This is a popular month for houses to go on the market, ready for a burst of spring activity, but with experts predicting another tough year for property, it's vital to make your home stand out from the crowd.
Pricing is the most important thing to get right in a stagnant market. Do some research using tools such as Hometrack.co.uk and Upmystreet.com to get an idea of the selling prices of similar houses in the area. If you're using an estate agent, always get at least three valuation quotes but don't just take the highest valuation. Commission-based agents will often inflate a selling price to get your business only to have to lower the price a few months down the line.
"My three top tips for selling this season are simple: price correctly, price correctly and price correctly. Nothing outside central London will sell this year unless the price is right; it really is that simple," says Gideon Sumption of Stacks Property Search.
"You can do what you like preparing and marketing, but if you want to sell you need to be demonstrably and obviously better value than anything similar on the market."
Staging your property
Once you've garnered interest, it's time to prepare your home for viewings and, obviously, a well-presented property will be better received than a scruffy one. Buyers often struggle to see past the owner's possessions so a clean, uncluttered space makes it far easier for them.
Kerb appeal is vital so tidy up any weeds, clear the gutters, repaint the front door and don't forget to tackle the garden by mowing the lawns, clearing any rubbish and pruning shrubs.
"Familiarity may mean you do not notice the weed-filled borders or dripping gutters but these will flag up warning signs to potential buyers and alert them to look for other signs of disrepair. If your house does not look clean, tidy and welcoming, tackle the problems," says Carol Peett, a director of The County Homesearch Company.
Next, you're ready to tackle the inside where you should focus on de-cluttering and de-personalising. Open up curtains and blinds to make the most of natural light and clean the glass thoroughly. Windows and surfaces should be pristine, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom. You should also make up beds with fresh linen and put away any family photos and ornaments which may distract viewers. Fix minor repairs such as cracked tiles, dead light bulbs, marks on walls and leaking taps as some buyers will be deterred by having to do any work to a property.
"Despite house purchases now being a longer term commitment in terms of length of ownership, buyers have reduced access to funds beyond mortgages to carry out any works," says Richard Girdwood from rural estate management firm Smiths Gore.
You also need to think about who you are likely to sell to; young childless professionals, or a growing family? You need to arrange your space to appeal to prospective buyers so each room should be clearly defined – if you have an office space that doubles up as a spare room decide which is likely to be more attractive to viewers.
Wherever you make changes think about cost versus impact. Replacing tired carpets and giving the property a fresh coat of neutral paint inside and out, are reasonably cheap and simple tasks that can make a favourable difference, but don't spend unnecessary money.
"Kitchens and bathrooms also sell houses but vendors need to weigh up the total cost of replacing these against the value it can add," says George Franks, the sales director at Douglas & Gordon. "If you are doing any work to a property to secure a sale, make sure you go for a finish that will appeal to a wide audience and that you don't necessarily stick to your own tastes."
A few key, inexpensive changes can work wonders so try putting in new doors and handles on kitchen units, re-grouting tiles and adding new towels and accessories to the bathroom. And, if you don't want to replace curtains and carpets, get them professionally cleaned.
Estate agent or DIY?
Most people use estate agents, paying around 2 per cent of the sale price for the privilege, but you can do the work yourself. There are free sites such as Tepilo (run by TV's Sarah Beeny) but most charge a small, fixed fee including Noestateagentsplease.co.uk which costs from around £50.
Despite the potential savings, the ultimate goal is to sell and estate agents can reach a wide audience through their own databases, shop windows, editorial features and newspaper and online advertising. They also vet prospective buyers and any agents worth their salt will also be able to negotiate on your behalf and chase solicitors, surveyors and mortgage brokers to complete sales.
Exposure is important so ask agent which online portals they use – the big ones are Rightmove, Primelocation, Findaproperty and Zoopla.
"Property photos, floor plans, brochure and the right asking price are all vital to attracting interest to your property," says James Simpson, a founder of e-stateagent.co.uk. "Using free sites to market your home might seem a great deal, however you don't get the property portal exposure and you don't have a professional team progressing the sale of your property which can be stressful."
Agents charge either a percentage of the sale price or a flat fee but you can try to negotiate both. Make sure the agent is a member of a body such as the National Association of Estate Agents and watch out for long lock-in periods (during which you cannot market your home elsewhere).
Online estate agents such as e-stateagent, eMoov, HouseSimple, HouseNetwork and Sellmyhome are a useful halfway house because many have local agents managing areas, carrying out valuations and taking professional photographs, as well as feeding that information to dozens of property portals and social media platforms. Prices tend to be much keener too, costing from around £350.
During viewings have all relevant information to hand regarding the area and schools, as well as specifics about the building itself, service charges, ground rents and potential rental figures if viewers are investors. You can instruct a solicitor early on to speed things up and gather all the relevant paperwork (for example gas or electric certificates, council tax bills, repair guarantees) so that you are ready to go when an offer comes in.
When it comes to sealing the deal remember that flexibility will go a long way, whether it's moving dates, or offering added extras.