The psychology of selling your house successfully

With the coming of the spring market, it's

With the coming of the spring market, it's time to burst your own bubble. Here are five things shrewd homeowners should do if they want to sell their homes this year. (Credit: Newsday Illustration / Ned Levine)

Denial is like a shiny, seductive bubble -- it offers psychological shelter from unpleasant realities until you're ready to come to grips with them. But, if you are selling your home, it can be your worst enemy, and you could be in for a long stay on the market. But someone else's wishful thinking can work to your advantage -- if you can wake up and face the facts before your competition does, and do what it takes to sell your home in the real world.

"The delusion is that the market is getting better," says Linda Bonarelli Lugo of Realty Executives North Shore in Huntington. That's only partly true, she says. "We are having more sales, but the pricing has not increased."

That is true in Nassau County, where in February the median home sales price of $380,000 represented a 3.8 percent decrease from the prior year. Suffolk County reported a slight increase for February -- the median home sales price was $304,250 compared to $300,000 the prior year, representing a 1.4 percent uptick.

Sellers want to believe their homes will be the exception; experts say good luck with that. "There's a certain kind of schizophrenia," says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president with Saunders & Associates Real Estate. "Why is it the house you no longer want is worth more than market value, while the house you're dying to have should be had at a discount? It's not that I want to be rude, it's just that it's not going to happen."

With the coming of the spring market, it's time to burst your own bubble. Here are five things shrewd homeowners should do if they want to sell their homes this year:

1. BREAK UP WITH YOUR HOUSE

Delusion: Everyone will love my home as much as I do.

Reality: "The buyer sees all the other houses in the same neighborhood with the same amenity list -- the seller only sees one," says Saatchi. Tame your emotions and your ego. Feeling attached, ambivalent, proud or defensive about your home will cloud your judgment. "You want the buyer to be emotional, not you," she says.

So before you list, break up -- including the part where you take your stuff back.

Removing personal items will clear the way for buyers to picture themselves there, and it will also help you make the mental transition from owner to seller. The home should remain decorated enough to look inviting, but devoid of personal items such as family photos. That detachment is key -- it will give you the distance and perspective to make good decisions. While other sellers are still struggling to accept the realities of the market -- and making time-consuming mistakes -- you'll be able to make an accurate comparison and make yours the most attractive deal on the first try.

2. BE THE BOSS OF YOUR LISTING

Delusion: I can leave everything up to my broker.

Reality: It's tempting to seek out a professional who will tell you what you want to hear -- or one who promises to take over the process and wake you when it's over. You'll have to be more proactive than that if you want good results, says Saatchi. "You have to realize you're making a business transaction," says Saatchi. "You don't want the broker who says your house is wonderful and gives you a high price. You want the one who has sold houses and can be businesslike."

Listening to professional advice is key, but "the seller has to be participating in the discussion," says Bonarelli Lugo. Speak up, do your homework and work with your agent to make informed decisions.

3. DITCH THE DEDUCTIONS

Delusion: I don't have to do the work -- buyers will see the potential.

Reality: House hunters will mentally chip away at your asking price for each flaw they spot -- so declare war on the warts. Not everything has to be brand-new, but any big-ticket items that still have life left in them should be restored to their best possible condition so they don't falsely announce themselves as needing immediate replacement or repair. Why let buyers argue that they'll need a $3,000 discount to install new carpets if a professional cleaning could make yours look great for $300?

"Fix it if it's fixable," says Saatchi. But no faking it -- if there's a problem you won't be repairing, disclose it, she says. Use attention and elbow grease to create an overall impression of cleanliness and care. But don't go crazy; a major kitchen remodel isn't necessarily worth it because you can't predict buyers' tastes, says Saatchi.

4. CASH IN ON OTHERS' MISTAKES

Delusion: My home is worth my asking price, and my price is worth waiting for.

Reality: A house is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. Sellers are notorious for overestimating their homes' values -- then finding out the hard way that they've misjudged. Skip the long learning curve. Look at the prices of homes similar to yours that are languishing on the market and then at the prices of those that have sold. Ask yourself which group you want to be in -- then price it that way.

"Sold properties in the area represent the reality of what's going on," says Don Scanlon, Long Island Board of Realtors president. "Not what people are asking, but sold properties. Those are the facts."

There's more at stake here than just taking a while to sell. While you're waiting, a low sale or foreclosure in the neighborhood could strike a major blow to your home's value.

5. MAKE THEM SWOON

Delusion: It will either feel like home to a buyer or it won't, and it's out of my hands.

Reality: Certain homes meet all the criteria but only make the "maybe" list. Others have that special something that give buyers the butterflies -- that warm, fuzzy and slightly panicky sensation that walking out the door without making an offer could be the biggest mistake of their lives. It feels magical, but it's not -- it's physical, and you can copy it.

The best way to understand the effect is to visit competing open houses, or pay attention during your own house hunt. When you find a home that makes your heart sing, dissect your feelings and impressions step by step -- then try to identify the physical things that evoked them. "All our senses kick in," says Bonarelli Lugo. "Buying a house is an emotional purchase, and you have to appeal to the purchasers' emotions."

The source of that "homey" feeling might be carefully constructed curb appeal that can be broken down into parts -- a freshly painted front door, neatly trimmed shrubs, a clean-swept walk. The "cheery" kitchen may boil down to squeaky-clean windows that let the sun shine in and a bouquet of yellow flowers. If you can put your finger on the details that really pushed your buttons and try to replicate them, you just might be able to elicit the type of emotional response in a buyer that can translate into an offer.

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