According to their study, an asking price of 10 percent to 20 percent more than other properties in the neighborhood equaled a sales-price bump of $117 to $163 for the average home. Overpricing by more than 20 percent produced added gains, though modest ones, they said. That's for homes that took an average amount of time to sell.

Underpricing takes an equally modest amount of money away from average sellers, Minson said.

She knows this goes against what many homeowners have heard from real estate agents and others in the industry. But "psychologically, it's not a very counterintuitive story," she said. Buyers are subconsciously taking a cue from the asking price.

"We just assume that expensive things are nicer," she said.

Jonathan Hill doesn't know whether Minson's findings would hold true in all markets, given that the bubble and bust hit Maryland differently from the three states she analyzed. (Federal figures show a bigger boom and bust here.)

Hill, president of RealEstate Business Intelligence, the data arm of the region's multiple-listing service, also doubts that sellers can "trick the market."

"You're just going to sit on the market until you come down to where the market is," he said.

Patrick Newport, an economist with market-information firm IHS, sides with the study authors — especially given the state of housing markets in much of the country today.

"In most places, I think market conditions are strong enough that ... it just seems a sensible strategy to shoot high and then lower the price if the home just doesn't sell," he said.

Still, what the study suggests is a very small impact for the average overpricer or underpricer, said Bob Hunt, a former director of the National Association of Realtors.

"That is what, in other contexts, one would call 'a rounding error,' " he wrote in a piece for the real estate news site Realty Times.

Tina C. Beliveau, a real estate agent who leads a team at Cummings & Co. Realtors in Lutherville, is convinced that overpricing is a bad idea. As little as $5,000 or $10,000 above comparable homes can put buyers off, she said.

"If there are two gas stations and the one further down the road is 5 cents per gallon less, people don't go to the more expensive gas station and negotiate with the owner," she said. "They just buy the cheaper gas. ... The first two weeks on the market, you get the vast majority of your traffic. When you waste that opportunity, you're playing a game of catch-up forever after that."

But while she and the study's authors have come to different conclusions about the effect of overpricing, they agree on one thing: Time matters.

"If you have lots of money and very little time, then you price your house to sell tomorrow," Harvard's Minson said. "If you have infinite time and not that much money, that's a different story."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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