January 2010: Real Estate

January 2010: Real Estate

In real estate, timing is everything. And no time is that more true than when gearing up for the spring selling season, traditionally the most brisk time for moving homes during the year.  

But a big mistake a lot of buyers and sellers make is actually waiting until springtime to get serious about putting a home on the market—which is already too late, according to Jim Duncan, associate broker at Nest Real Estate Group and blogger at www.realcentralva.com. “The spring market starts right now and ramps up in early February and hits its peak in March around Match Day,” or March 19, the day when fourth year medical students find out which hospital residency program they’re assigned to, a decision which determines where they’ll live. “UVA medical students have traditionally comprised a significant part of the Charlottesville and Albemarle real estate market,” he says. To lose out on those potential buyers and renters could be costly. 
Adding to the spring fever are the extended $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and the $6,500 tax credit for move-up buyers. The $8,000 tax credit has been extended until April 30 for signed contracts and June 30 for closings. The deadline for the $6,500 tax credit is May 1 for signed contracts and July 1 for closings. Move-up buyers are under an even tighter time constraint because they first have to sell or rent their current residence before they can buy a new one—which means they really need to start the process now.
Duncan has three rules to live by when readying a home for the spring season. Number one: start talking to a real estate professional in January. This person will help you understand what’s going on in the local market, and advise you on how to position your home to sell. 
To find a great agent, someone who’s willing to pound the pavement for you, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. “Find out how many homes they’ve listed and how many they’ve sold in the last six months,” Duncan recommends. “Ask them what percentage of their listings sell.” 
Once you find a great agent, don’t be shy about keeping tabs on them. “One of the biggest impediments to selling a home is not posting enough photos of the property on MLS,” says Duncan. “MLS allows up to 50 pictures—make sure your agent posts close to that even if the property isn’t in the best condition. Buyers look at properties that have the most high-quality photos.”
Number two: Detach emotionally. “A lot of people are so tied to their homes they have an inflated sense of its value,” says Duncan. “This mindset can lead to missed opportunities.” For example, you think your beautiful abode is worth $425,000 while your agent gently points out a similar home down the block sold for $350,000. A good agent will help bring expectations in line with reality so you can deal with the actual market, not the ideal one. 
Number three: Make your place spotless. “It’s what buyers want and expect,” says Duncan. In a buyers’ market, buyers have the luxury of looking for any reason to cross your property off their list of potentials. So don’t wait to repaint the foyer, recalk the tub, fix the broken tile in the mudroom, tear down the dilapidated outbuilding. A big part of selling a home is getting the buyers to imagine themselves living in your space. So now is the time to stash the wall of family photos, the collection of figurines, any questionable art, for the time being—you don’t want anything to interfere with their ability to imagine themselves sleeping in your space. 
If you start the work now, you could be in a new home by May.