Spring is a popular time for change. Maybe you’re thinking of starting an exercise regimen. Maybe you’ve decided to try a new career. Or maybe, you’ve decided to sell your home. Whatever your reasons for making a change, the start of the big winter thaw is one of the most popular times of year to sell your home.
Selling your home can also be one of the most emotional decisions you will ever make. That’s why it’s important to separate your emotional needs from your financial ones, so you can be savvy about getting the most for your money. Luckily, a good local realtor can help when it comes to maneuvering through the selling process. But before you sign on the dotted listing line, you should get up to speed with what you need to know as a seller, so you can separate fact from fiction and be well prepared for what’s to come.
Know your numbers….
Whether you want to downsize to a cozy cottage, or move to that gated estate you’re always admired down the road, there can be a plethora of reasons why you want to sell. Before doing anything, however, you should consider the finances that may be required to do it.
According to the national real estate brokerage firm Keller Williams, there are numerous expenses that may crop up that ultimately can affect the amount of cash you’ll walk away with after you sell your home. These may include costs for lawn clean up or maintenance, the replacement of old appliances and utilities, decorating, a realtor’s commission, lawyer fees (if one is needed to close the sale in your state), special reports or inspections, and any repairs found at inspection; the list goes on.
After you do your “Know Your Buyer” exercise (see below), you’ll be able to put together a list of what these costs may include. If you’re not sure of the cost for things like a home inspection, or the amount of a realtor’s commission, there are a number of online resources, like the National Association of Realtors (NAR) website, www.realtor.org, that can supply some broad numbers. A call to your local real estate office, or working with the realtor you ultimately hire to list your home, can also provide you with the data you’ll need. You may be surprised at how the costs of selling your home affect how much money you end up with after the sale. And that can affect your listing price.
Know your market…
Any realtor worth her commission should be well versed in your respective market. She should know the ins and outs of your local area, what sells and what doesn’t, and how overall sales are affected by the economy as a whole.
When you’re ready to have the realtor provide you with a listing “pitch” for the sale of your home (and I recommend getting at least two for comparison) they will provide you with comparables, or comps, that will try to match your home – looking at interior square feet, property size, number of bathrooms, location – with other homes that recently sold in your neighborhood. This helps to ensure that the asking price for your home will be competitive and won’t drive buyers away.
You may already have some ideas about the price you want to sell your home for, but you may need a reality check. All it takes is a little research. Start to get the facts down on paper: the number of baths, age of your home, interior square feet, property size, etc. and plug those numbers into easy to use applications offered on sites like Zillow and Trulia. These sites collect and share public records of millions of recent home sales, including those in your local neighborhood, which will help you crunch the numbers.
Some real estate companies, like William Raveis, offer a free online market analysis of your home. By plugging your info into their online questionnaire, a Competitive Market Analysis (CMA) will be prepared and emailed to you.
A good tip when looking at comps: try to stick to your immediate neighborhood. According to Ask.com’s Elizabeth Weintraub, a licensed realtor, if there’s nothing in your immediate area that matches your home’s details, you should only consider comps within a ¼ to ½ mile radius of your neighborhood,
Lack of comps is not uncommon, especially coming off a winter of traditionally low inventory. Just keep in mind that proximity to “deal breakers,” as I like to call them, such as railroad tracks, commercial districts, and less desirous parts of town, can play a bigger part in pricing comps than you think.
Be aware of what deal breakers exist in your area, so you can be sure you’re on a level playing field with other listings. In one town where I sold a house, it was not uncommon for a house to be worth as much as 20-30% more on one side of a road than the other, just because it was closer to the train station. While a property offering a “commuter location” (in marketing speak) may be attractive to some, as it was when we sold a home in a Philadelphia commuter suburb, for others the fear of the unknown, such as noise, potential danger, and increase in traffic, can make a buyer discount their offer dramatically.
By setting a competitive, appropriate value, everyone wins. Realtor Lisa Briscoe, of William Raveis in Ridgefield, CT agrees, “In this day and age the average buyer is so informed via the internet and online assessors programs that they can easily sniff out an overpriced house. A very real problem with an overvalued accepted price arises when the buyer goes to obtain financing. I’ve seen a few cases where the buyer has walked away from a home after learning they can’t get the mortgage amount necessary to fund the purchase. It’s best to avoid all this strife and price the home fairly from listing onset.”
Know your buyers…
So often, when I go look at a house, I cannot tell you how shocked I am at the state of the property. Has this happened to you?
Thanks to shows on HGTV and real estate blogs, buyers today are very savvy and now look at everything with a critical eye. They no longer notice just the obviously dated bathrooms and kitchen; they are more discerning and educated. Homes that look good “on paper” don’t always cut it in person. Is the paint on your front doorway chipped and scaly? Do you have water pooling in the driveway causing cracks in the asphalt? Are your windows thick with winter’s grunge making them hard to see through?
Take a long, hard look at the outside of your house, then the inside. Take a tour of your home from a buyer’s perspective, or as someone who might post a “review” of your home online. You may feel goofy, but playing the role of detective really can be interesting.
Whenever I put a home on the market I always do at least two things: First, I make my “honey-do” list during the walk-thru figuring out where I’ll need to freshen up paint, replace a doorknob, or power wash a patio. I then reduce that list down to practical fixes and map out when I will get those things done, so by the time my realtor comes for our listing appointment, the house is showroom ready.
Second, I put on my “clutter buster” hat. While I don’t have a tendency to accumulate stuff, we either live with someone who does, or we’re forgetting about all the junk we probably don’t need stacked up in our basement, or pouring out of a hall closet like a scene from an old I Love Lucy episode.
For those items that you don’t want to donate or sell at a yard sale (like I love to do), store them in a small storage unit. Not only can too much furniture or clutter make a room appear small, having too many personal items on display can be a turn off to buyers and make them think you’re hiding imperfections. I’ve rented small storage units for every move I have made and, believe me, that $100 a month gives you great latitude. It also helps you figure out what you can’t live without and what isn’t worth moving to your new home.
It’s also helpful to do something my real estate idol and former employer Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s Shark Tank recommends: get out there! Barbara believes that spending just a couple of weekends attending open houses in your neighborhood really helps you understand what it takes to market your home. You’ll quickly notice what works and what doesn’t, giving you strength to do what needs to be done in yours.
These small investments of your time and money go a long way to help with overall buyer appeal. If you can’t manage some of these fix ups on your own, there are websites that can connect you with qualified handymen like Angie’s List or Home Advisor. You can also ask your local hardware store for “how to” tips or if they can recommend someone to lend a hand.
Know your job as seller…
Being a former news producer, I am bit of a control freak. I cannot stand it when things I haven’t anticipated pop up. With my husband working a demanding job, I am the one stepping in and laying the groundwork for preparing our home for sale.
Keeping a checklist of all of the steps required to prep your home for sale helps alleviate any surprises. One of the potential stressors on you as a seller is keeping your house clean and, as I love to say, “showroom ready.”
Develop your “exit plan” for when your home has its Broker Open House or multiple showings. Where will you go? Do you need to make sure your pets aren’t in the house for showings? Who’s going to make sure the bathrooms are squeaky clean, and the litter box has been changed whenever you leave the house? When you’re juggling jobs, family and home, it can be stressful when you add in the showing of your home. Planning helps.
Because my husband and I do our pre-sale homework, we have had lots of buyer traffic for our homes. But we made sure they were ready to be seen every time we walked out the door. That way, if I got a call from our realtor to show the house while I was at work, I would know the house would be ship shape for a buyer. True, making sure the house is ready to be seen at all times is difficult. Just repeat this mantra, “This could be it! This could be it!”
Be aware of the wear and tear your precious pets may have on a house. While we all learn to live with the good and the bad, if your buyers can smell Fluffy’s presence or see some landmines from Spot peppering your front lawn, they will do an about face immediately. It’s also about psychology here – buyers may think, “Gee, if they can’t even pick up after a pet and try to have their house clean for showings, what else will I find?”
Don’t give buyers any reason to sniff, sweep or scoff at a dirty home. If you keep your house “ready for primetime”, you’ll receive great positive feedback from brokers and buyers alike. Of course the best feedback you can get is an actual offer!
Know your realtor…
Once you decide to hire a broker to sell your home, the next step will be to choose the broker. This is usually done via a listing meeting with a broker or number of brokers where they will “pitch” themselves to you. No two brokers are alike so I always recommend having more than one realtor come to your house to review the property, put together a competitive market analysis or CMA, and deliver a listing presentation.
Part of their listing pitch to you will include a marketing packet that will show you what they’ll do in terms of selling it to potential buyers. From listing on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), signage, and online ads, to placing colorful brochures throughout your home that suggest décor ideas, you’ll see what brokers have in their arsenals at the listing meeting.
Choosing your broker wisely is critical, as it can mean the difference between a sale and a problem. You’ll want to click with yours, as they will be working very closely with you and will see you at your best and your worst. Ask friends and family for referrals. Ask for client references. See what other sales they have had recently in your area so you know their track record. Or you can call a local office and ask the manager who their most successful agents are. When it comes to real estate, everyone has tons of advice to share.
While these are all simple steps to ensure you get a great realtor, it’s still important to manage your expectations as the seller. Good communication is essential. “Communication is absolutely the key ingredient for a successful relationship between an Agent and Seller,” says Lisa Briscoe. “Often I find that while there may be agreement on price structure, my clients may have entirely different ideas on lesser subjects like whether or not they want a sign in the yard or public open houses.”
Make sure you and the broker are in agreement on the marketing details. “It really helps to go over the entire marketing plan; complete with dates of ads, broker open houses, email blasts, and even strategic timing for price adjustments, if necessary. That way we have a clear course set up from the get go and a copy of this plan is then distributed to both sides. Agreeing on a tactic at the initial listing meeting removes much of the unknown and alleviates the stress on all sides.”
My husband and I learned this the hard way many years ago when we sold our first house. Our realtor was quite successful in our town and had a reputation for being a go-getter. Their listing presentation was stellar and they had the money and marketing power of a well-known national real estate brand to help us feel more secure. After hearing the great pitch, where they strongly outlined their personalized approach through every aspect of the selling process, we signed on the dotted line.
Unfortunately, we assumed the usual things would be done, but they did not deliver. From disappearing during broker open houses where it’s an ideal time to talk up our home to prospective agents, to taking the listing photos themselves after telling us all about their amazing photographer, to signing us up to be bombarded directly by buyers asking to see the home, it started to feel like we were alone in our sale.
While I would love to tell you that we resolved these issues and the house sold with little drama, that unfortunately is not what happened. We did air our concerns quite immediately, but it got to a point where we actually considered cancelling the listing contract. Luckily, a full price offer came in with a good chunk of earnest money being put down, so we had a contract in only two weeks. Despite the good result, it was much more stressful than it had to be. We learned a lesson about how important it was to get everything down on paper with our next agents.
Remember that your home is probably your single biggest investment. You can’t afford to risk losing money or having a horrible experience because you didn’t speak up for what you want. Good realtors know this and, in this sometime problem-plagued market, they should be able to deliver the service you expect and need.
What should I ask?
Communication is key. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and learn from others around you. Here are some questions to consider asking when you meet prospective agents:
– Will you be having a broker open house? Will you attend?
– Will you suggest having a consumer open house? Will you attend?
– Will you share feedback with us from these events?
– Do you suggest a lockbox that will allow buying agents access to my home? How do these work? Are they safe?
– How will you manage showing requests?
– Will you be on hand for showings, to ensure the house is marketed to its best potential and the house stays secure?
– Can I limit showings to only certain hours of the day? How will that affect our potential to buyers?
– How quickly will you turn around offers to us?
– Can we limit the number of times a buyer comes to look at the house, before they put in an offer?
– Will you be on hand for inspection day?
For more helpful tips and a list of licensed realtors in your area go to www.realtor.com