Sellers want to sell their homes, and that can mean great things for buyers.

In a market that is still struggling to claw its way out of a slump, local real estate agents report that sellers are aware they have to make their property stand out from the others and are more willing to go the extra mile to secure a contract.

Kitchens and bathrooms updated with granite and tile and neutral colors on the walls are known to attract buyers and go a long way toward separating one property from the other down the street with the same square footage.

“As far as resales, sellers are putting more upgrades in their home. Homes are better presented,” said Meybohm Realtor Vikki Crossland. “At the height of the market, sellers didn't worry about whether they had vinyl. I suggest being the best in pricing and the best looking and in the best condition. Sellers are more aware of that and more willing to make that happen.”

Buyers are still comparing apples to apples – square footage and the number of bedrooms and baths – but amenities rank high on the wish list. Sometimes amenities are more important.

Meybohm Realtor Donna Taylor said if two houses are sitting side by side, with similar square footage and are listed for the same price, the one with the upgrades and better curb appeal will be the one buyers are drawn to.

Sellers are not only competing with similar previously-owned homes but with new construction, as well.

With sellers doing what they can to attract buyers and with housing prices down, opportunities exist for buyers to buy more house than they could have when the market was still strong.

A two-story, 2,360-square-foot Victorian home in Willow Woods sold in 2008 for approximately $245,000. The same 3-bedroom, 2-bath house sold again this year for $170,000, according to Aiken MLS listings.

A one-story, 1,530-square foot ranch in Deodar Plantation sold in 2006 for $157,560. The same type of house with 1,550 square feet in Deodar Plantation with hand-scraped hardwood in the foyer and kitchen sold this year for $142,900.

“No question, there are deals to be had out there,” said Bud Williams, who owns and operates a home appraisal business.

Reports suggest the real estate market has made a modest recovery in part because homes are more affordable than in previous years when the market was still strong.

Nationally, sales of previously-occupied homes rose 7.8 percent in August from July, according to the National Association of Realtors, the highest level since May 2010. Builders broke ground on 2.3 percent more homes and apartments in August than July.

“The median home price dipped in August to $187,400, but that is 9.5 percent higher than August 2011. That's the largest year-over-year price increase since January 2006,” the Associated Press reported.

Statistics show home prices are rising, but it's important to note they're rebounding from a depressed market.

Statewide, sales rose 12 percent to 5,099 in August, according to a report from the S.C. Realtors trade group. The median price rose 4 percent to $155,000.

Mortgage interest rates have fallen to near-record lows at 3.06 percent for a 30-year note, according to Freddie Mac. Housing prices are about a third lower nationally than at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. Those trends have helped lift sales of new and previously occupied homes.

Williams said Aiken has not suffered as other parts of the country have, but he maintains prices were artificially high back in the good old days. Financing was readily available, and the demand for real estate was high, driving sales prices up.

“People were out there who could borrow money and get easy financing, and of course that's gone away,” he said. “Parts of Aiken are saturated houses for sale, and that's driving the prices down.”

Gone, too, are the days when sellers would not have to budge on their asking price and could sit on their property until they got what they were asking for.

“After the bubble burst and days on market increased, properties just sat on the market. Sellers had to make some hard decisions to drop prices to be competitive and move their property or continue to sit on the property for an unknown amount of time and possibly lose more than they stood to gain,” said Rodriquez Hughes with Coldwell Banker Dufour Realty. “This is a reason that a buyer now can look to own a home that is 1,500 to 2,000 square feet and with more upgraded amenities for $150,000, where as five or six years ago, that would have been around 1,200 to a maximum of 1,500 square feet.”

Housing prices in Aiken in August enjoyed a 8.6 percent increase over August 2011. The Aiken Board of Realtors reports the median sales price last month was $148,000. The median sales price in August 2011 was $146,000.