Home sellers forced to stick on some slap

Want a painless sale as the market slows? Then be prepared to be flexible on price and to do some freshening-up, says Melanie Bien
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The Independent Online

Signs that the housing market is slowing in parts of the country are becoming more evident, with properties taking longer to sell and prices lower than at this time last year. But it is still possible to sell your home for a reasonable price if you are pre- pared to be realistic and flexible.

Signs that the housing market is slowing in parts of the country are becoming more evident, with properties taking longer to sell and prices lower than at this time last year. But it is still possible to sell your home for a reasonable price if you are pre- pared to be realistic and flexible.

"The market has swung back in favour of the buyer," says Nick Freeth, director for the Wessex region of Bradford & Bing-ley estate agents. "Sellers should be prepared for the process to take a bit longer and to put in a bit more effort when marketing the property, paying particular attention to presentation."

But Noel de Keyzer, director of estate agents FPD Savills, believes sellers need not worry about further setbacks in the coming months. "Prices have actually been slowing since the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of 2003," he says. "This has resulted in as much as a 10 per cent drop at the top end of the market. But now that the price correction has taken place, we expect a very level market for the rest of the year, although actual transactions should reduce by as much as 50 to 60 per cent."

If your property is at the top end of the market – in the £500,000-plus bracket – and you can afford to delay putting it up for sale, Mr de Keyzer advises you to do so. "When you are selling a property, you really need to think about your target market," he warns. "In some cases we have advised clients to hold off if they are not prepared to accept the drop in prices that we've seen."

The most important part of selling a house is getting the price right. FPD Savills is advising clients to pitch it just below market value in order to draw interest from buyers. The plan is that several buyers will then compete to purchase your property, so you end up getting more than the guide price.

If you are still only getting offers well below the asking price after your house has been on the market for several weeks, whether you accept depends on how desperate you are to sell. Unless you really are in a hurry to move, it could be worth waiting for the market to pick up.

If, though, the best bid is just a couple of thousand pounds below the asking price, then the judgement will be finer. The chances are you will be a buyer as well as a seller, so what you lose on the price received for your property might well be balanced out by a lower asking price for your new home.

Estate agents are your best resource when setting the price because they know how much comparable properties are fetching in the area. Paul Sennett, sales manager at Hamptons International in north London, suggests getting two or three valuations and then working out an "average" price.

Presentation is also vital. This doesn't have to involve extensive rebuilding or repairs unless there are very obvious defects. Small changes, such as clearing away clutter or a fresh lick of paint on a sad-looking front door, can significantly increase the chances of a sale.

An agent can give advice about the work that needs to be done; it can be difficult to be dispassionate about your own home, and you might not be able to spot areas that might horrify a prospective buyer. And if you don't consult an expert, you could spend time and money on something that doesn't increase your chances of selling the property.

Choosing the right agent to handle the sale is very important; one recommended by a friend or relative is best, if possible. Mr Sennett at Hamptons International suggests starting with a sole agent for a four-week period, before instructing two or three more. Ask them what they have sold recently that is similar in size and price, and whether they have a website that is updated every day. Ask yourself if you are impressed with their knowledge of the market and if they seem competent. And ask yourself, too, if you would buy a house from them – because they will be trying to convince other people to purchase yours.

A number of home owners choose to go it alone and sell their house over the internet or via a newspaper, in order to avoid paying the agent's commission. However, the slower market will make this harder. It might be better to bite the bullet and rely on the selling skills of an agent for a faster sale at a better price.

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