home for sale

While it might be more of a seller’s market than a buyer’s market for homes in the U.S., that doesn’t mean a home seller can just kick back and wait for the offers to flood in.

For one thing, there’s heightened concern over lending. Home sellers are fretting more about the ability of home sellers to qualify for mortgages, according to a recent survey of homeowners by real estate brokerage Redfin. In addition, more homes are being sold. Sales of existing homes went up 9 percent in 2013 compared with the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors, and hit their highest mark since 2006.

To be sure, a tight lending environment and an abundance of for-sale signs should give home sellers something to wring their hands over. But even if those concerns weren’t a factor, a home seller still must avoid slip-ups that could cost thousands of dollars—or could kill a deal altogether.

Here are 10 home-selling mistakes that the pros say are all too common.

looking through magnifying glass

1. You Failed to Look Into an Agent’s Background.
Quincy Virgilio, chairman of MLSListings Inc., a home-listing service in Northern California, said many home-selling goofs could be prevented if a seller did in-depth research about a real estate agent before hiring him or her. A seller should explore an agent’s past performance, transaction experience, neighborhood expertise and negotiating skills, he said.

Don’t be sucked in by all of the signs and ads you spot that bear an agent’s name, experts say.

Home sellers “take more time in determining the brand of bread they will buy than which agent is appropriately experienced to handle the biggest asset of their life,” said Jerry Grodesky, a real estate broker in northeastern Illinois.

2. You Jumped the Gun on Home Improvements.
Virgilio said homeowners often dive into sprucing up the yard or updating the kitchen appliances without knowing whether these improvements will pay off in the long run.

“A real estate professional can compare potential improvements or modifications to other properties that have sold nearby and determine their worth. Comparing will help prevent costly mistakes,” said Virgilio, who’s a broker associate with Keller Williams Silicon Valley.

countertop Installation

3. You Went Overboard With Upgrades.
You don’t necessarily need to overhaul your kitchen or bathrooms. Rather, you can easily enhance a kitchen or bathroom by replacing fixtures as well as installing new doorknobs and drawer pulls, said Barbara Brock, a New York-based consultant for home sellers. Also, she said, if new appliances are called for, buy mid-priced appliances rather than top-of-the-line ones.

4. You Neglected to Get Your Home Ready for Sale.
In the home-selling business, this is called “staging.” Through appropriate staging, you can ensure your home will attract, not repel, potential buyers.

“Even if sellers do not have any money or are on a tight budget, they can still prepare their home for sale by packing up the clutter, excessive furniture, pet beds and other ‘smelly’ items, personal photos and religious materials,” said Melissa Zavala, a real estate broker in the San Diego area. “Not only will this make the home look larger and also help get a start on the move, but it will also assist prospective homebuyers in envisioning themselves as the next owners of the property.”

Along those lines, be sure to clear out the closets, make the beds and generally get rid of the clutter, she said.

plumber repairing sink

5. You Skipped Basic Maintenance.
Did you replace the burnt-out light bulbs on the front porch? Did you fix the broken knob on the bathroom door? Did you cover up that hole in the wall of the laundry room? If you haven’t knocked out your list of repairs or haven’t hired someone to pick up the slack, you could be turning off potential buyers, said Krisztina Bell, a real estate agent and home stager in Atlanta.

“A buyer is going to be viewing your home in great detail, and they are going to notice the flaws. When they do, they may begin to wonder what else could be wrong with the house that they can’t see at that moment,” Bell said.

6. You Ignored “Curb Appeal.”
First impressions count, particularly with houses. Oftentimes, a sale will slip out of the hands of a homeowner because of a lack of attention to “curb appeal”—how the property looks from the street.

Chad Dannacker, owner of San Diego real estate firm Dannecker & Associates, offered these hints for improving your home’s curb appeal:

  • Be sure the lawn looks lush and green.
  • Be sure all of the flowerbeds are weeded and the mulch looks fresh.
  • Be sure to give the furniture on your front porch a fresh coat of paint. If you don’t have front-porch furniture, consider adding some, “as it is very inviting,” Dannacker said.

shocked face

7. You Overpriced Your Home.
“Although most people feel some sort of emotional attachment to their homes and they know about every dollar they spent for new flooring or new countertops, the numbers don’t lie,” Zavala said. “A well-priced property will receive offers very quickly, but an overpriced property will sit and sit.”

How can you make sure that doesn’t happen? Work with a local real estate professional who can perform a market analysis to come up with a list price based on solid data, Zavala said.

“When a house is priced too high, today’s tech-savvy buyers know it and will either bid below list price or 
stay away completely,” said Victor Quiroz, a broker associate at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices 
in Southern California. “This causes the listing to get stale while other 
correctly priced homes in the area are purchased, making the buyer feel like 
they got a good deal.”

8. You Waited for an Offer.
“Depending upon the market, sometimes offers come fast and furious,” Zavala said. “Sellers often will think that this is because the price is too low, and will consider either raising the list price or declining all offers.”

That’s not necessarily that right approach. Zavala said you should try to negotiate with a prospective buyer who submits a written offer that you’d be inclined to reject, as you just don’t know whether the next offer will come in six days or six months. Remember that you always can make a counteroffer.

Plan C

9. You Did a Poor Job of Marketing.
Merely sticking a for-sale sign in the front yard and posting a few photos of your home online won’t get the job done, Bell said. Instead, you need a real estate agent to put together a marketing plan for your home, including signs, flyers, professional photos and a virtual tour, she said.

“Drive-bys and word of mouth just doesn’t cut it in this technology age,” Bell said.

10. You Put a Vacant Home on the Market.
Some sellers mistakenly think it’s better to list a home when it isn’t filled with furnishings. That’s wrong, Bell said. A vacant home tends to feel “cold and empty,” she said, and may draw low-ball offers or even may deter buyers altogether. Nine times out of 10, a furnished home will sell faster than an empty one does, according to Bell.

If it’s not possible to leave the furnishings in your home, you can hire a “virtual” staging service to digitally transform photos of a vacant house “into a beautifully staged home without lifting a single piece of furniture,” Bell said.