Houses are selling fast in your city, so you think yours will be easy to sell – and for top dollar. Never mind all that advice about curb appeal because these days anything is selling, right?

Well, not quite.

Even in a seller's market – which many major U.S. cities are currently experiencing – some homes linger on the market for weeks or months, while the homes around them go into contract within days.

“If you haven’t gotten a contract after six showings, you’ve got to go back and see where the weakness is,” says Sissy Lappin, a real estate broker in Houston and founder of ListingDoor.com, which provides marketing tools to sell your home without an agent.

The answer almost always comes back to two variables: price and condition, though marketing can also play a role.

“If the house is priced right, it will sell, regardless of its condition,” says Pierre Shaheen, a Redfin agent in Hollywood, Florida. “Usually when the property doesn’t sell in a hot market, it’s the way the property is priced or the way it’s exposed,” Shaheen adds.

[See: The Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2017.]

That exposure, or marketing, includes both modern and old-fashioned tactics. High-quality professional photos and easily accessible information help sell a home. But so do listing agents who know the neighborhood, says Lappin – although these days few prospective buyers ever meet a listing agent, since most homes use lockboxes where buyers’ agents can get the keys for a tour.

“Eighty-four percent of all homes are on a lockbox,” Lappin says. “I call this the dirty, disgraceful secret in real estate.”

A selling agent used to open all the drapes and blinds and make sure the home looked inviting before the prospective buyers walked in. Today, the blinds may stay closed, leaving the home’s first impression a dark and vacant house.

“A book is judged by its cover, and you only have one shot to make a good impression,” Lappin says. “It has to be light and bright and happy.”

Price, of course, is also important. Too many sellers set the price based on what they want to get for their home rather than what comparable homes are selling for. Or, they deem a home with a new roof and air conditioner updated, even if it still has a 1970s kitchen and bathrooms in need of renovation.

“You’ve got to price a home based on sold homes, not actives,” Lappin says. “You’ve got to look at the facts.” Today’s buyers have access to enough information via websites, apps and online home valuation tools to know what a home is worth before they come to look at it.

[Read: Housing Bubble Ahead? Analysts Don't Think So.]

A home that’s not updated will sell – but only at a price that reflects its condition. “That’s not going to scare a buyer away because we’re going to present it at a price that reflects that it needs to be remodeled,” Shaheen says.

Even in a hot market, removing clutter, sprucing up your home’s curb appeal, opening curtains and using professional photos in the listing will help it sell faster. “You have to make the home look as presentable as possible,” Shaheen says.

Here are seven reasons your home hasn't sold yet.

The price is too high. Any house, in any condition, will sell – if the price is right. But buyers expect discounts for dated kitchens, old plumbing, bad paint colors and, yes, even clutter. The danger of setting a price too high and then dropping it gradually is that when a home stays on the market too long, especially in a fast market, buyers assume there is something wrong with it and don’t even look at it. Your best bet is getting the price right the first time.

Your home is dark. A dark, vacant house does not give a good first impression. Closed drapes, dark paneling and an excess of dark leather furniture may not create the cozy look you intended. “When you walk in a home, you want it to make you feel good,” Lappin says. “It’s a dark, gloomy home, and it sets the immediate tone.” She often advises sellers to lighten up the space by painting dark paneling or cabinets white and removing big furniture and clutter.

Prospective buyers can’t get in to see it. If sellers restrict when their home can be shown, require a lot of notice or otherwise throw up roadblocks to buyers getting in, that makes the home harder to sell. Requiring prospective buyers to make numerous phone calls to get an appointment can also be a problem, as are listing agents who aren’t available when someone has questions.

The listing photos are bad. Many agents, including those at Redfin, hire professional photographers for photo shoots as part of their marketing services. Because most homebuyers use those photos to determine which homes to visit, the quality of photos can be crucial. “I’ve seen pictures of homes where there is so much clutter,” Shaheen says. “You have to clean stuff up. When we take a picture of the kitchen, the counter is completely empty.”

Your home is dated, and the price doesn’t reflect that. Lots of buyers will accept a home with original kitchens and baths – if the price is discounted to reflect the work they will have to do. But they won’t pay top dollar for a house that is not in top condition.

[Read: How to Avoid 4 Awkward Real Estate Scenarios.]

The home is uninsurable. This is an issue especially in states such as Florida, where you can’t get homeowners insurance without an inspection of the electrical, plumbing, roof and cooling system. But even in other states, insurance companies often refuse to insure a home that doesn’t meet basic standards. This cuts the pool of buyers down to those who can pay cash and then renovate the home to meet the insurance requirements.

Lenders won’t lend on the home. The Federal Housing Agency is particularly picky about what standards a home has to meet before it will issue a mortgage. But other lenders may also set guidelines on the condition of roofs, electrical systems or other components. If these parts of the home are in poor condition, a lender may not be willing to lend to a buyer interested in the home.

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, money, existing home sales, pending home sales, home prices


Teresa Mears writes about personal finance, real estate and retirement for U.S. News and other publications. She was previously the real estate blogger for MSN Money and worked as the Home & Design editor for The Miami Herald. During her journalism career, she worked on coverage of immigration, religion, national and international news and local news, serving on the staffs of The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times and the St. Petersburg Times. She has also been a contributor for The New York Times and The Boston Globe, among other publications. She publishes Living on the Cheap and Miami on the Cheap. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaMears.

Recommended Articles

What You Should Know About Tenant Rights

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 23, 2020

Know what protections you have when you and your landlord get into a dispute.

How to Save on Hardwood Flooring Costs

Geoff Williams | Jan. 22, 2020

Consider these tips and tools to save on expensive hardwood costs.

9 Basement Renovations on a Budget

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 21, 2020

Make your underground space a little more welcoming without going beyond your budget.

What to Know About Moving to California

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 15, 2020

No other state offers such a variety of places to live and job opportunities, but expect to pay more.

Which Home Is the Best Layout for You?

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 10, 2020

Before you buy or build a home, consider how the footprint and floor plan fit with your lifestyle.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 8, 2020

The housing market may not be as hot as in previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.

What to Know Before Renovating a Garage

Deanna Haas | Jan. 6, 2020

A garage renovation can add value to your home – here's what you should keep in mind before starting the project.

Best Interior Design Instagram Accounts

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 3, 2020

These interior design Instagram accounts offer advice, inspiration and resources to elevate your home design.

Is an Open House Necessary?

Wendy Arriz | Jan. 3, 2020

The traditional open house format is still popular, but whether it's effective in helping sell your home may depend on the type of property.

Hygge Decor Ideas for Your Home

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 27, 2019

Achieve the cozy feeling that embodies Danish hygge in your home design.

What to Know About Moving to Dallas

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 26, 2019

Before you decide to move to Dallas, explore all your options in this expansive metro area.

Options When You Can't Pay Your Mortgage

Lisa Larson | Dec. 24, 2019

Financial difficulty can leave you unable to pay your mortgage, but that doesn't always mean you're facing foreclosure.

What to Know Before Moving to Colorado

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 20, 2019

Get your hiking boots – and your wallet – ready for a new life in Colorado.

What Is the Cost of Living in Boston?

Dima Williams | Dec. 20, 2019

Here is what it takes to afford to buy, rent and live in the capital of Massachusetts.

Best Places to Live With Climate Change

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 18, 2019

See which metro areas are more resilient to changing climate conditions.

Housing Market Expectations in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 13, 2019

Low mortgage rates will help homebuyers afford property, while sellers won't see much reason to move.

Best and Worst Design Trends of the '10s

Robin Kencel | Dec. 13, 2019

Take a look at the 2010s fads that have transformed into staples, and others that are best left in the past.

What Is the Cost of Living in Seattle?

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 11, 2019

Here's a breakdown of what you need to be able to afford living in and around Seattle.

Is a Condo, Townhouse or Co-Op Best?

Steven Gottlieb | Dec. 11, 2019

Different forms of ownership have pros and cons, depending on how you plan to use the property.

Design Trends to Look Out for in 2020

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 6, 2019

Which design trends are on their way in, and which ones should you ditch in 2020?