Personal Finance

The 'unique' reason your home's still on the market

Save Me: Sell your home for top dollar
Save Me: Sell your home for top dollar

Location and price aren't everything. Success in getting top dollar for your home may also come down to a few "unique" factors, such as the words you use in your property listing.

With just 1.89 million homes for sale, the housing market is off to a slow start this year. Low supply, especially relative to demand, does mean properties are moving a bit faster, though. February data from released earlier this month found that homes nationwide spent an average 102 days on the market, down 1.9 percent from January.

It's in the sellers' best interest to keep that figure low. "People make a lot of inferences, correct and incorrect, about houses that have been on the market for a long time," said Stan Humphries, author of "Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate." Namely, that there must be something wrong with the property, and that there's room for negotiation in the price.

Some smart planning can help you sell faster, and at a better price:

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Listing timing

Most real estate professionals say spring is the best time to list. But that's a pretty big window. "In every market, there's this sweet spot," said Humphries, who is also the chief economist at Aim to list after the first wave of sellers in January and February, and before the influx of buyers in April and May, which will mean your listing pops up when most buyers are starting their hunt, boosting the average sale price by 2 percent. Nationally, that timing works out to the last two weeks of March, he said, or maybe a little later for cold-weather locales.

DIY tendencies

One-third of sellers don't use a traditional agent, but going the "for sale by owner' route doesn't mean you don't need some professional help, said Steve Udelson, president of real estate site A DIY approach won't always cut it. "You're probably only going to reach one in five buyers, at best," he said, which can lead to sellers' boomeranging back to full-service agents after their home has been on the market for months (costing them on selling price and commissions). He suggests allocating some funds for marketing on listing sites and on a buyer's agent commission to entice them to bring clients.

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Be careful what you write about your home. It can influence how many buyers decide to visit, and what they are willing to pay. Listings that include the word "unique" sell for 30 to 50 percent less than comparable properties (Tweet This), said Humphries, while those that use "nice" sell for 1 percent less. "Basically what you're saying is, 'I like the home, but few others will like the home,'" he said. That said, don't be afraid to wax poetic about home features that will appeal to buyers, like spacious closets and granite countertops. "The longer the description, the more the home sold for, up to about 250 words," said Humphries. "If you've got it, flaunt it."

Wrong representation

Interview several real estate agents before picking one to work with, said National Association of Realtors president Chris Polychron. "Experience in the marketplace is very, very valuable," he said. It's important to find a full-time, veteran agent who knows enough about the local market to price your home appropriately, and market it so it stands out among comparable properties, he said. That can make a difference in how quickly it sells, and at what price. (Different agents may also charge different commissions.)

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Price drops

Overpricing is far from ideal. "It can lead to your home selling for less than it would otherwise," said Humphries. About half of sellers take at least one price cut, and the depth of the cuts and when you make them can make a big difference. A cut of 10 percent or more typically means the home will sell for another 2 percent less, he said. Buyers also tend to view cuts more favorably when they're made shortly after listing (i.e., you realized you overpriced) rather than when a home has lingered on the market.


Nine out of 10 buyers start their search online, according to Zillow, and the NAR estimates that 45 percent of buyers check out homes on their tablet or phone. A listing's photos can be make-or-break in getting someone to schedule an in-person visit. Consider hiring a professional photographer rather than relying on your own skills or those of your agent, especially for pricier homes, said Polychron. Don't photograph potential "eyesores," like an outdated bathroom, he said; buyers will still assume there's an issue, but may decide to see the space anyway. Take time to make the space photo-ready, too. That might mean hiring someone to stage a space or, at minimum, doing some sprucing up yourself, Udelson said. "Buyers don't have the best imagination about what a space can look like," he said.