Before you put the "for sale" sign in the yard, park in front of your home and pretend that it's auditioning for "American Idol," the home version, and that you're Simon Cowell, unsparing in your criticism.
Most home buyers spend the first five minutes at the front door while the real-estate agent fumbles with the lock-box key, says Michael Scott, design director for Robb and Stucky Interiors in Phoenix. This gives the potential buyer time to scrutinize what you may have overlooked.
Take care of the basics. Add a fresh coat of paint to the front door if it looks faded. If needed, install new house numbers and an outdoor light. At the very least, make sure these are clean. Don't forget to look under the eaves. Weed. Rake. Toss the fake flowers. Make sure the area around the front door smells pleasant. Add fresh flowers at the door.
Staging. Home stagers have become part of an entourage to help real-estate agents and sellers get homes ready to be someone else's home. That frequently means depersonalizing the home and making it "model home" neutral. And it frequently means the difference between a home selling or languishing on the market.
In Kathy and Randy Norton's case, it meant hiring Ann Lowe and her mother, Judy Bleich, of Fusion Staging and Design, to assess what it would take to make their 25-year-old home in Mesa appealing to buyers. After spending $125 for a two-hour-plus consultation, the Nortons rearranged some furniture and accessories to create a conversation area in the family room, added placemats and a table setting on the kitchen counter and put out a cookbook so that people could visualize themselves in the kitchen. Bleich also told Kathy to hang a large mirror in the dining room and eliminate dated decorative baskets. Norton said she got the kind of honest evaluation that her real-estate agent was too kind to offer.
Creating a balance. At the same time you want to declutter, update and depersonalize, avoid eliminating so many pieces of furniture that a room looks empty. Although you are eliminating clutter, it doesn't mean you're eliminating accessories. Fresh flowers, candles and place settings help buyers envision themselves in that home, Lowe says.
Check out the competition. Go online at Web sites such as realtor.com and zillow.com and look at photos of other homes for sale, Scott advises. They will give you suggestions and questions to ask your agent when your home is marketed and photographed for fliers and Web sites. (Remind your agent to make sure the flier box is always filled.)
Wow factor. Buyers may be looking at a dozen homes at a time, and to make sure yours doesn't get lost in the muddle, Scott suggests creating a wow factor. For his home, which is on the market, Scott made a painting 20 feet long and 4 feet tall. "It could be that painting," he says.
Pricing. Bryant says pricing is key, and it has never been more difficult. Short sales and foreclosures can make it difficult to figure out what comparable homes in an area are selling for, he says, and overall sales are slow. "There's sometimes not much to base a price on," he says.
Agent Cathy Fassero, who sells luxury homes in Paradise Valley, says that foreclosures and short sales are less an issue in her area but that clients' egos can get in the way of a realistic selling price.
Fassero says when she began selling homes in Paradise Valley six years ago, 275 to 325 homes were for sale in the area; now 550 to 600 are on the market. Buyers now want the best value, not necessarily the prime lot or the best view, she says.