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RISMEDIA, Nov. 1, 2007-(MCT)-For months, you’ve been hearing about how it’s a buyer’s market for homes. That’s never good news for thousands of people like Donna Emery. She and her husband have been trying to sell their 2,644-square-foot condo on South St. Mary’s Street since June.

“It’s like, all of a sudden, everything has slowed down a bit,” Emery said. “Yeah, it is frustrating. I didn’t think I would spend another Christmas here, but it looks like I’ll be decorating again.” But not all hope is lost for Emery and other home sellers. There are ways to ease the process. Homes might not fly off the market as they did in recent years, but following certain tips can help a home sell quicker and closer to the asking price.

“The overall volume of sales is slightly up, but buyers are buying a lot more new homes,” said Danny Thompson, a real estate agent at Danny T & Team. “Sellers are having to think of new homes as competitors. A house needs to be as move-in ready as it possibly can.” This means fixing any problems with painting, carpeting or cracking, updating any appliances and landscaping the yard.

“Builders are taking $30,000 to $40,000 off new houses,” said Janice Tisdale, a real estate agent with Bradfield Properties. “This year, you just have to be realistic, and go out there and see what the competition is.” Home sellers without the decorating know-how may want to bring in a home stager who will help arrange the interior to maximize space and to minimize clutter. Home stagers also focus on the first impression of homes.

“Curb appeal is very important,” said LJ Pilant, owner of Alamo Home Staging. “It only takes people about 15 seconds to make a decision about a house.” Pilant’s business has increased since the market started to favor buyers, and she’s also become a lot more popular.

“People don’t argue with me as much,” she said. “They’re more willing to listen to what suggestions I have to say.” Another way to notice problems is to bring in someone who hasn’t lived in a home for years and hasn’t gotten used to the crack up the wall or the stain on the rug.

“Try and take a step back and look at it with fresh eyes,” said Lisa Schmidt, a real estate agent with The Phyllis Browning Co. “It helps to invite an honest friend or family member.” Those fresh eyes also can help de-clutter a home. The fewer trinkets around the house, the better luck you should have.

“You’re not selling your belongings, you’re selling your home,” Schmidt said.

Take stuff off the shelves, especially pictures and portraits. This can be distracting to people who should be looking at the house’s characteristics. Pack up or throw away any magazines or books. It’s not important to show what you read. Though your furniture may be nice, store any unnecessary pieces so the rooms look larger.

And when packing up the rooms, don’t just throw it in a closet. Emery has found that people want to look in those too, to see what kind of space they have. If your closet, cabinet or pantry looks too full, it’s a sign there may not be enough space in them. Emery even has made sure to light any candles throughout the house, to look like they have been used. She has to remember the little things each day, too, like making the beds and taking out the trash.

“It’s kind of like you’re on display,” Emery said. “It’s hard work making it look nice.” The Emerys’ condo is just one of two in their building. It has two bedrooms, 31/2 baths, walk-in closets, two living areas and two eating areas. It’s on the market for $489,000.

Outside the home, Pilant, the home stager, said landscaping should be trimmed to show off the house rather than the overgrown trees. Should a stump pose as an eyesore, put a hanging plant on top of it.

Even though you must get rid of any unpleasant odors, from pets or trash, don’t overdo the scents.

“There can’t be any weird smells in the house,” Pilant said. “People put the plug-ins on strong, and you can’t get past that.” The paint inside a house often reflects an occupant’s lifestyle. A purple bedroom may fit a young girl, and a lime green bathroom may appeal to a teenage boy, but they’re not buying the house.

“Anybody can live with a neutral color,” Pilant said. Unfortunately, she’s seen homes on the market with those color combinations.

Besides the odor of a pet, many people may not actually like them. Some potential buyers may be allergic or afraid of pets, so get them out of the house, even if they are adorable and loved by the whole family.

At Emery’s condo, her son-in-law comes and takes the dog, cats and litter boxes when someone looks at the house.

“If you have pets, do what you can to minimize the impact of them,” Schmidt said. “Put it where it’s not in contact with the buyer.” Even after staging, your house is competing with new homes — and builders are offering some serious incentives, from free upgrades to deep discounts.

To compete, Emery and Schmidt, who is Emery’s real estate agent, have talked about offering a buyer’s incentive. In this case, one option would be to provide a yearlong membership to a fitness center, since her condo does not have one.

“A lot of people will also leave their washer, dryer and/or fridge. People think that’s great,” Bradfield Properties’ Tisdale said. “People are also asking for a lot in repairs. Buyers are thinking, ‘This is my market, I can get whatever I want.'” Tisdale said another benefit might be to include a one-year home warranty for any repairs that may be needed in that time, which could cost between $300 and $500. Another practice Tisdale recommends is the seller paying the closing costs. She said she’s seeing more of that these days.

“One of the things that is key right now is to price your house properly,” Schmidt said. “There are more choices of houses in San Antonio, and people are going to be quick to realize that.” Emery said she dropped the price initially, but hasn’t lowered it again. She hopes not to, and thinks her condo is fairly priced compared to others downtown. However, she hasn’t ruled out negotiating with someone who’s interested.

Schmidt said one way to assess pricing is by looking at the number of calls and showings a home gets. Few of either might be a sign that the price needs to drop. But if you’re not in a hurry, now may not be the best time to sell.

“If you don’t have to sell, I would take the house off the market,” Thompson said. “That would actually help out the market in general. This is not a time to go fishing for the best price.” Taking homes off the market would help decrease the average days-on-market and would lower the oversupply right now.

“Buyers interpret days-on-market as desperation,” Thompson said. “Right now, it’s critical to price it correctly so you don’t end up with a long days-on-market.” If sellers already have bought a second home, they’ll be in a real hurry, Thompson said, and may be more likely to drop the price. Price drops are also more likely when sellers are in a rush to leave. The Emerys are not in a hurry to sell, so desperation isn’t playing a factor yet.

“I just have to slow down,” Emery said. “I wake up every day and make my bed and make sure the trash is taken out.”

Ten Ideas for Today’s Market

–Trim up your trees and shrubs. Buyers often make a decision on a house from seeing the outside.
–Make your house as move-in ready as possible before it goes on the market. You’re competing with new homes, so no cracks, stains or funky paint jobs.
–Remove pictures, attention-getting art and books from walls and shelves. People are there to see your house, not your personal possessions.
–Take out some furniture. You want rooms to feel large and expansive.
–Get rid of pets while you show the house. Some may find pet odor offensive, and others may be allergic to or afraid of animals.
–Clean closets. People should feel there’s more than enough storage than they ever will need.
–Consider paying for closing costs as a buyer’s incentive.
–Leave the washer, dryer and/or fridge as extra bonuses that other houses may not be offering.
–Make up for lacking amenities, such as paying for a gym membership if there’s no gym.
–Don’t be in a hurry. It’s a slower market than last year.

Source: San Antonio real estate agents

Copyright © 2007, San Antonio Express-News
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.