Even in a good real estate market -- which this is not -- autumn is when buyers start to nod off before the deep sleep of winter. How does a seller combat the market doldrums this time of year?
Here are five tips for getting your house sold before real estate hibernation season sets in.
1. Determine if you really need to sell.
If you do, keep reading. If you don't, consider taking your house off the market until the spring. Traditionally -- and we admit there is nothing traditional about the current housing market -- buyers lose interest in the fall. Kids are settled in school, the holidays are approaching, and buyers' sense of urgency just evaporates.
In today's market, it's all that and more. As a seller, you are competing with foreclosures and short sales as well as standard sellers. Unless you really need to sell, consider delaying the listing of your house for a few months to avoid it sitting on the market and growing stale. If it makes you feel better, let a few agents know that you are still open to an offer and make it a pocket listing.
2. Update your listing photos, especially if you live in a four-season climate.
It just won't do to have photos of the trees in full bloom and the lawn nice and green when your house is in Minnesota and it's January. Yes, you know your house has been on the market for six months, but why underscore that fact to prospective buyers with your photos?
By the way, don't be afraid of winter photos. House exteriors can look pretty in the snow, but do try and shoot it while the snow is fresh. For the interior photos, light the fire in the fireplace and make sure every room conveys warmth.
If you are shooting the photos with a cell phone camera -- and you shouldn't be -- make sure there is no date stamp.
It's important to change out the photos every season. It's easy enough to do and different photos "speak" to different buyers. Encourage your agent to update the remarks in the MLS listing as well. "Spend Christmas in front of this beautiful original stone fireplace" won't fly in February.
3. Know your potential buyers and speak directly to them.
Long gone are the days when buyers would get into bidding wars over houses. But what's not gone are the emotions that a home can evoke. It's your job to identify what makes your house a home, and zone in on that emotion -- and hire an agent smart enough to do the same. Before you list, ask prospective agents to describe the potential buyer of your house.
It's important that you and your agent know whether you are marketing to a family, a young professional, someone who wants a sophisticated urban loft. Once that's determined, think about where you find those people. What publications do they read, what websites do they visit? Where are they likely to look for the house of their dreams?
Los Angeles area agent Gary Harryman of Pritchett-Rapf once listed a pyramid-shaped house in the Santa Monica Mountains. He envisioned his buyer to be a creative type who would appreciate the one-of-a-kind structure that even had a perfectly placed sundial on the floor. He also figured, because of the remoteness of the house, that its buyer would likely be someone who worked from home. Instead of advertising in the traditional outlets, he took out ads in a magazine for astronomers and in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. It sold.
For family homes, consider advertising in the local school bulletins or in the PTA newsletter. If your home is an equestrian property, try some of the horse publications -- or ask some of the local riding stables to post a flyer on their bulletin board. Are you close to public transportation, near the university with a converted garage that students are eager to rent, on a street filled with stay-at-home moms and a playground at the corner? Your selling point may not be a spectacular view, but if you market directly to your audience you may not need one.
How else can you help someone afford your home? Is there any room for rental income? Could your garage be converted into a rental unit? Is it set up for a work-from-home business?
Buyers today are shopping situations as much as they are houses. They want bargains and are more savvy than ever before about what homes are selling for. While those bargain-hunters may be drooling over foreclosures and short sales, the convenience and expediency of a standard sale has value.
5. Keep your house comfortable during showings.
In the winter, turn the heat on. In the spring, open the windows. In the summer, stage the patio furniture. And in autumn, rake the leaves, burn some spice candles and remember that the buyer pool has dwindled, so make each showing count.
PROBLEM: Staging often requires returning rooms to their intended purpose, rather than reflecting the homeowners' living style. These Charlotte, N.C., homeowners used the living room as a home office, complete with a large desk, office equipment, and many, many books. Though functional for them, it failed to impress buyers.
See More Tips and Advice on Home Staging
SOLUTION: After stager Cheryl Cox moved the existing furniture to other rooms, she removed the dated wallpaper and painted in a neutral color. To call attention to the hardwood floors, she replaced the area rug with a smaller one.
Stager: Cheryl Cox, StageCoach Home Staging and Design
PROBLEM: The wallpaper in this guest bedroom in a Lake Elsinore, Calif., home was very busy and reflected the homeowner's very specific and personal style. The empty room also didn't help buyers visualize how they could best use the space.
SOLUTION: To appeal to the widest range of buyers, stager Debbie Takahashi removed the wallpaper and painted the room in warm, neutral tones. Cost: $800, plus furniture and accessories rental Stager: Debbie Takahashi, Staged by Design, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
PROBLEM: The owners of this home in Sterling Heights, Mich., were updating their kitchen and dining room in preparation for sale. The large dining table with oversized chairs crowded the room and impeded traffic flow. The tile flooring was loose. The homeowners wanted to make the room seem larger and complement the new kitchen.
SOLUTION: Home stager Carolyn Stieger helped the homeowners select new floor tile for the kitchen and dining room, as well as a rich wooden dining table and four sleek chairs. Cost: $141 Stager: Carolyn Stieger, Images of Elegance, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
PROBLEM: This Atlanta, Ga., home had been totally rehabbed, and the owner wanted it staged for sale. From the front door, buyers could look through the foyer and kitchen to this family room. Stager Jeanne Westmoreland wanted to create a strong focal point, using the fireplace, to pull buyers into the space.
SOLUTION: Westmoreland's strategy was threefold: She showcased the architectural focal points of the room, including the fireplace and the vaulted ceiling. Cost: Approximately $1,500 Stager: Jeanne Westmoreland (with Arow Flemmer, Lisa Romans and Angel Walker), Staging by the Masters, StagingbytheMasters.com
PROBLEM: Left empty, this Bellevue, Wash., custom-built executive home felt cold and unappealing. The builder asked stager Dana Pedersen to highlight the expansive space and meticulous craftsmanship.
SOLUTION: Pedersen staged the space with natural earth tones and used accents of blues and greens to bring the outdoors inside. Potential buyers now notice the view of Lake Washington and admire the room's craftsmanship and architectural details. Cost: $450 Stager: Dana Pedersen, Masterful Staging, Issaquah, Wash.
PROBLEM: Clutter obscured this dining room in a home in Surprise, Ariz., making a poor first impression as buyers entered the home.
SOLUTION: Stager Sherri Halvorsen enhanced the room's size by eliminating the clutter and removing the owner's china cabinet and two of the dining chairs. Cost: $250 Stager: Sherri Halvorsen, Staged to Perfection, LLC
PROBLEM: Buyers found this stark family room in a Yorktown, Va., home unwelcoming and hard to envision living in. They were left wondering: How and where will our furnishings fit? How should the space flow? Will this family room be large enough for our family?
SOLUTION: Stager Therese Robinson created a warm and inviting family room that said to buyers, "Come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy family and friends." Cost: $210 per month, including the stager's time and the cost of renting furniture and accessories Stager: Therese Robinson, Staged 2 Sell, Poquoson, Va.
PROBLEM: This Ann Arbor, Mich., townhouse had been sitting on the market, vacant, for a year and a half. Because it was empty, buyers were keying in on small flaws, rather than looking at the property as a whole. They also had difficulty visualizing where they would dine.
LIVING ROOM AFTERSOLUTION: The stager warmed the space, creating strong emotional appeal, and also established two, clearly defined eating areas.Cost: $1,000 to stage the great room (shown), kitchen and two bathroomsStager: Kathi Presutti, RE:STYLE LLC, Brighton. Mich.
PROBLEM: This bathroom in a Charlotte, N.C., home lacked a focal point, balance and color.
SOLUTION: Stager Barb Schwarz, working with staging students, added greenery to frame the bath and splashes of color for a "Wow!" factor.Cost: This bathroom was staged as part of a class in staging, at no cost.Stager: Barb Schwarz, StagedHomes.com, Concord, Calif.