If you plan to sell your house or condo in 2007, in most communities the peak sales months are April, May, June and July. The reason is the largest number of prospective buyers are in the market during this time of the year.

That means now is the time to get your home ready for sale. If you want to earn top dollar, careful preparation and planning are essential. The four key steps are:

1. GET YOUR HOME INTO “MODEL HOME” CONDITION. Home buyers are especially fussy this year. The reason is it’s a “buyer’s market.” That means there are more houses and condos listed for sale in most communities than there are qualified buyers in the marketplace.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

In most towns the inventory of homes for sale is up and the volume of sales is down. If you want your home to go from “for sale” to “sold,” it must stand out without any serious drawbacks.

The best way to get your house or condo ready for sale is to take a critical look at it. Pretend you are a critical buyer. Ask yourself, “Would I buy this home?” If your honest answer is “no,” then do your best to correct its deficiencies.

Getting your home into “model home” condition doesn’t mean making major renovations, such as installing a new kitchen or new bathrooms. That is usually a waste of money because buyers might not like your tastes.

Instead, cleaning, repairing and painting are all that is usually needed. Inexpensive cosmetic improvements usually pay off handsomely.

Even if your home really doesn’t need it, fresh paint is the most profitable improvement you can make. It gives that “new feeling” to even old houses. For every $1 spent painting the interior and exterior, the return in the form of a higher sales price is often 10 times its cost.

Other profitable improvements that usually return more than their modest costs include new light fixtures, new floor coverings (carpets, kitchen and bathroom tile or vinyl, refinishing wood floors, etc.) and a landscaping spruce-up with colorful flowering plants.

Pretend you are a photographer from one of the home magazines, such as House Beautiful or Sunset. Aim to make your house or condo worthy of a low-cost home makeover feature article.

2. HAVE YOUR HOME PROFESSIONALLY INSPECTED. Although you might prefer to make this your first step, it is important to have a pre-listing professional inspection of your house or condo.

Your residence might contain hidden problems of which you are not aware and which can be easily corrected before putting the home on the market for sale. Or, if a serious drawback is discovered and you either can’t afford to fix it or you don’t want to, then just reveal the defect in writing to prospective buyers so they can consider it when making a purchase offer.

Another alternative is to repair or replace the deficient item, such as a bad furnace, but ask the supplier to delay payment until the sale closes. Most suppliers are eager to make sales and will readily agree to delayed payment without extra cost.

The reason a pre-listing professional inspection is so vital is home sellers most of today’s savvy buyers insist on these inspections. By having your own pre-listing inspection, you will already be aware of any serious drawbacks.

For example, several years ago I had a pre-listing inspection of a rental house I wanted to sell. Since I did not live in the home, I was not aware of any major problems. On his checklist, my professional inspector inspected the furnace and found it to be in good condition. However, my buyer’s inspector (a retired contractor) said the furnace was defective and dangerous.

To resolve the conflict, I arranged to have a furnace repairman and a representative of the local gas company inspect the furnace. The buyer and I — as well as the real estate agents — attended the joint inspection. Both the repairman and the gas company employee agreed there was nothing wrong with the furnace and the sale closed without further dispute. I think the buyer was just trying to get me to pay for a new furnace.

To find a local qualified professional home inspector, I suggest members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), which has the toughest membership standards. Local ASHI members can be found at www.ashi.com or by phone at 1-800-743-2744.

In addition, wise home sellers have customary local inspections such as for termites, energy efficiency, radon and building code compliance. Such inspections avoid later surprises. Smart sellers have repairs made before putting their home on the market, thus thwarting buyer objections.

3. ESTIMATE YOUR HOME’S MARKET VALUE. Even the best, most experienced real estate agents have difficulty in today’s “buyer’s market” giving accurate estimates of the probable sales price of a house or condo.

Although a few local markets are rising, most are stagnant or on a level plateau. A few are falling, due to lack of home-buyer demand caused by declining local employment.

Home sales prices are based on the recent sales (not asking) prices of nearby similar houses and condos within the last three months. A good place to start is on the Internet to determine your home’s approximate market value.

To find out the asking prices of similar homes listed for sale in your community, the best source is www.realtor.com. This Web site claims to have virtually all the local home listings. It will give you a good idea of comparable nearby houses and condos now listed for sale. Please remember these are asking, not sales, prices.

A controversial Web site offering free “zestimates” of local home values is www.Zillow.com. When you enter your home’s address, in many cases Zillow will show an aerial photo and even lot boundaries.

But this site doesn’t include all communities, and some of the information is inaccurate because it is based on public records that might not be up to date. Zillow usually provides “comps” of recent sales prices of similar nearby homes like yours.

Other free Internet home-value-estimate Web sites include www.HomeGain.com (the second most visited home sale Web site), www.HouseValues.com and www.Domania.com. These sites often refer you to a local real estate agent who will be thrilled to list your home for sale and help estimate its market value.

4. INTERVIEW AT LEAST THREE SUCCESSFUL REALTY AGENTS. After your house or condo is in near-model-home condition, you have had it professionally inspected and made necessary repairs (or at least included them on your seller disclosure statement), and checked your home’s approximate fair market value at several internet sources, it’s time to decide if you want to sell your home alone (called “for sale by owner” or FSBO) or if you want to hire a professional sales agent.

Before making that decision, it’s best to interview at least three successful realty agents who sell homes in your vicinity. Even if you think you can sell your home without any agent, the agents you interview won’t mind spending an hour or so inspecting your home and giving you their expert written opinions of its market value.

The reason the agents you interview will welcome your phone call is they know most do-it-yourself home sellers fail and, within 30 to 60 days, they contact one of the interviewed agents to list their home for sale. Only about 20 percent of home sales today are made without a realty agent.

It is critical to interview at least three successful local agents to compare their evaluations of your home. Watch out for the super-enthusiastic agent who estimates a far higher sales price for your home, without written justification, than the other interviewed agents suggest.

Also, beware of the interviewed agent who recommends a low price, probably hoping you don’t already have an approximate value for your home based on the Internet and the other interviews.

Finally, don’t be misled by a charismatic agent who gushes with praise for your home and lulls you into believing he or she can sell your home fast for top dollar.

To find successful local agents to interview, consider the agents who have kept you informed with periodic mailings about neighborhood home sales prices. Visit local weekend open houses to meet local agents and evaluate their home listings similar to yours.

Also, consider nearby “for sale” signs that turned into “sold” signs within 90 days. Recommendations from friends, neighbors and business associates who have used an agent’s service are also important when selecting an agent to interview.

Finally, after checking each interviewed agent’s references of recent home sellers, list your home for sale with the best agent. For your protection, an initial listing term of not more than 90 days gives the agent time to show what he or she can do to earn the sales commission.

But don’t be misled by an agent who demands a six-month listing, often stating that’s the average time on the market for similar homes. Politely reply, “I don’t want just an average agent. I want a superb agent who can get my home sold in 90 days or less.” However, if a truly superior agent insists on a six-month listing, with a no-cost unconditional cancellation clause after 90 days, that is acceptable just in case you made a bad decision so you don’t get stuck with a lazy agent.

Next week: the key questions to ask real estate agents before listing your home for sale.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
).

***

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