess with contingent buyers," Davis says.
Consequently, those who seek to buy a place in a popular new subdivision take the gamble that they'll sell their current property before the builder has completed the new one. But that's better than the alternative.
"Buyers who don't have a contingent contract and can't afford to carry two homes at once are putting themselves in financial jeopardy. If they can't go forward with the new home purchase in a timely way, they could both forfeit their deposit and lose their dream home," Davis says.
Because it can take months to construct a house, some new-home buyers wait longer than they should before trying to sell their current property, according to Davis.
"The sales contract may let the builder finish construction late but give you little grace time to get your old place sold," he says.
Many listing agents urge sellers who intend to move to a brand-new home to be extra cautious in estimating how long they'll need to sell. It's better to be ready to move early, they insist.
"Granted, if you sell earlier than expected you might have to take a short-term rental or move in with family temporarily. But the hassles of interim housing are a lot better than the disappointment of surrendering your chance for a wonderful new house," Davis says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)