Invest in face-lift, they say, and keep your asking price moderate

Before putting their Outer Richmond condo on the market, Megan Christoph and her husband, Scott Davis, repainted the entire apartment. They replaced the faucets and showerhead, replanted the yard and had the hardwood floors refinished.

The couple borrowed plants and artwork from friends and bought a new dining room table and chairs on Craigslist. Then Christoph and the couple's two children moved out for several weeks to keep their home pristine for the open houses and tours.

"We were very nervous to be selling in this market," said Christoph, who worked in real estate from 2002 to 2004 before returning to social work. "Out by Ocean Beach is a great place to live, but it's not necessarily where the 20-somethings and 30-somethings want to go. We felt like we had to make it look really good."

While real estate agents say that in any market sellers should put their best face forward by repainting, investing in landscaping and cleaning up the home, they say it's especially true in a down market. The other key to selling a home quickly that becomes even more critical in a slow cycle is pricing, according to agents including Cynthia Cummins, who helped Christoph sell her home.

Evaluating similar homes that sold in the neighborhood, Cummins said Christoph and Davis could have priced the house as high as $625,000.

"They opted to list it for $589,000 to make the price as attractive as possible," said Cummins, an agent with McGuire Real Estate and Christoph's boss during her two-year stint in real estate. "That may have been the single most important thing."

After a little more than two weeks on the market - what Christoph said felt like an eternity - the couple received two offers. They agreed to sell their home for $577,000, less than the listing price, and settled on a 30-day close.

"I didn't feel like I could say no to that," said Christoph. The sale closed May 23 - well before the end of the school year for her children. "I didn't feel like I could ask for those extra 14 days and still close the deal. All I wanted was to close the deal."

The family's experience underscores that it's anything but business as usual for sellers in San Francisco, where home prices zoomed up during the first half of the decade, and year after year of double-digit growth fueled a housing market where it took little more than placing a "for sale" sign out front to start a bidding war.

But San Francisco sellers say those days are long gone.

The median price of an existing single-family home in San Francisco was $850,000 in April, unchanged from the same period a year earlier, according to DataQuick Information Systems. The median price of an existing condo was also essentially unchanged at $783,000 for the same period. The number of single-family homes sold in April 2008 dropped 12 percent, while the number of condos fell 6.3 percent compared with April 2007.

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