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Cutting Price to Sell Home Beats Paying on Two : Relocating: If a new job takes you out of state, consider the hidden costs of waiting for the market to turn around before selling your home.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If you are one of the more than 300,000 Americans expecting to lose your job this year, you could be hit with a second whammy if you take out-of-state employment and have to sell your house, real estate experts say.

“After losing your job, you may well find that your house is worth less,” said Peter G. Miller, author of several real estate books. “Worse, you could find it may take months to sell the old house, thus requiring you to carry two monthly housing payments.”

It’s the old story of supply and demand. Declining demand for housing often accompanies the loss of jobs in a community, said Dan Lacey, editor of Workplace Trends, a newsletter focusing on employment issues.

“We’re definitely hitting a stress point on relocation. People must move and yet can’t move, at least not easily, because of the house price situation,” Lacey said.

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To be sure, not every U.S. community is troubled with a slow real estate market. But statistics released this month by the National Assn. of Realtors (NAR) show that median home prices have slumped in many parts of the United States.

If you are caught in the bind of having to sell in a less-than-ideal real estate market, it is tempting to hold out for the price you believe you deserve. But realty specialists say that it is usually better to sell at a discount now than carry the property for months in the vague hope the market will rebound.

“The best advice is usually to cut your price, sell it, take your hit and run like hell,” said Ira Gribin, a Los Angeles realty executive and past president of NAR.

Gribin said many home sellers make the mistake of thinking that they are entitled to a price at least equivalent to what they spent to buy the home.

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“The market is the market is the market. What you paid for the house has nothing to do with the market value of the house,” said Gribin, who compares fluctuations in housing prices to those of stocks. He said that many people willing to take losses on securities are unwilling to accept them on their homes for emotional reasons.

“It’s self-justification. It’s like the boss who hires someone who doesn’t work out and yet won’t fire them. Or people who stay in bad marriages. These are the people who fear making a decision. They think life is a dress rehearsal,” Gribin said.

Of course, you do not want to unload your property for a ridiculously low price.

“There are a lot of insomniacs watching late-night television who think they can buy your house for $12,” Miller joked.

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Still, accepting a price that is slightly less than those of comparable homes in your neighborhood or below what you paid a few years ago could be financially wise when you add up the costs of your alternatives, realty experts say.

“People are generally hurt when their house remains on the market month after month because they have to pay a number of costs,” Miller said. “They have the carrying costs of the mortgage, property taxes and insurance. And then there are a lot of ‘silent’ costs.”

Silent costs include utilities. If you live in a hot, humid climate you will need to use air conditioning, at least on an intermittent basis, to keep the house smelling fresh. In a cold climate, a home needs to be heated in winter to prevent pipes from freezing.

And after you have moved out of town, don’t forget about upkeep. Probably you will have to hire someone to cut the lawn, clean the gutters and replace burned-out light bulbs. In addition, you may bear increased security costs for your vacant home. You may need a burglar alarm or timers to turn lights on and off.

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One way to offset some of the costs of carrying your unsold home is to rent it. Yet renting can also be problematic and expensive.

“I hate to see people become absentee landlords,” said Edith Lank, a syndicated real estate columnist in Rochester, N.Y. “What are you going to do when the water heater goes at 3 a.m. and you live in another state?”

There can be many hassles associated with being a landlord, Lank said.

“Landlording is a skill. It isn’t something you can do off the top of your head. You need to know how to price your rental, advertise, screen prospective tenants and check credit. You also need to know how to collect rent from an unwilling tenant and to evict if necessary.”

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Of course, you can engage a real estate agent who specializes in renting property. But expect to pay the agent about a half to a full month’s rent to locate the right tenant and 8% to 10% of the monthly rent to manage the rental after that, said Mary Hall, a vice president at James J. Hall Inc., a company specializing in residential rentals.

Despite the costs of holding and renting, it could be the right option in rare instances, Miller said. “It’s a good idea to hold if you have objective reasons to believe the market will improve in your area.”

Perhaps you know that a new factory or industrial center is opening in your area in six months. Or maybe a nearby military installation or defense contractor is expected to expand.

But with the U.S. economy struggling to recover from the recession, many communities may have to wait before their real estate markets turn around. Waiting for the right price is tempting, but it can go against your financial interests, Lank said.

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“Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet and take the price you’re offered,” she said.


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