Even if you know that home prices have dropped in your market, finding out what your home is worth right now can feel like a kick in the gut.
As I learned in selling my own house, the quicker you adopt realistic pricing, the faster your will sell your house. Just when we thought we couldn't take the pain of lowering our price any more, prices dropped further, leaving our home a little over priced for the market. It was only when we swallowed hard and priced it at what our broker said it was worth--and not 5 or 10% higher--that we sold it immediately. (Being a real estate professional doesn't mean you're immune to optimism!)
What is realistic pricing? A good real estate broker should be able to help you do a study of recent sale prices of comparable properties in your area to guide you. A seasoned broker will also have a sense of what the comparable properties in the neighborhood are. As a layperson, it's easy to talk yourself into thinking that your 30-year-old condo is equivalent to the brand new one that went up across the street, so it is important to get a referral through word of mouth to a broker who will tell it like it is. You might not like what the broker has to say, but if you truly need to sell your home, it is important to listen and act on the broker's advice.
If you're selling your home without a broker, sites such as Zillow can give you an idea of the going rate for similar homes in your area. Be brutally realistic with yourself about which homes are similar, so you don't set the price so high that your home languishes on the market.
"Wait a minute," you may be saying. "I put in granite countertops! The master bathroom is brand new! I spent $2,000 on landscaping and $8,000 on a new furnace last year." Even if you've done amazing things to improve your home, it is unlikely that you will be able to sell it for much more than the most recent sales in its category. If property values in your town have dropped 30% since the recession, then there is little chance that your home was the only one immune to the price decline.
Okay, that's the bad part. The good news is that if you price your home attractively out of the starting gate, you'll increase the likelihood of a quick sale. And, if values are still collapsing in your area, you'll improve your chances of selling your property before it is worth less--and free yourself from "house arrest."