In many parts of the country, rental cost increases are outpacing income gains. That's putting an unsustainable squeeze on renters, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.org).
As Yun says, rapidly rising rents make it tough for renters to save enough for a down payment on a property purchase. Yet, in moderately priced markets, those able to buy a first home often find that their mortgage payments are no higher than were their rental costs.
Michael Connerly, the author of "How to Win With Real Estate," and a blogger at wwww.usa.homebuyersguide.com, says that aside from very expensive cities like New York, a condo remains the least expensive point of entry into homeownership.
But he cautions that those seeking to sell a condo can face challenges, even if it's well-priced. That's especially true if the unit is located in a large building or complex where many properties of similar size and floor plans are available for sale.
Are you trying to liquidate a "look-alike" condo in order to move to a larger place? If so, Connerly says it's wise to make sure your listing agent differentiates your unit from the others based on its positive attributes.
"Your condo should be more appealing than others if it's on an upper floor with less noise or a nicer view. Also, highlight the distinction if it has a balcony or is a corner unit, which means it has two outside walls rather than one," he says.
Condo sellers who face stiff competition have to think strategically, as do their listing agents. Here are a few pointers:
-- Make sure you price with cash-tight buyers in mind.
Those seeking to sell a condo in an area where many new units have been built need to be especially careful not to set too high a price, or their property could sit unsold for a lengthy time, says Mark Nash, author of "1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home."
Those planning to sell in a complex where many condos are on the market should do a careful review of what other units -- known as "comparables" or "comps" -- have sold for during the last three to six months.
Suppose for example that you're the owner of a condo that overlooks a car dealership. If so, don't try to price as if your unit is worth as much as another one in the same complex that overlooks a beautiful garden with a fountain.
-- Raise awareness of your unit with local real estate professionals.
Because the U.S. real estate recovery is still uneven, some condo markets are much stronger than others, says Dorcas Helfant, a real estate broker-owner and former president of the National Association of Realtors.
To increase showings, Helfant recommends you ask your listing agent to hold one or more "brokers' opens" at your place. These are open houses to which all real estate agents in the area are invited. As a magnet, such events often feature food, entertainment or both.
"Agents who've had the chance to preview a place and come away impressed are more likely to take their clients by to see it," Helfant says.
-- Add spark to your condo with upgrades.
Connerly says it's worth it to spend a few thousand dollars on pre-sale upgrades if you're competing with many other sellers with similar units.
"The biggest bang for your buck is always paint, which makes any place look sharp. But there are also some other fairly inexpensive steps that can be especially helpful in a competitive market," he says.
For example, many condo buyers are impressed with kitchen upgrades, including granite countertops, which have come down in price in recent years, as well as hardwood cabinets.
"Just replacing your cabinet fronts alone can make an old kitchen look stunning. But to make the room seem larger, avoid dark wood in favor of oak or ash," Connerly says.
-- Make your condo appealing to young buyers.
"If your condo is located in a moderately priced building in a popular area, it should appeal strongly to young buyers eager to shed their landlord," Nash says.
Besides the usual print and online advertising materials, Nash recommends that your listing agent develop community "resource lists" with your target audience in mind.
"For instance, young professionals new to your area could value a lengthy list of nearby restaurants, clubs, gyms, movie theaters and grocery stores, along with ratings and reviews," he says.
-- Don't stoop to offer tangible rewards.
During the real estate downturn, some condo sellers offered "tangible incentives" in hopes of beating other sellers in the same building. For instance, they'd offer to throw in a new iPad or large-screen TV to sweeten a deal.
But Connerly cautions that such offers can draw the wrong type of buyers.
"Tangible rewards make you look desperate and therefore usually attract low-ballers rather than serious bidders, which can really hurt you at the bottom line. So it's better to spend your money on upgrades," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)