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Every homeowner wonders, “What is my home worth?” During the housing bubble years leading up to 2007, it was with the pleasant thrill of imagining money piling up in the bank; after the crash, it was with a sense of dread, remembering that looming mortgage debt. These days, who knows?

That’s why coming up with a real answer to this question is important if you want to sell your home—and pinpoint the right asking price. If not? It’s kind of fascinating to see how much your investment may have appreciated over the years. But how do you find this magic number? Here are some ways to figure it out.

One good starting point is to enter your address on realtor.com®, which will instantly price your home based on data such as its square footage and recent home sales in the area. But while this will help you get a ballpark idea, remember that there’s no substitute for the expertise of a Realtor®, who has access to a vast database of information to help you home in on that number.

Tap a real estate agent’s expertise

Real estate agents specialize in answering the question “how much is my home worth?” for their clients, which they do by running a comparative market analysis. This process involves finding similar properties (“comps”) that sold within the past 90 days.

The most accurate comp is a home that’s nearby, similar to yours in square footage, and has the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. (Ideally, the lot size is also equivalent, but that’s more important in rural areas, where homes are set on multiple acres.) Once your agent finds a few recently sold comps, then she averages the purchase prices and uses that figure as a baseline for how much your home is worth.

Size up the competition

From there, your agent will size up the current competition.

“You should always look at what other properties are listed for in your community,” says , a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis. For instance, “if your neighbor’s home is listed for $400,000 and you want to list yours at $500,000, you’d better be able to clearly explain the price difference to prospective buyers.” Or else adjust your price accordingly.

Consider how buyers shop

Sellers need to consider how home buyers search for properties online. Let’s assume your home’s fair market value is $503,000.Yet Dossman points out that many people search for homes on the web using $20,000 or $25,000 increments. The upshot? Listing your home for $503,000 could prevent your listing from being seen by buyers who are searching for homes in the $475,000 to $500,000 bracket, so knocking off $3,000 for an asking price of $500,000 might generate more traffic—and maybe even a bidding war to push that price above your expectations.

Also, avoid listing your home at an odd dollar figure (e.g., $999,000 instead of $1 million). While retailers and as-seen-on-TV purveyors of the Miracle Mop effectively price products ending in $0.95 or $0.99, Dossman says the same approach doesn’t apply to real estate: “It’s hard to justify awkward pricing. It’s just confusing to buyers.”

Try to remain objective

“Sellers always think that their home is worth more than it is, because of their personal attachment,” says Dossman. Indeed, it’s hard to boil down years or decades of memories in a home to a number. It’s also hard to accept that your home is worth less than what you paid for it, or that you can’t just tack on the price of the renovations you’ve made. On average, renovations will reap you only a 64% return on investment, although that varies based on the type of upgrades you’ve made.

Why it’s important to price your home right

Price your home too high, and it could wind up sitting on the market. That’s a big problem, because a property that goes unsold for an extended period of time (e.g., more than 30 days) often becomes stigmatized.

“Buyers get suspicious when they see a house that’s been on the market for a while,” says Dossman. “They think that something is wrong with the home.” If that’s the case, the seller may have to make a significant price reduction—sometimes dropping the price below market value—in order to nab a buyer.

Pricing your home below market value in an attempt to stir interest and generate multiple bids can also backfire. Granted, the strategy that could work in a hot seller’s market, but underpricing your home frequently leads buyers to assume that your home is worth only its list price, says Dossman.

Your best bet: List your home close to what it’s really worth—aka its market value. When in doubt, turn to your real estate agent to help you cut through the haze and help you pinpoint the right price.

ByDaniel Bortz

Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com

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If you’re selling your house, staging—the mysterious practice by which you prep and prettify your home before its debut—can make a huge difference in catching the attention of buyers and ultimately reeling in an offer. And the room you’ll really want to focus on here is the kitchen: After all, it’s the crown jewel that buyers ooh and ahh over—except when the counters are packed with stacks of mail, near-empty boxes of Froot Loops, and a hulking Cuisinart you rarely use.

To make sure this critical area is perfectly poised to woo buyers, try these home staging ideas for your kitchen and get some offers cooking.

Clear off counters

Put it away—put it all away. We’re looking at you, coffee maker, blender, knife block, standing mixer, and toaster oven. “And don’t forget the top of the refrigerator,” says Amy Bell, a home staging expert at Red Chair Home Interiors in Cary, NC. Home staging in this room is all about making your kitchen look bigger, cleaner, and more streamlined. “Homeowners are so accustomed to their own clutter that it almost becomes invisible to them,” she warns.

And while you’re in purge mode, remove every bit of paper and those souvenir magnets from the refrigerator and cabinets. The only thing you should keep on the counter is a pop of color, such as a pretty bowl of bright green apples or lemons, says Katie McCann, an organizing coach at Maeve’s Method.

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Scour for hours

Well, no one’s actually logging the time spent, but cleanliness is critical here, says D. Sam Halpin, a real estate broker with My Home Group in Scottsdale, AZ. “Not only must you clean the countertops, but the grout, faucet, and grimy drain rim, too,” she says.

Try CLR (calcium, lime, and rust remover) on the faucet to make sure water flows through it smoothly. Clean cabinet fronts to remove dust and grime, and scrub greasy spatters on the stove and backsplash with a vinegar-water solution.

“And if you have a stovetop with burns or food rings, remove them with a soft soap product and a razor blade—it’ll look almost like new,” she adds.

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Light it right

Let as much natural light into the space as you can, by either opening heavy drapes or replacing them with sheer panels. Have a kitchen that looks out to a patio or deck through glass doors? These must sparkle in order to illuminate the space. “And if you don’t have under-cabinet lights—get them,” recommends Halpin. You can purchase battery-powered puck-shaped lights for very little money and stick them under the cabinets (it adds that extra glow that every cook covets).

Jack Menashe, a designer and home stager at Menashe Design in New York City, likes minimal window treatments (like just a valance along the top) when showcasing a kitchen as natural light makes the space feel bigger. “A patterned valance invites the buyer to see the window and allows me a chance to add color,” he says.

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Organize the insides

Potential buyers are going to open the fridge and pantry, so don’t neglect these spots when you’re staging the kitchen. “People who are looking for a new home will imagine how their pots, pans, and food items might fit into your cabinets,” explains McCann.

“Sometimes I stack cookbooks and display clear storage containers because these elements speak to the kitchen’s function, and clear containers take up less space visually,” says Menashe.

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Set the scene

Some experts recommend setting the table with colorful plates and napkins to give the kitchen a homey feel.

“I may present a picture of daily life by having a unique planter on the countertop with blooming flowers alongside a carafe of orange juice for color and a rolled-up newspaper,” says Menashe. Or, place a simple runner down the middle of the table for a bit of coverage and texture.

Want more kitchen staging ideas? We’re discussing some on House Talk.

ByJennifer Kelly Geddes

Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com

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Whether you’re looking to sell or buy a home, you will no doubt encounter the multiple listing service, or MLS. This is, in many ways, the very lifeblood of the real estate business. But just what is the MLS? Sure, it’s a huge database of home listings, but there’s a lot more to it than just that. Let’s jump in!

History of the MLS

Yes, the MLS seems like an invention of the modern age. But, in fact, the term “multiple listing”—and the overarching concept behind it—was first coined in 1907. Back then it described the old-timey practice in which real estate agents would gather regularly at offices or conferences to trade info about homes they were trying to sell, hoping this network could help connect them with buyers. In 1908, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges (the organization that later became the National Association of Realtors®) endorsed the use of this system by all agents. It quickly caught on from there, evolving, stage by stage, into the modern system in use today—online and fully searchable by price, neighborhood, and home features.

While the MLS may look like one large national database, it’s actually a suite of approximately 700 regional databases. And they’re quite territorial: Each regional MLS has its own listings, and agents pay dues to access and post homes on each one. This is why agents who want a broader reach for their clients may become a member of more than one MLS.

There is a growing trend in which regional databases “share” listings without agents needing to become members of each, but that’s still more the exception than the rule. In general, only one MLS has the keys, both figuratively and literally, to any one home.

While numerous websites aggregate home listings through highly condensed versions of MLS listings, realtor.com® is by far the most comprehensive, with 99% of all MLS-listed “for sale” properties in the U.S. (And to further toot our own horn: Our listings are also the most accurate and up to date. Over 90% of “For Sale” listings are refreshed at least every 15 minutes, which can come in handy in a fast-paced housing market, where every second can count. OK, we’re done!)

How the MLS works

Home sellers can’t post their home directly to the MLS, because access to this database is limited to licensed agents and brokers who pay for membership. Once they have a client selling a home, they gather the necessary details such as the square footage, number of bedrooms, and other noteworthy attributes—as well as photos—then post a complete (and hopefully eye-catching) listing on their client’s behalf.

When agents log in, they have access to a wealth of data that they can pass along to their clients—or just help them do their business better and more strategically. And much of this goes far beyond whether a particular listing’s driveway is made up of gravel or asphalt.

“Agents are able to upload and download documents on the MLS, such as seller disclosures and HOA regulations,” notes Florida Realtor® Cara Ameer. So even if you don’t see the info you want on realtor.com, be sure to ask your agent, who may be able to deliver what you need with the click of a mouse.

Alternatives to the MLS

Home sellers who don’t want to pay a real estate agent’s commission can also list their home on a For Sale By Owner, or FSBO, site rather than the MLS. But do so with your eyes wide open: Selling a home on your own is far from easy, and FSBO homes sell for less money—on average $39,000 less. This may explain why only 8% of homes sold every year are FSBO, and the vast majority go through the MLS.

There are also a few high-profile markets—namely New York City and Seattle—where the MLS is not the only way to list a home with an agent. In these areas, large real estate brokerages such as Sotheby’s and Douglas Elliman use their own proprietary databases to list homes rather than syndicating them on the MLS. So in these markets, you may want to check directly with these brokers’ sites in addition to the usual avenues if you want to make sure that all your house hunting bases are covered.

What is a pocket listing?

Sometimes high-profile sellers working with an agent will choose not to list their home on the MLS, for privacy reasons such as to avoid publicity or looky-loos. A property that is not entered into the MLS is often called a “pocket listing,” as in, “hidden in an agent’s pocket.” That means that only those potential buyers with whom an agent works directly will be aware the home is on the market.

Typically celebrities or other high-profile people may try this route; but if you’re just a regular Joe who wants to get the word out that you’re selling, the MLS will get you the most eyeballs—and top dollar—for your home.

ByCathie Ericson

Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com

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Looking to buy a home? Here are five essential tips for making the process as smooth as possible.

Get your finances in order.

Start by getting a full picture of your credit. Obtain copies of your credit report. Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you find. Next, find a suitable lender and get pre-approved for a loan. This will put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house.

Find a house you can afford.

As with engagement rings, there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to buying a home: two-and-a-half times your annual salary. There are also a number of tools and calculators online that can help you understand how your income, debt, and expenses affect what you can afford. Don’t forget, too, that there are lots of considerations beyond the sticker price, including property taxes, energy costs, etc.

Hire a professional.

While the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings and resources, many aspects of the buying process require a level of expertise you can’t pick up from surfing the web. That’s why you’re better off using a professional agent than going it alone. If possible, recruit an exclusive buyer agent, who will have your interests at heart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process.

Do your homework.

Before making a bid, do some research to determine the state of the market at large. Is it more favorable for sellers or buyers? Next, look at sales trends of similar homes in the area or neighborhood. Look at prices for the last few months. Come up with an asking price that’s competitive, but also realistic. Otherwise, you may end up ticking off your seller.

Think long term.

Obviously, you shouldn’t buy unless you’re sure you’ll be staying put for at least a few years. Beyond that, you should buy in a neighborhood with good schools. Whether you have children or not, this will have an impact on your new home’s resale value down the line. When it comes to the house itself, you should hire your own home inspector, who can point out potential problems that could require costly repairs in the future.

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Keller Williams Realty, Inc. is a real estate franchise company. Each Keller Williams office is independently owned and operated. Keller Williams Realty, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity Employer and supports the Fair Housing Act.

Javier Alvarez

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