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Florida Today

Selling and Still Waiting

By Anne Straub

You’ve heard the stories: bidding wars for your average single-family home. Homes that sell before the sign goes up. Double-digit appreciation in less than a year.

So why does your home seem to languishing on the market?

Local real estate agents have several possible answers.

Price.

“Ninety-percent of the time, it’s overpriced,” said Cindy Peterson, owner of Peterson & Cox VIP Realty Inc. in Cocoa Beach.

When a home seller interviews agents to list their home for sale, each agent will prepare a comparative market analysis that uses recent sales prices of comparable nearby properties to suggest a selling price for the home. Agents generally recommend that home sellers interview three agents – but the agent who recommends the highest price isn’t necessarily the best choice. That agent might be trying to get the listing and lower the price to a more realistic level later.

Sometimes, notes real estate columnist Robert Bruss, listing agents bow to pressure from the owner to set the price too high, hoping to persuade the seller later to reduce the price.

That’s a bad approach, agents warn. If a home doesn’t sell in a reasonable period of time, it might become stigmatized, said Tony Ayala, a Realtor with Pruitt Real Estate in Melbourne. The end result likely will be a lower sale price than if the property was priced correctly at the start.

If you’re getting a lot of showings but no offers, that’s a good sign you need to reevaluate your price, said Linda Wise, broker-owner of Tropical Realty on Merritt Island.

Cleanliness.

Even in a seller’s market, existing homes are competing with new homes for buyers and so should seem as new as possible. A bad smell – pet odor, cigarette smoke, or even cooking smells – will turn away buyers in a heartbeat, Ayala said.

Another major turnoff is clutter. Buyers want to imagine their furniture in their house, Ayala said, but that can be difficult if they’re too overwhelmed with your stuff.

That’s an experience that helped guide Julia and Sam Carmichael to their home in Palm Bay. The Gainesville couple is relocating to Brevard County to be closer to family. They looked at some new houses but found the lots were too small to accommodate their travel trailer. Some of the existing homes were cluttered and not well cared for. So when they found a well-maintained existing home with bright, open rooms, nothing could compete with it.

Get rid of the stacks of mail, Wise said, and make enough room for buyers to mentally move themselves in.

Deferred maintenance.

Even a clean home can have repairs left undone, foreshadowing bigger problems. Rust stains and peeling paint can make home shoppers nervous. “If you can see this on the surface, can you imagine what’s inside that you cannot see?” Ayala said.

Homeowners might get used to living with an unfinished project. But as sellers, they need to get picky about the appearance of the home. “Anything that’s an eyesore to the owner will be a bigger eyesore to the buyer,” Peterson said.

Poor curb appeal.

Realtors emphasize the importance of first impressions, or what a buyer will think of your home before he or she even enters.

“Walk out to your mailbox, turn around and look at your house,” Wise suggested. Look for overgrown landscaping and weeds. “So many of us drive into our garages, but we don’t walk up to our front door.”

Pay extra attention to that door, she said: Buyers will stand there waiting for you to answer or for the agent to fiddle with the lockbox. Make sure the door is clean, and if you know someone’s coming to look at the house, spray some air freshener around the front door, Wise said.

Peterson usually picks a few important points to ask a seller to address. For example, a bush could hide an unsightly air-conditioning unit. “Get the bikes out of the yard, and get the garbage cans put back in the garage,” she said.

Inadequate marketing.

The listing agent should have a marketing plan that includes things like newspaper advertising, fliers, Internet exposure and inclusion in the local multiple listing service. “They just don’t get sold by sitting there,” Peterson said.

She recommends that sellers ask for the shortest possible listing period. That way, if you’re happy with the agent, you can renew if the house doesn’t sell. But if you feel he or she hasn’t done a good job, you’re free to look elsewhere. She learned that lesson the hard way: As a home seller before she went into the business, she was stuck with a poor agent for six months.

Her agents sign contracts for a 30-day listing, with an unconditional release permitted after that. “That encourages agents to work doubly hard for them, or they’ll lose the listing,” she said.

Though some agents say the market has slowed in recent months, sellers still can get top price, and fast, by attention to detail. “A house that’s well cared for and has all those things taken care of is a house that’s going to receive multiple offers,” Ayala said. “There’s not a lot of inventory out there.”