A couple of months ago, a friend who knows that I work in real estate called to ask for a favor. He and his wife had recently separated, and they wanted to sell their house in Ramona but had decided to do it on their own. I gave him the best advice I could: “Don’t try to sell it on your own.” I told him that it would be especially hard to go the way of the FSBO (that’s For Sale By Owner, for you non-real-estate folks out there) in a place like Ramona—his house is in fairly rural area, and there just aren’t enough comparable homes around to support the price he wanted to get out of it.

Selling FSBO is a legitimate option for some, but it’s best if you have experience in the field, because you’ll be doing all of the negotiating, contract-drafting, and title work on your own. It can require a lot of research for sellers who aren’t in the know, so it’s an even better option if you have a lot of time on your hands, or you don’t have a full-time job. This friend had neither experience nor time, and on top of it, he was in the middle of a divorce. Despite my advice, he and his ex-wife decided to give it a try. He called last week with another question, one that I get a lot: “What should we do if the house just doesn’t sell?”

When Your Home Won’t Sell: How to Move Forward in a Difficult Market

If I had a nickel for every time a client asked me that question, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. But, despite my hesitation about FSBOs, there are some things that you can do to make your house more appealing to choosy buyers in a tough market, and when you’re considering your options, it’s a good idea to keep those things in mind.

  • Revamp your marketing tactics. If you’re relying on the classified ads and a “for sale” sign outside your house, you’ll need to get hip to the times and start making use of the internet. Try posting your house as a FSBO on a site like Zillow: it’ll up the ante on your house’s visibility in a major way. Also, think about hiring an interior decorator to stage your home so that you can have a professional photographer take some high-quality shots of it. It’ll cost a pretty penny, but if your home’s been languishing on the market, putting some money in may be your only option. If you’re still living in the house, prep by de-cluttering your living spaces as much as possible, and optimizing the layout of each room to make them feel open, airy, and organized. Buyers spend 60% of their time looking at listing photos (versus 20% looking at text descriptions), so this is a step you don’t want to miss.  
  • Make any necessary repairs. If your home is in need of repairs as serious as mold remediation or foundation replacement, it’s likely to sit on the market while you wait for a buyer who wants to tackle them. For sellers who are determined to sell their house on the traditional real estate market, agents will usually recommend making those repairs right off the bat. If you took the chance and listed anyway, but haven’t gotten any bites, it’s probably time to knuckle down and make those repairs. It definitely won’t be cheap, but it’ll bring your house up to par with similar homes in your area, and that will go a long way in making it more marketable to buyers.
  • Lower your asking price. This is probably the last thing you want to do, but if your home’s been sitting on the market for a few months without any offers, it’s likely priced too high for the market. Sellers who choose the FSBO route tend to overprice when they first list a home, and though we can’t say we blame them for trying this tactic, it can prevent potential buyers from even clicking on the house’s listing. You can start by pricing your home somewhere around $5,000 less than it’s currently listed for, but make sure that the number you end up with is in another price bracket entirely. For example, if your home is priced at $466,000, you’ll want to lower it to at most $459,000. That way, you’ll be making your home available to people whose maximum budget is $460,000, and you’ll be pulling in an entirely new group of homebuyers.
  • Make some targeted renovations. This’ll require some research. Start by finding some homes in your area that are selling for your ideal price, and then notice whether there’s a trend in the upgrades and renovations that have been made to those homes. For example, do many of them have upgraded kitchens? Revitalized basement spaces? State-of-the-art showerheads? Okay, that last example isn’t likely to make a huge difference, but you get the idea. Knowing what kinds of renovations are popular with people buying in your area will give you a much better sense of how to choose your own.

Sidestep the Market by Selling Direct and Walking Away with Cash

Though these options may give your house a fighting chance, the truth is that there’s no guarantee they’ll get it to sell. Despite the inflated claims of real estate agents, there’s no surefire way to sell a house—sometimes, it’s just a matter of waiting for the right buyer, especially if you live in a rural area on the outskirts of San Diego. What my friend and his partner ended up doing was selling direct, pocketing the cash, and walking away. They’d wanted to save some money by selling on their own, but in the end, it just wasn’t worth it. If you’re in a similar spot, and you’re watching your house languish on the fickle Southern California market, give us a call. We’re happy to share our advice and expertise to help get you on your way.

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