Selling: How Long?

When Price, Conditions Are Right, the Sale Moves Swiftly

By Sandra Fleishman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 1, 2006

How long will it take to sell your house these days? Longer than you might think, say real estate agents and some frustrated sellers.

"I can sell a house in two weeks if it's priced right," said Mark Hudson, an agent with the Flaherty Group Inc. in Kensington. "But sellers are still holding on to the prices people used to be able to get."

"I don't know how long it should take now, but we're still here," Charlene Hout said. She put her Georgetown townhouse on the market in March for $1.95 million as a "for sale by owner" listing. In July, she hired veteran Georgetown agent Nancy Taylor Bubes. They recently dropped the asking price to $1.79 million.

With two to three times the inventory to choose from around the Washington area this year compared with a year ago, buyers are just not willing to jump anymore, agents said. They have to be convinced that they're not paying above market, and they also are "demanding more" in the terms of the contract, said Holly Worthington, president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. They are once again adding contingency clauses that vanished for a while: They require home inspections, the ability to get financing and an appraisal that matches the offer, she said.

After the house has gone under contract, buyers also "are much more aggressive about asking the seller to fix items that turned up in the home inspection report," she said.

So how do you know if the price is right? And how do you know when and how much to cut?

Worthington, manager of the Woodley Park and Chevy Chase offices of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., said if a house doesn't sell in 30 to 60 days, it's time to drop the price. The amount "depends on how much very similar inventory there is in that particular area."

Kensington agent Hudson said it "takes a good drop to draw interest." And he doesn't need to contact those who stopped in earlier but didn't bite, he said. "With the Internet, clients see immediately when something drops."

Terry Belt, a Vienna agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said, "People look at what their neighbor's house did last year, and want that price or more. But in this market you can't compare to last year. You can't even do comparable sales from three to six months ago."

A "good strategy," he said, is to look at similar homes that are on the market now and "to price your house at or about 3 percent below them."

Belt, who is selling a Fairfax County house owned by National Association of Realtors President Thomas M. Stevens, said, "Price and condition are basics, just as they were for many, many years."

Stevens, a senior vice president with NRT Inc. in Vienna, agreed, though he admits that he didn't follow Belt's advice to reduce the price on his former residence. That Great Falls property has now been sitting a year at $1.45 million.

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