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A Guide to Selling Your Home
Selling your home is an exciting, if not daunting time. Making the right decisions can mean thousands of dollars staying in your pocket, encouraging many to investigate selling their homes without the aid of a Realtor or agency.
Whether you plan to sell your home yourself (FSBO) or enlist the help of an agent, there are some common things to consider before you put your house on the market.
Focus updates and repairs on improving your property’s sales-readiness and achieving a good return on your investment. Before you begin, it helps to list out everything needing attention so you can prioritize and more accurately budget your time, money and effort. It is important to note: a LOT depends on the buying market at the time of sale. In hot markets, less work needs to happen to make a buyer ready, while softer markets tend to require more of the seller.
Experts have long agreed that kitchens and bathrooms are focal points for interested buyers, directing renovations to begin there. Minor upgrades in these areas also tend to return very well on their investments but do beware of overspending unnecessarily on upgrades. While you may have a chipped bathtub, resurfacing it may be smarter than replacing it. If you need new cabinets, refacing them may be a wiser move than ripping out the old ones. New appliances, plumbing fixtures, and refaced cabinetry are often the simple (but not always inexpensive) details that can make “lookers” into “buyers.”
Since larger sums are needed to cover these efforts, many sellers pause. They wonder if the buyer should be absorbing these costs – but neglecting to update the basics can backfire and limit the number of interested buyers. You must weigh each potential fix or upgrade’s cost against the home’s market value after the repairs.
Typical larger-scale renovations/updates most realtors will advise a home seller to consider:
- If your roof needs attention, fix it. Though it will not necessarily affect your selling price, it does increase your pool of interested buyers…and a bad roof often scares them away.
- If you have old flooring (worn carpeting or linoleum), consider replacing it with more modern, engineered flooring options. Create a powerful first impression: have your hardwoods refinished, make sure any ceramic tile floors have clean (or new) grout lines and no broken or cracked tiles. Carpeting should be updated if kept; a stain or ripped carpet could easily turn off an otherwise interested buyer.
- If your HVAC system or hot water heater need updates, perform them.
- Address any foundational problems, as well as any driveway/access/coding issues.
All these major updates will better position your home among the others for sale. Weigh in the current market conditions, as well as the age of your home and its build when you decide whether or not to update.
Once you’ve addressed the major issues, there are common steps to take to make your home sales-ready. Depending on the age and current condition of your home, many interior updates can be relatively simple:
- All ceilings and walls should be repainted before selling. Fix any damaged, stained or dark colored walls, updating with a non-white, neutral color – think, light gray or sandy tan
- Ensure no leaky faucets or faulty plumbing fixtures/handles
- Update any old light fixtures/ceiling fans
- Update any old, outdated window coverings or drapes
- Look at door knobs, drawer pulls and other minor details to ensure they are not outdated
Outside, planting flowers, maintaining light landscaping and increasing overall “curb appeal” will help position you to sell.
While most of these tasks can be handled with a moderate budget and some online DIY advice, you may want to hire contractor(s) to help.
Wonder if it’s really worth it? Since 2002, Remodeling Magazine publishes an annual report of Cost vs Value for 21 popular remodeling projects. Select your region and view or download data that helps support better financial and organizational decisions to plot your renovations-to-sell.
Should I Work With a Realtor?
Technology has allowed an increased DIY approach to selling your home. Where once a Realtor was a necessary ally for almost every home-seller, today, many people choose to list and sell completely on their own.
There are always pros and cons to either approach. By understanding how a Realtor generally benefits you in a home sale helps you to determine if it is something you can indeed handle on your own.
- Setting Your Price – while Realtors will insist they always achieve a premium, there has been conflicting data published in the past, such as this Stanford paper from 2008. But the Realtor truly understands market health and activity, local buyer habits, typical and atypical scenarios and how to maximize the sales price for the seller’s interests.
- Marketing – a Realtor will have established marketing networks and methods to best present your home. They understand the features to highlight based on how potential buyers are going to respond. They will often have an agency professionally advertising each of their listings and can tell you how to properly stage for walk-throughs. Their network, experience and access to specific tools and templates will make marketing your sale seamless.
- Connections – in addition to the public networks, a licensed Realtor has access to industry specific sales channels and information. They will also know local contractors to help with inspections and any work needing completion before the listing/sale.
- Experience – understanding the commonalities of a sale will make the process smoother. Realtors also spend time sifting through applicants to discover the truly qualified buyer – often preventing the deal from collapsing at the last minute.
- Time – it takes a full-time commitment to properly handle the sale of a house. A Realtor is focused only on the sale and support of it, putting in the hours needed for success. Consider time dealing with interviewing applicants, loan providers, attorneys, contractors, agents and more.
Is a Realtor Worth the Cost?
Historically and currently, you will spend about 6% of the sales price for a Realtor to help sell your home. It is also not uncommon to absorb the buying agent’s fees (about 2-4%) as enticement to the sale. There may be a little wiggle room in the fees paid and how they are split – but expect a basic guideline of 6%…2-3 going to the selling agent and 2-3 going to the buyer’s agent. All of it, the responsibility of the seller.
Negotiation is part of the process, so it is crucial to understand your fees and to get the best possible deal, for you. While some agents will be reluctant to negotiate, all of them are certainly able to do so.
It is also important to note that this standard 6% rate is based on a mostly historical (though widely accepted) model. And, in this case, the market is responding quickly as the real estate industry evolves.
In the past, sellers needed a full-service agent as a representative – there were no other options. But deregulation in the mid-2000s opened more data to individuals. Combined with improved internet services, it encouraged more brokerages and platforms to emerge and disrupt. One result is the emergence of different service and commission models such as flat fees and pay-for-service options.
This means, a traditional agent/seller relationship can be modified and tailored today, resulting in greater opportunity for the current FSBO, or semi-assisted seller. 6% is no longer carved in stone.
The Basics of FSBO
For sale by owner has come a long way from being simply a sign in the yard. Platforms and sites like Trulia.com, Zillow.com, Redfin.com, Realtor.com, and LoopNet.com are putting the sales tools in the hands of the web savvy home seller.
- Pricing – One of the main responsibilities of a Realtor is to price your home to your greatest sales advantage. As an FSBO deal, accurate pricing is equally crucial to pinpoint, but much more labor intensive. The good news, is access to data is making it more affordable to figure out a sales-friendly price point, more or less on your own.
- Appraisal – you can hire a local appraiser for $300-$500, according to HomeAdvisor. An appraisal is going to be part of any home sale at some point, but knowing the appraised value early allows you to price it accordingly. An appraisal will typically also offer insight into similar recent sales in your area.
- Market Data – while much of the published data comes from the National Association of Realtors (NAR)’s annual reports, understand that these NAR reports are slanted to promote the value of real estate agencies. FSBO platforms (like Redfin and Zillow) can help you to balance your insights and increase your knowledge-base. The federal government also releases a monthly report that helps you understand more about trends and overall real estate market conditions.
To drill into more specific local information, contact a Realtor to have them run a comparative market analysis (CMA) for you. While you will likely have to pay a nominal flat fee for the report, it will be much less than having the Realtor represent you. The CMA will tell you what similar houses in your area are selling and have sold for, and which homes are still on the market – which is information crucial to properly pricing your home. Your appraisal may also cover much of the same ground as a CMA, depending on how your appraiser reached a conclusion.
Luckily, the digital age is making marketing a house sale easier every year. Taking great images and videos of your property can even be done now using most cellphones. The newer platforms allow you to upload these images to share on your listing…some will even create a 3D walkthrough for free. You can also purchase FSBO marketing kits for flat fees ($50-200) which will include yard signs, door hangers and more.
Create a feature sheet of your property. You will want printed flyers or one-sheets for prospective buyers to take with them, and a single or double-sided feature sheet enables you to focus on the best attributes. Use heavier (or glossy coated) paper stock, images and full-color laser printing to enhance the results.
Getting great images and simple marketing materials is one step of the process in finding buyers. The next step, is posting your listing in an MLS. An MLS, or multiple listing service, is a network where real estate pros share properties for sale. There are more than 800 active MLSs, so exposure in them immediately puts your home in front of thousands of more interested buyers. Listing in the MLS is the online exposure desperately needed by FSBO sales: MLSs power virtually all of the popular web listings of homes for sale.
Most MLS services charge $200-$400 to add your listing information. Other options exist, but most will still carry a fee – like a flat-fee discount broker or a small, local directory submission fee that puts you only in a local MLS.
Beware of the fine print: buying and selling agent fees are not usually a part of MLS submission charges and will be an additional responsibility of the seller. Make sure you understand if any additional fees will still be coming your way during the sales process.
Social media is another great way to spread the word about your home’s sale. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would be relatively easy ways to quickly reach targeted viewers about your sale. Look at sites like CraigsList, where you can post your listing for free.
More Free Web Options
The web is exploding with new real estate platforms eager to list homes for sale. At the time of this writing, some of the most popular are Zillow.com (which will also list you on Trulia.com), ForSaleByOwner.com, Redfin.com and Realtor.com. Each of these platforms is growing in reach and impact and makes a great addition to the FSBO sales plan.
In addition offering free or flat-fee listing options, these sites (and those like them) are worth exploring for more available services and information. Zillow offers lots of data, agent help, and staging/sales advice, Realtor.com also allows you to connect directly with local agents. Explore these websites and businesses supporting the FSBO revolution. You will find needed forms, advice, tips and connections to all of the professionals that will help you close your deal on your own terms.
Though print options are lagging far behind the web in alerting buyers to sales properties today, an FSBO deal means flyers, local advertising and yard signs. Newspapers don’t work the way they once did (less than 1% of buyers find a home there), so you can save your most of your print-dollars for newer options.
Yard signs and word-of-mouth referrals are simple, nearly free options that can often result in perking interest. Neighborhood bulletin boards, community events, civic gatherings – all of them offer places to market your sale. However, today’s FSBO home seller is best served by focusing where the home buyers are more actively shopping, and for more than 80% of the general public, that means focusing online.
Closing the deal is one of the more daunting aspects of a home sale. Qualifying the buyers, providing reports and inspections, talking to attorneys and banks…there is a lot of detailed paperwork and it is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Many FSBO sellers will therefore, for a flat fee, enlist the help of a local agent or attorney to review pertinent documents and advise them at closing.
How much of the closing process you decide to handle alone will be determined by your personal experience and comfort levels.
Do Your Homework
The most important thing about current FSBO sales, is that there are many more resources available than even five years ago, with more coming all the time. Local agents are also taking advantage of the change, offering a-la-carte options for services rendered like listing to the MLS, appraisals, CMAs, staging, and closing. Knowing what is available will allow you to make better decisions.
When Should I Sell My Home?
According to Zillow, the “magic window” for listing your home is Mid-March through mid-April. Why? Because homes listed during this time sold about 15% faster and for 2% more than in other months. Pretty good incentive!
It is interesting to note, the sales pattern follows the weather – so mid-March is for states in the warmer South, while the mid-April timing would apply more to the Midwest and central states.
As mentioned earlier, the Office of Policy Development and Research produces a monthly report detailing the condition of the current real estate markets. You can find regional information segmented out from the national data, noting more specific sales trends and buyer behaviors.
Though Spring months are the ideal according to statistics, a lot will be driven by the temperature of the buying market. A hot market won’t care if it is March or July, and in a softer market a hot season may be all but ignored. According to CNN, it now takes about three weeks to sell your home, giving you a rough guideline to how long you might expect it to remain on the market.
The Mixed Bag
One smart way to consider selling your home today, is to look at a combination of FSBO and agent-assisted methods. By blending in your own efforts with experienced hired help when needed, you can likely bring down your extended payouts considerably without losing any value in your sale. Realtors that once may not have negotiated beyond full-service agreements are likely more prone to do so now, as FSBO continues to disrupt the norms of the real estate industry.
Understand that a Realtor spends a lot of time supporting the sale you won’t necessarily see. Vetting attorneys, sales prospects, loan providers and more all take time and focus. However, you will pay for these services and for their time, and sometimes pay a premium.
The key to selling your home successfully is understanding where you can handle things alone and when you'll need help. And knowing specifically where to find that help when it's needed. Arming yourself with the facts will allow you to put your energy, time and money into achieving the best possible home sales experience.