To most homeowners, the housing market crisis of a decade ago seems like ancient history. Interest rates are low and property values are still rising, albeit at a slower pace compared to recent years. So, there’s little fear of foreclosure.
But if you’re struggling to meet your house payments, perhaps due to a job loss or major medical issue, it’s cold comfort that foreclosure rates across America have fallen to a 10-year low.
“There’s no panic like the panic that hits a family scared the bank will soon take their house away,” says Tom Early, a consumer advocate and longtime real estate broker in Ohio.
If you can’t make your payments, you’ll likely have to move. Yet if you can avert foreclosure by selling your property before it’s taken away, you may be able to cut your losses and protect your credit standing.
“People who are proactive against the threat of foreclosure -- rather than going into denial -- are almost always ahead of the game,” says Early, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
He encourages hurried sellers to hire a seasoned listing agent. Ideally, this would be someone with special training in pre-foreclosure work. Such training is now available through a number of realty firms.
“It’s imperative you interview agents and find someone responsive to your timing needs, who is also skilled at negotiating with buyers,” Early says.
Here are a few pointers for those seeking to sell quickly for any reason:
-- Start by focusing on how your place appears from the street.
When you’re in a hurry to sell, making your home marketable from the exterior is especially important, says Ashley Richardson, an experienced agent for the Long and Foster realty firm in Maryland.
“It’s a cliche, but curb appeal is key because the outside photo of your place will be plastered all over newspaper ads and internet sites. Only if your house looks good in those pictures will people want to see it in person,” she says.
Richardson urges sellers to focus on their front lawn and the greenery that surrounds their home.
-- Cull through clutter, clearing away as much as possible.
Not all home upgrades are expensive. In fact, two of the most powerful steps you can take, cleaning and decluttering, are virtually free.
During the purging process, she recommends sellers remove family photos and other personal mementos, especially those attached to the front of the refrigerator with magnets.
“(I)n the course of less than one week, you can go through a lot of stuff, storing away your extra items in boxes. Anyone looking at your house will understand if you’ve stashed your stuff in the garage in neatly stacked boxes,” Richardson says.
-- Tackle as many paint jobs as possible in your place.
If you’ve lost your job and fear you’ll be unable to meet your house payments in coming months, the odds are you’ve already depleted most of your savings. Even so, you shouldn’t scrimp on paint, one of the lowest-cost home improvement tools available.
“You can get paint by the gallon very inexpensively at a home center store,” says Richardson, adding that most owners are sufficiently skilled to do their own painting.
The first priority for your painting, she says, should be the front door of your place, which is highly visible. Once that’s done, quickly move to the first room inside the front door. Then proceed through the home, painting as many areas as time allows.
“Make sure to focus on the bathrooms and kitchen. Buyers are very insistent these rooms look fresh and clean,” Richardson says.
-- Give yourself a deadline by scheduling an open house.
If you’re like many people, you need a well-defined deadline to complete a project in a timely way. Assuming that’s the case, Richardson recommends you give yourself a hard deadline by scheduling a “broker’s open house” right after your home goes up for sale.
A “broker’s open,” as it’s known, is an event to which real estate agents throughout your area are invited. It’s an effective tool for marketing an attractive property to those most likely to be working with serious buyers. It could be particularly successful if your place is located in a popular neighborhood and has ample parking.
“Once your agent has scheduled a date for your open house and ordered lunch, you’ll have that deadline you need to get focused,” Richardson says.
-- Get sensitive to pricing nuances.
Even if you live in a neighborhood where For Sale signs are numerous, Richardson says a swift and successful sale is possible if your place is in good condition and priced a notch below rival homes.
“These days, most buyers are internet-savvy. Because they roam around the web constantly, buyers can estimate very closely the true worth of any given property. Hence, people who list their place slightly under market value might even prompt multiple bids, which could yield you a better and faster outcome,” she says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)