Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips For a Quick Sale

Despite the expectation that mortgage rates could rise in 2016, housing economists remain upbeat about home sales during the year.

"Another year of stronger housing demand and sales will be driven by increasing consumer confidence and solid job growth," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (

But that doesn't stop some home-sellers from feeling nervous.

Kathy Zimmermann, a broker-owner with the Re/Max Realty chain, says that stress levels are highest among sellers who face strict time limits. For such people, choosing the right selling price is paramount.

She tells the true story of a couple in their early 60s with health problems who wish to unload their Cape Cod to move to a place with lower upkeep requirements. But because they're clinging to an asking price more than $20,000 over the home's market value, it's been sitting unsold for more than nine months.

"The public always knows when your house is overpriced, and even after you've taken price reductions, they'll boycott your place," Zimmermann says.

Here are a few tips for sellers:

-- Resist the urge to pressure your listing agent.

Zimmermann says anxious sellers sometimes self-sabotage if they allow themselves to make unreasonable demands on a listing agent. For example, she tells how one of her clients emailed or called her at least two to three times per day, requesting a detailed update on everyone who'd toured his house and their reactions.

Putting too much pressure on your listing agent may seem to help, but it can easily backfire if the agent begins to resent your persistent inquiries, according to Zimmermann. She notes that some agents may even drop clients who deal with their frustration by making excessive demands.

"It's not unusual to hear about agents terminating listing agreements if the homeowners fail to cooperate," she says.

-- Look beyond open houses to address your selling problem.

Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors, says public open houses provide little utility to homeowners trying to gain momentum toward a sale.

She says open houses rarely attract serious, well-qualified purchasers. Many who flow into open houses are neighbors or those seeking decorating ideas for their own homes, while others are mere wishful buyers who lack the means to go through with a deal.

Instead of pressing your agent to hold more open houses, Zimmermann says you could consider asking for an "office caravan" to gain pointers on making your property more saleable. During such an event, many members of the sales force at the listing agent's office come over to critique the home and offer suggestions for upgrades.

"You may have done everything your agent advised when your home was first listed. But the other agents will give you additional perspectives. The more eyes you put on the problem, the better," Zimmermann says.

-- Remember that those who ask too much often get too little.

Accurate pricing is complicated, especially in neighborhoods where property valuations are in flux. In such areas, a study of recent sales -- what are known as "comparables" -- may not give you obvious answers on how much to ask.

Still, precision pricing is all the more important at a time when many would-be purchasers are budget-minded and petrified they'll overpay.

"Even though the recession is behind us, everyone is still extremely price-conscious. They're not going to waste their time trying to negotiate with someone asking too much," Zimmermann says.

Sellers who live in an area with many rival properties on the market should be particularly cautious about over-pricing, which can easily result in a home becoming shopworn.

-- Channel your stress into a cleaning blitz.

Zimmermann, who's sold property since 1983, says that through the years she's observed a gradual decline in the cleanliness of properties shown for sale. All too often, she says, dual-income couples with busy schedules lack the time to keep a home as clean as their parents' generation did. Ironically, contemporary buyers hanker more than ever to own a sparkling, well-kept place where they can get a fresh start.

Anxious owners who fear their property won't sell would do well to direct some of their nervous energy into an old-fashioned cleaning blitz that covers every inch of their property, Zimmermann says.

Showing a home in spotless condition can give you a competitive edge over less-tidy people trying to sell in the same neighborhood.

"The cleaner the better. When a house is immaculate, there's much less fear of hidden flaws because buyers know it was loved and cared for," she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at