House Not Selling? What to Do

How can you get buyers in the door of your home for sale, if your real estate marketing efforts haven't yet worked?

By , J.D.

Every home seller hopes or imagines that eager buyers will flock to visit, ask for more information, and ultimately place purchase offers; maybe even at amounts higher than the list price. But it doesn't always happen this way. If weeks have gone by and no worthwhile offers have come in, you might need to:

  • reconsider your marketing strategy
  • lower the house price, or
  • offer special incentives to close the deal.

How Your Home Is Being Marketed?

Assuming you've hired a real estate agent, that person should be taking the lead on marketing, for example by taking professional photos of your property, listing it on the MLS database and other relevant websites, holding broker's open houses and regular open houses (depending on local custom and public health requirements), placing ads in local papers (if this is effective where you live), possibly sending postcards advertising the house to neighbors, informing the agency's own clients of the purchase opportunity, and so on.

Ask your agent to review these marketing efforts with you so far; not with the idea of finding fault, but to strategize about what else might be done, or what to repeat. The fact that your agent is professionally marketing your property shouldn't stop you from telling everyone you know (from friends to hairdresser to dentist), mentioning it on social media, and so on.

If you haven't hired a real estate agent (you have been trying to sell by owner, of "FSBO"), now might be the time to consider doing so. True, commission amounts can be large, but well worth it if your house sells for more than you could get for it unassisted.

If all else fails, selling your home at auction can attract prequalified buyers and, if successful, can reduce the carrying costs associated with a home languishing on the MLS for months. Because an auction is designed to set off a bidding war, the final price could exceed that of a negotiated sale. Professional help is key, however. You will need a recognized auction house and a real estate agent, attorney, or other professionals to assist you in deciding whether an auction would work for you and what type of auction to have and to hold your hand throughout the auction process.

Look Again at Your House's Curb and Indoor Appeal

Take a look at your home and property with fresh eyes, or invite a friend over for a look, and ask:

  • What do you see first when you pull up to the house? Is the landscaping attractive, or could it use pruning or other attention? Would pots of fresh blooming flowers by the front door help? How about a repainted front door or trim?
  • Has the house been thoroughly cleaned; and kept clean since the first round of showings?
  • Has the house been staged, or at least spruced up to look its best?
  • Is the house free of major problems, like expensive repair needs or a location next to the freeway?

You might need to invest in fixing the most obvious problems, though not necessarily spend thousands for major home improvements. Broadly speaking, the most cost-effective home improvements are those that give the home a more contemporary, move-in ready feel, such as:

  • installing new major kitchen appliances, but only to replace outdated, inefficient models
  • painting your home (exterior and interior) in inviting, neutral colors
  • getting new floor and window coverings, and
  • replacing or repairing a leaky roof.

The outcome to avoid is one where you spend a lot and it doesn't suit buyers' taste. That's why a good alternative can be to give prospective buyers a cash incentive for later home improvements. It's best to strike a balance between the needs of cash-tight buyers who want the home to be move-in ready and those who will have money to make their own improvements.

Lower the House's List Price

Even if your price was appropriate at the time you listed the property, market values might have gone down since. Perhaps you've already noticed a trend yourself, as nearby "For Sale" signs start sporting "Price Reduced" riders or as you browse MLS listings and find better and better bargains.

Before jumping to conclusions, figure out how long most homes take to sell where you live. What feels like a long time to you could actually be normal. Your real estate agent can check the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and tell you the average number of days local properties remain on the market in your area.

If you've already passed the average "days on market" without offers or serious buyer interest, then a price reduction could be in order. Your agent can suggest an appropriate reduction; one deep enough to bring back buyers who passed on the house the first time.

Once a price is right for current market conditions, interested buyers tend to show up eventually. (If you're not even getting people walking through and taking a look, that's a very good indicator that your house is overpriced.)

Offer Special Incentives to Close the Home Sale

What might set your house apart from the others and bring interested buyers in the door, or seal the deal once they've looked?

One possibility is financing the deal yourself. Even creditworthy borrowers get rejected because of rigid underwriting. However you, as seller, might be able to act as the lender, by extending credit against the home's purchase price. The buyer will sign a promissory note and trust deed in your name. If you have an outstanding mortgage, the lender must agree to the deal.

There are numerous variations, including equity sharing, lease options, financing only a second mortgage, and more. Check with a real estate attorney or other professional proficient in seller-financing contracts to learn more and to determine whether you can handle the risk. (To learn more, read Seller Financing: How It Works in Home Sales.)

Or, you might get creative: Offer to throw in furniture that perfectly suits the house, or pay some of the buyer's closing costs. Again, speak with your agent about what might attract local buyers.

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