How to sell your house in these troubled times

Faced with a dearth of buyers and falling prices is there anything that sellers can do to shift their property? Sonia Purnell examines the options
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The Independent Online

It is 15 years since the property market in London and the South-east was this depressed. House prices have fallen at least 10 per cent in the past year, and at the top much, much more as City bonuses have all but dried up and thousands of investment bankers have lost their jobs.

It is 15 years since the property market in London and the South-east was this depressed. House prices have fallen at least 10 per cent in the past year, and at the top much, much more as City bonuses have all but dried up and thousands of investment bankers have lost their jobs.

Property sales in the capital have practically come to a grinding halt in the past 10 days as preparations for war approach a climax. And although the rest of the country may feel immune from such London-centric woes, the ripple effect is bound to start prices tumbling elsewhere within months, particularly if the Iraq crisis goes into the summer.

So what can the desperate- to-sell property owner do to increase the chance of a sale?

Drop the price

Be realistic. If after pulling out all the stops for a couple of months, you haven't had a reasonable offer, swallow your pride and drop the price substantially.

"On a reasonably sized family home in this area it's not worth just dropping the price by £20,000 or so," Jonathan Payne, of the independent west London agents Royston, says. "It has to be at least £50,000, dropping your property into a new price bracket which attracts a new audience. If you just tinker with the price, you could end up continually dropping a few thousand at a time and follow the market downwards. Best to take it on the chin straight away and keep the momentum going."

But beware agents who advise advertising your property with the tag "price reduced" to drum up more interest. This will make you look desperate and encourage potential buyers to drum the price down even more.

Put it up for auction

Auctions can work wonders in a bull market. In the febrile atmosphere of a housing boom, the seller's dream scenario is when three or four interested parties outbid each other to reach ludicrous prices for even the most ordinary property. In uncertain times such as these, auctions are usually far too risky. Be warned: many properties have failed even to reach their reserve prices in recent London sales.

Put it on the internet

There are now plenty of property sites such as halfapercent.com, which charge only 0.5 per cent commission or 1 per cent if they conduct viewings for you too. But many buyers are now seeking the traditional comforts of an estate agent with local knowledge.

If you're not in a hurry to sell, a specialist site such as periodproperty.co.uk may be worth trying, particularly if your house is of architectural interest, or to attract those buyers for whom the right house is more important than location. But if your priority is speed, it's probably worth sticking with a real rather than a virtual estate agent.

Go with multi-agents

This obviously increases your potential audience, but will almost certainly increase your commission costs from 2 to 3 per cent. Some sellers also find estate agents lose interest if they are no longer guaranteed their fee (though as commission-related income stalls, you may find they try harder). The biggest problem now is finding buyers in a position to buy. Most are caught in interminable chains where at least one party is unable to sell. Just hiring a clutch of agents is not necessarily going to solve that.

Think local

Cards in newsagents' windows, local mailshots, global e-mails at work and word of mouth at the school gate, all are excellent (and cheap) alternatives in a booming market but are far less proven in difficult times. There are currently few private sales (those bypassing estate agents) in London and the surrounding areas.

Part exchange

Developers are no fools. If you sell them your house in part exchange for a new property, you will avoid the normal hassle of the sales process but you will not get the best price. Expect 10 per cent below market value.

Home improvement

Yes, get rid of the clutter, clean the carpets and windows, give the hall a lick of paint and make sure there are no DIY or basic maintenance jobs left undone. Your house needs to compete to win. If it isn't cheaper than the others, it's got to be in much better condition to sell.

Avoid your purchasers

Do not be there for a first viewing. That way, potential buyers can talk freely and imagine how they would make your house their home. If you're there, they may praise it to your face, leave, then condemn it as a despicable hovel. Besides which, if you're really desperate, they might pick up on the vibes.

Take it off the market

If you're not in a hurry to sell, don't. The cycle will turn again eventually, and buyers will be queuing at your door.

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