Lowering home's price drastically may be only way to sure sell

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The good news for sellers: Your house will sell. The bad? Only if the price is just right.

That could mean biting the bullet and slashing tens of thousands from your ideal listing price if you're serious about selling. And you should be prepared to get even less than that.

Federal tax credits for homebuyers, which expired in spring, gave sellers a boost. Home sales surged, and values edged up. The worst appeared to be behind us. But since the deadline passed at the end of April, housing has faltered. Job insecurity, tight credit and consumer confidence are undermining a sustained recovery, despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades. And many economists expect prices to decline another 2 percent to 10 percent followed by "a long, flat bottom," said Stan Humphries, chief economist at real estate Web site Zillow.com.

That means sellers must set their price with precision or risk languishing on the market. Here's the disconnect: The vast majority of sellers believe their homes are worth more than what their real estate agent recommends, according to HomeGain.com. At the same time, most buyers think for-sale homes are overpriced.

So how do you find the sweet spot? Analyze your market first. Determine how many houses similar to yours are up for sale. Consider neighborhood, school district, size and price point. The more homes there are, the more it becomes necessary to list at the lower end of the prevailing price range. "I want buyers to ask why is this house priced so competitively," said Ron Phipps of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. "I want the answer to be an offer."

Foreclosures and short sales, in which the owner sells for less than what's owned, complicate matters. Be honest. Are the foreclosures or short sales in your market a reasonable alternative that a buyer would consider? Some won't be because they are in disrepair. But others, especially short sales, are often in good condition and can be priced 15 percent to 25 percent below a comparable home.

So you've got the right price, or a price low enough to attract bids. Don't be disappointed when an offer comes in below the listing price. And don't send back a token counteroffer that's only a few thousand dollars below what you want. "Buyers are not interested in back-and-forth negotiations these days," Phipps said. "They are less emotional and more disciplined. They will walk away." If no one shows up for an open house, if no one calls and if there are no offers, then the price is too high. That means it's time to make a meaningful price cut.

Cut with a machete, not a butter knife. Dinky reductions become a scarlet letter on your front lawn, and would-be buyers will think you're not serious.

Sellers are always chasing falling prices, said Jonathan Miller, president of real estate consulting firm Miller Samuel Inc.

But there's a challenge. "They want to sell for more than what they owe or they want to get the money they put into the house," he said. "The market couldn't care less about your personal situation."

-- Associated Press

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