Five Tips to Sell Any Home Fast

By Stacy Johnson on 18 January 2010 (Updated 6 July 2012) 3 comments

I've been investing in real estate of various types for nearly 30 years, and I've never seen anything like it. I'm talking about this housing market. Granted, all real estate is local, and I live in South Florida, one of the epicenters of our nation's current housing crisis. While those of you who live in California, Nevada, and Arizona might relate, the rest of you may have trouble even imagining what it's like. This housing crash is destroying more families than any hurricane that's ever hit the sunshine state. One in four people in Florida are behind on their mortgage. Some home prices here have declined 50%. Homes sit on the market for years.

But as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. If you can successfully sell your home in a horrible market, you’ll find selling in better times a walk in the park.

Watch this 90-second video I produced on this topic, then we'll get into more detail on the other side.

Let’s recap the five tips from the video above, this time with a bit more detail added.

Marketing

If you're going to use an agent to help sell your house, start the search by asking friends and/or neighbors for referrals. Copy names and numbers from signs in your neighborhood. Visit nearby open houses and meet agents (and while you’re at it, start getting a feel for neighborhood values). As you compile a list of prospects, build a uniform list of questions you can ask them: How many homes in my neighborhood have you sold? How long did it take you to sell them? How long have you been in the business? Exactly how do you typically market homes in my price range? Can you furnish me with referrals? (See also: How to Choose a Real Estate Agent)

Asking the same questions in the same order of multiple agents will quickly help you narrow the field. When you’ve gotten it down to three, invite them over for a face-to-face.

Let them walk around your house and provide more details on what they feel your home is worth and why. Make sure you nail them down as to exactly what they plan on doing to sell your home fast — stuff like where and how many ads they’ll place, how many open houses they’ll hold, etc. Keep in mind that many agents are "listers." They just want to list your house, then sit back and wait until some other agent sells it. No way, Jose. You're paying big bucks to that listing agent — you deserve heavy-duty action.

Don’t decide on an agent until you’ve interviewed all three, and don’t sign anything until you’re entirely clear on exactly what services they intend to provide. Put it in writing. And don’t be afraid to ask for a commission discount. It may not work, but it costs nothing to try. Here's a story I did on that.

Price

In bad markets, price isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing. There’s always an active market for houses that are selling for less than comparable houses in the same neighborhood. In my neighborhood here in Fort Lauderdale, the time to sell most houses is measured in years. Yet many foreclosures sell within minutes of going on the market. Why? Because they’re cheap relative to other houses in the neighborhood. (Here’s a story I did on buying foreclosures: How to Buy a Foreclosure.)

Granted, you may not be able to sell if your house is worth less than you owe on it unless you can negotiate a short sale through your lender. But the fact is, if you want to sell your house fast, you’re going to have to price it right. Your agent will help, but don’t just blindly follow their advice. Visit the competition, foreclosures and all, to see what homes in your neighborhood are actually listing for and selling for.

Don’t like the price your agent suggests, your market justifies, or you need? Don’t sell. But don’t waste your time with a listing price based on what you paid, what you owe, what your home used to be worth or what you really wish it was worth. The only number that matters is what it’s actually worth to a buyer right now.

In the story you just watched, Mary Beth and Bob were really bummed by the dirt-cheap price at which they were forced to sell their old home. But they were tickled pink at the dirt-cheap price they paid for the newer, nicer house they bought. So don't look back, look forward.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Outside Presentation

The more fierce the competition, the better your house needs to look. And the first thing people see is the outside: it’s called curb appeal.

So stand on your curb and see if your house has appeal relative to others in your neighborhood. Then decide what to do — the key is bang for the buck. Clearing clutter, cleaning up, trimming bushes, stashing junk, and generally doing what you can with what’s there? Free. Paint? Cheap, especially if you do it yourself. Plants and landscaping? Maybe, if they make enough difference to justify the cost. Look at the prettiest yards in your neighborhood. Ask your friends and your agent for their opinions.

Pay special attention to the front walk and front porch. Paint your front door, put some flowers on the porch, etc. In short, your mom wasn’t kidding when she talked about first impressions.

Inside Presentation

There’s a delicate line you walk when you sell a house. You want it to look like home, but not your home. Remove absolutely everything that’s not necessary. Think about what a model home looks like, or even a nice hotel room. Classy? Yes. Cluttered? Absolutely not. Remove family pictures from the wall and everywhere else. The goal is for potential buyers to visualize their family there, not yours.

Rent a storage room and put every single thing you possibly can in it, other than just enough nice furnishings to make your house look inviting.

Paint is a good idea, but don’t get creative: off-white is best. Replace flooring if it’s got either style or wear issues, and make sure everything in the house works and looks as it should — no leaky faucets, no cracks in the ceiling — and as with the outside, the trick is to balance cost and benefit. Whoever buys your home will have it inspected, and whatever’s not working is going to be discovered and you’ll be asked to pay for it. Save yourself the headache and pay for it now.

You can save money by doing repairs yourself, but don’t get in over your head. Here’s a story I did on that: The True Cost of Home Improvement.

Is all this a terrific pain? You bet. But this is about selling fast, not painlessly. If you follow this advice, your house will definitely sell faster and for more money.

Financial Incentives

If you’ve followed all the advice above, you shouldn’t need to to offer extra incentives to sell your house. But if it’s not moving and you want more action, the answer is simple: pay for it.

Raising the commission, for example, will almost certainly result in more interest from agents. Offering to pay the buyer’s closing costs, fix-up expenses, or even a trip to the Bahamas will interest more buyers. That’s what a lot home builders are now doing, and they’re your competition too. So it’s something to consider. But incentives are icing. Focus on the cake: having the nicest looking. lowest priced house in your neighborhood.

Bottom line? A lousy market isn’t a dead end. It’s a chanllenge. The marketing lessons you learn now will serve you well in years to come.

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Guest's picture

Great tips! It's interesting how even in the worst housing market in years, some houses (e.g. foreclosed) still gets sold out faster than others. I totally agree with you - "having the nicest looking, lowest priced house in your neighborhood" will certainly go a long way in helping your buyers be more comfortable with the purchase. More power!

Guest's picture

This is good advice. Sometimes a property can be on the market for a long time. Especially in a poor housing market and recession, like we are in at the moment, it can be difficult to sell a house fast. Your video nicely sums it all up.

Guest's picture

Some great stuff here. Its a buyers market at the moment, so homeowners need to give their house a 'special edge' in order to get a quick sale.

Being realistic with the price is also something to consider, what an estate agent says a property is worth is usually highly overvalued.