How to Sell in Tough Times

(MONEY Magazine) — If you’re in the market to sell your home, you probably feel you can’t catch a break. Nearly five years into the housing bust, when many experts thought the real estate market would at least have stabilized, sales and prices are still dropping in most of the country.

In February existing-home sales tumbled 9.6% from the previous month, and the median price of a single-family home dropped to $157,000 from $163,900 the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

You can’t count on things turning around soon, either. At the current sales pace, it would take 8.6 months to clear out the 3.5 million existing homes listed today.

With the boost from the recent homebuyer tax credit gone, anyone who decides or is forced to put a house up for sale enters a market where houses often linger a full six months — even a year — without any bites.

Put part of the blame on stiff competition: Foreclosures and short sales, which accounted for 39% of sales in February, sell for about 15% less than conventional homes. “It’s dreadful out there for sellers,” says Patrick Newport, a US economist at forecasting firm IHS Global Insight.

Fortunately, there is one glimmer of good news. Bargain hunters, too, know that home prices are down some 32% from their peak. In a recent CNNMoney survey, three-quarters said that it was a good time to buy a home. But translating that interest into an actual sale can require some extreme measures.

It’s not enough to show buyers your house is a deal: You have to convince them it’s a total steal. That means slashing your price, bringing in a pro to pretty it up, and creating a killer website for your home. Here’s how to do it right.

Slash Your Price, Big time

Sellers are still loath to accept the extent of the toll the bust took on their homes’ value, says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for the housing website Trulia.com.

Many also give in to the temptation to list the property above fair market value to see what happens. Big mistake! About a quarter of sellers in the past year initially listed too high and were forced to knock the price lower, according to Trulia.com. Even in cities that have held up well, such as Charlotte, 25% of sellers resort to at least one price cut, and often two

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Specializing in properties in South Hampton Roads, Virginia.