Why Isn't My Home Selling?

Here are the 5 top reasons you can't close the deal

Rear view of family looking at house for sale
••• Eric O'Connell/Stockbyte/Getty Images

You've put your house on the market, and it's just not happening: not a single showing or not one purchase offer. Here are some approaches to isolating the problem—be it in the pricing, the marketing, or even the people helping you—and finding an answer to that panicky question: Why isn't my home selling?

Your Home Isn't Up to Snuff

Take a sounding of the local real estate scene. If 90 percent of the homes in your market are not selling, then your home needs to outshine the top 10 percent. More specifically, look at the pending sales data, the homes that are under contract; that's your best indicator. Information on already closed properties (the sort of comps your agent used to set the asking price) could be two to three months behind the current market movement. If you want to know what is happening right now, the pending sales data are best.

After arming yourself with this data, consider the condition of your property, from curb appeal to interior decor. Of course, you prepared your home for sale prior to listing, but maybe you should re-evaluate it in light of the competition. For example, if the top 10 percent of the sellers on the market have new carpeting and your carpeting is worn and dated, your home is not going to sell. Perhaps you should consider adding updates or doing repairs. Ask your agent which efforts will give the most bang for the buck.

Your Photos Are Lacking

That saying "one picture is worth a thousand words" applies in spades to real estate. In the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the shared database among real estate professionals, homes with only one photo are passed by. Homes with dozens of photographs get noticed.

Take quality, professional-grade photos; neither you nor the camera nor the flash should be visible. Shoot wide angles with plenty of light showcasing your home's best features. Some other tips:

  • Don't shoot just the master bedroom. Try to capture all the bedrooms, because buyers will count the number of bedrooms in the photo lineup. If one is missing, they might incorrectly assume your listed number is erroneous.
  • Play to your home's strengths. If a hallway is narrow, don't take a picture of it. Get a close-up of your fireplace or other interesting feature instead.
  • Take many photos of the kitchen. Take many photos. Kitchens are traditionally the heart and soul of a home, and buyers want to see them.
  • Set the table before photographing the dining room.
  • Living room photos should show space, so move out some of that furniture.
  • Remember to include the backyard and gardens.
  • Add descriptive text to each photo, evoking a mood or elaborating on features ("perpetually sunny," "perfect for barbecues").

If you're not a skilled shutterbug, hire a professional photographer.

You're Not Marketing Enough

No single aspect of marketing sells a home. It's a combination of efforts. If your online media outlet makes a mistake and lists your home under the wrong section, don't panic; homes have sold to buyers who found them in the wrong place. For that reason, consider placing an ad under several classifications.

  • Print four-color postcards and mail them to surrounding homes in the neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods as well.
  • Create four-color flyers containing several photos to distribute to prospects and those who tour your home.
  • Hire a virtual tour company to shoot and upload videos.
  • Consider shooting a video yourself and uploading it to YouTube, even if it's just you talking about what you like about living there.
  • Massively advertise every weekend.
  • Hold open houses on Sundays that coincide with other neighborhood showings. Sometimes Thursday evenings attract buyers for twilight tours.
  • Get feedback from buyers about what they liked and disliked about your home, and make adjustments to overcome objections. 

You Hired the Wrong Listing Agent

Your agent seems competent, experienced, and honest. Still, not all agents are right for all properties or for all clients. For example, if you want the home to sell fast, look for someone who specializes in quick turnovers and high volume: There is a world of difference between an agent who sells 12 homes a year and an agent who sells 100. On the other hand, if a big profit is your goal, an agent who's good at the long game—at cultivating deep-pocket buyers and collecting fewer, but better offers—might be a better match.

if you're a leave-it-to-the-professionals type, you should have a full-service brokerage. Some discount agents don't invest a lot of time and effort into marketing, especially if they are paid a salary versus a sales commission. Not that the discounters don't have their points; just be prepared to do more on your own behalf, rather than expecting them to.

Speaking of sales: Did you choose your agent solely on the price tag named for your home? Sometimes the best listing agent suggests a lower but more realistic figure. Key question to ask the agent: "How many of your properties have sold for their original asking price?"

What's the communication level between you and your agent? Is the agent keeping you duly informed of all developments? If you need hand-holding, the agent they should provide it. If you don't need it, the agent should leave you alone. But the relationship should always be within your comfort zone.

Finally, what's your agent's take on the lack of action? Is there a strategic marketing plan in place, and if so, what are the agent's ideas for revising it?

The problem may not lay with your rep. But if the agent has no thoughts for improving the situation or isn't satisfying you in any other way, definitely move on.

You Haven't Priced Your Home to Sell

Sellers say, "But I don't want to give away my house." Of course not. But to make a sale, the price must be right. Don't test the market or ask an inflated figure, because if you do, your home will probably sit there as the Days on Market (DOM) continue to tick. Dated listings—homes that have been on the market too long—don't generally sell for list price.

To avoid overpricing your home, examine the sold comparable sales. Adjust for square footage, if necessary. If your home has a bad layout or is in a less desirable location (next to a school, on or near a busy street, or bordering a liquor store), you're not going to get the same price as homes with a good layout and in a good location.

For example, if the last three homes sold at $400,000 but you feel they are not comparable to yours because they don't contain updates—but they were located on a quiet street and your street is noisy—your home is probably worth about the same. A plus-$50,000 adjustment for the updates could wash out the minus-$50,000 for the busy street.

In a buyer's market, price your home a minimum of a percentage less than the last comparable sale. If you can't live with that price, then don't put your home on the market and set yourself up for disappointment. Overpricing is the worst mistake a home seller can make.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.