Whether you’re planning to sell your home in the next few months or just studying up for that eventuality, there’s no time like now to prepare. If buying a house seems complicated, selling involves even more responsibilities and expenses.
Here are some common steps to selling your home:
1. Prepare Your Home for Sale
Well before you’re ready to plant that “For Sale” sign in your front yard, there is work to be done to prepare your home for sale.
Remember how keen your eye was to every small detail and defect in the houses you saw as a buyer? Now that door to your bedroom that never quite closed properly or that leaky faucet that you never got around to fixing will be seen by a potential buyer with that same keen eye.
Start making the obvious repairs today – even if you don’t plan to sell until a year from now. These repairs can cost money and take time. Plus fixing it now will allow you to enjoy the results before it’s time to move out.
If you plan on doing some improvements before the sale, the best place to start is where the buyers start: at your curb. Potential buyers base a large part of their decision on a property’s “curb appeal,” so make yours say something positive. That means a tidy front yard, a house with well-painted trim, a clean and neat driveway and a clear, welcoming front walkway.
Inside, the biggest return on your investment continues to be improvements to the kitchen, followed closely by improvements to the master bedroom. If you’re making these improvements shortly before selling the house, consider painting and decorating the rooms in neutral colors, the most appealing choice to the greatest number of potential buyers.
However, don't go for major renovations at this time because you won't recoup your outlay. If your kitchen is very outdated, if your carpet is old and truly needs replacing, you can offer "credits" to potential buyers.
Inside and outside, start reducing the clutter. When it comes time to show your home, less will mean more. Potential buyers don’t want to see how your closets overflow with clothes, how every room feels cramped with furniture, or how the yard is difficult to maneuver with that rusty swing set in the way. So downsize your "stuff" now; it not only will make the preparation for showing your home easier, it also will make packing for your move faster.
2. Find a Real Estate Professional
If you’ve been through the home-buying process, you already know how complicated the real estate business can be. While you can opt to sell your home yourself, it can be time-consuming and often not worth the money saved on commissions.
However, if you do hire a real estate professional as your selling agent, do your homework. Ask friends and family for recommendations, interview several candidates, attend a few open houses and watch the professional in action. Do you think this person would present your house well to potential clients? Watch "For Sale" signs in your neighborhood for the weeks and months before you're ready to put your home on the market to see which real estate professionals sell homes more quickly. You'll need an aggressive real estate agent/Realtorâto sell your home in a down market.
When interviewing candidates, ask them to prepare a “comparative marketing analysis” for your house. This might include a demographic of the neighborhood, the quality of schools in the area and a suggested list price for the property.
Once you've chosen the person who will represent you in the sale of your home (and, I must be honest, I hope you choose me), you’ll more than likely have to sign a contract stating that you’ll work solely with the Realtorâfor a designated number of months (usually between one and six months). This means no other real estate professional will be allowed to sell your home on your behalf during this time.
So put some thought into the professional you choose and if you decide to choose me, I will help you sell your home to a qualified buyer for the highest market price in the quickest, most convenient timeline.
3. Get Your Paperwork Together
After you sign the Listing Agreement with me or another real estate professional, your agent will need a lot of documents from you to prepare your home for sale. Among the things your Realtorâwill want to see are:
Pay-off Notice: a letter to your mortgage lender stating intention to payoff your home loan (when you sell your home).
Assessments or Easements: if there's a tax assessment or easement on your property, documents stating so will have to be included in the purchase contract.
Property Taxes: proof of the property taxes you've paid.
Utilities: you'll need to provide a record of the past 12 months of utility bills.
You’ll want to make it clear now which items in the home you want to take with you – the heirloom chandelier in the dining room, the washer and dryer set you just bought last month – and which items can stay behind as part of the home sale. Your real estate professional will show you which items you should put away or replace before your house goes on the market.
4. Price Your Home
There are a number of factors that will affect the success of your home sale. These include: location of the home, interest rates, economic conditions, time of year, condition of the home, marketing the home, terms of the sale and accessibility to the home.
Some of these are not within your control, such as the location of your home, interest rates and economic conditions. Other factors are those you'll discuss with your real estate agent to determine what would most benefit the sale of your home.
If you can, waiting for a good time to sell your home – spring or fall are the most popular home buying times – also may help it sell faster. And pricing the home properly can make a huge difference in whether a house is purchased relatively quickly or languishes on the market for months on end.
To price a home properly, you and I -- if you've chosen me to be your agent -- will study the local market, research comparable properties and consider current market conditions. This is where the “comparative marketing analysis” you requested when interviewing for a listing agent will come in handy as a place to start.
Now check around your neighborhood, your newspaper and real estate websites for the following:
Your competition: Are there many properties just like yours for sale in your area right now?
Listing prices: What are other properties like yours listing for?
Selling prices: What prices did homes similar to yours recently sell for?
5. Market Your Home
Products that sell well usually have a good marketing strategy. The same can be said for your home. Strategize with your Realtorâabout different ways to market your home. For example, in addition to the "traditional" ways to market a house, consider posting your listing on Craigslist. Set up a Twitter account and tweet about your neighborhood, its amenities, the schools, activities in your town. Ask your real estate agent to videotape the interior of your home and download the video to YouTube. Be sure your Craigslist ad and Twitter account lead visitors to the video.
When a potential buyer arrives for an “open house” or drives by and sees the for sale sign, you’ll want to provide a home profile handout that they can take with them. Decide what information should be included in the description of your home that will make it a must-see – and one hopes -- a must-buy. Include one or more photos of the home to showcase the most appealing features of your property and help remind potential buyers of what they saw as they visit home after home.
You may even want to include a few lines about benefits of moving to this property, such as good schools, convenience to mass transit and other desirable community features. You and I will discuss what the features and benefits of your property are.
6. Prepare Your Home for Showing
Once we've decided on the market price and how we will market your home the next step is to get your house ready for visitors.
Give your home a thorough cleaning. Clean the drapes, the carpets, the furniture. If you haven't already done so, toss the clutter. Remove the small items and bric-a-brac. Try as much as possible to have your home look as if "no one lives there."
You also may want to hire a home stager. These professionals work with what you have to make your home as appealing as possible to potential buyers. They can help your rooms "flow" better and are excellent at deciding which tchotchkes in your home stay on your shelves and walls and which should be stored out of sight.
Outside: Keep your lawn trimmed, the rose bushes pruned and the weeds tamed. Put away the garden hose and the tools. Make sure the bulbs in your home’s exterior lighting fixtures are all in working order. Be vigilant about removing flyers, handouts and newspapers left on your front doorstep or driveway.
Inside: Brighten the rooms by opening the drapes, turning on the lights, cleaning the windows. Clear the clutter on the kitchen counter, bathroom sink, coffee table and couches. Make all the beds. Clean all your bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Do a quick vacuuming of the entire house, being sure to catch any cobwebs in the corners along the ceiling. Finally, take out the garbage.
If you have pets, find a safe place to keep them during a house showing: in the garage, in the basement or at a friend’s house.
Aim to be away from home during a showing or open house, but if you happen to be home when the potential buyers arrive, greet them at the door then politely excuse yourself. Make yourself scarce or go take a walk. It’s easier for a buyer to picture himself or herself living in the house when you’re not there. This is your home’s time to shine.
7. Respond to an Offer
Depending on market conditions, you may receive one or more offers for your property from interested buyers. Each offer will include the proposed offer price, proposed closing date, proposed move-in date, financing, and contingencies that may include an appraisal or sale of the buyers’ current home. I will help you sort through the variables to determine whether you should accept, counter-offer or reject the offer.
If there are multiple offers, each offer will be presented to you in the order registered. You don’t need to decide anything until after you’ve seen all the offers. If you do accept or counter more than one offer, you are required to establish an order of precedence noting which is the primary offer, followed by the backups in order. This will help you avoid selling the house to more than one buyer.
8. Complete the Settlement
Once you have accepted an offer to buy your house, expect to make your house available to a housing inspector, a termite inspector, an appraiser and other inspectors. After seeing the results of the inspections, the buyer may request that additional work be completed before purchase, such as repairing a damaged roof or fixing a leaky faucet. You and I will discuss whether to comply with the buyer’s request or risk losing this offer.
During this flurry of activity, try to keep your home in show condition. The deal has not closed and still may fall through, which may mean showing your home to more potential buyers.
In the meantime, the buyer is working with a lender to secure a loan for the purchase. When the buyer has written loan approval, a closing date can be set.
There will be a final walk-through before all signatures are collected and the deal considered done. The buyer will go room by room to check that everything is in working condition and, if you had agreed to do so, any additional work requested after inspection is completed.
Now you can prepare for your own move, notify your utility companies of the date to transfer your account to a new address and start packing. Congratulations, you’ve sold your home!
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