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Size up the market before you list your house

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday, July

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday, July 19, 2012, that sales of previously occupied homes fell 5.4 percent in June. Credit: AP

With average home prices back where they were 10 years ago and sales still sluggish, it seems as if sellers can't catch a break. But if you want to sell your home this year, there are glimmers of hope. The National Association of Realtors recently reported that sales of existing homes nationally rose slightly from the year before. Plus, the inventory of existing homes for sale fell 21 percent from the year before.

But even if you have less competition and better prospects, today's buyers are still a tough bunch. They're nervous and risk-averse. They want a home in move-in condition, with all the upgrades completed, because they know they can't count on a quick increase in the home's value to help them recoup money they spend on improvements. "You must find a way to improve the condition or lower the price until a buyer pulls the trigger," says Leigh Brown, an agent with Re/Max in Charlotte, N.C.

How long will it take to sell your home? You can get a rough idea by looking at the average "days on the market," preferably for your neighborhood and price tier. You'll find that and other market statistics on the website of the local Realtors association or from an agent. You may have some advantage if your home is in a desirable location because, say, it's in a good school district or close to jobs.

As a seller, you may have your own issues to grapple with -- not the least of which is thinking your home is worth more than it is. Gayle Henderson, an agent with Re/Max in Phoenix, recommends that sellers play "buyer for a day" to check out the competition in their neighborhood. It will help you be more realistic about the price you set for your home.

Above all, find a good agent. Don't interview just one candidate -- that's a mistake that two-thirds of sellers make, according to the National Association of Realtors. In addition to a history of successful sales in or around your neighborhood, you want total honesty -- even if it's painful to hear that you must spend money in order to sell.

In 2010, sellers nationwide paid an average commission of 5.4 percent, reports Real Trends, a real estate consulting firm. If an agent or the agent's firm wants to be able to represent you and a buyer in the same transaction in order to collect the full commission, try to negotiate the rate down by one or two percentage points.

Patricia Mertz Esswein is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to And for more on this and similar money topics, visit

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