Sell Your Home: Add a Personal Touch

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After teasing us with good news, the housing market is turning a cold shoulder again. The latest sales figures are discouraging, and many experts think mortgage rates are sure to rise in the next few months, leaving buyers with less to spend.

It’s a tough market for sellers, no doubt about it. But there are a few ways to make the best of it aside from standard moves like reducing the price and sprucing up.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that you need only one buyer. If you were running a fast food chain your sales would track the economy’s ups and downs, because you’d depend on the average customer’s willingness to spend. But when you need just one buyer, you can enjoy complete success finding someone who does not reflect the average view of the market at all.

The lack of a garage might be a liability for the average buyer, but an asset for someone committed to using public transportation or riding a bike to work.

If your property has a unique appeal, it could pay to do some targeted advertising that your real estate agent might not bother with. Your home is near a popular bike trail? Put fliers in the local bike shops. If there’s a great restaurant district in walking distance, stroll over and shove fliers under diners’ windshield wipers.

It could also pay to be flexible on items like window treatments and appliances, or even the lawnmower and snow blower. These items might be more valuable to the buyer than to you, simply because having them thrown in reduces the hassles of buying and moving in.

While most sellers are too thin-skinned to be present when their properties are shown, a homeowner who has loved the property and neighborhood can probably give a better sales pitch than the agent. You can rhapsodize about the block party on the Fourth of July; your agent probably won’t know there is one.

Also, the homeowner is free to talk about how many kids live on the block, and the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup. Most agents will shy away from those subjects for fear of violating anti-discrimination laws.

Of course, in a tough market your agent will probably urge you to be realistic about your asking price. It’s worth it to try to see things from a buyer’s prospective to make sure you aren’t cutting your price too much, or holding out unwisely. If mortgage rates go up half a percentage point, how far would you have to reduce the price to leave a buyer the same payment he’d have had at the lower rate? Use the Mortgage Loan Calculator to figure it out. And be sure to keep abreast of changing mortgage rates, using the BankingMyWay Shopping Tool.

Also double-check the agent’s comparable sales data, which is used to assess prices. Many agents will rely on a computer-generated list of recent sales. Check out those homes to make sure they really are comparable. You can find recent sales data at Zillow.com. If you find agents’ lists unrepresentative, prepare your own and leave a stack on the kitchen counter alongside the agents' brochures.

You should also consider preparing a guide to living in the house and neighborhood, listing places to shop, eat and find recreation and entertainment answering all the questions you would if you were turning the house over to a good friend. Leave a stack of those as well.

Buying and selling homes tends to focus on price, features and location. But many buyers end up with several finalists. Do anything you can to help buyers imagine the wonderful life they could live if they choose your home over others.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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