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Even In a Struggling Market, You Can Still Sell Your House

It took two years, but Kerry Tramel and his wife Vy finally sold their four bedroom home in Moore, Oklahoma last December.

Source: Openhouseok.com

In the process, Tramel learned a lot about how to sell—and buy—a house in a devastated real estate market.

"We paid $350,000 for it and that's what we sold if for," says Tramel, who heads a local mattress manufacturer. "I was going to do everything I could not to lose on it."

The two-story house with 3,300 square feet was originally offered at $379,000. Tramel admits he could have sold the home right away if he was willing to take less money.

"I passed up an offer of $350,000 one month after it was listed by the agent," says Tramel, who has two young children. "I thought we might be able to get more, but we didn't."

As the housing market struggles to punch its way out of an economic collapse, selling a home these days might seem like an impossible task. But some houses, like Tramel's, can be sold. It just takes patience, a little luck, and a willingness to lower your price.

Even then, it's not always under your control. A key factor still appears to be that time-worn principle—location.

"It's really based on where foreclosures and falling prices haven't hit too hard," says Mary Cassidy, a real estate agent with Bronxville/Ley Real Estate in Westchester County, New York. "Housing's hurting, but there is activity."

Areas that saw the biggest gains from the housing boom are still the slowest to recover.

"For places like Las Vegas, and Phoenix where foreclosures are still happening, home sales are going to take a long time to recover," says Bob Walters, chief economist at QuickenLoans.com. "Other areas of the U.S. have OK sales, like the middle of the country or the East Coast."

While waiting for a buyer for their house, Tramel says he and Vy became "professional house shoppers" and learned how to be a buyer as well. They saw more than 90 properties.

"We were doing both at the same time, buying and selling," Tramel says.

In the process, Tramel picked up a lot about the local real estate market.

"I noticed we didn't have the runup in homes prices that other areas of the country did and we didn't have a lot of foreclosures," Tramel adds. "Home prices haven't had that far to fall, at least from what I can see."

Eventually, Tramel found a buyer. They were renting out their current home and looking for another place to live.

"They had been looking for a long time and knew it was a buyer's market," Tramel says. "But once they knew my price was at the lowest it was going to be, we negotiated on other items such as what may stay in the house. That's how we worked things out."

That allowed Tramel and his family to find for a new home themselves.

"We found a house just a few miles away in Norman that I really loved and we put in a low bid. We put in another offer but nothing happened."

Tramel used Halloween to break the impasse.

"I purposely took my two boys to the neighborhood for trick-or-treating and I saw the owner on the porch of the house we wanted," Tramel says. "I said, 'I'm trying to buy your house' and he said 'We'd love to sell it to you. Why don't you call and we'll work it out.' So that's what we did. The real estate agents still got their commissions and we got what we wanted."

What Tramel got was a 3,900 square foot house for $475,000 that included a home entertainment theatre. It had been on the market for just two months. Tramel says the owner took a loss but was willing to do that in order to move. After both parties came to an agreement, it was just a matter of closing the deal.

"I put 20 percent down and had to go through requirements for the loan with a local mortgage banker, but it was not really that bad a process," Tramel says. "The people that bought my house got a VA loan without any down payment. Not sure how that will work out, but I intend to stay in my house for a long time. I hate moving."

While Tramel was able to move up in price and space, other sellers are looking for a way to downsize.

The Capraro's second home was underwater

Cape Cod Second Home

For Judy and Vinny Capraro, selling their vacation home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts this past May was a way to cut out a long drive from their house in New Jersey—and save money.

Photo: trulia.com

"We had a mortgage and we didn't see any equity building in the home," says 69 year old Judy Capraro, a retired public school teacher who lives in Middletown, New Jersey.

"Even though it's a very nice neighborhood, we were 'underwater ' and owed more on the home than it was worth. Home prices have fallen somewhat," Capraro goes on to say. "It was enough at least for us to sell."

The Capraro's bought the three bedroom, two bath house in West Hyannis 14 years ago for $142,000.

Renovations and rebuilding kept costs rising, Capraro says. Even with a fixed mortgage, the monthly payment of about $2,600 didn't seem worth it to Capraro and 72 year old Vinny, who retired five years ago as superintendent of schools in Edison, New Jersey.

"It's a lot different for people in their 30s and 40s and waiting out the next twenty years for the values to go up," says Judy Capraro, who gives music lessons to supplement the couple's income. "We just didn't see that happening."

The home sold for $375,000 after being on the market for just two weeks. The original asking price was $399,000. Like Tramel, the Capraro's didn't want to lose money, but the couple got an eye opening moment they didn't expect.

"The new owner, a woman in her 40s, came in with cash for the whole deal and that made up somewhat for the difference in price," Judy explains. "We wanted to get more money and we didn't really make that much, but in a way we were lucky to sell it."

With three grown children, Capraro says she and her husband are now content with just owning their senior residence condominium.

"We have a mortgage on this place and we'll be staying here for some time," Capraro adds. "They'll have to carry me out of here."

As for Cape Cod, selling their second home doesn't rule out a return.

"We can certainly go back there and rent another house during summer months," Capraro goes on to say. "We used to rent our own house sometimes. But now we don't have to worry about cleaning up, fixing things that are broken, and worrying about the place."

For both Tramel and Capraro, selling a home in today's market came with surprises and lessons learned.

"Everybody has to give a little to sell a house," Tramel goes on to say. "You also have to be patient, if you can. Also, know what you can live with in terms of price."

"I really thought it would take a while to sell," Capraro adds. "We're glad it didn't. My advice? I'd say get a good agent who knows the area. Our agent was right down the street and had customers waiting. It's a buyer's market for sure. Just be prepared to negotiate. Being flexible helps in the end."

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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