10 Common Home Seller Mistakes and How to Actually Avoid Them

“You can’t see the ceiling, you can’t see the walls, you can’t even see the deck, you can’t see the view….the only thing you can see is the kitchen and bathroom.”

Gregg Phillipson, a top 1% ranking seller’s agent in San Diego, told us this story about a woman in Downtown San Diego who wants to settle for a price tag that’s $45,000 less than her condo is worth because of an emotional attachment to her stuff.

Can you believe she’s willing to throw away all that money to avoid a little decluttering?

We couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. That got us wondering: what other blatant mistakes do homeowners make when selling their house that wind up costing them so much money?

It’s easy to look at the white-washed, staged houses on HGTV and think that when it comes time to sell your home the vases and orange throw pillows will fall right into place.

When the reality sets in, emotion can take over. Even the savviest, smartest person might fall victim to the stress of selling their home and trip over things that they normally wouldn’t think twice about.

Here’s an Overview of the Top 10 Most Common Seller Mistakes, According to Top Real Estate Agents.

As a Home Seller, You Should Never:

  1. Overprice your home
  2. List your home as ‘For Sale By Owner’
  3. Dismiss the importance of preparing your home for sale
  4. Antagonize buyers over minute details
  5. Paint your house gray
  6. Sell at the wrong time
  7. Sell your home ‘As Is’
  8. Show your home without staging it
  9. Take bad listing photos
  10. Hire a bad real estate agent

As part of our Top Agent Insights survey, we dug through the historical sales transaction data to find the best real estate agents around and we asked them a series of questions. One of those questions was:

“At what point in the sales process are sellers most likely to trip up?”

We wanted to know what the most common seller mistakes were so that we could present easy to follow solutions. Here’s what the top real estate agents said:Common seller mistakes, according to the nation's top real estate agents

The bad news is that you can make mistakes in the process of listing, marketing, and ultimately selling a home. The good news is that you can avoid making these mistakes as long as you’re aware of the risk.

We’ve dug through the best online home selling resources, surveyed over 100 of the nation’s top real estate agents, and interviewed several of those top agents to put together a researched list of common home seller mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

When selling your house, you should never:

1. Overprice Your Home

51% of agents said that “Pricing the Home” is the biggest pitfall for home sellers.

When I was 12 my parents sold our little yellow house on a steep hill in San Francisco. Our real estate agent came over to look at the hardwood floors, the crown molding, the bay windows in the living room and to give us a list price for the home. He offered two numbers, one about $14,000 higher than the other. My twelve year old brain shouted out the higher price–it was my house after all, and I thought it was worth more.

The real estate agent asked me why I thought the house should list for more. “Is it just because you love your house?”

“No,” I replied, convinced that I had made an informed choice based on the state of the real estate market in San Francisco (I was totally in tune with the trends after a few open house visits and hours spent in front of House Hunters on HGTV).

I fell into the common seller trap of pricing the home based on emotion. Granted, I was twelve years old, but I get it–it’s easy to look at the life you lived within a place instead of its square footage.

As a seller make sure you don't overprice your home
Source: (Fanny Rascle / Unsplash)

James Silver, a top real estate agent in Michigan who has sold over 600 single family homes in his career, agrees that overpricing the home is the number one common seller mistake.

“The number one thing is they price the listing too high, because…if you price it too high you end up usually getting less money than if you price it right at market to begin with…you have to price it right where the market is, not just where you want it to be.”

The best way to avoid an overpriced listing is to listen to your real estate agent. A great agent knows what the market is and what comparable homes in your neighborhood (houses with similar amenities and square footage) have sold for in the past few months. Be wary of agents who promise a high list price for a higher return.

Lillian Montalto, a top real estate agent who ranks in the top 1% of agents in New England, advises, “Do not hire an agent based on the agent who is giving you the highest price because oftentimes agents will give you a high price just to give you a listing sign, and then after that they are just going to keep pounding on you for a price reduction.”

As part of the listing process an appraiser will visit your home and walk through to estimate its value. You can get an approximation of what your home’s value is with HomeLight’s online home value estimator tool but the appraiser will give you the most accurate estimation.

Use this information when your agent recommends a list price. Remember: the price your agent recommends might be lower than you had hoped for. Don’t fall into the trap of overpricing in hopes to squeeze more out of your home–that very approach may lose you more money in the long run.

2. List Your Home as “For Sale by Owner”

Some people see the prospect of hiring a real estate agent as daunting, a hassle, or too expensive.

We looked at the numbers and found, according to the National Association of Realtors, that the average American home sold without a real estate agent for $210,000, while the average home sold for $249,000 with a Realtor’s help. Subtract the 6% realtor fee from the $249,000 and you’re left with $234,060. That’s almost $25,000 more than the FSBO sellers made, and you’ve just saved the time and stress of navigating a massive financial transaction on your own.

Selling For Sale By Owner is time consuming and difficult. It takes more than finding a yard sign on Pinterest and posting an ad on Craigslist. You have to spend time showing the property, cash on listing the home in the MLS, and hours to read and understand the legalese of contracts you’ll need your buyers to sign.

That 6% Realtor fee is more than worth it because you will make more money with a real estate agent. Hire an agent and you won’t have to read through real estate books, vet buyers you’re unsure of, or spend needless time and energy on buttoning up contracts.

3. Fail to Prepare Your Home for Sale

In the HomeLight National Agent Insights survey, 21% of agents voted that “Prepping the House for Sale” was the place most sellers are likely to make an error.

Real estate agent Gregg Phillipson agreed with that result: “I run into the preparation of a home prior to hitting the market. That’s probably one of the most important things because it will severely change the price of a home.”

Decluttering, cleaning, polishing floors and making windows shine shows off the condition of the house and lets prospective buyers imagine themselves in the space. Prepping the house is one of the biggest, most time-consuming jobs, so if you’re considering skipping this step, it’s understandable–but don’t. If you want a better return on your investment and buyers to feel comfortable in your space, preparing your house is essential.

One of the ways you need to prep your home might come as a surprise. As Lillian Montalto advises, houses that smell of strong spices or other foods can turn off buyers the second they walk in the door. Imagine walking into the foyer of your prospective home. Windows stretch all the way up to the cathedral height ceilings, the hardwood floors are a rich honey.

The second you step in you notice the art deco paintings on the wall and the smell of freshly baked…garbage. The mold growing on top of last week’s compost bin mixes with the stench of roasted cauliflower heated in the microwave for lunch and the stench of rotten deviled eggs clouds your vision.

Did you even notice the crystal chandelier or the 19th-century crown molding in the foyer? Not before you ran out of that place desperate to smell anything else.

Another common seller mistake is not preparing your home for sale
Source: (Free-Photos / Pixabay)

Aside from airing out your home (or better yet eating out while it’s on the market), James Silver says that a clean cut lawn is one of the best (and easiest and low cost) ways to show off a home to buyers. Silver recommends the app “Lawnguru” (which is like an Uber service for lawn care) for Michigan, and there are other similar services around the nation.

Remember the woman who was willing to lose $45,000 instead of clearing out her house? Gregg elaborated,

“And I go in the condo and it’s…she’s a hoarder. She’s the sweetest lady you’ve ever met and it’s immaculate. The sinks are immaculate, the kitchen is immaculate, but the rest of it–it’s like you have to walk through a tunnel with all of her things everywhere.”

Gregg went on to say that buyers will fail to have any vision of themselves in a home because of the floor to ceiling clutter.

What’s Gregg’s solution?

“Clear it out of all the majority of personal effects, especially if the home is a fixer-upper. Clear it out so people can see the flooring, the walls, they can visualize the size of their furniture, they can bring measuring tapes. They can really move into that property.”

As for the lovely woman with the downtown condo?

“Hopefully I can get her close to what she really should get for it.”

Seller mistake #4: Sellers make crazy demands of the buyer
Source: (Pexels / Pixabay)

To prepare your house for sale you need to: remove all clutter except for furniture, sparse decorations like a terrarium on the coffee table, a bread box on the kitchen counter, and a few throw pillows. Air out the home with open windows and a deodorizing air freshener. Get the lawn mowed and make sure you keep personal touches to a minimum.

4. Antagonize Potential Buyers Over Minute Details

James Silver taught us that even if you feel like buyer requests are unreasonable, don’t create more drama. Talk to your Realtor before you make the kind of irrational moves this guy made:

“The seller [wanted] to take the drapes. It was in the purchase agreement that he was going to leave the drapes, and he’s throwing a huge fit about leaving these drapes. And then the buyer went to the home last weekend just to drive by it to show his family, and they were having a garage sale. And he’s selling the drapes in the garage sale.”

If you are emotionally attached to something in your home (maybe it’s the drapes!) then make sure to communicate that with your Realtor before he draws up the contract.

As James said, “So to create a problem and potentially lose your sale, tens and tens of thousands of dollars, over getting 40 bucks maybe at a garage sale…some things people do I can’t understand. I called him and told him he needs to take them out of his garage sale and put them back in the house or he could lose the deal. The buyers are clearly upset.”

You don’t always have to “give the buyer the drapes,” but remember: if you and your real estate agent come to a decision of what you are going to give the buyers in the purchase agreement, stick to it.

5. Paint Your House Gray

When asked what sellers can do to be successful in the staging process, Lillian Montalto advises, “Paint is probably the cheapest thing you can do and it brings you a great return, but hire somebody who knows what they’re doing and don’t do the painting yourself.”

Montalto advises sellers to have a professional paint because uneven or botched paint jobs draw buyer eyes to those imperfections.

“Have a professional stager pick the color. That person is going to know what’s hot in the marketplace and what’s really going to appeal to the majority. A mistake sellers make is they decide to stage and they paint the home colors that they like, but they’re not going to live there anymore, and it’s not usually appealing to the majority.”

You can choose to have a stager pick the color, but you can provide some input as well. According to a study done by French psychologists Gil and Bigot, people found gray to be connected to sadness, negativity, and unattractiveness.

In a study led by Nancy Kwallek, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, people favored focusing in rooms painted in shades of white or beige.

Not sure what color to paint your house? As a general rule, bright colors tend to distract and overwhelm buyers, gray could make them subconsciously sad, but beige is the perfect combination of calming and warm.

6. Sell At The Wrong Time

Listing your house at the wrong time is the most common and likely the easiest mistake to make as a seller. It’s tough to read the tea-leaves of the market and come up with the “perfect” time to sell your house. Even the best real estate agents and the most rigorous analysis of home sales data often seem to contradict each other.

Lillian Montalto says, “I think the other mistake sellers make is the misconception of the myth that the best time to put a house on the market is the Springtime, which is probably the furthest thing from the truth. It’s no different from any other commodity: it’s all about supply and demand.”

Spring is a high traffic time in real estate: the weather is warm and there is usually an influx of buyers and many are looking to purchase. Montalto argues that because a huge number of people look to sell in the Spring, you should capitalize on the fact that “supply is low and the demand is high because there are a lot of buyers” at other times of the year.

Then, in our Top Agent Insights Survey results, other top real estate agents suggested that Spring was the best time to sell because of the level of activity in the market.

To make it even more confusing, we dug into 2015 MLS data in an article on the best time to sell your house and found that the best time to sell varied wildly from city to city across the US.

Sell at non-peak times to attract high intent buyers who need to purchase, sell in the Spring, sell according to the market in your city–we’ve gotten contradicting advice from all sources. The best advice we can give you is to take all of it with a grain of salt.

Do your homework: check the best time to sell a home in your city on our post, speak with your real estate agent, analyze low-peak times when your house might stand out more to buyers, and apply some critical thinking.

Ultimately the best time to sell is a combination of buyer interest in your neighborhood, a strong seller’s market, and when your schedule can swing it.

7. Sell It ‘As Is’

Buyers often see the words “as is” in a home’s listing and run so fast in the other direction you’d think Wile E. Coyote was on their tail. People usually associate ‘as is’ with homes that are run down, full of problems like cracked, sinking foundation, crumbling roofs, and problematic plumbing. List your home ‘as is’ and you could lose buyers who are in the market for a fixer upper but not a home full of asbestos or black mold.

Even if your place has none (or only one) of those issues, labeling it ‘as is’ could make fixer upper hungry buyers turn away for fear of a huge issue like finding black mold in an upstairs closet.

Instead of listing ‘as is,’ be open to working with buyer requests or putting in small updates to your place before listing.

8. Show The Home Without Staging It

Gregg says, “It might cost you 2 grand to prep the house, and if you don’t do it it’ll cost you 20 grand in dollars earned.”

$20,000 is not a small amount of money. You can’t rely on buyers to scoop up your property just because of size and location. You have to make the house look like the set of an HGTV commercial with clean lines, accent pillows–even a strategically placed bowl of lemons.

One common seller mistake is not staging your house
Source: NAR’s [2015 Profile of Home Staging]
Staging a home can show off its great condition and hide imperfections. According to top agents we interviewed and the National Association of Realtors, staging a home impels buyers to spend more money to lock it down.

We even had one agent tell us about a time where she could not get into a home until the 11th hour, and when she finally got access to the property and discovered that staging was not an option, it was too late. After re-listing and staging the apartment, reactions went from “the kitchen is atrocious” to, “I love the kitchen!”

If you want further recommendations on staging your home, take a look at Eduardo Mendoza’s staging guide in our list of top real estate books. 

9. Take Bad Listing Photos

Great list photos can make or break how potential buyers receive a property online. Make sure that your real estate agent hires the best of the best to take your listing photos because clean, professional images showcase the unique and beautiful elements of your property the best.

Think about the way you want your home to appear on the MLS, on online listing sites, on open house flyers. Grainy, vertical shots from a Realtor’s cell phone won’t get buyers in the door. Take this example from Mary Cordova, a top Texas real estate agent with over 150 sales in her career.

Cordova listed a home with clear, professional photos at 12:30am. By the time she woke up, she had five offers in.

take good listing photos
Source: (Bruce Mars / Unsplash)

Great list photos can make a huge difference on a sale. How do you get great list photos? Do your homework before hiring your real estate agent. Ask your agent how important they feel listing photos are, if they use a professional photographer, and if you can take a look at the photos from their past listings.

10. Hire A Bad Real Estate Agent

Your real estate agent is the most important ally you have when selling your home. A great agent spends time and commission money on marketing your home and negotiating an amazing price with buyers.

If you need to find an amazing real estate agent, you need to analyze real historical transaction data so that you can narrow down the hundreds of Realtors in your area and make an objective decision on someone who is proven to be one of the best.

You could surf the web, attend open houses, or call hundreds of real estate agents, but our process is faster and backed by real transaction data from your prospective real estate agents. Take our quiz to match with top agents in your area in just a few seconds.

Still wondering how to find a real estate agent? We put together a comprehensive guide on how to find a Realtor.

Worried About Making Any of Those Common Seller Mistakes? You’ve Got This.

The road to a successful closing date is paved with mistakes, but now you know to take out the trash, leave the drapes (or maybe in your case the fridge or the washing machine), paint your walls beige, list at your real estate agent’s recommended price, and work with a top Realtor with a proven track record for the job.

If you’re still concerned you’ll make a mistake as a seller, remember that the root cause for most of the common seller mistakes on our list is the inability to emotionally detach from the home. When in doubt, take a step back from the situation and remember that you’re about to make new memories in a brand new home. That old house is just a piece of property to polish up and sell to the highest bidder.

If you want more reassurance you know all there is to know about selling, our picks for the best real estate blogs are in! Check them out for advice straight from experienced real estate agents.