Cultivate A Good Home Sale

Sprouting: How to get your house ready for the traditional bloom in home sales that comes every spring.

March 02, 2003|By Lucie L. Snodgrass | Lucie L. Snodgrass,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Homeowners who choose to sell their property during the spring typically have lots of company.

Along with crocuses and greening lawns, few things spell the end of winter as clearly as the annual sprouting of "For Sale" signs in front of homes. Even in the current seller's market, where the number of homes for sale has remained fairly constant throughout the winter, local Realtors are expecting the traditional spring surge in listings.

"By the end of February, people are feeling shut in and depressed and they're ready for a change, like ... moving entirely," says Marilyn Morgan, a longtime real estate broker in Glen Burnie. And, she explains, sellers with school-age children usually want them to finish out the year in their old school district, which means waiting until March or April to put a home on the market.

Even so, potential sellers should be getting their homes ready now, Morgan says. The issues that many sellers face are universal and potentially time-consuming: Where to get an appraisal; how to price the property; how much time and money to invest in repairs; and when to get professional help in the event that repairs are beyond a homeowner's capabilities.

Sellers should be prepared to expend some effort getting the property ready to sell. How much time and money they should commit depends on what condition the property is in, how much the seller can afford, what she hopes to realize and, of course, where the house is located.

"Location is still everything," Morgan says. "I've seen horrible little waterfront shacks go quickly because of where they were. But I've also shown houses that were exactly what buyers said they wanted, and they said no because it was across the street from a shopping center."

Understanding how a property compares with others is important information for sellers to obtain. Comparable listings will guide them in determining prices for the area, informing them about a neighborhood's relative assets and letting them know what similar homes in the neighborhood have sold for. Those prices generally are available from real estate listing agencies and government property records.

"You have to do a comparable based on what is there," says Pat Bomhoff, a veteran agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Perry Hall. "You don't compare a Colonial to a Cape Cod."

Equally necessary is an unbiased appraisal, which tells sellers how much traditional lenders will finance.

Dominick Corson, owner of Corson Residential Appraisers in Bel Air, says that an on-site interior appraisal should cost the seller about $300. A reputable appraiser, he says, "will have experience and geographic competence and know the market's nuances." Typically, the appraiser will use a one-mile radius for comparable homes.

But even with an appraisal in hand, sellers still have to exercise judgment about how to price their property.

Languishing listings

Setting it too low may result in needlessly forfeiting profit. On the other hand, setting the price too high may cause the listing to languish.

Brokers, in particular, are not likely to show a home that is overpriced.

"Let me put it this way," says Bomhoff. "If I were going to the mall and tried to sell $100 bills for $200, how many people do you think are going to buy them?"

Assessing a property with a critical eye is a necessary component of selling. Is the front porch sagging or the roof leaking? Does a window need replacing? iHomeowner.com, a Web site offering tips on selling houses, recommends "spending at least two weeks preparing your home for sale."

Realistically, even the best-cared-for properties require some cosmetic work, even if it's confined to shampooing rugs and cleaning thoroughly. Sellers also should be rigorous about reducing clutter: An unkempt house raises questions about how well the property's infrastructure is maintained, experts said.

Where more significant repairs are indicated, sellers should weigh the merits of doing repairs vs. lowering the sale price or coming to some other agreement with a buyer. Oftentimes, buyers prefer to have their own contractors perform the work, experts said.

In any event, prospective buyers are keenly attuned to details they might overlook in their current home, says Donna Brown, a partner in the Baltimore real estate firm of Brown and Stewart.

"Buyers are going to look in the oven and the refrigerator, since most appliances convey with the house. You need to make sure all of your systems are clean and operating."

Brown agrees with other Realtors that curb appeal is still a big factor in getting potential buyers to even visit a home. Accordingly, she advises her clients to plant flowers in warmer months and keep lawns and shrubs trimmed.

During the winter, Brown suggests planting ornamental cabbages for some color and keeping walkways clear of leaves or snow. Once prospective buyers are inside, she says, make sure the lights are all on, the house smells pleasant and the beds are made. Pets should be confined to one area of the home.

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