Can't sell when you want for what you want? Then lower your sights and do a spring clean

Supply exceeds demand, so make your home stand out, writes Laura Brady
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The Independent Online

The late spring has traditionally been a busy season in the house-moving calendar - a time when sellers can name their price, enjoy a flurry of activity and shift their property in a matter of days.

The late spring has traditionally been a busy season in the house-moving calendar - a time when sellers can name their price, enjoy a flurry of activity and shift their property in a matter of days.

But now it's a different story. As many a homeowner trying to move in 2005 will testify, the selling isn't easy. This is because we are in a buyer's market where the supply of homes available for purchase far exceeds demand. Nearly double the number of new properties were listed with agents last month compared to April 2004, according to new figures from research firm Hometrack.

And if choice favours the buyer, so does cost. The Halifax's House Price Index for April showed there was no rise at all in the £163,615 average price of a UK home. It also reported that annual house inflation has fallen below the long-term historical average to 7.8 per cent - far from the 19.1 per cent seen this time last year.

The upshot of this is that vendors are having to change their expectations. They now face delays in the time it takes to get offers, and a greater chunk off their asking price.

Figures for April from property website Rightmove show that the average time for which a property is on the market is now 73 days - compared with 54 days this time last year.

Moreover, Hometrack says the percentage of the asking price achieved is down 3.1 per cent on last year's 96.4 per cent.

Estate agents agree that there has been a swing back in favour of the buyer. "We currently have more properties on our books than we have seen in 18 years," says Anthony Quirk, a partner at the Essex-based agent Quirk Deakin. "Naturally, buyers are taking their time. One property now has around 16 viewings before it is sold, which compares to around six or seven this time last year."

Mr Quirk adds that on the agent's typically priced £170,000 property, a seller will now walk away with around £163,000 - against over £168,000 last year.

But none of this has stopped some sellers from grossly overpricing their properties, says Rightmove. According to its findings, asking prices actually increased in April by 1.3 per cent on the previous month - and now even exceed last July's record average of £196,198.

"People tend to be enthusiastic in the spring and haven't caught up with the fact it has been a buyer's market for the past nine months," says Miles Shipside, commercial director of Rightmove. "But of course many people don't have to sell. It would take much higher interest rates or rises in unemployment to lower sellers' price aspirations significantly."

If, however, you need a quick sale - as close to the asking price as possible - there are measures you can take to achieve this.

The first is a realistic asking price. "To get an honest valuation, you will need to ask three agents and take the average," says Mr Quirk.

Land Registry figures - now available free of charge from - will reveal what similar properties in your area have actually sold for.

With buyers having plenty of choice at the moment, you should also try to ensure your property doesn't suffer by comparison. That means spending time maintaining the exterior, says Paul Fincham, spokesman for the Halifax. "A poorly kept front garden can set the tone for any viewing. It doesn't have to look like it was designed by Ground Force, you just need to ensure it is cut back and tidy."

The same goes for the inside of your home. Apart from keeping it uncluttered, you could carry out inexpensive alterations such as taking up carpets and exposing the floorboards. This can present the property as more "workable", suggests Simon Tyler, managing director of broker Chase de Vere Mortgage Management.

With period properties, he recommends keeping as many original features as possible - including tiled floors and fireplaces. "Even if they are looking tired, they are extremely sought after," he says.

Getting creative with your negotiating skills is also a good idea, adds Mr Shipside at Rightmove, who suggests planning ahead for any problems with a potential buyer.

"If you don't want to put in a new kitchen, for example, get a quote for one and tell the potential buyer that this cost has been factored into the price."

Alternatively, you could offer to leave white goods or curtains and carpets. "This may persuade the buyer to accept a higher price, as well as saving you the hassle of moving them," explains Melanie Bien, associate director at broker Savills Private Finance.

Also be ready with answers about local amenities and schools, and any issues such as potential new developments.


Luisa Paolucci and her partner Lucy Jeffries from Milton Keynes are keen to sell their home as soon as possible so they can proceed with their plans to move to Brighton.

They put their two-bed semi on the market last week and are now waiting for offers.

"We knew it would not be as easy to sell this year," says Luisa, a firefighter. "That's why we arranged two valuations and took the lowest at £139,950."

In a bid to make the property more attractive to potential buyers, they painted the hallway and kitchen and made costly repairs to the garage roof.

After doing all this, they are not prepared to negotiate. "It's a desirable property so we are not letting statistics put us off," says Luisa. "We hope to sell it within two months."