When it comes time to sell your house, you want a fairytale, not a horror story. But between contract delays, buyers backing out and unexpected closing costs, sometimes the selling process becomes a nightmare.
Luckily, there are steps every seller can take to make the home-selling experience a positive one. Just ask top real estate agent Dawn Krause, who ranks #2 out of 1,475 seller’s agents in the Wildwood suburb of St. Louis, MO.
Once upon a time, Krause had new clients whose home had lingered on the market for 175 days while listed with another agent. After some tweaks to the listing and expert assistance during the escrow period, Krause helped her clients find the happy ending they were looking for:
“We sold at almost full price the first day on the market.”
Here’s how they did it—and here how you can, too!
The Best Way to Sell Your House: A Quick Overview
- Get the right real estate agent
- Trust your real estate agent, and listen to their advice
- Prepare the home before you list it
- Remain calm!
Get The Right Agent Right Away
Krause’s clients would’ve been spared the almost six-month saga of lingering on the market without any bites from buyers had they listed with her from the get go.
That’s why finding the right agent right away is so critical.
“I advise sellers to consult with a realtor as soon as you even remotely start thinking about selling your house,” Krause says.
Some homeowners wait to find an agent until after they’ve got their home ‘ready to list.’ They spend money to refurbish and remodel various rooms and features before ever contacting a realtor.
That’s a big mistake.
Agents are experts on what buyers are looking for—so don’t invest cash in a house you intend to sell without asking for your realtor’s advice first. Otherwise, you may replace or upgrade the wrong things. A good agent will know when and where to spend money to ensure that you get a good return on that investment.
So how do you find the right agent?
Start by researching Realtors to find ones who have a good track record of selling your style of home in your neighborhood. Then it’s just a matter of asking the right questions.
In interviews with potential agents, the big question you need answered is:
“What is your track record for homes sold in the last twelve months?”
Follow up by asking for specifics, such as the neighborhoods the homes were located in, the average price range of those sold homes and how many days each property spent on the market.
Just don’t go mistaking years in the business as more important than a solid track record. Krause says, “Someone who’s been in the business for thirty years may sell two homes a year, while someone who’s been in the business for a year may sell thirty homes.”
It’s also important to ask potential agents for their pricing and marketing strategies up front. A well-seasoned agent will either have materials to show you or be able to provide detailed answers on the spot.
While you’re asking these questions, take note of how comfortable the agent makes you feel. Selling a house is a high-stress, high-stakes business transaction that takes several months to complete, so make sure to choose an agent you both respect and trust.
Trust the Real Estate Expert You Hired
Maybe the seller wants to list at a too-high price, or the homeowner is reluctant to repaint a bright purple room with a neutral hue. In situations like these, agents have to tell clients facts that they don’t want to hear. That’s why trust is crucial.
When Krause’s clients first came to her with that house that wouldn’t sell, she told them, “You’re not hiring me to tell you what you want to hear. You’re hiring me to coach and consult you through the process so that we can get your home sold, correct? I can only do that with candor, directness and with data.”
That data has everything to do with the current market conditions, especially when it comes to pricing. Some homeowners expect to list their property for what they think it’s worth, no matter what nearby homes have recently sold for. Others expect to get what their neighbors did when they sold six to twelve months ago.
This rigid thinking leads to overpricing—which can cost you in dollars and more days on the market. Krause advises, “Pricing the home accurately right up front can actually end up netting more. Time is not our friend in real estate. If we don’t price the home appropriately, we end up chasing the market down. If clients are just looking in the rear view mirror, they’re not looking out the windshield to see where the market is now.”
The real estate market is always shifting—which means the value of your home is shifting, too. While agents cannot control the market, they do know the best pricing strategies for your home so that you can sell swiftly and for top dollar.
Even if your agent tells you to slightly underprice your home compared to nearby comps, it’s in your best interest to listen. Remember that your realtor’s commission is based on the sold price, so you both have the goal of selling at top dollar. In the case of slightly underpricing, your agent likely knows your area has too much competition and believes a lower asking price will spark a bidding war.
Pricing isn’t the only area where listening to your agent’s advice is critical. For Krause’s clients overpricing wasn’t the real problem. “The house wasn’t far off on price. Maybe a little bit, but not grossly,” Krause recalls. The real problem lay in the way the home presented online.
Set the Stage (And Other Pre-Listing Preparations)
“The way that their home presented online was quite blah. So it didn’t have a whole lot of pizzazz,” Krause says of her clients listing—and that was a big factor in why the home never sold with that other agent.
Years ago, potential buyers got their first impressions of a home in person. These days, 83% of buyers begin their house hunting online—making the photos you post with your listing the new first impression. If buyers don’t like what they see in the photos, they’ll never take the time to come see your home in person.
For her clients, Krause had a two-pronged strategy to create an eye-catching online presence for the home—with the help of a professional stager and photographer.
“The staging consultant transformed the look of their home,” Krause remembers. “The clients were totally open to the consultation and having the correct photography to enhance the size and color of the rooms.”
A professional stager may simply rearrange the furniture and accessories you already own, or bring in rentals to enhance or replace your pieces. The main goal is to create a neutral look that appeals to the largest pool of buyers—a set of changing trends that your expert stager is paid to know. While some clients object to the cost of hiring a professional, not doing so could
result in a lower sale price.
Before the pro photographer comes, you should also assess the minor, inexpensive tweaks, fixes and upgrades that can be done to ensure your home shows well. For Krause’s clients, one issue was as simple as giving the master bathroom a minor upgrade.
“The clients had this upgraded home that’s staged beautifully, but it’s got these cheesy, inexpensive faucets that don’t match the quality of the home,” Krause recalls. “They had intended to change out the faucets to more upgraded ones and just never did.”
Following Krause’s advice, her clients replaced the faucets and the towel bar, then spruced up the bathroom with a few decorative accessories. The result was a master bathroom that looked updated without the expense of replacing fixtures of flooring.
Beyond advising on cosmetic fixes, your agent is also the best expert to ask about getting a pre-listing inspection done. Unless you suspect that your home has a major issue that needs fixing before listing, your agent may discourage you from getting one done.
Any issues discovered in a pre-listing inspection must be included in the seller’s disclosure, which can turn potential buyers off. Since buyers will be paying for their own inspection anyway, it’s often better to wait. That way the buyer is invested both emotionally and financially—and less likely to walk away over minor issues found in the inspection.
Keep Calm from Contract to Close
Signing on the dotted lined isn’t the end of the story when you’re selling a home. Things can get stormy once you’re in escrow, especially in regards to that buyer’s inspection results.
Inspections are meant to uncover any major issues that are the seller’s responsibility to fix before closing. But for sellers who have spent years making memories in their home, the inspection results can feel like criticisms that they take personally.
When it comes to buyers, some look at the report as an itemized list of problems that the seller must fix. Sellers understandably object when a buyer asks for the home to be restored to its brand-new construction condition. It takes an experienced agent to manage expectations during inspection negotiations.
Instead of letting things become combative, it’s best to stay calm and remember that all parties are working toward the same goal—closing the deal. Krause offered her clients great advice to help them handle these negotiations:
“There are two ways to make decisions. We can make evidence-based or we can make emotional decisions. Let’s come from an evidence standpoint in our response with data to back it up, so that the buyer can see that it’s a fair response. Clients who are willing to listen to the evidence are going to have a higher, more successful transaction.”
As a seller, it’s important to remember how scary the inspection results can be for the buyer. After all, buying a house is a major investment and your buyer has just learned that there are problems with the property. A great way to calm your buyer’s fears is to offer a home warranty.
A home warranty covers repairs and replacements on major systems in your home, like the plumbing, H-VAC or the water heater. By offering a one-year home warranty as part of the sale, you can give your buyer peace of mind for the cost of around $500.
As a homeowner, it’s natural to fall in love with your house. But once you decide to sell, it’s time to set emotions aside and see the sale as the business transaction it is. And if you find a great agent, listen to their advice and keep your cool when difficulties arise, your home sale will have a happy ending.