Table Of Contents
1. What You Need To Know Before Selling Your Home
Whether you’re moving to a more desirable neighborhood, downsizing, wanting a larger home so you can bring in an elderly parent, or relocating for work, there’s a lot to consider when the time comes to sell your home. It can be a bit overwhelming finding an agent, getting pre-approved for a mortgage, prepping your house, and simply understanding everything involved in the selling process. In this guide, we'll take a look at what you need to consider when selling your home. Let's start by looking at what paperwork will be needed as you prepare to put your house on the market.
There are a few documents, including the following, you’ll need to round up as you prepare to sell your home:
- Mortgage information (latest mortgage statement)
- Sales agreement, from when you purchased your home
- Deed and title report
- Property tax info + most recent tax bill
- Homeowners insurance information
- Lease agreement, if you rent your home
Your real estate agent will ask for these documents so it’s best that you gather them before your first meeting. With the help of your agent, you will need to contact your mortgage lender to let them know of your intent to sell and if there are any penalties for selling at this time.
The deed, a legal document which conveys your ownership rights to your property, will need to be transferred to the new owners. The title, a legal document that states you have ownership of the property, will also need to be transferred to the new owners at the time of sale. Your lender will perform a title search for you to ensure there are no liens against your property and you real estate agent can give you direction on how to move forward once you have a buyer.
Your title company, at closing, will work extensively to make sure there are no judgements, liens, or bankruptcies that would interfere with the final sale of your home. They will also look at public records, from decades ago to current, which would reflect past deeds, wills, trusts, divorce decrees, court judgements and issues with tax records. If there are issues with the title, your closing may be delayed.
You’ll want to talk to the company that provided your homeowners insurance. If you’re buying a new home, you’ll need to have your homeowners insurance switched from one home to the next. Your real estate agent can provide insight on how to handle the transfer of your homeowners insurance.
Do you know how much equity you have in your home? Equity is the difference between the home’s fair market value and unpaid balance on all liens on your property. The more payments you make against the balance of your mortgage, the more the equity increases. When the value of your property increases, you also benefit from a gain in equity. You may have enough equity to use for a deposit on your new home.
On the other hand, if you have negative equity in your home you’ll be faced with a short sale which isn’t ideal for most. Negative equity is a result of owing more on your home than it’s worth. Unless you’re faced with foreclosure or filing for bankruptcy, don’t sell your home at this time.
How do you know how much equity you have in your home? Take a look at your last mortgage statement, then subtract the current mortgage amount from the estimated market value of your home (a real estate agent can provide the current value of your home).
Ideally, you want to have enough equity in your home to pay off your current mortgage and have enough left over to put 20% down on your next home. In addition, if you have enough to cover closing costs and a larger down payment, you’ll find yourself in the most favorable position.
2. Finding A Real Estate Agent & Home Inspector
Finding An Agent
Although you might consider selling your house on your own (FSBO: For Sale By Owner), there are a lot of benefits to getting professional help. Without the help of a licensed real estate agent, you may end up wasting valuable time and money. Statistics show that the majority of people trying to sell their homes without an agent aren’t successful. So what should you look for in a real estate agent?
Start by finding an agent you can trust. This might mean talking to friends, family and neighbors who have sold homes. Focus on finding an agent with great marketing and negotiation skills, as well as a good track record (high sales and years under their belt). An agent without those skills will likely cost you 2-5% of your home’s value. If you’re selling a $400,000 home, you could stand to lose between $8,000-$20,000.
Be advised, it’s easy to get licensed as a real estate agent which means there will be a lot of agents out in force trying to get you as their client. You want to find an agent who is licensed and knows the market. This type of agent can save you from a disaster in the long run. For example, listing your home on the MLS with incorrect or missing information.
It’s also important to understand that just because an agent is licensed it doesn’t mean they are going to do the best job for you. Know the difference between a certified and qualified agent. A certified agent has passed the required real estate exam to get licensed and knows the rules. A qualified agent is beyond certified, the most knowledgeable, and has the most experience selling homes.
Consider finding a RealtorⓇ to sell your home. They are real estate professionals who are members of the National Association of RealtorsⓇ (NAR). They subscribe to a high code of ethics in addition to a myriad of other promises not required of all licensed real estate agents. As a result, 7% of Realtors do 93% of the business, according to the NAR. Some of the articles and policies RealtorsⓇ agree to follow include:
- Treat all parties honestly and put the interest of the buyers and sellers above their own
- Refrain from exaggerating, misrepresenting or concealing pertinent facts about properties and is obligated to investigate and disclose situations when warranted
- Disclose if they represent family members who own or are selling the real estate they represent, or if they themselves are a principal in a real estate transaction
- Preserve confidential information provided by clients throughout the course of their relationship
- Not denying services to anyone or discriminate for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Finding a brutally honest agent will also play in your favor. You want someone who isn’t going to sugar coat anything when it comes to getting your house sold. A brutally honest agent will tell you what needs to be updated in your home to get top dollar, the value of decluttering your house, the reasons why you haven’t been able to sell your home with other agents, how an overpriced home will lengthen your selling time, and he/she will scrutinize incoming buyers to make sure you’re getting the best all-around offer on your home.
Meet with more than one agent before deciding on an agent. Based off of agent recommendations from friends/family/neighbors, pre-interview at least 2-3 of them over the phone. At a minimum, you’ll want to ask them why you should hire them and what they’re going to do different or better, compared to other agents, to get your house sold. You might consider asking if you can contact a handful of their clients that have testimonials on their website. Then, interview them in-home so they can see what they might be selling. You’ll also get a better idea of whether or not you trust and respect them. From there, you might want to Google each prospective agent to see if you can find additional reviews and comments about them. Keep in mind, their website will only list the best of the best testimonials.
Another question you might ask when interviewing agents is whether or not they will provide pre-MLS marketing. Some agents will begin sharing information about the listing before it’s officially on the MLS in an effort to generate interest and traffic to your property. This might include posting your home on their website in a “coming soon” section, placing a “coming soon” yard sign, presenting your home to buyers they or other agents are working with and having a broker tour.
Ask the agent to send you a few examples of their MLS listings. This will give you an idea of how they market and present property. You’ll want to look for professional photos, detailed property information and a professional video tour, at a minimum.
Don’t feel obligated to go with an agent just because he/she showed you a home, they’re a friend, or they agreed to list your home at the price Zillow thinks your home is worth. Concerning the price, tell the agent what you want to list the house for and negotiate from there.
Avoid agents with gimmicks. “I’ll sell your home in 30 days” or “I’ll sell it or buy it from you if it doesn’t sell in 60 days.” Spare yourself the grief and go with an agent who says it like it truly is and has the experience to back it up.
Take a look at their website to see how professional and thorough it is vs. a cookie cutter website. Their website is an expression of their online marketing ability (if they cannot market themselves, how are they going to effectively market your home?). As you start to compare websites it will become obvious who is a top agent and who isn’t. For instance, look at the quality and quantity of the information provided on their website. Do they have a couple of testimonials or many? Do they have a blog that has existed for years, is up-to-date, shares valuable information and valuable comments?
When it comes down to listing your home, your agent will recommend a pre-listing inspection. An inspection is performed by a professional, licensed home inspector. Your agent may recommend a reputable inspector based off of their experience, but you can choose to go with a different inspector. If you’re using an inexperienced real estate agent, he/she won’t have a lengthy history with inspectors. Research the recommended inspector and compare to others, as you seek out someone with experience. Ask your agent if they’re comfortable making a recommendation and how often they’ve worked with inspectors. Also, take into consideration the advice from family and friends who have had experience with inspectors and ask your agent about their recommendations.
Your agent should attend the inspection. If they tell you they are not going to attend, ask them to anyway. You can attend the inspection as well and it’s encouraged. An inspection provides the best opportunity to learn about the condition of your home and any problems that exist before putting it on the market.
Some inspectors will exaggerate or embellish findings so it’s always a good idea to ask for references from others before settling on an inspector. Some inspectors will report every minute detail, including a crooked cabinet door, while others will just report the basics.
Once you receive the results of the inspection, you can make informed decisions on which issues you need to tackle before selling your home. By making repairs before putting your house on the market, you’ll lower the likelihood of dealing with negotiations later on.
If you decide not to make any repairs associated with the results of the inspection, your agent will include major, unresolved issues in the contract (contingencies) and offer to compensate the buyer (ex. $10,000 towards a roof replacement). Keep in mind, the buyer will likely hire their own inspector and will uncover any problems not disclosed by you, the seller. Best to know ahead of time what issues exist with your home to support buyer confidence.
Don’t panic if you see a major repair on the report that will likely cost thousands of dollars. A good agent will be able to shed light on the issue and provide steps to either resolve the issue or include it as a negotiation in the contract.
Your inspector will provide a lengthy report including details about various elements of the home. Prices estimates for repairs will not be included in the report. Discuss repair options with your agent, getting an option on which should be tackled before listing your home. Your inspector will likely make recommendations on hiring various contractors to inspect areas of concern (ex. hiring a HVAC contractor for heating/cooling issues). If you have an inspector that exaggerates (ex. a new furnace is going to run you $90,000), you may want to hire a different inspector so you can get a second opinion.
3. Preparing Your Home For Market
Prepping Your Home - Outdoors
Prepping your home to sale is of great importance, and starting with the exterior is key as it’s the first impression you’ll leave with buyers. You agent will likely have a checklist which will include everything from the lawn to the shed in the backyard. Here are some areas you might want to focus on so you can get top dollar out of your home.
When it comes to curb appeal, you want to consider overall attractiveness and areas that need maintenance. Start with the siding on your home. Depending on the type of siding, you may want to paint the exterior or use a power washer to clean up the siding (look at manufacturer guidelines to ensure power washing is an option for the type of siding you have). If you have wood siding, you’ll want to re-stain it if it’s been more than 4 years. If you have painted wood siding, you’ll need to paint it if it hasn’t been painted in the last 3-7 years. Aluminum siding can look good for many years but consider painting it if hasn’t been painted in 5 years. Stucco should be repainted every 5-6 years. Brick may simply need to be power washed, unless painted. Newer types of siding require less touch up and maintenance. If in doubt, talk to your agent.
Painting your trim is always a great way to perk up the exterior of your home. You may even consider using a lighter color to really make it pop.
Look at your house numbers too. Are they obvious? If not, you may want to replace them with larger numbers.
Exterior lighting is another area that can make a difference in the appearance of your home. Replace any burnt out light bulbs and consider adding more lighting to boost appeal. For example, small, rechargeable solar lights can be added to walkways if they aren’t well light during the evening.
Your front door is a focal point and should look inviting. Consider repainting it if it needs it or even replace it with a hearty, more energy efficient door. Repair or replace any screens or storm doors.
When it comes to the lawn, shrubs, and trees, you want them to look well tended. If this is overwhelming or out of your league, consider hiring a professional landscaper. Keep your lawn mowed and leaves raked. Trim overgrown hedges and shrubs. Pull weeds and remove dead foliage or shrubs. Add fresh, colorful flowers near the front door to attract buyers. If your lawn has seen better days, consider hiring a lawn service company to enrich the lawn so it grows in fuller and greener.
If you’re selling during the fall or winter, make sure you keep up with the weather. Consistently rake and remove leaves and dead branches. If there’s snow on the ground, keep walkways and driveways clear and ice-free to prevent slipping. Have an ice-melting solution on hand so you can quickly prep for showings and open houses.
Clean out rain gutters, replace any damaged sections or missing downspouts, and tighten loose brackets. Make sure downspouts are directing water away from the foundation of your property.
If your driveway or garage floor has grease spots, take the time to clean and remove them. In some cases, you can simply spray oven cleaner or liquid dish soap on spots, scrub with a stiff brush, and then spray with a hose. Otherwise, you may consider finding a product specifically designed to remove oil and grease from concrete. Don’t forget grease stains from your BBQ.
Even if your roof doesn’t need to be replaced, you may have loose or damaged shingles or tiles. Hire a professional to fix or replace shingles, before putting your house on the market.
Don’t forget your mailbox. If your mailbox has scratches and dents, consider replacing it. If it’s bleached from the sun, consider spraying it with a fresh coat of paint designed for the outdoors.
Remember, the money you invest will likely come back to you. If in doubt, talk to your agent about the return on your investments (ex. hiring a landscaper).
Prepping Your Home - Indoors
When it comes to the appearance of the interior of your home, focus on decluttering, freshening up spaces, and de-personalizing.
Decluttering your home will not only make it more appealing, it will allow for better traffic flow. In addition, buyers will better be able to envision their furniture in the space. Consider renting a storage unit or have one delivered to your house (some businesses will drop off the storage unit then move it to their facility. Once you’re in your new home, they will deliver it to your new address for you to unpack.
Think about creating clean, clutter-free spaces. If you have collections of trinkets, box and store them off-site. If your kitchen counters are cluttered, try removing all but 1 or 2 items you use every day. Remove any pots and pans that you don’t use on a regular basis.
Clean out closets and the basement, where clutter seems to gravitate. This will leave buyers with the impression that there’s more than enough space for their needs.
Linen closets should only include a weeks worth of towels and sheets, organized and color coordinated. Your home will appear larger and cleaner and appeal to more buyers.
Depersonalize the house to remove distractions. This will help the buyer imagine themselves living in the home. Remove family photos, children’s art, photos and magnets on the refrigerator, and bold artwork or furniture. You want to create a blank canvas so buyers can visualize their furniture in the space. Depersonalizing will also help your house stand out from the competition.
Organize your home so it appeals to more buyers. Reducing the amount of furniture, especially if it’s worn, will make rooms feel more spacious. For example, if you have 2 couches and 2 chairs in your living room, remove one of the couches. Simplify bookshelves by packing away most of your books. Leave a select few books per shelf and organized them by color or size. Add simple decorative items to some shelves to add interest. In closets and mudroom, remove coats, shoes, and boots that don’t get used on a regular basis and off-season items and store them off-site.
Buyers will open your cabinets so you’ll want to organize them too. If you have a pantry, remove outdated items as it will free up space. Add labeled bins to organize root vegetables, bags of chips, cereal and more. If your spices are scattered all over the place, consider placing them on a tiered spice display. Keep the pantry floor clear so that buyers don’t get the impression that there isn’t enough room on the shelves.
Remove heavy drapes that make rooms feel dark/heavy/uninviting. Light, airy drapes let more light in and will leave rooms feeling larger and more inviting. If you choose to keep the current drapes, get them cleaned or at least vacuum them thoroughly. Note: drapes are something that are typically included with the sale of your home so if you want to take them with you, state that in the contract.
When it comes to your bedding and towels, they should look new or like-new. Neutral, fluffy towels leads to more of a spa-like feeling which is attractive to most buyers. Bedding that looks crisp and fresh will appeal to more buyers (especially those that can look past the furniture when looking at a space).
Clean out the attic. Oh, the dreaded, dusty attic where we find old Christmas decorations, grandma’s old coffee table, boxes of kids clothes and toys…and moth balls. Once you’ve taken everything out of the attic, store it off-site. This is also a good time to check for any mold issues. By the way, by cleaning out your attic, you’ll make it easier for the inspector to do his/her job too.
In your garage, clean it out so it can be used for its intended purpose -- a car or two. If you’ve used your garage as a storage unit, move everything out except for the essentials. Clean up any oil stains on the floor. Consider adding racks for storage bins to keep it tidy and organized. Recycle old tires and remove any trash.
Small Fixes Around The House
Prior to putting your house on the market, take time to fix the little things. I’m talking about those things that you’ve let yourself get used to, like the loose handle on the oven. I remember watching my sister hustle to finish odds-n-ends around the house, like fixing loose tiles around her fireplace, shortly before her house was put on the market. Her advice: fix those little issues when they surface, not when you’re selling your house, or you’ll feel like you’re in over your head. Imagine having to finish trim, re-caulk the tub, add a handrail to the steps off the deck, replace carpet on the stairs, replace a non-functioning garbage disposal, etc., as you try to get your house on the market. Feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? It is. Keep in mind, if you don’t take time to work on the condition of your home, you will not get top dollar.
- Replace burnt-out bulbs
- Lube squeaky door hinges
- Fix leaky faucets
- Replace worn welcome mats and area rugs
Large Fixes Around The House
Sometimes your home has larger issues than loose tiles or squeaky door; a furnace may need to be replaced. If this comes up in the home inspection, have a HVAC professional come in and give you a second opinion and price estimate.
You may consider replacing large appliances and fixtures as well. The washer, dryer and refrigerator are considered personal property, so unless they’re included in the purchase agreement, the buyers will not receive them in the sale. Talk to your real estate agent about whether or not your want to include these appliances in the sale of your home and, if so, whether or not they should be replaced with new appliances. Other appliances like the stove and microwave are considered built in and will come with the sale; you may want to replace them if they're older. Talk to your agent before replacing any large appliances or tackling big projects like:
- New roof
- New HVAC unit
- Cracked foundation
As you organize and declutter your home, take the opportunity to deep clean. You may wish to hire a pro to clean and deodorize your home. This might include having the carpets professionally cleaned, removing odors from furniture due to cigarette smoke, removing pet odors from hardwood floors, having draperies dry cleaned, etc.
Consider having your windows professionally cleaned inside and out or do it yourself. Although it might not be necessary to wash your walls, unless there’s a smoker in the house, use a vacuum to get rid of cobwebs on ceiling and walls.
If you have a wood burning fireplace, have it inspected and cleaned. Whether you use your fireplace regularly or just around the holidays, it’s important to have it check to make sure it’s functioning properly. This will become a selling point as your agent walks potential buyers through the house.
Another factor worth considering, and will likely be recommended by your agent, is to paint the interior of your home a neutral color. This provides a blank canvas, once again, for the potential buyer to imagine themselves living in the home. Neutral colors, like variations of beige and gray, can go a long way when selling your home. These colors make a great backdrop for bright accent colors found in your pillows and other accessories.
Staging Your Home
If you’ve ever walked into a home for sale and thought, “this is exactly how I would like the home to look and feel if I lived here”, you probably visited a staged home. If you decide to have your home professionally staged, you will be more competitive in the market, drive up the perceived value, sell faster, and most likely for a higher price. Although it will cost a decent amount of money to stage your home, the return will typically be worth it. Look for an ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) certified stager and seek out friends for referrals. Most professional stagers will provide a free consultation so have your questions ready ahead of time and make the most of the visit.
You may even consider staging the house yourself. A bit of online research will get you pointed in the right direction, but talk to your agent for advice and suggestions. Here are some factors to consider, in addition to decluttering, organizing and cleaning your home:
- Simplify each room and store extras off-site
- Neutral palette (walls and furnishings)
- Use light-colored, neutral slipcovers on furniture
- Paint walls and ceilings a neutral color
- Avoid styling using your personal preferences (you want to appeal to a broad audience, not just those who appreciate your style)
- Less is more
- Consider renting furniture, including lighting (ex. modern lamps) to replace worn and mismatched pieces
- Add splashes of color with pillows and throws
- Arrange furniture in conversational groups
- Keep kitchen counters cleared off with the exception of a few regularly used appliances (ex. coffee maker)
- Bring in fresh flower arrangements before a showing or open house
- Consider applying Feng shui tactics
Have professional photos taken after your home’s staged. With so many people searching for homes online, it’s imperative that you have professional photos so your home gets the attention it deserves. You’ll want plenty of photos of the interior and exterior, with an emphasis on the most appealing room in your house (ex. remodeled kitchen). Remember, most people start their home search online and that means looking at a lot of photos. You want yours to stand out and that’s where staging and professional photos come into play. Don’t overlook these important factors when putting your home on the market.
4. Pricing Your Home
When it comes to pricing your home, you want to price it competitively. Going too high with the price may leave your home on the market for a lengthy period of time. Going too low and you could leave money on the table. An experienced agent is your best bet for determining the most competitive price for your home and to do so they will create a Comparative Market Analysis (more information available below).
If you decide to price it high and your home sits on the market for a month or more without any offers, expect your agent to ask for a price reduction. This can stimulate more interest in the home from those who previously viewed it and can bring in a new group of potential buyers, especially if it drops to a lower price tier. For example, if your original price was $419,900 and you drop it to $399,900, you will get the attention of buyers who are only searching up to $400,000 which greatly expands your potential buyer pool. Avoid overpricing your home because it will sit on the market longer than reasonably priced homes, or it may not sell at all.
Depending on the market, going low with the price can lead to a bidding war and ultimately drive the price up closer to where you initially wanted it.
Your agent will most likely put your home on a broker’s tour, where other agents and brokers come through the house, typically right before it goes on the market, and provide feedback. That includes feedback on the listing price. Don’t be afraid to receive this constructive criticism. Getting pricing advice from a handful of agents, and adjusting the price accordingly, will give you the best chance of selling your house fast.
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA)
A comparative market analysis (CMA) is a report prepared by a real estate agent that compares prices of properties similar to yours, and in the same area, that sold in the past 6-12 months, pending sales, active and expired listings. The following factors are also taken into consideration when comparing these properties to your home: quality; location; upgrades; lot size; condition; and age of the home. Your agent will provide the CMA and use it to help determine a fair list price of your home. No matter what price you and your agent decide on, the market ultimately determines the price of your home.
(Example page from a CMA, comparing homes sold in the seller's neighborhood)
Since your property will not be an exact match to the properties in the CMA, your agent will adjust for differences. If there are a low number of homes that have sold in your area, the CMA will factor in more properties that are pending, active, or expired. Prices of homes that are currently on the market are not indicative of the best comps because the price is merely a reflection of what the seller wants to get out of the home vs. reflecting what the home is actually worth.
A CMA is subjective in that the agent decides which homes to compare to yours to determine the value of your home (they typically don’t include every house found in the comparable search results). The price of the comparable homes can be too high or too low depending on the properties your agent decides to use in the CMA. In other words, if 3 different agents created a CMA for you, they would have varying results.
Other factors that need to be taken into consideration, outside of the price and similar home characteristics, include things like whether or not a sold property is on a busy street. If the comps indicate that a home sold for $250,000, but your home is on a quiet street, your home would typically be listed and sold at a higher price. Another example would be a house that has the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms as yours but the bathrooms are outdated. If the bathrooms in your house have recently been updated, you would be able to ask for a higher selling price.
Based off of the CMA, you and your agent may choose to underprice your home. Underpricing can be in your favor as it may lead to a lot of interest, multiple offers, and possibly a bidding war. Underpricing also leaves room for negotiation. For example, a potential buyer may submit an offer well above the asking price with the condition of including the washer and dryer with the offer. Offers like this are worth considering especially when you know the combined price of the washer and dryer cost less than the amount that was offered above the list price. Underpricing can also result in selling your home for less than it’s worth. If there are problems with your property, a roof needing to be replaced for example, buyers will include this as part of their negotiation which can drive the price down further.
You and your agent may get away with overpricing your home, especially in a market with little inventory. On the other hand, you may find that your home sits on the market longer and with few offers. You may receive lowball offers that are hardly worth countering. An experienced agent will recommend dropping the price, after approximately a month, to generate more interest.
It’s important to know that the majority of real estate agents don’t sell very many homes (another good reason to find an agent with many years of experience) and their desire to overprice your home may be unsubstantiated. If you’re unsure about overpricing your home, or underpricing for that matter, consider getting a second opinion. Consider this as well, the longer your home is on the market at a high price, it will get stale and market-worn. The peak interest period is usually within the first 2-3 weeks of the listing, with fewer and fewer buyers showing interest as you leave your home on the market at a high price for long periods of time. These buyers have moved on to newer, better-priced listings.
If you agree to overprice your home and it sits on the market without any serious interest, then it expires, you’re left with many decisions. Do you relist with the same agent or go with a different agent? Do you relist at a much lower price? Do you wait to put it back on the market after the market improves (if that’s a factor)? Consider the following before relisting, if your listing has expired:
- Prime season or off-season
- Look into how long have houses like yours been on the market
- Seller’s market or buyer’s market
- Make improvements to your home before relisting
- Interview other agents
- Set a realistic price if you decide to relist
- Relisting will attract the most attention and interest from buyers
Market health is another area your agent should be aware of when pricing your home. In other words, set the price of your home based off of the way prices are moving up or down in the market. If it’s a buyer’s market, and prices are moving down, your agent may suggest initially pricing your home lower than that of recent sale prices. This will push your listing ahead of those homes already on the market, homes which will soon be preparing to offer price reductions. For example, if your home is worth $500,000 based off of the CMA your agent provided, but the market is dropping by 1% a month, your agent will price your home 3-6% lower than recent comps (which are 3-6 months old). If it’s a seller’s market and prices are moving upwards, your agent may suggest asking for more than the prices reflected in 3-6 month old comps.
An appraisal is a report prepared by a licensed appraiser that appraises not only the value of the home but any other permanent structures and the land that the home is built on. The appraisal is ordered by lenders as buyers are going through the mortgage loan process and, at times, by the seller to determine the value of their home. The lender is using the home value, from the appraisal, to ensure the loan amount requested by the borrower is in line with the value of the home. It’s especially important if there are very few comps in your area/neighborhood. It’s also of great value in you have a luxury, custom, or unique home. Oftentimes, appraisals are required for tax and loan purposes. For example, an appraisal can be used to determine the tax liability of a homeowner or determine the loan type and amount a buyer can get to buy the property.
To find an appraiser, start by asking your real estate agent or lender for referrals. When choosing a property appraiser, it’s important to find one who’s licensed and certified by the state and recognized by the lending institute. Ask about their experience and if they have professional designations or memberships. If they do, you are getting an appraiser who’s committed to continued education and ethical standards. Finally, ask the appraiser for references.
Along the same lines of your search to find a real estate agent, take the time to interview the appraiser before hiring. Make sure their qualifications meet your standards and you are able to comfortably communicate with them. In addition, make sure they’re able to effectively communicate with you regarding their processes.
Ask your appraiser to explain his/her qualifications and how often he/she must update certificates and participate in training programs. Ask him/her what the report will consist of and when you can expect to receive a preliminary report. You can ask for examples of previous work too and how they came to their conclusions. If you feel the preliminary report is lacking, you have the right to end the appraisal process before the final report is issued.
The appraisal, although different from a CMA, may include findings that support the CMA. The report will explain how the appraiser determined the value of your property, his/her methods and assumptions, the size and condition of your home and permanent structures, and any improvements that you’ve made and the materials used in those improvements. It will also look at serious structural problems (ex. cracked foundations) and include information about the surrounding area (ex. new or established developments, acreage). The appraiser will evaluate recent market trends in the area that might affect the value of your home as well as how the neighborhood might impact the property value. Maps, photographs and sketches may also be included in the appraisal.
Once you’ve determined which appraiser you’re going to use, discuss their fees and how long it takes to get the preliminary and final reports. The amount they charge will be dependent on the complexity of the property, size and market. You’ll typically have to sign a service agreement and determine a payment date (a partial, up-front payment is usually required).
Opinions vary among appraisers. The appraisal is subjective and a reflection of the appraiser’s personal opinion of value. The determined value of your home and property is a reflection of the current market and is completed using historical data. A good appraiser will include a detailed explanation of market trends as well.
When you’re in a pending contract and the appraisal comes in low, how does that affect the final sale? The buyer will only be pre-approved for the amount of the appraisal so they will either have to make up the difference in cash or order a second appraisal, which they may ask you to pay for. You, the seller, can choose to lower the price or offer to carry a second mortgage for the difference. If your contract contains a loan contingency, you will be able to cancel the transaction. Talk to your real estate agent for further advice.
If you ordered the appraisal, you will want to sit down with your agent to determine if it’s a fair value for your home. If you feel it is much lower than what the market reflects, you can order another appraisal or discuss listing your home at a higher value knowing that you may have to defend the price when negotiating with a potential buyer.
Total Market Overview
Total Market Overview Reports are reports that provide a breakdown of the market based off of the average list price of sold homes, average sale price of sold homes, average days on market, among other categories. The report will give you and your agent a better idea of what's happening in the market and how to best price your home to sell.
If you wanted to know if your home, priced between $450,000-$474,999, has many competitors, the total market report would provide that information. Within that price range, you could look at the percentage of pending sales, how many homes sold in the last 6 months, the average sale price of homes, and more. This will give you a better idea of how your home should be priced based off of what’s happening in the overall market. Keep in mind, this information won’t be focused specifically on your neighborhood, and you will need to decide on a realistic price based off of what’s selling in your area.
(Sample from a Total Market Overview Report)
5. Marketing Your Home
A real estate agent with extensive, long-term marketing experience is of great value. They will be able to market your home so it stands out over homes without proper marketing. When you agent markets your home, they are not just putting it on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), placing a sign in your yard with property flyers, and putting the listing on their website. They are going above and beyond to ensure your property gets the attention it deserves. They will market your home so it stands out and, therefore, you gain an advantage over other sellers.
The photos of your home are a good place to start when it comes to marketing advantages. As mentioned earlier, professional photos are a must. Great photos will not only look better on flyers and online, they will increase showings. Depending on the size of your home, less photos can be better than more. In my experience working in real estate, consumers are worn down by listings with 30+ photos (some listings include 100+ photos!). An experienced agent will know the ideal amount of photos that will best showcase your home and draw in potential buyers. Your agent will know how to highlight the best rooms in the house with extra photos that will grab the attention of buyers.
You’ll also have a marketing advantage when your agent provides detailed property information in the listing. The potential buyer and other agents shouldn’t have to dig to find information about the listing, the information should be included at the time it’s entered in the MLS. In addition, the agent should be willing to share any additional information when requested by other agents.
Property flyers are another marketing tool, typically used in a paper format and place in a flyer box on the ‘for sale’ sign. A digital version is most popular, delivered via email or text. An experienced agent will create a professional and highly informative flyer which features the best photos, your address, number of beds/baths, square footage, lot size, year house was built, MLS number, price, a brief description, and agent contact information.
Video footage is another important part of marketing your property. Known as a virtual tour or video tour, this footage provides a walk-through of your home. Some videos will include music and voiceovers, describing each room for the potential buyer. Agents typically hire a professional to create the video and, in some cases, even use a drone to record it. Through the use of drones, which must be operated by a licensed drone operator, you can even get overhead footage of your home and the surrounding property. Videos are included with the listing on the MLS, agent’s website, and sent via email and text to potential buyers.
Videos also provide an option for out-of-state or international buyers to walk through your home without ever stepping foot in it. Consumers are learning that professional photos can distort or exaggerate the size of rooms but video proves to be more accurate.
Experienced agents also market the video on video websites and social media, and they know how to get it in the #1 spot to garner the highest level of exposure and views. Video websites might include YouTube and Vimeo, for example. If the website provides viewing statistics, your agent will be able to share the number of times the video has been viewed and the impact it’s making.
Interactive maps are another area where real estate marketing is taken to the next level. Many agents have interactive maps on their website which show an aerial view of your area, with property pins that are clickable. Some maps include boundaries for school districts, nearby restaurants, shopping and the like.
An experienced real estate agent will know which websites to use to get your property seen by the masses. Ask where your agent advertises online. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), most buyers begin searching for properties on websites so it’s important to find an agent that understands the value of online advertising. There are many websites available to advertise your property; some of which agents know nothing about. Here’s a sample of the many websites available to real estate agents to market your home:
Classified websites are another source for marketing properties. These include sites like Craigslist and eBay Classifieds. When sales transpire on these sites, neither party is obligated to finalize the transaction. In other words, don’t assume the sale is final just because someone offered to buy your house through on online ad. The buyer and seller must meet to finalize the deal in writing.
Mobile marketing is another area where real estate agents need to be on top of the technology bandwagon. Consumers want to be able to text or call to receive property information, as they don’t necessarily want to talk to an agent. For example, many agents will provide a text code on their for sale signs which provide property information to consumers. An experienced agent knows the importance of keeping up with technology and providing both text and phone contact options in the marketing material.
When To Sell
When it comes to selling your home, it’s preferable to sell during the warm seasons. Traditionally, summer is the best time to sell, as it gives families time to get their kids settled into a new school by fall. Although in southern states, like Arizona, sales tend to be most popular in the fall when the heat of summer diminishes. Spring is a popular time to list homes in northern states, when it warms up and potential buyers are more likely to get out and look at homes. Across the country, January and February are the worst times to try to sell a home.
If you have to sell during the off-season, there are some advantages. For example, fewer homes on the market which means less competition. Off-season is post-vacation season too -- people are done with vacations, weddings, reunions, and other events and ready to start looking for a home. There are fewer buyers during the off-season but they tend to be more motivated, needing a home due to a pressing matter like a job relocation or other major life change.
Look around for a real estate agent who has a good track record for selling homes during the off-season. If you know of past neighbors who have sold their homes during less than desirable months, call them to learn more about their experiences and who they used for an agent. Finding an agent who has a knack for selling home during the off-season may give you the best chance of selling your home.
Once you’ve decided on a real estate agent, they will likely include your home in a broker tour. A broker tour is an open house for real estate agents and other industry professionals. Oftentimes, this tour is held before your home is entered in the MLS. It’s typically scheduled mid-week, unlike a public open house, and is a great way to get the word out about your home. You’ll receive feedback on the price of your home along with other bits of feedback, like opinions on the property itself.
Once your real estate agent has listed your house on the MLS, they will likely schedule an open house, possibly multiple open houses over time. Open houses typically last from 2-4 hours and are usually held on a Saturday or a Sunday. Many visitors will have looked at your house online before visiting the open house. Seeing your house in person gives them an opportunity to get a better feel for the size of the rooms, the flow of the floor plan, the neighborhood, and an opportunity to ask any questions.
Open houses are not required and you don’t need to push for one if your agent doesn’t encourage one. You will be asked to make sure the house is clean and presentable, and to be away from the house during the open house.
Much of the time open houses are a way for agents to generate leads, since most attendees rarely buy a house after seeing it during an open house. Oftentimes, your real estate agent will not be the agent hosting the open house. Some agents hand off their open house to a licensed assistance or a new agent looking to generate clients. No matter who hosts the open house, it’s important that they have good energy and engage with visitors.
If you have pets, it’s generally recommended that you remove them from the property during the time of the open house. Take your dog to doggy daycare, ask the neighbor to watch your cat, take your pet for a long drive or walk, or visit a friend that loves your pet and would be happy to have them in their home for a few hours. Visitors may not be a pet lovers so it’s recommended that you remove pet bedding and bowls (or make sure they’re clean and odor-free), clean the litter box, and make sure there are no “deposits” in the yard. Whether visitors are pet lovers or not, all of these actions will lead to a better experience and first impression.
Although it’s tempting to light scented candles and bake cookies to create a warm and homey environment, ask your agent for their input. Sometimes visitors perceive these fragrances as a way to mask unpleasant odors.
At the end of the open house, your agent will share visitor feedback. The more engaging the agent, the more feedback they will likely receive. Visitor feedback may lead you to make an improvement. For example, if a potential buyer says that the basement has a bad smell, you could work to correct the issue before the next open house or showing. Positive feedback might include how beautiful the landscaping is. Feedback and constructive criticism should be used to make your home more appealing to buyers and increase your chances of selling your home quickly.
A showing is similar to an open house but your agent will show the house to only one person or a family. Showings can come up at the last minute so you’ll need to be flexible with your schedule. Talk to your agent about what times work best for you. For example, if you work overnight shifts, it would be best to show your home in late afternoon or in the evening.
You’ll want to keep your home in show-ready condition so you’re not running around at the last minute putting laundry away, doing the dishes, and making the beds. Daily touch-ups are best when you have your home on the market.
As with an open house, the agent will ask you to be off-site during the showing. Showings typically take less than an hour and your agent will have feedback, and maybe an offer, shortly after the showing.
6. Receiving and Accepting Offers
Once you receive an offer, or possibly multiple offers, your agent will give you a call and set up a time to look at the offer(s). If you receive an offer at or near the list price, it means you’ve priced your home correctly and it's worth serious consideration.
If you receive an offer below your list price, your agent will look at the contract as a whole to determine if the buyer’s terms are in your favor. For example, the buyer may have agreed to pay for closing costs which could save you thousands of dollars. Your agent will explain what the buyer terms mean and provide guidance on making a decision to accept, decline or counter the offer.
An offer above asking price, may result from a hot market with little inventory and competitive buyers or simply a buyer who wants to make sure he/she gets the home. This type of an offer may elicit a lot of excitement, but you'll want to take time to look at the buyer's terms with your agent, as they might not be favorable. In other words, the highest offer isn’t always the best. The potential buyer may have included terms in the contract, such as wanting all of the furniture and appliances included in the purchase. Suddenly an offer $10,000 above your list price isn’t looking as promising.
If you receive multiple offers, there are many contract conditions to consider including the following:
- Seller concessions: buyers might request seller makes concessions to help with buyer cost (ex. closing costs)
- Contingencies (mold inspection, radon inspection...)
- Inspection may result in extra expenses to you, the seller
- Appraisal may result in extra expense to you, the seller
- Whether the buyer’s pre-approved, pre-qualified
- All cash offer (favorable)
- Type of mortgage
- Amount of earnest money
- Timeline: when can buyer close on house?
Your agent will explain any contingencies or conditions put in place by the buyer, and he/she will help you decide which offer makes the most sense.
When it comes time to negotiate with the potential buyer and the buyer’s agent, your agent can provide advice on how to negotiate a better deal. This is where an experienced agent with good negotiating skills comes in handy. Your agent can provide options for countering a low offer, for example, and make suggestions based off of his/her professional opinion and experience. Your agent might suggest countering an offer by asking the buyer to pay for closing costs or simply by asking them to pay more than their offer. Make sure the changes to the offer are exactly what you agreed to before signing the counteroffer. If you are unsure of the language included in the counter, ask your agent for further explanation.
Backup offers are offers accepted after you’ve already accepted an offer from a buyer, and you may receive more than one in a hot market. Regardless of the fact that your home is already under contract, a new potential buyer may want to make an offer, knowing the original deal might fall through. If the original offer is off the table, the backup buyer is automatically under contract to buy the home.
Original offers might fall through due to a variety of reasons including issues with the home inspection, buyer financing, and the inability to sell their current home. Your agent will need to get a signed release from the initial buyer when they decide to back out of the deal. You and your agent will be required to sign the release too. This legal document releases each of you from any and all obligations that surfaced as a result of the contract that was signed. Once signed by all parties, your agent will accept the backup offer.
There are other factors to consider when your home goes under contract including how your agent decides to designate the property on the MLS. Designations might include “under contract, accepting backup offers”, “contingent” or “under contract” (varies by state). The difference between these designation isn’t simply whether or not your accepting backup offers but how the designations affect days on market.
Once your home is under contract, will the days on market come to a halt or if they will keep ticking away? If your home is designated as “under contract” (not accepting backup offers), the days on market come to a halt. If the original contract falls through and the listing becomes “active” again, the days it was on “under contract” will not be included in the days on market. For example, if your home went under contract after it was on the market for 2 weeks, you waited 5 weeks for the buyer’s financial approval, then the contract fell through, your house would go back on the MLS as “active” and would reflect only 14 days on the market. Note: buyers can still put in a backup offer when the sale is designated as “under contract”.
On the other hand, if your home was on the market for 2 weeks and the status was changed to “under contract, accepting backup offers” and reflected the same scenario illustrated above, your home would go back on the market reflecting 49 days on market. When it comes to days on market, there’s quite a difference between “under contract” and “under contract, accepting backup offers”.
Why are the number of days on market important? The longer a house is on the market the more likely it will be perceived as overpriced and having hidden issues. Also, potential buyers see a greater opportunity to negotiate a better deal. Talk to your agent about what the status of your home will be on the MLS once it goes under contract.
Earnest money or earnest money deposit is a good-faith deposit made by the buyer and received after the offer has been accepted and signed. The deposit shows that they’re serious about purchasing your home. Many sellers lean towards accepting offers with earnest money for good reason. If the buyer doesn’t uphold his/her end of the contract, you can keep the earnest money (in most cases).
The amount of the earnest money is somewhat dependent on the price of the property and the buyer. A lower priced house typically results in a lower deposit compared to a high priced luxury home which denotes a higher deposit. The amount of the earnest money deposit is typically 1-2% of the purchase price, although it varies. Some buyers will add $1 in earnest money to the contract, but it typically gets ignored by most agents and sellers. The seller wants assurance that the buyer is serious about the purchase of their home, and a large earnest money deposit provides that.
Once the contract is signed by both parties, the earnest money is then held by a third party, like the title company, your attorney or whoever is handling the closing. This ensures the rules that govern the money are upheld. If the sale goes through, the earnest money become part of the money the buyer puts down on the purchase of your home. For example, if they buyer needed to bring $50,000 to closing but provided $5,000 in earnest money deposit, only $45,000 would be required at closing.
If the contract doesn’t make it to closing and the buyer has no legal reason to get out of the contract, they forfeit the earnest money to the seller. If the buyer does have a legal reason (contingency) to get out of the contract, the earnest money is returned to the buyer. Contingencies are part of most contracts and if they aren’t met, the contract can legally be cancelled by the buyer.
As mentioned earlier in this article, your agent will encourage you to get a home inspection, and the buyer’s agent will do the same once the buyer has made an offer on a home. Home inspections are not required, although the USDA has required them in the past. You will not be present for this inspection, just the buyer and inspector.
It would be highly unusual for a buyer not to have a home inspection after making an offer on your home. The buyer may choose any inspector, regardless of the inspector you used. The buyer pays for the inspection although some buyers will ask the seller to cover some or all of the cost.
After receiving the results of the inspection, the buyer may request that you take care of necessary repairs. If you decide not to make the requested repairs, and sell as-is, the buyer may ask to re-negotiate the terms of the contract. The may want to offer less for your home or ask for an allowance to cover the cost of the repair (ex. $10,000 roof repair allowance). You and your agent can discuss which option is most beneficial and will lead to closing on your home.
7. Finalizing Your Home Sale
You’ve Accepted An Offer
Once you’ve accepted an offer on your home, the home inspection and appraisal has been completed on the buyer’s side, and any agreed upon repairs have been made to the property, you and your agent will set up the closing at the title company. It’s time to start packing up your home (your contract will state whether or not you need to have everything moved out of the house by the closing date).
Submit a change of address to the post office 30 days in advance of your move, or as soon as you know your new address. Your post office will provide a moving guide which will include the address change form and other handy moving tips.
You’ll need to share you new address with other government agencies, including the following: IRS, SSA, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Motor Vehicles, and State Election Offices.
As the closing approaches, you will be responsible for expenses including the outstanding mortgage, real estate commissions, property taxes, utility bills, homeowner’s insurance, escrow, title and possibly attorney fees. (Escrow refers to a third party employed to deal with the property transaction, money exchange and related documents.) Your real estate agent can shed light on these expenses and get you moving in the right direction before closing.
Speak to your real estate agent and homeowner insurance provider to find out what you need to do with your homeowner’s insurance policy, whether you’re moving into a new house or a rental. Even if your policy is due for renewal at the same time you’re moving out, it will not automatically be cancelled. Typically, once the deed has been recorded or the title transferred, you will want to notify your provider. You should be reimbursed for any prepaid premiums.
The buyer will have utilities transferred under their name. Be aware that if you have unpaid utilities, they can become liens against the property. When the title company does a lien search on your property, they will uncover any municipal liens (ex. water, sewer). These liens are your responsibility, as the seller, and must be paid in order to close on the property.
3-5 days before closing, have a final water meter and energy reading done. Contact your city water department and energy provider. You might want to take a picture of the reading for your records. If a final meter reading isn’t done, you’ll be responsible for all charges until you’ve contacted your water company. Share your new address so the water company knows where to send the final bill.
Broadband providers (ex. wifi, digital tv) will typically let you take your existing package with you, as long as their service is offered in the area you will be living in. If you’re near the end of your contract, consider shopping around for better deals.
If you’ve setup an automatic debit to pay for various utilities, cancel them and get the cancellations in writing for your records.
When you’re selling a condo, special assessments may exist on the property’s title and will come up at closing. These might be in place for a new roof, for example. Talk to your association (and your agent) to see if the special assessment has to be paid in full at the time of closing, if it can be transferred to the buyer, or split with the buyer.
Some instances may arise where you’re required to pay for a major improvement like hooking up to city sewer, if you’re on a septic system, which happened to a friend of mine. When her house went under contract, she learned that she had to pay to have her home hooked up to city sewer before she could close on the sale of her home. The connection fee was over $10,000. Fortunately, she was able to get a grant to pay for the cost because she didn’t meet the minimum income requirement. Your agent will be alerted if any such major issues must be addressed before the close of sale, and he/she can help you take the necessary action to resolve the issue.
It’s important to note that you may owe capital gains taxes on the profit of the sale of your home. A tax on capital gains is a fee you pay to the government when you sell your home for more than you originally paid for it. Let’s say you paid $300,000 when you bought your house years ago, then sold it for $400,000. You would pay a percentage of the $100,000 profit to the government, depending on how long you lived in the house or if you lived in the house (ex. flipped it for profit without living in it). Married couples typically don’t have to worry about paying capital gains tax unless they profit more than $500,000; $250,000 for single taxpayers.
The buyer and the buyer’s agent will do a final walkthrough of the house shortly before the closing date. In most cases, the buyer is looking to see that all agreed-upon repairs were made and no new issue exist. Your agent will be notified immediately if a problem exists and, if minor, it can usually be fixed by closing. If there is a major problem, the closing date will likely be delayed to allow time to fix the problem. If an agreement is made to drop the price of the offer, an amendment must be created and the loan would have to be rerun, causing further delays.
Usually you will not be required to attend the closing, as it’s mostly for the buyer. Before the day of closing, it’s most likely you’ll pre-sign the warranty deed or transfer documents. Pay close attention to the closing documents (aka: settlement statement) to ensure the numbers are accurate (ex. the money you’ll make on the sale).
Once all of the negotiations have been finalized and the closing documents have been signed, the escrowee will take all of the closing documents, money, and other closing items from both parties. Then they will pay the necessary money for clearing the title, pay all the old lenders and lienholders and pay the sales agents and other service providers. When the home transaction closes, your deed will be sent to the county courthouse to be filed and the new deed will be registered in the buyer’s name. After everything’s paid, you will receive a proceeds check if it’s due to you.
After you’ve moved everything out of the house and cleaned, leave all house and pool keys, remotes to garage doors, security codes and mailbox keys for the new owner (in a kitchen drawer). Leave any warranty information, appliance manuals or instruction books (ex. HVAC, appliances, sprinkler system) and receipts from contractors for the owners. Lock the house as you leave.
Several weeks after closing, check with your local property records office to ensure your deed has been properly recorded. Check your bank account for the proceeds of the sale. If you run into any issues, contact you real estate agent immediately.
Congratulations on selling your home! Time to celebrate!