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Preparation and timing can help you get the best price

Information for Sellers

When you decide to sell, the first thing to do is investigate the local housing market.

Check how sales were running, say, a year ago, so you get an idea of whether the market is heating up, cooling down, or staying put. This exercise should give you a sense of what your home is worth.

Selecting an agent

You may decide that you can sell your home without an agent. It's an attractive thought, since you would save the 6 percent of the selling price that a broker typically collects. But balance that against the work involved in advertising a house and being available at all hours to show it.

If you do decide to work through an agent, ask for referrals from friends or check the Web and local newspapers for advertisements. Don't simply accept any recommendation. Make an appointment with an agent and interview him or her for the job.

Evaluate the person as though you were a buyer: Is he or she professional and personable? Does he say the right things to make you want to see the home? Also, since the agent will likely be able to advise you on a selling price, how well does his or her price jibe with the homework you did on your own? Go by what you already know about your house and the current housing market.

The lowdown on commissions

Once you find an agent you like, you have to formally sign a listing agreement. This is a contract, laying out the specifics of your arrangement, including how long you will let the agent represent your home and what the compensation will be.

When you discuss the listing agreement, discuss other issues as well. For instance, if there are certain times when you want the house off-limits for walk-throughs, let the agent know.

Also, consider negotiating the commission. If your house is expensive, an agent might not flinch if you suggest 4 or 5 percent instead of the usual 6. Conversely, if you know it's a buyer's market, consider offering the incentive of a higher commission if the agent can land you a sale.

Getting ready for an open house

Whether you sell on your own or work with an agent, you'll want to spruce up your house before it goes on the market.

Take an objective look at it: Is it cluttered?  Consider a new paint job. Tidy up. Move unneeded furniture into the attic, or basement. Remove some of your personal items. Mow the lawn. Plant flowers, if it's the right season. These seemingly insignificant details can add many thousands of dollars to your eventual sales price.

Your research will already have given you a good idea of how the market is faring. Your agent should also provide you with comparable sales and discuss why your house should be priced higher or lower.

Timing is the key

Also note how long the homes were on the market. If you're in a seller's market, with listings moving in a week or two, think about adding a premium to the asking price.

In a buyer's market, it's especially important to get the price right. The critical selling time is within the first month after your home hits the market. If the price is too high, you'll turn off potential buyers and agents and then have a hard time attracting them back, even if you lower your sights later.

When you receive a bid via your agent ask for guidance in how to respond. This will depend on how you priced the house, what the housing market is in your area and your urgency to sell or wait for a better price.

Also make sure that all the buyer's contingencies are restricted within specific amounts of time and be on top of the dates.