Help! I’m Stuck with a House I Can’t Sell — Any Advice?

Being stuck with a house you can’t sell becomes more emotionally and financially draining with every day that accumulates. You start to wonder if you’re just in a slow market (that’s possible), if your real estate agent is failing you (also possible), or what gives.

You begin tallying up the costs of property taxes and maintenance you’ll never be out from under, all the while knowing that a stale listing typically sells for less.

“I had clients whose home was on the market [for three months] with a listing price of $415,000, and over time they lowered it to $389,000 with little traffic and no offers,” says Rosie Rourke, an award-winning real estate agent in Washington state. “When they finally came to me, we did a little work, listed their home for $389,000, and in 9 days we got it sold.”

Every situation and home is different, but here is what top-selling real estate agents including Rourke advise to sellers in this frustrating position.

A woman researching how to sell a house.
Source: (StockSnapPixabay)

First, check your area’s typical days on market

A reference point for you: According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, recently sold homes were on the market for a median of three weeks. So, if you’re still within that 21-day window or even a bit past it, it could be that all you need is a little more patience for your house to sell.

However, you also can’t rule out the likelihood that there’s an issue with your price, your home’s condition, or your marketing egregious enough to keep buyers at bay. The likelihood that something is off certainly rises as time goes on without any interest.

Even if that is the case, you have options. No matter how many weeks out you are, you can turn this around with the right strategy:

1. Assess your listing agent’s performance

Rourke’s clients actually took the first step on their own — they assessed their first listing agent’s performance and decided to move on to a new agent.

“These particular clients were with a different agent for three months. They had heard about me through my marketing and decided to call and said, ‘What do we do?’” recalls Rourke.

“I told them, if possible, we wait 90 days before relisting the house because at that point it becomes a fresh new listing. If I list a house the day after another agent releases it, the listing retains all of those days it sat on the market, which forces us to go to an even lower price.”

Three months.

Three months sitting unsold on the market, plus another three months off market waiting for the listing to become new again. That’s a total of six months stuck waiting to sell your house.

Instead of sitting around for half a year, it’s wiser to evaluate your agent’s performance if you’re not getting any showings or offers within those first three weeks that it takes most homes to sell.

Again, it could be that your market is simply more sluggish than other areas, so don’t go jumping the gun. Simply take the initiative to evaluate your agent’s performance around the 21- to 30-day marker by answering these questions:

  • What is the average days on market for home sales in my area?
  • What is the average days on market for my agent’s most recent home sales?
  • How does my agent’s marketing materials compare to other houses for sale in my area?
  • How is my communication/relationship with my current agent?
  • Does my agent have documented experience selling in my price point and neighborhood?

If the answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, you may need to fire your real estate agent and find a new one. This may require involving a lawyer if you’ve signed an exclusive right to sell listing agreement that hasn’t yet expired.

But before you do, take a step back and evaluate whether or not the problem is with your agent, or if you’re partially at fault for your faltering home sale.

An agent helping a client who's stuck with a house they can't sell.
Source: (Anastasia GeppPixabay)

2. Evaluate your application of the agent’s advice

“Oftentimes it’s not actually the first agent’s fault. The home didn’t sell because the seller resisted that first agent’s advice. When sellers hire a new agent after having their house sit on the market for three months, they’re more willing to listen because they’ve been through the ringer,” explains Rourke.

“I’ve actually been on both sides of that with first-time sellers who simply would not listen to what we were learning from the data, stats, and buyers agents’ feedback. And then I’ll see them re-list with a new agent at the price I’d been trying to get them to list at for months.”

Sometimes, you just need to go through it before you’re able to absorb your agent’s advice. Remember, your agent is your teammate, not your enemy.

Your agent has a vested interest in helping you sell your home swiftly and for the most amount of money, so know that the advice they’re offering isn’t personal or critical of your home — they’re simply telling you the impression buyers will get when they walk through the door.

Keep in mind that you’ve hired your agent for their knowledge and expertise. They’ve sold dozens of houses and they’re ready to share what they know with you. So, before you axe your agent, ask yourself questions like these:

  • Did I fight my agent on the listing price?
  • Did I follow my agent’s recommendations to make repairs, upgrades, or improvements around my house?
  • Did I refuse to be flexible on things like staging or showing availability?
  • Did I reject any suggestions to offer incentives?

Honesty isn’t just the best policy in answering these questions about your own role in your sluggish home sale, it’s vital. If you’re truthful with your answers, you can always apply your agent’s advice now and salvage your home sale — and save yourself the time and effort it’ll cost you to find and list with another agent.

Plus, if you do go to another agent without honestly evaluating your role, you’ll be stuck in the same boat.

3. Revisit your price

Price is often the biggest battle that happens between listing agents and their sellers. Many sellers come into the home selling process with a fixed value of their home’s worth in mind. But agents are focused on what a buyer is willing to pay for your home.

That’s the number that really matters. Unfortunately, sellers who are fixated on worth tend to badger their agents into overpricing — which is the no. 1 reason homes don’t sell.

“Overpricing does the most damage in the long run. When an overpriced listing is on the market for a while, buyers automatically assume something’s wrong with the house, but it’s just at the wrong price. If you price it fair market value, the buyers will come,” advises Rourke.

“Unfortunately, these particular clients couldn’t wait 90 days to relist the house, so the first thing we did is assess the price. Luckily, their reduced price of $389,000 was right on market.”

Pricing right is the most important job every agent does, and they’re not just pulling the price out of thin air.

Let’s take a look at all the data that factors into their pricing recommendations:

  1. Location – This includes your neighborhood, your proximity to amenities like schools and shopping, and even the location of your lot, such as on a busy street, or at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.
  2. Comps – Your agent will put together a comprehensive, data driven report of all the homes comparable to yours that sold in your area, how much they sold for, how long they took to sell. This is called a comparative market analysis and is considered a standard tool for pricing real estate.
  3. Condition – Condition all comes down to how well you’ve taken care of your home: Is the paint fresh or peeling? Are the appliances new or decades old? This is where your attention to maintenance will pay off, or your neglect will hurt you.
  4. Updates – Any improvements or upgrades you’ve made can make a big impact on the price. If your home has a brand new kitchen or professional landscaping, it’s going to be worth more than your neighbor who doesn’t have those updates.
A living room in a house that can't sell.
Source: (programmingibcPixabay)

4. Improve your home’s appearance and remove distractions

If your home’s not selling, the reason may be that it’s nothing much to look at.  Appearance is no way to judge a person, but appearance is exactly the standard buyers use to judge whether or not they want to drop big bucks to buy your home.

“This isn’t just straightening up, you really have to get your house ready to sell. For example, if the sellers are smokers, we may need to rip out the carpets, pads, and even paint the subfloor with Kilz to remove the odor,” explains Rourke.

“Before relisting this particular house for my clients, we painted the trim on the outside, which was in disrepair, and we painted the bedrooms that were wild colors before taking new photos for the listing.”

If you’ve been stuck with a house that won’t sell for a while, you’ll need to assess whether or not you need to spruce up in these areas:

5. Invest more in staging

If your home isn’t getting any offers, or even showings, it may be that it needs staging to help your home sell quickly.

“Ask your real estate agent for advice on getting your house staged and ready for photos and showings. Some things are obvious, like making beds and doing dishes, but other things aren’t so obvious like opening drapes to bring in the natural light,” explains Rourke.

“In the case of these clients, this was a vacant home which was not staged at all, so we went ahead and had it professionally staged before taking the listing photos.”

In real estate, staging is the term for taking your home from clean and tidy to styled to look like the cover of an interior design magazine. Staging isn’t just about making your home more visually appealing to buyers, research shows that it can reduce your number of days on market.

According to the NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Staging, 53% of surveyed sellers’ agents reported that staging reduced the amount of time homes spend on the market.

An infographic explaining how much time a home was on the market.
Source: (National Association of Realtors)

And a recent survey by the Real Estate Staging Association discovered that 90% of homes staged prior to listing spent less time on the market than unstaged homes.

While staging a vacant home can run into the thousands, professional staging help doesn’t have to get expensive. You may be able to get by with just some advice from a staging pro, which runs around $150 to $600 for a two-hour consultation.

If you have an artistic eye, you may even be able to DIY your staging, or at the very least, you might save some cash by creating your own DIY artwork to replace any personal photos you’ve taken down.

Whether you DIY your staging or hire a pro, don’t assume this staging is just for the listing photos. Plan to keep your home staged for showings until it sells, so that buyers aren’t disappointed when they see your place in person.

6. Amp up your promotion

It won’t matter how great or in shape your house is if you can’t get buyers to give it a second look — especially if it’s already been listed for several months. Capturing attention on an old listing requires an amped up marketing plan, one that begins online.

“Social media is often overlooked, but it’s a huge factor in what I do to draw in clients. An online presence is important because more buyers are doing their homework online and make snap judgments based on what they see,” advises Rourke.

“Local marketing is essential, too. We do postcards and fill the flyer boxes on our signs with beautiful flyers that have photos and all the information about the house.”

Other marketing ideas to consider include:

7. Go pro for your listing photos

One of the reasons you’re staging your home is so that it photographs well for the listing pictures, but all the staging in the world won’t help amateur photos.

“Cell phone photos just don’t cut it anymore. Cell phone shots make spaces look really small, versus a professional shot with a wide-angle lens and the correct lighting,” advises Rourke.

“One problem these particular clients had is that the listing did not have professional photos. Buyers looking at cell phone shots of their home ended up thinking that the kitchen was tiny, when it wasn’t.”

While it’s best to leave the photographs themselves to the pro photographer, there are things you can do as the seller to help ensure you get the best possible images:

  • Hire a photographer who specializes in real estate photography.
  • Create a shot list of any special features or upgrades you want highlighted in wide shots and close ups.
  • Remove fragile/valuable items to avoid potential damage during the photo shoot.
A computer used to help sell a house.
Source: (Romain V / Unsplash)

8. Write a compelling listing description

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but if you’re dealing with a house that won’t sell, then don’t leave the storytelling up to the buyers — you need to craft a listing description that entices folks to seriously consider your home.

“One of the most common mistakes a real estate agent makes is thinking the listing photos are self-explanatory. The listing description needs to craft a story to get the buyer emotionally connected to the home. The story is what’s going to draw buyers to look at the house in person,” advises Rourke.

“A fabulously remodeled kitchen loses some of its punch without the words to describe the double oven for holiday gatherings, and the large kitchen window overlooking the private backyard.”

Writing the listing description is typically best left to your agent who has experience in writing catchy real estate copy, but if you feel yours is lackluster, here’s a few tips to suggest:

  • Be specific: Think “imported mahogany hardwood floors” versus “wood floors.”
  • Use buzzwords: Paint a picture with words like, swanky, modern, crisp, sleek.
  • Mirror description with photos: Set your photo lineup first, then write the listing description so the copy follows the images that the buyers are seeing.

9. Increase accessibility

You’ve put in all the work to make your home, your listing material, and your marketing plan perfect—so why are you still not getting any offers?

It could be that you’re simply not giving buyers a chance to see your house. Few people are comfortable with buying a property sight unseen. Buyers want to see inside before they make an offer, but that’s not possible if you’ve put a lot of restrictions on your availability for showings.

“Accessibility is sometimes the problem, say if the seller won’t allow any showings after 6 o’clock because they’re putting the kids to bed. Well, most people work, so that’s usually the prime time to show a house,” explains Rourke.

“Sellers need to be open to showings when it’s convenient for the buyer — you can’t just ask them to come back later. If yours is one in a string of four houses on their list, they may just buy another house because they never got to see yours. Real estate moves quickly and you may not get another bite at the apple.”

10. Offer incentives

When all else fails, it’s time to sweeten the pot by offering incentives to entice buyers into looking at your listing. According to the NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 34% of sellers offered incentives to attract buyers.

“I do recommend incentives in houses that may be a tough sell. In years past, we would give a buyer bonus that would build towards their closing costs, or even a $5,000 credit toward upgrades,” says Rourke.

“However, it’s often better to just lower the price by $5,000 than offer a credit, because that draws immediate attention. An incentive requires the buyer’s agent to do a deep dive into the listing to find it.”

Need incentive ideas? Consider these options:

A comment card used to give feedback on a house for sale.
Source: (Gajus / Shutterstock)

BONUS: Get buyer feedback

Proper pricing, deep cleaning, repairs, upgrades, staging, pro photos, amped up marketing, even incentives — you’ve done it all, but nothing’s working. Now what?

When you’re out of options, your best bet is to ask the buyers themselves why they aren’t interested in making an offer on your home.

“After every showing, we are always emailing and calling agents to ask for buyer feedback. It’s that important,” says Rourke.

“Feedback is how listing agents recognize patterns or find problems that they’re missing, like an unpleasant odor, or a paint color that’s turning buyers off. Feedback is critical because we can’t fix any hidden problems until we know what they are.”

Stuck doesn’t equal helpless

When you’re the owner of a home that’s been sitting unsold on the market for months on end, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. After all, it’s not like you can force a buyer to make an offer.

But there’s no need to stay stuck if you’re willing to listen to your agent, evaluate the problems with your listing and take action to make your home more appealing to buyers — even if that means lowering your price.

Header Image Source: (Pixabay / Pexels)