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By Sarah Coles


Wednesday, June 4, 2008.


Sarah Carrington, a 28-year-old writer from High Wycombe, knows how to sell a house. When she first decided to put her flat on the market in February last year, she spoke to estate agents and then spent five months putting things right. She put the house on the market back in July last year, and then nothing happened? for months.

In the interim,
Britain’s housing market took a turn for the worse. The credit crunch of the summer turned into the house price falls of the winter. As a whole Halifax says prices fell 0.8% in the last three months of 2007 - although some regions were much worse. London
, for example, saw falls of 6.3% in this time. House-hunters evaporated, and website Rightmove.co.uk claims the average home is on the market for a record three months.

Getting your home sold quickly has become something of an art.

It'll come as no comfort to Sarah, but she got the first step right  - ensuring there's nothing about her property that could put buyers off.

Take the time to finish off niggling DIY jobs and consider a fresh coat of paint.

Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. If your bathroom suite is coloured, why not replace it with a cheap white one, which will feel more modern. Otherwise freshen up an old white suite with new taps and shower screen. In the kitchen, if the units are out of date, replace the fronts with something more fashionable.

Next think about first impressions. Keep your garden tidy, the lawn mowed, polish the door furniture, and if it's looking shabby, consider a lick of paint on doors and window frames.

Make an effort for viewings

Once all the DIY is done, it's time to de-clutter. Most people could do with putting away about a third of their belongings in storage while people are looking round the house.

Tina Jesson, managing director of home dressing company homestagers.co.uk says: "Use every room to its maximum value. A double bedroom has more value than a single, so it should be shown with a double bed; a single has more value than a study, so should be shown as a bedroom." Finally, you'll need to give it a thorough clean.

Don't forget to make an effort for viewings. Jesson provides a checklist that her clients go through before any viewing, emptying bins, tidying up, and making sure laundry isn't hanging out. Also think about smells - avoid cooking food like curry or fish before a viewing, or the smell will hang around. If you have pets, invest in a spray that neutralises smells.

Think about the atmosphere you're creating during viewings. Jesson says: "If you're showing a house make sure you are the only one in, and don't make them feel they are intruding." Again if you have pets, it's worth someone taking them out during viewings.

If you're doing viewings yourself, decide which order to show the rooms in, and guide them round the property once  - showing the best room either first or last. Then let them have a look around on their own. If you're nervous about viewings have your estate agent do them all, just make sure you're out when they come.

However, as Sarah found, there's no point doing all this preparation if you aren't getting any viewings. She is working with her estate agent, re-writing the details to emphasise the property's strong points

Switch agents

If this doesn't work consider switching agents. Do they have a local presence, with plenty of sold boards in the area? Do they have a good reputation among your neighbours? And are they advertising widely enough? Ask about their internet presence. Check their site is user-friendly, and that they appear on at least one of the big national sites. For broader coverage, you can go to multiple agents, just make sure you check your contracts carefully, so you only ever have to pay the agent who actually sells your home.

If your home still doesn't sell it's worth re-thinking your position. Buyers like homes that aren't in a chain, so consider renting for a while.

If your home still doesn't sell it's worth re-thinking your position. Buyers like homes that aren't in a chain, so consider renting for a while.

You also need your paperwork in place, and your home information pack ready. This includes an energy performance certificate, sale statement, standard searches, evidence of title, and additional information for leasehold sales. It also pays to gather together anything that might be asked for during the process, such as any guarantees for damp-proofing or other work.

Once you get an offer, stay on top of your paperwork and maintain a good relationship with your solicitor. According to the NAEA, the fall-though rate is at a recent high of 10.7%. Don't let a sale fall through because of delays at your end.

If you're buying something else, make sure you have your paperwork in place, with a mortgage agreed and a surveyor's report ready. You don't want your seller to get impatient.

Once you have everything prepared, and you're ready to move, you can look at getting more creative.

Peter Bolton-King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents says there are a couple of options if you're stuck in a chain. "I have seen people at the top of the chain buy the property at the bottom. A first-time buyer property might be more saleable, or could work as an investment. And if they buy it, they can get the chain moving." Beyond this, unfortunately, you may have to consider the least palatable option of all - dropping the price. Bolton-King says: "It's difficult for vendors to accept they might not get as much as they hoped, but they have to listen to their agent."

Shipside says this can be effective, if done properly. He says: "If you're going to reduce the price, make it meaningful. You need the change to open you up to a raft of new buyers, which you may not get with 5%."

If you're really keen to sell, Shipside says you can take a fairly drastic approach: "The basic solution is to be the cheapest in the target area. People can hunt around online, and if you're the cheapest you'll come out on top."

However, before you get drastic, it's worth thinking seriously whether you need to sell at all. In a stagnant market you could think about improvements or extensions, which may make your home more suitable. Alternatively, you can always rent it out for a while and sell when the market is a little more stable.


With thanks to Interactive Investors.


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