HACKENSACK, N.J. — As 2013 emerges with signs of a bottoming out of the real estate slump, homeowners who have been sitting on the sidelines may finally be ready to take the plunge and put their homes on the market.
But for those hoping to sell in the spring, the most popular season for home sales, now is the time to make a few New Year’s resolutions to pave the way for the best deal.
Some real estate agents say 2013 is as good a time as ever to sell, as the housing market is slowly creeping back — though still far below the peak.
Spring is a popular time to list a home for a number of reasons. In the past, corporate executives got their bonus checks in January and began to house hunt, while others received tax refunds. And a spring purchase gives buyers time for the kids to settle down over the summer before heading to a new school in September, said Cindy Marsh-Tichy, president-elect of the New Jersey Association of Realtors.
One downside to spring selling is the increase in competition, which can be avoided by listing a home a little earlier, perhaps in late January or early February.
“The spring market doesn’t begin in the spring. It begins right after the holidays,” said Marsh-Tichy, who primarily sells in Morris County, N.J.
In her experience, late winter months also tend to bring out more serious buyers. “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be out in bad weather looking for a home,” she said.
But to even consider listing a property, a lot of planning and preparation are needed.
Choosing an agent
Mary Premtaj, a sales associate at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Franklin Lakes, N.J., said it is key for sellers to interview many agents, to find the right one for their needs and to ask the right questions.
Sellers should inquire about an agent’s negotiating skills, experience, handling of situations like bidding wars, where the agent lives, what region the agent covers and the agent’s past transactions.
Nicole Idler, a sales associate at Friedberg Properties & Associates in Tenafly, N.J., also suggested asking for references, how long it takes an agent to complete a sale and if the agent works full time.
Where to look
Once an agent is hired, the next step is to discuss the bigger picture: Where do the homeowners want to live next?
“Always make sure that the next step is feasible before taking the first step,” said Bill Boswell, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
“There are people who get caught all the time.”
Before listing their own home on the market, it helps for prospective sellers to take a day or two to drive around and see what is out there for them, Boswell said.
“Just so they can feel comfortable to know there is something that they will be comfortable in,” Boswell said.
How much to ask
Then, it may be time to consider setting the asking price.
Marilyn Nuber, a broker associate at Keller Williams Village Square Realty in Ridgewood, N.J., said homeowners need to be realistic about the asking price.
This becomes more important for owners looking to sell their properties fast.
“They can’t be emotional about it. They have to look at what other people have received for their home,” Nuber said.
But it takes more than putting the appropriate price tag on a home to sell it — houses need to be prepared to be shown, to become neutral to all potential buyers.
“It’s very, very unusual that we walk into a property that doesn’t need anything done, regardless of the price point,” Premtaj said.
She said it helps to “walk through your senses” to ensure everything is free of clutter, looks bright, smells good and is organized well. Homeowners also need to remember not to overlook the little things, like replacing a burned-out light bulb.
Premtaj also recommends pre-inspection in some cases.
Home inspection companies can do a modified, shortened inspection for people who are looking to sell. It’s not as costly as a full inspection, but prices vary by home.
“I don’t require it,” she said. “I would suggest it for people who have houses that are older and have a little more wear and tear, and there’s more competition.”
Boswell said homeowners should not underestimate getting a home warranty.
“It tends to really soften the worry of potential buyers coming in, and there’s a peace of mind that comes with that,” he said.
Maria Rini of Re/Max Real Estate in Oradell, N.J., said that buyers need to remember that no amount of money they put into the house to fix it up will be fully returned.
This is why homeowners should seek professional advice before throwing tons of money into what may be unnecessary home improvements just to sell their home, Rini said.
For example, Rini said she once had a client whose friend told him to spend $4,000 on custom blinds.
“There was no reason for this man to spend a dime in this area,” Rini said.
What is important is making sure the house complies with what’s in a standard real estate contract, like having a working furnace, proper plumbing and no leaky roofs, she said.
Ready for photos
Once the house is fully staged, it is time to schedule a professional photographer, Premtaj said.
“It’s one of the most important aspects,” she said.
“That’s the one way for us to communicate with all these prospective buyers who start their searches on the Internet.”
Rini said Web marketing is crucial. Her brokerage uses about 300 different websites to help sell their homes. Many agents even set up individual websites with video clips, details and photographs to help sell houses.
“It’s supply and demand, so you want to create the biggest demand that you can,” Rini said.