By Kira Brecht
Along with tulips and daffodils, "For Sale" signs soon will be popping up on neighborhood lawns. An improving U.S. labor market is expected to spur increased home sales in 2015, so if you've been wanting to sell your home, low interest rates and tight inventory levels should create an attractive environment.
"With the improving economy, we will see more people leaving their parents' homes. Living in your parents' basement isn't part of the American dream," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "Nearly three million new jobs were created in the last 12 months, and that provides incomes for families and confidence for making long-term decisions."
The NAR forecasts a jump in existing home sales in 2015 to 5.25 million, an increase from 4.93 million sales in 2014. The national median existing-home price was $208,500 in 2014, a 5.8 percent increase from 2013. Yun forecasts the median home price to rise again in 2015 to $218,300.
Inventory levels, or the number of homes for sale, remain tight, which could give sellers an edge. "For most of 2014, inventory stood at 4.5 to 5.5 months of supply. That compares with a more balanced market of 6 to 6.5 months' supply," Yun says.
There are several things you can do to help your home stand out among other listings. "Makeovers can be inexpensive, but give back big returns," says Gary Rogers, broker-owner of Massachusetts-based RE/MAX On The Charles.
When it comes to readying your home for sale, think about three things: clean, clutter and color, says Sheryl Grider Whitehurst, managing broker at Traders Realty in Peoria, Illinois.
Here are five things you can do to get a leg up on the competition this spring.
1. Spring-clean your home. Take the time to do a deep cleaning on your home. Clean your windows. Consider a fresh coat of paint. Clean the grout in your ceramic tile. Consider whether your carpets need cleaning. "When you walk into a nice hotel room, everything is nice and sparkly clean. You want the same thing for your house," Whitehurst says.
Even small things can make a difference. "Make sure the furnace filter is clean. If it is dirty, potential buyers will wonder how you have taken care of other mechanicals in your house," Whitehurst says.
Cleaning also means sprucing up your landscaping, which includes flower beds and bushes. "People wait until the last minute to prepare the outside, and sometimes it just doesn't get done," Rogers says.
"The earlier you can have a professional landscaper come in to do a spring cleanup, the better. If the weather will tolerate it, put some more plantings in. Why not get a fresh look and fill out a flower bed? It can take some time to for those to set and mature, so the sooner the better," Rogers says. "A good professional spring cleanup could be $400 to $500, but is probably the best return dollar-for-dollar. It will get people to go into the house, and it makes people think you cared about the house."
Also take a look at your house from the street. What do you notice? Have your shutters faded over time? Does your front door need a fresh coat of paint? How does your mailbox look? Ask yourself: "Can I do something simple to make it look like I take pride and ownership in my property?" Whitehurst suggests.
Consider your backyard as well. "Curb appeal means the back, not just the front," Rogers says. "Have your decks power-washed, or painted or stained. Consider getting a plastic shed for rubbish barrels. Have a clean, neat place to store rubbish barrels."
2. Clear the clutter. It's time to get out the packing boxes. "If you are serious about moving, start packing now. Think about getting a small storage locker. Lighten up the house. If the living room has too much furniture, it doesn't look usable," Rogers says.
With spring just around the corner, consider packing away your winter clothes, so the closets appear more spacious. "People want to go into a property and see that there is ample room for their things," Whitehurst says.
3. Use color themes. It's OK to be a little bold with color, but make sure everything matches. "It used to be that everything had to be neutral colors — beige or white. Now, people are bringing color into their homes. But make sure that everything goes together," Whitehurst says.
Does your bedspread match the room color? If not, buy an inexpensive bedspread that will coordinate. The same goes for throw pillows on your couch. Use small, inexpensive items to pull together color themes to create an appealing appearance.
4. Consider getting a home inspection. Typically, homebuyers get a home inspection before completing the purchase of a home. Why not find out ahead of time which items the home inspector will report need attention?
The key is to be proactive. "Maybe there is a small drip in the faucet or there aren't electrical ground-fault circuit interrupters where they are supposed to be, near water. These can be a small fix, and it creates a less-hassled transaction," Whitehurst says.
"We are seeing transactions fall through because of issues over home inspections. Then the house has to go back on the market, and everyone is disappointed," Whitehurst says.
The bottom line: Don't give prospective buyers reasons to check your house off the list. "When people look at a house, they are really looking for reasons not to buy. They are looking for things wrong with it," Rogers says.
5. Don't hike up the sale price. Real estate experts advise being realistic when it comes to your selling price. It needs to be competitive.
"Buyers are looking for the best value. Research often tells us that if you price your home close to what it will sell for, it will sell faster and actually for more money than if you price it too high to begin with," Whitehurst says.
Pricing a home too high can eliminate some potential buyers from even viewing your house, and that could mean your house sits on the market longer. If eventually you decide to do a price reduction, buyers may wonder what is wrong with the home.
"You can price your home to get sold, or to get your neighbor's house sold," Whitehurst says. "If my house is priced higher, which one will look like the best value?"