Image: Diane Thomas
Al Behrman  /  AP
The popping of the pre-recession real estate bubble means many people need to list their homes for at or below what they paid for them, says Diane Thomas, senior sales vice president for Comey & Shepherd Realtors.
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Spring can be an exciting time for homeowners ready to sell. But not so much when your home has lingered on the market through multiple spring selling seasons.

Years of listings, open houses and showings without offers are weighing on many homeowners this year as the nation's housing market continues to struggle from the Great Recession's prolonged housing slump, credit crunch and high unemployment.

"I would like to move on," said Jim Oliver, who's been trying to sell since 2007. "It's frustrating."

His two-story house, with amenities such as a hot tub, finished basement and a wooded lot where deer roam, sits on 1.4 prime acres in an upscale region northeast of Cincinnati, with a top-rated school district. But the traditional real estate cry of "location, location, location!" has given way in this economy to "price, price, price!"

With new foreclosures and mortgage short-sales still streaming into the market, buyers have a lot of bargain listings to shop through. So that can mean some tough conversations between agents and homeowners about how much they can realistically expect to get for their home — and if it's not attracting much interest after months or years, the need to slash their asking price.

"We have had a problem with sellers who are nostalgic for the way it was," said Ron Phipps, a Warwick, R.I., real estate agent and president of the National Association of Realtors. He recalled homeowners reciting in detail the peak of their home's market value. But that's of little use today.

"You have to be where the market is, not where it was," Phipps said.

Sales of previously owned homes fell last year to their lowest level in 13 years, with contract signings last June at their lowest since the Realtors began tracking signed contracts in 2001. January contract signings were also down in the latest report.

The popping of the pre-recession real estate bubble means many people need to list their homes for at or below what they paid for them, said Diane Thomas, senior sales vice president for Comey & Shepherd Realtors. Thomas, who's listing the Olivers' house, said 2010 was the worst sales year of her 27-year career.

"Nothing like it before, not even when interest rates were high," she said.

But spring is coming, and that usually means increased activity, with better weather and more traffic from families hoping to buy and get moved before next school year.

Veteran real estate agents suggest a variety of steps for homeowners heading into spring, and the Realtors association has a website with tips for both buyers and sellers at Houselogic.com.

Among possible to-do tasks for homeowners: spruce up landscaping, update exterior lighting, and paint or replace front doors, all to create more "curb appeal" for first impressions.

For other improvements, Phipps advises owners to listen to their agent's suggestions and heed negative feedback from previous showings — without taking it personally. He also suggests going to open houses or taking online "virtual tours" of similar homes on sale to see how they compare in appearance and price.

"You have to be very realistic about what is keeping your home from selling," Phipps said. "Sometimes it may actually be the person in the mirror, if your expectations are not realistic. Ultimately, there is a price at which all things sell."

The Olivers, meanwhile, went ahead with their planned move to Salt Lake City, and are letting a niece and her family stay in what was their home for more than three decades. The house went back on the market in October with the price slashed nearly 25 percent, to $549,000.

Thomas thinks it might be bought by a developer who will knock down the house and divide the land into lots.

Jim Oliver said his family is faring OK financially, but still is more than ready to sell.

"I liken it to having a Ferrari just sitting in your garage," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: Corcoran: Five homes for $350,000 or less

  • Image: Texas home

    Each week, TODAY real estate expert Barbara Corcoran looks around the U.S. to see what homebuyers can get for their money. This week she goes from Texas to Massachusetts in search of truly unique properties you can get for $350,000 or less.

  • Spring, Texas – $319,900

    Image: Texas home

    4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths

    What could be wrong in a town called Spring? It’s just 30 minutes from downtown Houston. What a pretty exterior! It has a stately brick facade, double-height entry and arched windows. Take a look at this marble entryway and sweeping staircase! The staircase is only one of two – the second is in the kitchen. The living room has a treyed ceiling and French doors to the kitchen. The very formal dining room has wainscoting, nice molding and big windows. The kitchen is light and bright with a windowed dining area. In the backyard, there’s a big lawn, mature trees and covered patio. And you can tell the owner’s a Texas A&M fan!

    Click here to view the listing.

  • Owasso, Okla. – $339,999

    Image: Oklahoma home

    3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths

    Owasso, about 20 minutes from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is an Indian word meaning “end of the trail” and it’s only been a town for 100 years. They love parades! They have seven every year. Their marching band will be in the Rose Bowl Parade this New Year’s! The old brick and wood door and posts give this home an old-time feel. The living room has a corner stone fireplace and hardwood floors. The combination family room and study has a vaulted ceiling and French doors. There’s crown molding in the dining room and a pretty arched window. Upstairs there is a big, sunny bonus room with a half bath. This backyard needs a big wood deck to feel more comfortable, but the half-acre lot has plenty of mature trees.

    Click here to view the listing.

  • Springfield, Mass. – $344,000

    Image: Massachusetts home

    3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths

    Of the 34 us cities named, Springfield, Mass., is the first! Basketball was invented here and it is home to the Basketball Hall of Fame. One reason this contemporary colonial looks so big on the outside is its under-scaled wood siding on the front — but the statues should go! The two-story entry has a big staircase with views of the entire home. There are hardwood floors and lots of windows, but for sales purposes the living room is bit too stark and modern. The open family room has hardwood floors, glass doors flanked by big windows and gas fireplace. There are tile floors in the kitchen plus a sunny dining area and white cabinets. The upstairs loft has more sunny windows. The paved patio out back has a koi pond and perfect plantings.

    Click here to view the listing.

  • Knoxville, Tenn. – $344,900

    Image: Tennessee home

    3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths

    In the 1930s Knoxville was known as the “underwear capital of the world” because it was home to 20 textile and clothing mills. Now it’s home to the respectable University of Tennessee. The reason this lawn is so perfect is the underground irrigation system. This is an old English-style brick home with traditional columns. The double-height entry has a blonde wood winding staircase. There are wood floors in the living room, a vaulted ceiling and another fireplace. The open kitchen looks easy to use and I like the sun-filled corner dining area. The small backyard patio needs a low fence to better define it, but the tall fence that surrounds the backyard provides privacy.

    Click here to view the listing.

  • Gainesville, Fla. – $349,900

    Image: Florida home

    4 bedrooms, 3 baths

    It’s hard to picture a contemporary log home like this in Florida – if not for the palm trees on the left you’d swear you were in Vermont! It’s on a secluded acre of land with four big bedrooms plus an office and media room! Living room has double-height ceilings and a wall of windows looks out on the wooded grounds. The glossy light blond floors are a great choice! The open kitchen has cherry cabinets, granite counters and a breakfast bar. The black refrigerator should be replaced. There’s a screened-in porch and wood deck overlooking the dense woods.

    Click here to view the listing.

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