A home for sale in East Hampton. Median closing prices...

A home for sale in East Hampton. Median closing prices are up in Nassau County, but down in Suffolk. (April 20, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

Now that one of the snowiest winters on record is over, how much is the real estate market expected to bounce back this spring?

Across the board, home prices have stabilized and both buyers and sellers are more realistic, says Dorothy Aschkar, president of the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. According to the March Multiple Listing figures, the overall contracted median home price from February to March on Long Island and Queens has dropped 0.4 percent, indicating flat but not falling sales.

There's not a wide gap between asking and selling prices because homeowners are pricing their properties more realistically and offers are being accepted or made with little negotiation, she says.

Based on a new report by Miller Samuel Inc. a Manhattan real estate appraisal and consulting firm, first-quarter-over-first-quarter closed sales on Long Island haven't changed much. "Median prices are flat, and the average sales price edged up 2.5 percent. That's a nominal uptick," says Jonathan J. Miller, president and chief executive.

From mid-March to mid-April, homes seem to be selling faster, some brokers say.

In Huntington, broker-owner Linda Bonarelli Lugo with Realty Executives North Shore says that homes were on the market last year an average of eight to 10 months; this year, the length of time is now on average six months.

But while the market has seen a surge in activity from February to March, Miller attributes that to the onset of the spring market. This may be a return to more normal seasonal patterns, he notes, which is "encouraging, but doesn't define a recovery."

But the economy continues to hold back the real estate market. "Unfortunately, the Long Island labor market is experiencing a weak recovery," says Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the business trade group. In the 12 months ending in March, only 8,000 payroll jobs were generated locally, with virtually no growth in high-wage industries.

A significant number of foreclosures may also continue to hold down the median price of closed homes. According to CoreLogic, which tracks existing loans, one in 10 mortgage borrowers on Long Island was at least 90 days late on their mortgage payments in January. "Current conditions suggest that a housing recovery on Long Island is unlikely before next year," notes Kamer.

Loosening up the tight constraints on lending for mortgages would be a good start in making a full recovery, says Miller.

"We can characterize the market as stable but fragile. It's improving, but this is going to be a very gradual process," he says.


1. Clean, clean, clean


Start with the exterior, says Linda Leyble, owner of staging company Beautiful Staged Homes, with locations in Great River and Huntington Village. "You want to entice people to come in," she says. But you don't need to spend a lot -- much of what a house needs before going on the market is simply elbow grease, says broker Frank DellAccio of Century 21 AA Realty of Seaford and Lindenhurst. Clean carpets, counters, floors, cabinets and heavy traffic areas; also give extra attention to shower doors and tracks and regrout the tile, he advises.

It should be spotless, says Lugo of Realty Executives. If you do not have the capability to make it immaculate, she recommends getting a professional cleaning. And while the place doesn't have to be sterile, it always needs to be ready to show at a moment's notice.


2. Pack up the clutter


Personal effects like family photos, piles of DVDs or your latest baseball card collection, while highly interesting to you, make prospective buyers feel uncomfortable and cramped. Likewise, extra furniture, including computer desks, tends to overcrowd rooms, making them appear smaller. Pack up the 50 pictures of the grandkids and put the boxes in the basement or in storage, say several brokers. You are aiming for a space neutral enough so that buyer can "mentally move in," Leyble says.


3. Get rid of the smell


Odors are a big turnoff, says Lugo. Air out cigarette smoke by opening windows, and eliminate musty, mildewy and spicy food odors. Pets are one of the biggest offenders. They should be kept in a designated area, outdoors or off-site when showing. Introduce pleasant aromas in the form of flowers, candles or baked goods, or bring in a natural air freshener like pine or bayberry branches.


4. Prune the bushes, sweep the grit


Especially after this harsh winter, cleaning up the grounds around the home is important, says DellAccio. Start with a good spring cleanup, then put some mulch in the beds, reseal the driveway and reattach fallen fences, he adds.

Overgrown and unkempt bushes are a detriment to a good showing -- when branches reach over walkways, it almost feels like they're attacking you, says Ken Muellers, landscape design manager at Ireland Gannon Associates, a division of Martin Viette Nurseries in East Norwich. Sometimes the best solution, he acknowledges, is "taking away." That means hard pruning or removal of plantings that are blocking doors, windows, walkways or architectural details.

Then touch up the property with seasonal plantings like pots of daffodils or pansies for now or beds of annuals like petunias or impatiens after Mother's Day. This provides a spring feel that can make a home more inviting. "A few hundred dollars can give you that positive feel when you arrive at the door," he says.


5. Paint or stain the front door


Make first impressions lasting. Always paint your front door and the railings in the front, replace the mat and add a seasonal wreath, recommend several brokers. You may even want to paint it a different color, especially if you pair it with new hardware, says Leyble. And even if you don't regularly use the front door to get in, look at it with fresh eyes, says Lugo. The same goes for a long driveway entry. "Draw attention to it," says Muellers. Plant some tulips, ornamental grass or a small evergreen for a welcoming impact.


6. Fix the leak, patch the hole


It almost goes without saying that anything broken should be fixed. Surface-level flaws will be picked up immediately, so attack those projects first. Obvious leaks or former leaks should be fixed and water spots painted. The hole in the wall from your son's football toss or the rusty mailbox you haven't noticed in years should be patched or replaced.


7. Rip up the ratty carpet and show some shine


If you have wall-to-wall carpeting and a wood floor underneath, spend money to remove and expose it, says Leyble. "One thing people want is wood floors." The best part is that older oak floors just need a good sand and polyurethane to look gorgeous. Don't have wood underneath? Recarpeting is not a good investment, she adds. For high-end homes, installing new wood flooring may be an option for a main area, but faux wood laminates also bring it up-to-date without going overboard. She says she believes a recent $900 investment in a laminate got a home an offer $6,000 over its listing price.


8. Update your look


It's important to appear current, says Leyble. Add a new accent piece, colorful pillows, a funky lamp or lampshade, or even a granite countertop, if the other homes in the neighborhood have it. For old, dark-stained cabinets it's inexpensive to add a couple coats of paint, change the hardware and even add a coat of glaze to age them, she advises. "You can get some great deals on granite on Craig's List, or even buy new Formica. Update but be smart about it," she says.


9. Make it memorable


Find a unique spot like a fireplace or a space under a beautiful painting and create a focal point, Leyble says. The cozy spot could be imagined as a reading nook or seating for lingering over a cup of coffee. Such little niceties are touches that will make a home seem friendlier, she says. Buyers may look at eight or 10 properties in a day, and one great "hook" can provide an emotional tug that will have a buyer remembering your home fondly, she adds.

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