Even in today’s tight inventory market where most homes sell quickly a small number of homes sit on the market for weeks, then months. These long-term listings became huge time and money sucks for agents and sellers alike.

What causes certain homes to languish on the market?

Real estate agents — learn how to spot the early signs that a listing is going nowhere and take steps to avoid wasting your and your client’s time. Here are the top ten reasons a home sits on the market.

1. Unmotivated seller

An unmotivated seller is the number one reason a home sits on the market, as their lack of drive can lead to any number of factors that cause a home not to sell. This type of seller may only be interested in “testing” the market, seeing if they can get an unrealistic price for their home. They may not want to clean up, make necessary improvements or allow showings.

Avoid unmotivated sellers — they will ultimately waste a real estate agent’s time. But do this without alienating potential clients. Discuss their goals in-depth in your initial listing consultation to weed out this behavior.

2. Wrong price

Whether the seller is unmotivated or just unrealistic, when they demand to list their home far above market value, it’s a sure sign the home will sit on the market.

Redfin agent Jacie Paulson says: “One of the main reasons why properties sit on the market for an extended period of time is price. Sellers are taking advantage of this market and pricing homes to their advantage, but today’s buyers and buyers agents are savvy and unless we have a buyer that is desperate to move, buyers are not overpaying for homes.”

Give them a more realistic view of their home’s value by showing them as many comparable home sales as needed. Also show them examples of homes that were overpriced and show them how long they sat on the market — and because of this, how they often end up selling for below market value.

When that doesn’t change a seller’s mind, it’s up to the agent whether to take the listing at the inflated price — after all, if you don’t take it, they will find someone else to — just be prepared to sink extra time into the listing.

3. Marketing

Any agent worth their salt knows the importance of online marketing. The quality and quantity of images, the property description and where it is listed all make a difference in how fast a home sells and for how much.

Keep the property description brief, but also highlight any features unique to the property that aren’t apparent in the pictures. Is the property in a great school district? Does it back up to a park? Is the neighborhood association active? All of these are things to mention in the description.

Agents serious about selling their clients’ homes quickly will include at least 20 high-quality pictures in each listing. Listings with around 20 images sell faster than listings with more or fewer pictures, according to Zillow data.  A good rule of thumb is to take at least four times as many pictures as you plan to use. That way, you’re not stuck with a blurry thumb in the corner of the only picture you took of the kitchen.

Related article:

Tips for real estate photography

4. Needed home improvements

Unless it’s a new home, every purchase comes with some degree of wear and tear, and all reasonable homebuyers understand this.  But there are some defects even the most lenient homebuyer won’t overlook.

Water damage is particularly spooky to homebuyers. Even if it’s a stain leftover from a problem that was fixed years earlier, the presence of the stain will cause buyers to demand thousands off the list price, if they make an offer at all. Or, for the cost of some drywall and paint, the sellers can have this fixed before they show the house.

Other problems which may be less apparent to homebuyers, but will indefinitely show up on the home inspector’s report should also be dealt with upfront to avoid derailing the sale down the line. It’s always best to disclose any known facts that impact the property’s value upfront, especially when the seller is unwilling to pay to have it fixed. [See RPI Form 304]

5. Pets

Pets need to be removed when taking pictures so they don’t deter homebuyers from coming to look. When showing the home, sellers need to take dogs and any other easily portable pets with them. Cats and other animals that don’t leave the house may remain on an as-needed basis.

More importantly, remove any signs of the pet’s presence, including:

  • carpet stains;
  • pet odors;
  • pet dishes and food;
  • dog toys; and
  • fur which gathers on surfaces like couches, rugs, etc.

6. Curb appeal

First impressions matter, and a home’s exterior appearance is the listing’s calling card. Potential buyers may drive past to scope out the neighborhood and change their minds when they see an overgrown yard, crumbling driveway or dirty siding.

Without spending a fortune on landscaping, sellers can give their homes new life by pressure washing, edging and weeding.

7. Staging

There’s such a thing as too much personality — and not enough. The homes that sell quickly often land somewhere in between.

Have buyers remove personal photographs and everything else from the walls but the most generic artwork. Sellers can paint walls a fresh coat of white to appeal to the most homebuyers, who will see the space as a blank canvas. Tell them to de-clutter and de-personalize.

Some sellers stage by throwing everything into closets, but these are some of the most important areas of the home to keep clean. Sellers are better served by taking at least half of the clothes, shoes and other odds and ends out of their closets and packing them into boxes in preparation for their move. This will make their closets appear more spacious.

8. Inconvenient showings

 Sometimes, homes sit because buyers simply can’t get in to view them. For that reason, don’t list until the seller is ready to show the home. Ask the sellers to be prepared to leave the home with little notice and to keep the home in showing condition. Also encourage them to have a lockbox installed.

When a seller is hesitant about installing a lockbox, share with them the benefits and also the security measures you will take with the lockbox. For example, some types of lockboxes keep a log of agents who access the box so you always know who has been in the house.

On the other hand, when the seller is a definitive “no” on the lockbox, explain you will provide assisted showings of their home. This takes more time to coordinate and is less convenient for buyers (and you, the listing agent). But it’s still much better than the seller being the one to let buyers in. Buyers need privacy to critique and discuss a home’s strong and weak points, without the seller there. Buyers also try to imagine themselves living in the space, an exercise made all but impossible with the current owners present.

9. Messy tenants

A property currently used as a rental poses its own unique issues.

Landlords need to give a tenant at least 24-hour advance notice before showing the property. Still, this doesn’t mean the tenant necessarily needs to keep the property in prime showing condition. [Calif. Civil Code §1954(d)(2)]

For this reason, if the seller can financially swing it, it may be better to wait until the tenant’s lease is up and they have moved out to show the property to potential buyer-occupants. However, if the seller is marketing the property to other landlords who will plan to continue using it as a rental property, it may be beneficial to advertise the property with the tenant’s income-producing rent as part of the package.

10. Out-of-touch agent

When there’s not a thing wrong with the property, the sellers or the marketing, and it’s still not selling, the issue may be closer than you think.

A Zillow survey found a home listed in Los Angeles is ten times more likely to sell within 30 days when an agent emails their client in the first week of listing. It’s not the email itself that sells the home, rather the communication between agent and client that is indicative of an agent engaged in selling their client’s home.

It could also be that a seller’s agent isn’t easy to get along with and buyer’s agents are steering their buyers away from the listing simply to avoid interacting with the seller’s agent.

Seller’s agents who don’t do the legwork needed to sell their client’s home will likely be replaced, ultimately losing out on income.

Are there other reasons a home sits on the market? Share your experience in the comments below!