By Clare Trapasso

Apr 5, 2023

( / Getty Images)

Q: What are some tips for homeowners who hope to sell their homes this spring?

This month, we’re mixing it up. Instead of focusing on first-time homebuyers, we’re going to shift our attention to first-time home sellers who are spiffing up their properties to list this spring or summer.

It’s not expected to be an easy housing market for anyone—buyers or sellers. The COVID-19 pandemic-era real estate frenzy, where just about every home seemed to sell in a bidding war over a single weekend, has mostly passed. Fewer buyers can afford to buy with mortgage interest rates so high, and those who can may not be able to afford to go as high anymore.

But sellers still have a pretty big advantage: There are many more shoppers searching for homes than there are properties available.

Nationally, home prices were still up 35% over the last three years*. So even if they dip a bit in some markets, sellers who purchased their properties before, or even during the height of the pandemic, are likely to walk away with a profit.

Move-in-ready homes with curb appeal and in desirable areas—and that are priced to sell—are especially likely to move quickly this spring. These homes may still receive multiple offers and go over the asking price, as many buyers paying today’s high prices do not want to do additional work on their new homes.

But less-attractive, high-priced homes are lingering on the market—fixer-uppers, properties with unusual floor plans, those with dated kitchens and bathrooms, and houses with inconvenient locations. And in some cases, they are going through multiple rounds of price cuts.

So sellers need to make sure their homes are in tip-top condition before listing them.

Make those repairs you’ve been putting off; add a fresh coat of paint, swap out those ancient light fixtures. Deep clean your entire house thoroughly—every room. I recommend working with a local real estate agent who knows what buyers in the area are looking for and the improvements that will net you the biggest return on your investment.

And don’t forget the yard. First impressions matter, and the front of the home is the first thing that most potential buyers will see when they arrive for the open house or showing. Simple tasks such as mowing the grass, trimming the bushes, and planting flowers out front can pay off big time.

I’d also highly recommend removing any personal or divisive items—family photos, sports logos, your collection of garden gnomes, even a photograph of you posing with one of the nation’s presidents. For better or worse, leaving such mementos in plain view may be inadvertently alienating a portion of the prospective buyers who come through your doors. They might be less willing to make a killer offer if they catch a glimpse of a giant Clemson University paw in your living room, when they happen to be die-hard University of South Carolina football fans. (Go, Gamecocks!)

You may also want to have your home professionally staged. While it could be tempting to leave it as is, the goal is to show potential buyers an idealized version of what their lives might look like in your abode. Staging can be especially handy if you’re trying to show buyers how to best utilize smaller spaces.

When I was shopping for a home with my partner, we encountered some big turnoffs—matted, dingy carpeting; deep-brown stains that suggested the bathtub might have been a homicide scene; and wallpaper that was too hideous even for my nightmares. It didn’t matter how many other selling points the home had or how well located it was. We hightailed out of these properties as quickly as possible.

So don’t push away potential buyers. Invest in having the stove scoured, the bathtub reglazed, and the home decluttered. And if your dog peed on your living room rug, toss it (the rug, that is). You want your home looking—and smelling—its best.

Sellers should also consider hiring a professional photographer. You might be tempted to just snap a couple of iPhone photos, and stick them up online. But more and more, buyers are deciding whether to attend open houses and showings based on the listings they view online.

Once the home is ready for its sales debut, it’s time to have that difficult conversation with your real estate agent about an appropriate price for the house. It’s important to recognize the housing market has shifted, and the peak is behind us. Higher mortgage rates have made it impossible for many buyers to go as high as they did a year ago. So come to grips with the fact that your home may fetch less than your neighbor’s house did just a few months ago. Go through the stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before you come to a place of acceptance and start showing the home.

As difficult as this may sound, do your best to remove emotion from your pricing decision. Not every buyer will love your home’s quirks the way you do and, if you haven’t renovated your kitchen or bathrooms recently, your property may be considered dated. Look carefully at the comps of recent sales in your area with your real estate agent as you discuss options. Were these homes and lots of comparable size? Did they have similar features? Were they recently updated?

If you overprice your home, you may scare away potential buyers and be forced to cut your list price.

This is undoubtedly a stressful, charged situation. And while you might have to make concessions—including helping buyers with closing costs, reducing asking price, or temporarily buying down mortgage rates to help the sale go through—there is still plenty of demand from eager homebuyers. That should keep prices high and give most sellers the upper hand.

The calculation compares the national median list prices from February 2020 to February 2023.