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Houses that stay on the market too long begin to get a bad reputation - something home sellers should be especially aware of when buyers are scarce.

Once you offer your home for sale, it's probably not a good idea to keep it there too long, many real estate agents say."I think there is a point where we might refer to it as shopworn," said Norm Flynn, president of the National Association of Realtors.

If a house doesn't sell within six to eight months, he said, it's likely that most potential buyers have seen it and "sometimes it is useful to drop from the market for a period of six to eight weeks and then return to the market."

Flynn said this is particularly helpful if the seller uses the time off the market to improve the house in some way - paint, buy new carpets or remodel. It's a good idea to reconsider your price, also.

"Generally, when the market is very slow, the highest quality and best-priced homes will sell first," he said. "And frankly, it's often nothing more or less than just good housekeeping."

Homes that are immaculately clean generate more interest and sell for higher prices.

A number of agents say the re-evaluation should come after six months.

"There's no hard and fast rule, but you probably should step back and take another look at it if it's been on the market for longer than six months," said Charles Farrar, executive vice president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors in Florida.

He said the average house in his area is taking about 100 days - slightly more than three months - to sell.

In Denver, where home sales are recovering somewhat from a long period of economic stagnation, houses are taking an average of 91 days to sell, according to figures from the multiple listing pool.

But Russ Wehner, president of Russ Wehner Realty in Denver, said even when sales were slower, he advised home sellers not to keep their property on the market too long.

"I think if a property has been on the market for six months, they ought to take it off and let it rest," Wehner said. "It gets a reputation in both the real estate community and the buying community as a property that's been there a long time and therefore `something must be wrong with it.' I think a property can get a stigma by being on the market for a long time."

Wehner said that in most cases the houses that don't sell are simply overpriced.

If you list your house with a real estate agent, it's a good idea to limit the contract to three months - not six. That way, you have options. When the contract expires, you can decide whether to seek a new agent, take the house off the market, rent it with an option to buy or re-list with the same agent.

And you should ask the agent how much time it takes the average house to sell in your area. The figures vary widely and change in each location year to year.

In New York, for example, the state Board of Realtors said homes are taking between 90 and 120 days to sell, compared to 30-45 during the "hot" sales period that prevailed there from 1986 through 1988.

Also, more houses are coming onto the market, according to a board spokesman, partly because home owners saw the huge profits their friends and neighbors made in the past. Now, in the slower market, many find they cannot get the same prices others received a couple of years ago, and their houses linger on the market.

But in Wisconsin and Ohio, where prices are lower, houses are selling briskly.

In Cleveland, for instance, houses that are priced well sell in two to three weeks, said Charlene Barta, president of the Greater Cleveland Board of Realtors. In prime areas there are more buyers than houses available, she said.

So it's important to know your local market when deciding whether to take you house off the market.

Flynn suggests that sellers sit down with their real estate agents, review what sales efforts have been made (open houses, advertising, times the house was shown), consider whether the market is likely to pick up anytime soon and look at mortgage interest rates - whether they're rising or falling.

"That's the kind of analysis you'd want to do," he said. "It's one of those measured judgments you'd make."