SMART MOVES - Don't let your home get left behind

SMART MOVES - Don't let your home get left behind

Real estate experts call them "leftover houses." They're available properties in well-regarded neighborhoods - But while other homes fly off the market, they sit unsold, seemingly indefinitely.

"These oddballs are sitting because they don't speak to any buyers," says Mark Nash, a long-time real estate broker and the author of "1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home."

Sometimes the reason a home languishes is due to what real estate people refer to as an "incurable problem."

"Maybe your home is a white elephant because it's a contemporary in a sea of traditional houses. Or maybe it backs to a McDonald's," Nash says.

But other more common explanations are that the property was overpriced when it hit the market or that it badly needs to be cleaned, repaired or redecorated.

A strong listing agent will help clients by providing an itemized list of repairs and upgrades needed to make a property saleable. And if they're wise, the home's owners will follow this guidance, without taking personal offense.

Unfortunately, some homeowners are oblivious to the reasons their property isn't selling, and their listing agent may be too tactful to outline all the corrections needed.

"In its own way, the market screams out reasons why a house doesn't sell. But the owners just aren't listening," Nash says.

Here are a few pointers for home sellers:

* Look into hiring a "stager" to make your place more appealing.

Even a house that's been well kept in terms of the basics can be held back because of an outdated decor or excessive clutter.

The cost of hiring a professional stager for a full level of services can run $500 or more - a stretch for sellers struggling to score a low-cost sale. But the expenditure could be well worth it.

He says one way to find a skillful stager is through relatives, work associates or friends who've recently sold a home. Another way is by visiting the website of the Real Estate Staging Association.

Look for stagers in your area and - before giving them a call - be sure to check out their websites for examples of their work.

* Plan a home-selling party with friends.

After it's gone unsold for a lengthy period, the excitement that may have accompanied your home's debut has likely drained away.

"Bad house karma sets in and you have to reverse the situation fast," Nash says.

To do so, he says one idea is to call in friends for a home-selling party.

"Your friends will probably tell you, in a way that's not insulting, the main reasons your home isn't selling and what to do about it," Nash says.

"It's a really strange thing how people can sometimes get the buzz going again about their house. Then all of a sudden an offer - or maybe even two - come in unexpectedly," Nash says.

* Update your online photos.

Ashley Richardson, a real estate agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists says it's critical for all home sellers to have very good photos of their property on the Internet.

"Nowadays, buyers look at photos of 15 homes for every one they visit in person," Richardson says.

One advantage of using fresh pictures of your property is that you can replace out-of-season photos with those that look current.

"Don't use photos taken with a cellphone. Your listing agent should have a top-quality camera and the skills to take pictures," Richardson says.

* Tell your listing agent to burn up the phone lines with calls about your home.

In these days of fussy purchasers, the well-honed marketing skills of an experienced listing agent are more important than ever.

One key marketing skill your listing agent can use is to "talk up" your place to other real estate agents with home-buying clients of their own, says Lisa Atkinson, an agent whose specialties include short sales and marketing foreclosed properties.

"When I list a house, I push hard to bring it to the attention of other agents. The more agents who know about it, the more showings," she says.

Many listing agents make calls to promote a property when it first goes on the market. But Atkinson says they can also use networking techniques to rekindle interest in a place that's been sitting unsold for a lengthy period.

* Give your home the beauty of blooms.

It's a lovely touch to have fresh-cut flowers on display throughout your home's interior. But Michelle Minch, who heads a home staging firm called Moving Mountains Design, says the need to repeatedly replace cut flowers for the length of the showing period is unaffordable for many sellers.

One less pricey option - especially easy during the summer months - is to display flowering, potted plants indoors and also to install such blooms in your outdoor gardens, or in front of your place.

Why do bountiful blooms help sell a home that's starved for attention? Minch says that for prospective buyers, flowers hint at happier, more gracious living.

To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at