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by Ilyce Glink, Inman News

Rows of housesI spent some time in the past few weeks listening to friends who are thinking about moving across the country to buy a house.

What they’re telling me is that even though there is a seemingly endless list of houses for sale, not all home sellers are making the most of the house they’re trying to unload.

When it comes to putting your house up for sale, the big problem for most homeowners is thinking like a seller. Most homeowners think that the house that they lived in, and loved, is the house they’re trying to sell.

In fact, if your house is for sale you’ll have better luck selling it if you think first like a buyer, and then like a seller.

For example, it’s clear to me that HGTV, Bravo and Discovery have changed the way home buyers think about home. What they want is something that has personality, is in good shape, and is move-in ready. A myriad of television shows like “Designed to Sell” have convinced buyers that all homes for sale should at the very least have a fresh paint job, matching stuff and personality.

House in hands photoIf your house is for sale and you haven’t repainted in the past 10 years and don’t have matching knickknacks on your coffee table, your house is going to look dated compared to a lot of the other houses in the neighborhood.

But that’s just the beginning. If a house is for sale and it doesn’t meet the needs of today’s buyers, no matter what price range, you’re going to have a hard time selling it.

The other day, I visited a house that’s been for sale for more than six months. It has the decorating thing down pat, right down to the two blue boys’ rooms and one pink girl’s room, but I instantly knew why this house hadn’t sold: The sellers had made a strategic mistake when they renovated the first floor.

The kitchen, dining room and family room have big windows that face onto the lovely backyard and pool. But the order of the rooms is the kitchen on the left, huge dining room in the middle, and family room on the right. The family room, which is more casual, leads into a much more dressed-up formal living room.

When the owners renovated, what they should have done was create one massive kitchen/family room, incorporating the kitchen and dining rooms. The family room should have been the dining room and the owners should have pulled up the ceramic tile and replaced it with hardwood floors to give the rooms a better flow.

No big deal, right? Someone buys the house for a steep discount and makes the change. Well, that’s ideally how it should work, but buyers today don’t want to take on big improvement projects. There are too many houses for sale where the flow already works well. They can buy a great house for a great price without having to commit to a lot of work.This means problem houses languish on the market as others get snapped up.

If you can’t remember how to think like a buyer, here are a few suggestions:

  • Visit a few open houses in your neighborhood and price range to get a sense of what other sellers are doing.
  • Try to imagine what you’d want in a house. How do you want to live?
  • Talk with your agent about what kinds of properties and amenities she is looking for on behalf of her buyers.
  • Talk to other buyers who are in the process of buying property.
  • Visit model homes in new construction developments to get a sense of what developers are trying to showcase.

Once you’re thinking like a home buyer, you can use that information to help you retool as a home seller. How can you change your house so that when you list it for sale, there’s real interest from buyers? If you owned the house I saw last week, you might spend $10,000 to open up the wall from the kitchen, and switch out the dining room and family room.

But don’t go out and make major repairs or renovations to your home until you understand what impact those repairs or renovations will have on your ability to sell the home and recover the money you put into the home.

Just because your home could sell faster with a new kitchen, doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and put one in, especially if a new kitchen would cost $65,000 and you would be able to get only the same amount from the sale (or less) had you not installed the kitchen.

Remember, the trick to selling your house is to remove any possible objections a buyer might have to purchasing it. By thinking like a buyer, you’re much more likely to change your “house for sale” sign into on that says “Sold.”

To get even more valuable advice from Ilyce, visit her Personal Finance and Real Estate Center.

What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

Copyright 2008 Ilyce R. Glink

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