Unless you have had your head in the sand, you know by now that we are experiencing a buyer's market after many fruitful years of a seller's market.

But this doesn't mean you can't sell your home. It just means you have to be smarter and more efficient with the process. It's important that you make the right moves at the very beginning of your home-selling process to remain competitive. Here are some common traps that many homeowners fall into and how to avoid them.

1. Over-pricing: It is easy to think your home is worth more than the current market may support, particularly after the long run-up in home prices. Since home prices have cooled in markets around the country, home sellers must be prepared to negotiate on price and terms and to stay flexible to other stipulations benefiting the buyer.

Sellers also must keep their emotions in check during the process. Your home is special to you and your family, and you're proud of the improvements you've made over the years. But how does your home really stand up to the others? And are those improvements important to a potential buyer?

To determine a reasonable listing price, have a top-producing agent present sales statistics on homes in town, including listing prices and actual sales prices, how long it took for the homes to sell, and how it actually compares to your property. You'll also want a market appraisal on your property. Visit homes for sale in your area and compare what you see in terms of sales appeal. Be careful not to price your home based on only active homes on the market -- or as I call them, homes that failed to sell -- but more importantly, compare to recently sold homes.

2. Negligent housekeeping: Buyers need to be able to envision themselves living in your home. Take a good, objective look at the condition of your home. Clean, well-kept homes with an updated appearance always stand out, and a little decorating appeal can go a long way. You don't have to buy new furniture to create charm, but you can put toys and clutter away, freshen up paint and carpet, make the most of window coverings, and add a few key accessories in order to send out welcoming signals. If your Real Estate Agent has access to a stager, even better... A stager's well-trained eye will help decipher what should stay and go.

3. Failing to fix it: Unless they are looking for a fixer-upper, buyers would prefer to move into a home that is in perfect or near-perfect condition. If they have to fix the roof or garage door or replace broken tile or worn carpet -- or just about anything -- it may give them pause about buying. At the very least, it may lower the value of the home (even below what the cost of the repair would be) in the prospective buyer's mind.

4. Not Identifying Exclusions: This can cause contention just at a critical point in the sale. Be sure to specify any special sales considerations or exclusions from the fixtures and furnishings list. Generally, anything permanently fixed to the house is an asset that stays with the home after the sale. So if you intend to take your grandmother's antique chandelier that's hanging in the dining room, clearly specify that the chandelier is not included in the sale price.

5. Not understanding the agent agreement: The effort to sell your home will go smoothest when all parties have a clear understanding of what is expected. Understand the types of agency agreements when you sign with a real estate professional or company.

Be sure to check on fees, commission percentages, marketing plans and timeframes. Hire a top notch agent that specializes in the Westport market. If your Aunt Ethel is a Realtor in Bethel, she may not save you as much as you expect.

Linda Skolnick's "Skolnick's Scoop" appears every other Friday. She is a Realtor with Prudential Connecticut Real Estate in Westport, can be reached by calling 203-246-0088 or through her website, www.GoAskLinda.com.