Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin


A year or two ago, when a multitude of homes were on the market, many people couldn't be arm-twisted into making a purchase. Yet now that inventories have dwindled dramatically, things have changed.

"I've been working nonstop for 30 days trying to find houses for buyers. Multiple bids are common. And sometimes buyers grab a house before it hits the market," says Ashley Richardson, a real estate agent who's busier now than at any point in her 11-year career in the field.

Why the mismatch between supply and demand?

Richardson says many homeowners who tried and failed to sell their property in 2011 or early 2012 became discouraged and decided to rent out their property instead. Others have postponed selling because their homes are still "underwater," meaning they owe more on the mortgage than the place is worth.

Meanwhile, she says would-be buyers who've been waiting on the sidelines until the economy improves are suddenly out in force. They're paying more rent than they'd like and are anxious to take advantage of record-low interest rates while they're still available.

Are you a potential home seller puzzling over the timing of your sale? If so, these few pointers could help:

-- Seek to sell when there are few rival homes on the market.

Are few homes now up for sale in your area? If so, you may wish to go forward with a planned sale within 30 days or so, Richardson says.

"You're always better off being the only one out there, because competition drives prices down," she says.

Often, sellers prefer to wait until spring to list their property. But anyone who postpones risks the possibility of less favorable selling conditions, says Mary McCall, a veteran real estate broker and president of the Council of Residential Specialists (

"When it comes to real estate, no one has a crystal ball. But I believe that by the end of January, For Sale signs will be sprouting like tulips. We're heading to a more balanced market between buyers and sellers," McCall says.

McCall says the most efficient way to obtain information on local inventory levels is to check with local listing agents. They should have access to the latest statistics and can brief you on trends.

-- Wait until repairs and de-cluttering are complete before trying to sell.

Do you have tattered carpet that needs to be replaced? Is there peeling paint on your front door? Are you still sorting through the contents of an overstuffed bookshelf?

Then make sure all this work is done before giving your agent approval to list your place, Richardson says. She says buyers typically show little interest in any home where renovation work is incomplete.

Likewise, a cluttered house can be very hard to market to prospects, who often underestimate the size of rooms ridden with excess furniture and cardboard boxes. Also, closets crammed full of clothes and shoes make a bad impression.

"When your closets are crowded, people think you have less storage than you really do," she says.

-- Avoid the weekend when selecting a day to launch your listing.

Richardson believes no one should obsess about the day of the week their agent lists their property in the Multiple Listing Service. But she says it's better to avoid having it appear on a Saturday or Sunday.

"During the work week, buyers monitor their email from the office for new listings sent them by their agent. But on weekends, they're often too busy running errands and driving kids around to pay much attention to email," Richardson says.

In her opinion, the ideal time for sellers to list a property is early in the week. Then, if the place still catches the interest of buyers when they drive by, they'll have sufficient time to plan a tour of the interior.

-- Don't play pricing games once you've decided to sell.

Homeowners who've given their agent the green light to list are rarely justified in attempting to "test the market" with a price that's more than five to 10 percent above the value of comparable homes, according to McCall.

She cautions that overpricing a property can add weeks or even months to the sale process.

What's more, sellers who start too high often find it necessary to cut their price one or more times before finding a willing buyer. And this can result in smaller proceeds than they would have gotten with a realistic price from the outset.

That's because buyer interest in a home usually fades within fewer than 30 days after it hits the market. And once a house has languished unsold for a lengthy period, it typically develops a stigma.

"Even though there are more buyers out looking for property, this is still a time to price realistically. It's not the time for sellers to get greedy," McCall says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at