Karen Mulvaney and Audrey Casey of the Buyers Agent, a company sourcing and negotiating on behalf of purchasers

Last week's EBS housing market report claimed property has never been more affordable as mortgage repayments now take just 13.4% of an average couple's income. If they can get a mortgage, that is. The report also echoed the widely-held belief that prospective buyers will remain reluctant to enter the market as it's expected prices will drop by up to 10% this year. Much store has been laid on the need for that elusive 'confidence' to generate activity in the market, but that's unlikely to happen because of another elusive factor – knowledge of final selling prices.

Aine Myler, president of the Irish Auctioneers & Valuers Institute, has called again for a national property price register to give buyers and sellers access to current and accurate information. She stressed the need for clear details and descriptions of price movements to improve understanding and confidence in the sector.

There is also the matter of a glut of properties, with last week's estimate from the NUI Maynooth-based National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis that 300,000 houses are lying empty around the country. This is in contrast to other reports giving a lower figure. Easier to grasp is Dermot O'Leary of Goodbody's assessment that current housing stock represents three years of supply, but with the qualifier that "these units may not be in the right place, with bigger oversupply issues in parts of the country".

So where does that leave homeowners who desperately have to sell in a market where no-one is buying? To say there's no activity in the market is not strictly true, says Michael Grehan (inset), director of Sherry FitzGerald.

"Already this year we have registered over 400 new buyers, making a total of nearly 2,000 throughout our 14 branches. Since the beginning of the month, we have also carried out over 600 viewings. That's because of pent-up demand. There are people who sold their property over a year ago, who have been renting ever since, and are now keen to make a move."

Grehan says most potential buyers on the agency's books have mortgage approval in principle. He adds that, while the banks remain tight, the fact is that 88% of the job force is still employed – a positive for those among them hoping to meet restricted lending criteria.

Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of apartments for sale, but there are fewer three- and four-bed houses – referred to in the boom as family homes –coming on the market in popular locations, says Grehan, adding that the most difficult price bracket is in the €1m-plus range to sell.

Karen Mulvaney and Audrey Casey run the Buyers Agent, a company sourcing and negotiating on behalf of purchasers. They say the two most common types of vendors in the market now are those selling because of marital separation, and builders or developers in financial trouble.

"Neither of them are easy sales," explains Mulvaney. "With marital breakdown, there is usually one party who doesn't want to leave, and with developers, they tend to move very slowly in closing the sale, as if by some miracle the market will improve before they sign on the dotted line."

Clients currently on their books include a couple who are first-time buyers, another couple with a toddler looking to trade up, and an investor who is a cash buyer helping his son to get a first home.

From the agents' perspective, there is no point in taking on a client who has to sell before they can buy, says Adam Clarke, associate director with Savills in Clontarf, adding that the 'chain free' buyer is what the vendor needs.

"Agents may well require proof of mortgage approval now. From the seller's perspective, the ideal is to have two buyers bidding on a property, and they will take the lower offer if the higher one involves that bidder having to sell."

Most agents still offer free valuations. But Clarke says he has walked away from a lot of business where the seller's price expectations were unrealistic.

"You would be surprised at how delusional some vendors remain even at this stage. What's the point of hiring an agent in the first place if you are not going to take their advice? I've had clients who didn't accept an offer they received and one year later, they are still sitting in their property, unlikely to get that level of offer again."

Lowering expectations is hard for sellers, so which agent should those hoping to sell opt for? Even a year ago, you wouldn't have noticed the difference between most agents, because the property would have sold regardless, says Mulvaney.

"That has changed. So don't be afraid to ask for the most senior negotiator in the office to handle your sale. You will be paying at least 1% of the property value in fees, plus expenses and VAT. You are entitled to demand the best, and it may bring an extra element of credibility with potential buyers. A good agent should also be able to generate competition between two or more potential buyers and work offers up higher."

But some other factors haven't changed since the property boom. A three- or four-bed in a good location, close to all amenities, is still more likely to sell, says Adam Clarke. First-time buyers, no longer priced out of the second-hand market, are making a strong showing in this category. And while apartments may seem two a penny just now, Karen Mulvaney says there is still some activity there.

"Incredibly, we are still being asked to source apartments for investors. Traditionally, we would have started our search in Dublin 2, but now we are finding that we can afford to make offers on apartments in Dublin 4."

And while very few vendors are re-appraising those old presentation tricks such as baking scones or roasting coffee beans to make a favourable impression, standards shouldn't be allowed to slip just because the market has.

"Buyers don't need perfection, but your property should be clean, with beds made, and grass cut," adds Audrey Casey.

"You'd be surprised how many properties we view that haven't even been tidied."

At a glance: Selling in 2010

• Price is king – and if you are not getting any viewings, your property is probably over-priced.

• Remember that prices have dropped by up to 50% from the peak of spring 2006, while asking prices now give only an indication: actual selling price can be between 10% and 25% below that.

• Ask for the most senior negotiator when hiring an agent.

• Keep a close eye on anything selling in your area. If something goes sale agreed, ask your agent to find out as much information on it as they can; it may help your own sale.

• Prepare for the long haul: some agents quote an average of eight months to sell.