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A listing strategy for home sellers

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Marshall Park is a D.C.-based real estate agent at Redfin. 

Selling your home can be an intimidating process. But like many things in life, proper preparation will help you have the best experience possible. Not only should you take steps to prepare your home to hit the market, but you should also mentally prepare yourself for the selling process.

Here are some tips for sellers:

• Document memories of your home. Before you prepare to list, take personal photos of your home and your family enjoying it. While you might be excited to move on to the next place, you won’t regret capturing some memories of your home as it was when you lived in it, before strangers started traipsing through.

 • Learn to separate your emotions from your logic. When you’ve made memories in a home, it can be difficult to separate your emotions from the transaction. When looking for an agent, find someone you trust to offer an impartial, professional opinion. Be open to feedback from your agent and don’t take it personally if he or she has suggestions to make your home more marketable.

Remember active agents are touring and evaluating homes every week, understand the competitive landscape and know what buyers are looking for in your neighborhood.

• Set a realistic price. Homeowners have a tendency to overvalue their homes, especially if they have made upgrades based on their own tastes and preferences. It’s simple human nature. But overpricing your home will be costly in the long run. According to Redfin research, a listing receives nearly four times more online visits in the first week it goes on the market than it does a month later. Even if you drop the price later, it won’t get the same attention.

Before you list your home, ask your real estate agent for a comparative market analysis, which will help you determine a reasonable price based on sales of similar homes in your area. It is always a good idea to visit a few open houses in your neighborhood or preview active listings with your agent to help you get a sense of the market and calibrate your expectations.

When in doubt, start with a lower asking price, which can create more interest in the home and potentially result in a bidding war. In the D.C. market, homes that show well and are well-priced are not sitting on the market long.

• Get your home in tip-top shape. Before you list, give your home a deep cleaning, inside and out. Take some time to tackle any nagging home improvement projects like touching up paint, fixing a leaky faucet or oiling a creaky door. Don’t forget to spruce up your exterior by trimming plants, laying new mulch and sweeping the front porch or steps. Buyers will judge your home based on the first impression before they take a step inside.

Next, de-clutter and de-personalize. Storage space is a priority for many buyers and be prepared for visitors to open your cabinets and closets. Clear out nonvital household items, such as books, extra linens, off-season clothes and rarely used kitchen appliances.

Help the buyers visualize themselves in the space by removing your family photos, personal items and any unusual artwork or décor. While you may have great taste, keeping things fairly neutral helps broaden your home’s appeal to as many buyers as possible. While it’s generally best for homes to have some furniture to show the layout and potential of the space, clear out unneeded furniture to let the home’s features take the spotlight.

• Develop a listing strategy. If you have flexibility with timing, talk with your agent about the best time of year to list. Conventional wisdom suggests that spring is the hottest real estate season when many buyers begin their search and many homes hit the market. We analyzed home sales from 2011 to 2013 and found that homes listed in winter and early spring sold faster and for slightly more money than homes listed at other times — this held true in both cold and temperate climates.

Yes, some buyers postpone their search during the winter and holiday season, but the buyers who stick around may be motivated by a job relocation or major family change, and are more serious about getting into a home. Because there tends to be less inventory on the market during this time, your home is competing with fewer properties.

Regardless of the season, I always advise sellers to list on a Thursday or Friday, so your home is fresh in buyers’ minds when they’re making plans to see homes on the weekend. Redfin has found that homes listed on Thursday or Friday tend to sell closer to their original list price and have the best chance of selling.

Consider setting an offer deadline, giving buyers notice that you will accept and review all offers on a specific date. This strategy works well if you expect a lot of interest and want to make sure that you know all of your options before accepting the first offer that comes your way. Your agent can advise whether this strategy makes sense for your situation.

• Make yourself scarce. Be prepared for a lot of foot traffic the first week and be as open as possible with showing times. Don’t be at the home when buyers come to tour. Some folks prefer to stay with family or friends the first couple of days and I have many clients who opt to take a vacation during this time.

Just make sure that you are accessible to your agent if you do go out of town. Safeguard valuables and if you have pets, make arrangements for them to be out of the home during tours.

Let your agent host and run an open house without you being there. It’s uncomfortable for potential buyers to ask questions with the seller right there. Don’t restrict buyers to only visit during the open house. Requesting a one-on-one tour of your home is an indication of a serious buyer, which you should try to accommodate.

• If it’s not selling, be flexible. While the market in the D.C. area is robust, it is showing signs of cooling for sellers. Homes are staying on the market longer than they were last year. Buyers are less frenzied and more selective, opting to wait until the right property hits the market.

Talk with your agent about the speed of the market at your price point to make sure you have realistic expectations. A fairly priced luxury property will sell, but may be on the market longer given a smaller buying pool.

You may want to consider hiring a stager if your listing is getting stale. Stagers bring in furnishings and décor with mass-appeal that highlight your home’s features and show buyers the potential for the space.

If your home isn’t getting buyers’ attention, be open to a price change. Listen to feedback from visiting agents and potential buyers. If the feedback is consistent, consider making an update to the home or lowering your asking price.

At the end of the day, selling a home is a financial transaction — albeit a deeply personal one. Rely on the advice and expertise of a trusted agent to guide you through the process. Selling your home can be stressful, but it can be incredibly rewarding if you take the time to prepare, think through a winning strategy, keep a level head and separate your emotions from process.

Previously from Marshall Park:

Should you waive the financing contingency?

Homebuyers have options with inspection contingency

D.C. neighborhoods where homes sell fast

Tips on winning a bidding war in D.C.