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By Alan J. Heavens

RISMEDIA, Sept. 16, 2008-(MCT)-A colleague has decided to downsize to a condo and has added her house to the substantial existing-home inventory in Philadelphia.

She and her late husband were part of the urban-pioneering movement in their neighborhood in the early 1970s. For their efforts, and as a result of the housing boom in the early part of this decade, they accumulated a substantial amount of equity that even this bump in the real estate road cannot reduce.

But she faces a buyer’s market, with all that implies, made more difficult by tighter credit in the aftermath of the subprime debacle of August 2007.

The price she is asking is within the financial means of a young professional single or couple-I’ve seen newly minted lawyers buy Rittenhouse Square condos for about the same amount.

She also is willing to negotiate, and that puts her ahead of the pack. Agents tell me that there are plenty of sellers who remain unwilling to budge from the wrongheaded “but my neighbor sold his house in 2006 for a zillion dollars” view of proper pricing.

Still, she and her agent realize that she cannot sell the house “as is.” With record inventory on the city market and sales down about 25% from a year ago, buyers can afford to be picky. So seller and agent need to come up with a game plan to turn the house into a sale.

Simple things: Toilets need to flush, faucets mustn’t drip or drain sluggishly, water heaters must operate properly.

Heating and central air-conditioning systems go without saying. It would be better if they were newer, for the sake of maximum energy efficiency, but if they operate properly and well, and look as if they’ll do the job for a few more years, then they should be fine.

Prospective buyers may ask to see your monthly heating and cooling bills, as well as your water bills. Living costs are rising, salaries are flat, and today’s buyers are adding a whole host of expenses to the monthly mortgage payment to see whether they can handle homeownership.

Lots of insulation, efficient windows and doors, a roof that doesn’t leak or need replacement, gutters and chimneys that are clean and in good working order are also important.

The exterior of a house tends to be more a buyer issue than the interior, since the innards are exposed to the wider world by invitation only. Today’s shoppers won’t be fooled by mulch or freshly planted flowers, just as they know the potpourri, freshly baked bread and boiled cinnamon stick ploys, too.

If the exterior needs painting and repair, pay for it. If the interior is gorgeous but too dark, washing the windows will let in natural light.

Don’t worry about the interior. If they don’t like the colors, that’s easy to change.

Remember, listen to your agent. One who’s worth the commission will know the market and the competition.

Most of all, hang in there. It may take awhile, but your house will sell _ maybe even for more than the “proper price.”

© 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.