Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Sensible Tips for a Quick Sale

Despite its prediction of "meager" economic growth in 2016, the National Association of Realtors is forecasting a modest increase in home sales for the year, along with slightly rising prices. But the emphasis is on the "slight."

"This year the housing market may only squeak out one to 3 percent growth in sales," says NAR chief economist Laurence Yun.

What does this forecast mean for you if you plan to sell your place this year? That depends on variables specific to your locale, says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "House Selling for Dummies."

"You've got to get intelligence on the ground specific to your neighborhood," Tyson says.

He recommends you gather pricing opinions from at least three real estate agents who have a mastery of your market. Also visit other properties for sale in your same community to compare pricing and features, Tyson says.

Ronald Phipps, a real estate broker who's been in the business since 1980, underscores the importance of cleaning, de-cluttering and repainting to make the most of your sale.

Even so, Phipps, a former president of the National Association of Realtors, warns against excessive spending on pre-sale upgrades.

"When picking home improvements, you want to be pragmatic and practical," he says.

What commonly happens is that owners who try to recoup the cost of excessive pre-sale improvements find the price they're demanding too high. Because of that, their property will likely languish unsold for a lengthy period until they take a price cut.

Here are pointers for sellers:

-- Request from your listing agent a checklist of suggested improvements.

"Before you sell, the key is to distinguish between changes that give you a big bang for your buck and those that simply represent money burned," Tyson says.

To come up with a focused plan for pre-sale improvements, he urges home sellers to ask their agent for a written checklist.

Tyson also suggests that budget-conscious home sellers consider selecting an agent trained in the art of "staging" a home -- arranging furniture and decor to show the home in its best possible light.

-- Let go of any plans for a pre-sale addition.

For most sellers, it's not cost-effective to knock out walls to build an addition," Tyson says.

He says those who attempt a pre-sale addition rarely recoup more than 50 to 60 percent of the money invested. What's more, any construction project that involves the removal of walls can be very stressful and time-consuming.

"The only time homeowners are justified in doing a pre-sale addition is to replace one that was badly done or is an eyesore," Tyson says.

-- Limit your upgrades to your neighborhood's standards.

As your listing agent will likely tell you, your kitchen is a high priority area when it comes to pre-sale improvements. If it's a turnoff to buyers, many will pass on your place.

"But in your kitchen, as elsewhere in your house, the idea is to meet and not exceed neighborhood standards," Tyson says.

For example, you may need to replace the beat-up refrigerator in your kitchen. But replacing it with a basic refrigerator should be fine, unless your neighborhood's homes are all equipped with high-end, professional quality appliances.

Likewise, Tyson says replacing linoleum countertops with fancy granite makes little sense in a neighborhood of small, low-end starter homes.

Other, less-expensive changes are often justifiable no matter your price range. Worn kitchen cabinets can often be resurfaced or repainted for a reasonable sum. New cabinet hardware is usually worth the expense. And the replacement of badly worn kitchen flooring also bears consideration.

Still, there are limits on how much you should spend in your kitchen, even if you're living in a luxury community. In most areas, for example, you won't need to add an under-the-counter icemaker, a wine storage center or a second dishwasher," Tyson says.

-- Focus on your home's exterior.

The landscaping around your place is like the frame around a painting. It defines the entire image of the home.

But, as Tyson says, upgrading your landscaping need not be costly, assuming you're resourceful and don't inhabit a palatial estate.

"You'll want to trim your shrubs and you'll absolutely want to remove dead plants. A dead plant is a real turnoff," he says.

For replacement plants, Tyson suggests you turn to a local nursery for free guidance on plant selection and design. Or look to a helpful neighbor with a green thumb.

Most home sellers can dramatically improve the "curb appeal" of their property by cutting back or replacing any overgrown shrubbery. But no matter how majestic your property, you won't need to install exotic plants or dazzling fountains to make it sell.

"Ripping out your whole landscaping plan and starting over is almost never called for. When it comes to your yard, you can greatly improve its looks for relatively little money," Tyson says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at