Introduction An Introduction to Selling Your Single Family Home
In the words of Jeff Galindo, Nevada’s #1 expert in selling single family homes, “Real estate transactions can be challenging.” Even with the best real estate agent in your area by your side, selling your house can be confusing and frustrating. That’s why over 75% of For Sale By Owner sales fail–many unassisted sellers can’t get past unexpected issues without a trusty real estate agent.
Take the case of one of Jeff Galindo’s clients, Melissa P., for example.
Melissa dove headfirst into selling her mother’s lakeside Nevada home without any prior experience selling a house. With her sister in Arizona, her home base in California, and her mother in Nevada, Melissa went in blind and without any local support.
They had to juggle the demands of their mother (who was already reluctant to leave her house of over 20 years) and the tasks of preparing the home, listing the home, marketing the home, showing the home, and closing the sale. They lost buyers to dishonest neighbors, faced a huge title issue that took four months to resolve, and flew back and forth from out of state every weekend for months.
When you set out to sell your house, you have no idea how the process is going to go. You could get 18 offers and create a bidding war between buyers. Or you could face a situation like Melissa and her family, and hit roadblock after roadblock before everything’s all said and done.
That’s why we created this guide.
We read every book and blog post about selling a single family home we could get our hands on and pulled out the highlights of what you need to know.
We interviewed 7 of the best real estate agents in the nation about what makes selling a single family home different and what could go wrong during the process.
Then, we boiled it all down into actionable tips that will put you in the best possible position to sell your single family home. Read on and you’ll sell your home faster and for more money, even if you hit bumps (or mountains) along the way.
This guide will teach you:
Thanks to our Top Agent Contributors
All of the advice in our guides is sourced from top real estate agents across America. Tap into their expertise to sell your home faster and for more money.
New Door ResidentialGet Introduced
- Henderson Listings Sold Top 1% of 7,533 agents
- Sells for higher than average
- Single Family Home Transactions Top 1% of 7,533 agents
Pinnacle Realty GroupGet Introduced
- Orlando Listings Sold Top 1% of 9,390 agents
- Single Family Home Transactions Top 1% of 9,390 agents
- Townhome Transactions Top 1% of 9,390 agents
Above & Beyond RealtyGet Introduced
- Sells for higher than the average
- Scottsdale Listings Sold Top 18% of 13,346 agents
- Average Days on Market Top 20% of 13,346 agents
Chapter 1 Don't Take a Gamble: Here's How to Find a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Single Family Home
When everything with your sale feels like it’s about to fall apart, your real estate agent is the person who’s going to pull it all back together. The National Association of Realtors lists that only 8% of sales were For Sale By Owner in 2015. For good reason: not only can your agent save a failing sale, you’ll make more money with an agent by your side.
For Melissa P. and her family, their real estate agent Jeff Galindo solved a huge issue with closing and he walked everyone through the very difficult process with care and expertise.
Melissa told us, “Jeff was amazing. He was always very calm and reassuring. There were a couple of times when I had emotional meltdowns when he was over checking in on us, where he just sat there and held my hand and gave me a hug. He’d calm me down and he’d reassure me that everything would work out and he was working on things.
He knows the realty business so well inside and out. He approached every little hiccup we had with a smile and the right answers and solutions to every question or problem that we had. I felt really, really fortunate to have him helping us with the sale of the house.”
One of the biggest benefits of hiring a real estate agent is that it’s the agent’s job to get you out of the ruts you’ll inevitably run into during the selling process–not get you stuck in them. We’ll walk you through how to find a real estate agent who can help you sell your single family home faster and for more money than an average real estate agent would.
Start Your Agent Search by the Numbers
When you look for a real estate agent, it’s imperative that you only interview agents who rank in the top 5% of high performers in your area. These agents have the most experience with all kinds of real estate transactions and they’re arguably the best in their field.
You can use HomeLight to get an unbiased look at agent statistics and find the agents nearby who outsell all of their peers for single family homes like yours.
Find the Perfect Real Estate Agent
We analyze millions of home sales to find the best performing real estate agents
The platform will walk you through a simple questionnaire to get to know your needs as a seller. Then you’ll match with two of the best agents in the area who are perfect for you. Since you’re selling a single family house, you’ll only meet agents with a proven track record of success selling single family homes.
After you match with the agents, they’ll reach out to schedule a meeting.
Here’s What You Should Ask Them When They Call
Your initial interview with a real estate agent is the best way to figure out if it’s going to be a match. You need to get as much information as you can from the onset. These are sample questions to take with you to the first meeting with your agent so that you’re prepared to find the best agent for you. We think they’re the most important questions to ask if you’re trying to find an agent who can sell your single family home fast and for the most money.
1. How Well Do You Know My Area And The Local Market?
An agent who doesn’t know your local market won’t know the essential things you need in a home. A top agent? They’ll know the area like they laid every brick in the neighborhood.
For example, Chris Bessette, a top 1% real estate agent for selling single family homes in Orlando, Florida, is currently selling his own house. We asked him if he would have considered having a different agent sell his own house.
Here’s what he said:
“If I was selling a property out of state, I totally would have hired another agent…just because I don’t know the area. So I would rely on the agent to educate me on schools, and restaurants, and traffic patterns, and all of that stuff that comes with it. For the house I’m living in? No, I’ve got it, that’s what I do.”
As Chris points out, your agent needs to be aware of your location’s nuances. These include top schools and traffic, how busy a street gets, noise pollution, great food, nearby amenities like grocery stores, and shopping. The better your agent knows your location, the more he can talk up the positives to potential buyers and explain away the negatives.
2. What Should I Make My Priorities? What Do You Need From Me?
The answer to this question is going to vary from agent to agent, and could even vary from client to client. Your agent might make preparing your home for sale a priority, fixing broken parts, or making your house available for showings at any time (or all of the above!). Just make sure you feel comfortable with these priorities and that they seem reasonable enough that you can fit them into your already busy schedule.
3. What Do You Recommend I Do to Prepare My Single Family House for Sale?
Red flags here include any sort of major renovation project. Most large scale home renovation projects end up losing you money in the end, even if they add value to your home.
What is reasonable is fixing anything that might come up in the home inspection, repainting the interior, getting hardwood floors polished or carpets cleaned, and scrubbing the home from top to bottom. Small, low cost renovation fixes (swapping out kitchen counters, updating lighting fixtures, painting kitchen cabinets) are also reasonable.
4. Will I Work With Only You or a Team?
There are advantages to working with a singular agent and with a real estate team.
A team is beneficial because each member has different strengths they can bring to the table. One person may be an expert negotiator, another could be great at staging. On the other hand, the benefit to working with one agent is that they’ll get to know you better as a client. They’ll learn your needs and wants from the sale process without you having to explain over again every time.
With benefits on either side, you need to figure out what kind of situation works best for you!
5. How Will You Market My House?
With so many new internet technologies available and the social media empire growing, you need to make sure that your real estate agent does everything possible to market your single family home. Your agent should come prepared with a marketing strategy and evidence to support that it works.
In order to make your house stand out among all of the other homes in the area, you need to tap into what makes your single family home unique. You and your real estate agent should play up the lifestyle a buyer could live only within the walls of your house. Make sure your agent plans to call out the benefits of living in a single family home (backyard, more space, charming neighborhood, etc.) versus any other type of property.
At the very least, your real estate agents should create amazing visual material. That means they should have a professional take photos and make a virtual walkthrough plus video and aerial footage of the property and neighborhood. They should also list the home on the MLS, do broker tours and advertise the house to other top agents in the area, and create a social media and email campaign.
Come Into the Meeting Knowing Your Agent’s Sales Stats
Each agent’s profile on HomeLight gives you performance statistics like how many homes the agent has sold and how they rank against the other agents in their market. Familiarize yourself with the agent’s numbers before you even sit down with them for the interview.
How to Find a Real Estate Agent: Test for Personality and Fit
You’re going to have a lot of conversations with your real estate agent and spend a lot of time in meetings. It’s imperative that at your first meeting you have a good rapport with the agent and feel a positive vibe.
There’s no need to hand each agent a Meyers Briggs level personality test to see if you’ll mesh well. The best way to figure out if you and your prospective real estate agent are a match is if you see them as Melissa said about Jeff, “personable and a great person to talk to.”
A Note About Commissions…
While it’s tempting to ask a real estate agent to lower his commission, don’t! Real estate agent commissions are what pay to market your property and make buyers fall in love with it. In the end, you’ll make more money in profits than you spend on fees anyway.
How the Listing Agreement Works
Once you decide on a top real estate agent, she will ask you to sign a listing agreement. These agreements are standard in the industry and protect both you and the real estate agent throughout the entire process of selling your single family home.
The listing agreement includes clauses like: exclusive right to sell, commission rate and obligations, length of listing agreement, a protective clause so that you don’t find and sell to a buyer without your agent to avoid paying the commission, and the official list price for your home.
Look over your listing agreement carefully!
Chapter 2 Pricing a Home for Sale: Why It's Important to Do It Right and How to Hit the Sweet Spot
Remember what it was like when you first bought your single family home?
You probably wanted the best house in the location of your dreams for the lowest price possible.
Buyers today aren’t much different than how you were back then: they look for competitively priced homes in their price range. You need to find the sweet spot when you price yours, because without the right price tag, you could lose thousands of dollars or you could not make the sale at all.
According to our Top Agent Insights Survey, 51% of real estate agents selected “Pricing a Home for Sale” as the biggest place sellers can make an error. In addition, the National Association of Realtors found that 37% of sellers had to reduce the list price in order to sell their property.
“I had a friend who listed a house at $449,000. Should have been about $429,000. He did not take my advice! He’s actually a REALTOR®. He kept asking my opinion of his price, and I told him. He was at $449,000 and I told him he should have been at $425,000-$430,000. He waited about 6 months, moved out of state and had to have the house professionally cleaned again.
By pricing it too high, in that particular case, he is now at four and a quarter.
So, he went too high to start with and sometimes when people go too high, they end up dropping it more than they would have if they would have priced it right the first time.
If he would have taken my advice 8 months ago, he would have sold it and not had to make payments for 8 months. He might have even gotten higher than that. You never know.
Again, when you go too high on the price, then the property could just sit there and become stale. Then you have buyers do the same thing. They want to lowball because they see it as a stale property.”
You want to get the most for your property, but you have to remember that your real estate agent wants you to make the most as well. Dale’s situation alone should prove that overpricing the home does not make the home seem more “valuable” to buyers, nor will it get you more in the long run.
You should not, however, price the home too low either, because you could lose money that way as well. The bullseye of pricing your home to sell is only as elusive as you make it.
We put together a short series of exercises that mimic the way your real estate agent figures out the price of your home.
Our exercises are meant to teach you to understand why the agent lists your single family home at the price point he does, and to recognize if the agent is quoting you a higher (or lower) price than is reasonable for your neighborhood.
How Your Agent Determines Fair Market Value for Your Single Family House
“Fair Market Value” is the amount your house is worth based on the current status of the real estate market in your area and the features of your home. Your real estate agent finds the fair market value of your single family home by running a comparative market analysis of all of the homes sold in your neighborhood in the past 2-3 months. These homes will have similar features to your house, i.e., square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and amenities.
Your real estate agent will analyze these homes and then generate a price range for your area.
That is, on the low end homes are selling for $X, and on the highest end, homes sold for $Y.
Then, based specifically on the age of your single family home, its square footage, layout, renovations and upgrades you’ve made, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, you real estate agent comes up with the fair market value for your home.
Based on what your they estimate your home’s worth, your agent comes up with a list price. The price will most likely be at or below the fair market value for your house. This is to price the home competitively to get the most buyer attention possible without pricing your single family home too low so that you lose money.
For a quick glance at how much your home is worth right now, you can use our online home value estimator.
We’ll average the top 5 home value estimation sites (like Zillow, Eppraisal, RealtyTrac, HomeJunction, and House Canary) to give you a more accurate approximation for your single family house. While these sites may not be as accurate as your agent’s CMA will be, they’re a quick ballpark estimate so you get a sense of what you’re working with.
You Need to Think About Pricing for the Internet
These days, over 85% of house hunters start the buying process online according to the National Realtors Association. Inevitably, prospective buyers are going to look for and stumble upon your single family home listing out there on the internet. It’s changed the whole game when it comes to pricing and marketing single family homes.
Websites like Zillow will list their estimates of your home’s fair market value and buyers can see if your home is significantly under or overpriced.
According to “Nolo’s Essential Guide to Selling Your House,” you can actually change this number to reflect the actual fair market value of your home, as the estimate will most likely be off.
You can do this by the “Correct Home Facts” feature on Zillow.
1. Google your address and “Zillow” together. Your home should immediately pop up at the top of Google. (Sometimes just searching for your address directly on the Zillow site won’t yield the property address as Zillow prioritizes current listings and recently sold homes).
2. Then, you’ll claim your owner dashboard, verify you’re the owner, and then update the fair market value estimate.
3. The reason you’ll want to update this estimate is to make sure that the list price of your home reflects that the agent has priced it fairly at or under list price, and not significantly over or under list price.
Why Pricing a Home for Sale Impacts Everything Else
According to George Graham, top 1% single family home expert in Seattle, “The bottom line to all of this is pricing it right. If you can price the property at [market value] or slightly below the market, if the seller can buy in on that kind of a strategy…then you’re going to create a cycle of confidence: a high level of traffic at the open house, a high level of interest.
Once you get one offer, you can almost always get a second or a third…If you overshoot the market and you miss that, and there is a lack of confidence, it’s really hard to get that turned around, and the only way to do that is by making price adjustments.”
If the price of your home is too high, none of your other efforts are going to make an impact on buyers. The listing may be filtered out of their online searches because they’re looking in a lower price point, or they may see the price and immediately move on. Make sure the price is right, or all of the work you’ll do to prepare your home for sale won’t make an impact.
Chapter 3 The ‘Glass Bubble’ and Joy of Decluttering: Getting a House Ready to Sell
There’s a remarkable difference between what your house looks like day to day and what your house looks like when you have people coming over. Day to day it’s probably got some clothes on the floor, toothpaste in the sink, bread left out in the counter, kids’ toys spread everywhere, dishes in the dishrack. When you throw a party you sweep all of that away like it was never there, light a few candles, buy fresh cut flowers for every room, and place an orchid on the bathroom sink.
When you prepare your home for sale, you have to live like you’re throwing that fancy party every day, and you’ve got to up the stakes. While your friends understand that you didn’t have time to vacuum or clean stray marks off the wall, prospective buyers won’t. An un-prepped home gives them the leverage to negotiate the price down, make a lowball offer, or walk away from your single family home altogether.
If that’s not enough to persuade you to take the time to prepare your home, look at the upside: Consumer Reports says there’s a 3-5% value increase for a clean, decluttered house.
Preparing your house for sale isn’t an easy process: there’s a lot to be done and you have to do it on top of working, spending time with friends and family, and doing all of the other small tasks you need to take care of. Preparing your home is worth it, though, and we’re here to help you.
We put together an all inclusive guide for how to declutter, then clean, prepare the exterior of the home, and then stage and show the house.
A Quick Single Family House Decluttering Guide: The KonMari Method
When we sold our single family home 15 years ago, our real estate agent told us that the buyer had gone to two open houses and then, having forgotten to inspect the closets, joyfully attended a third just to check them out.
People get excited about closet space. Haven’t you ever enjoyed looking at a beautifully organized rack of clothes in a little boutique? Your closet, and the rest of your house, should look like that rack of clothes. It needs to be decluttered and feel minimal yet homey, sparse yet comfortable, clean and welcoming.
The best way to declutter your single family house is with the KonMari method. Getting rid of your possessions can be painful, especially if you attach emotion and memory to them. The KonMari method recognizes those emotional attachments and teaches you how to know when to hold onto something and when to let it go.
What is the KonMari Method, And How Does It Work?
The KonMari method is a decluttering process developed by Marie Kondo. The process is acclaimed by millions of people because it works. It’s based on the Japanese philosophy that every single item you own should bring you joy. Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a #1 New York Times bestseller. Time also named Kondo as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Are you paying attention yet?
KonMari plays on your personal intuition, and because of this it tends to work faster and easier than other decluttering methods. The initial gut feeling you have when you pick up your stuff drives you to keep or discard it. Gut reactions mean quick decisions.
While the idea may seem more emotional than the traditional, “throw out what you don’t need,” you know as well as I do that you have items you’re hanging onto because you think you should keep them.
While it’s unreasonable to ask you to empty your entire closet while you’re still living in the home, know that prospective buyers are going to snoop. You can’t just stuff your collection of shoes and cat pillows in there. Buyers will judge (even if we won’t).
KonMari’s Decluttering Process Distilled: 3 Steps to a Clutter-Free Single Family Home
1. Carve out an afternoon to start the process.
Start with the room that needs the most TLC. Maybe your living room is stuffed with kids’ toys or your t-shirts or clothes spill out all over your bedroom floor. Grab several trash bags and locate everything in the house to (at least) its proper room.
2. Recognize It’s going to look like a mess before it gets better.
Take out everything from its proper place. Then, you’re literally going to hold everything and recognize if 1. It brings you positive energy 2. You legitimately need it. If there are items you already know you need to get rid of, by all means–put those in the donation pile first.
3. Now, organize your decluttered space.
The goal is to pare down everything you no longer feel joyful about, want, or need, so that everything you own fits into its own space. You should then artfully fold and hang everything (rainbow order looks best) as if your drawers and closet were the racks of that designer boutique.
Don’t get discouraged if the process takes longer than you thought it would–it’s a big job. Set a deadline for yourself, and do your best to stick to it.
Now that you’ve decluttered, it’s a prime time to clean your house. We’ll walk you through the supplies you need and what you should do to conquer every nook and cranny of your single family home.
Now: How to Deep Clean and Maintain A Spotless Single Family House
“I just sold my mother’s house. She’s 81 years old, and I couldn’t tell her she needed to clean. So I just called in a professional cleaner to come in and do it. You don’t want to offend somebody, and what I tell people is, “You’re going to be living in a glass bubble for 30 days.”
The “glass bubble” phenomenon is real: buyers expect a home so clean it feels like a five star hotel room in Paris you checked into this morning. You’ll need to deep clean the house to remove dirt and grime from years past, any caked in odors, and the general wear and tear of living in your single family home for years. Then, you have to maintain that clean, as buyers will come in and out for showings at all hours, sometimes without little notice.
How to Really Deep Clean Your Single Family Home
If you don’t have the time to clean your home yourself, you can opt to call in the professionals. Be warned, however, that the cost for a team to come in and clean your house really adds up. Depending on the service, you could spend anywhere from $25-$45 per hour, which means you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a task you could do yourself.
1. Collect Your Cleaning Supplies
You’ll need to invest in some deep cleaning tools if you don’t already have them. Check out our list of cleaning supplies for a full and extensive list. In short, you’ll need:
- Gloves, sponges, microfiber cloths, paper towels
- Environmentally friendly tile and grout cleaner like Method Tile and Grout
- Soft scrub for the nitty gritty details
- Swiffer duster/pledge all surface spray duster
- Toilet bowl cleaner and toilet brush
- Mr. Clean magic eraser for wall marks and surface stains
- Swiffer for quick floor cleaning
2. Go Room By Room
You’ll go room by room and literally scrub from top to bottom. Pay attention to small crevices that collect dirt, crumbs and dust. This includes the inside of cabinets and even drawers, because buyers will open them to check out the space.
3. Clean the Extensive Floor Space in Your Single Family Home
You’ll need to polish, clean, and shampoo your carpets, tile, and hardwood floors. According to large company Stanley Steemer, having carpets cleaned costs around $99 per room, hardwood costs around $145 per room, and tile costs around $149 per room. These are estimates as prices vary area by area, but as you can see a proper floor clean costs big bucks. There are machines you can rent and clean your carpets, tile, and hardwood floors yourself for a fraction of the cost. Sites like the Home Depot offer all of these tools for as little as $20-50 per day for each.
Make sure you take on the floors after you’ve scrubbed down each room in order to keep them as clean as possible. You’ll need to keep all surfaces sparkling for the duration of your home sale
Getting a House Ready to Sell: How to Maintain the Clean
As Dale Chandler says, you’ll be living in a “glass bubble,” so once you deep clean the house you have to keep it clean. This is difficult, especially with pets and kids, but you’ll need to go through and maintain the clean as often as possible. While it would be easy to say, “Just give the home a wipedown before showings,” showings can happen at unexpected times and you need to be available and prepared at the drop of a hat.
If you have the time, go through and vacuum and scrub surfaces every night before you go to bed or every morning before work. The more often you can do laundry to keep piles of dirty clothes at bay, the better!
Here’s Your Before Bed Cleaning Checklist:
- Wipe down bathroom surfaces with your all purpose cleaner
- Put away any clean laundry and make sure dirty laundry is off the floor and in the hamper
- Wipe down kitchen surfaces
- Dust bookcases, nightstands, and dressers
- Use your Swiffer to take a quick pass at floors and collect any dirt from the day
The interior of your home sparkles (nice work!) and now you need the exterior to feel the same way.
Next, Tackle the Exterior: Essential Aspects of Curb Appeal
Most likely, because you live in a single family home, you have a lawn, driveway, and a ton of potential for great curb appeal. The best change you can make to your curb appeal is to fix any existing issues like a bad roof, peeling paint, cracked pavement, bad drainage, or bushes higher than windows that will put the home inspector on high alert. Then, you’ll need to make just a few cosmetic updates and you’ll be all set!
Maintenance Fixes to Address:
- Cracked or Peeling Paint: Peeling paint is a huge problem, especially because the home inspector will mark it on her inspection report. If the whole exterior is peeling, you may have to get it repainted, but check in with your real estate agent first before you make such a major change. If only a few sections are peeling, you may be able to fix the peeling paint yourself.
- Overgrown Bushes: You may be surprised to hear that home inspectors check to see if exterior bushes have grown above window height. Overgrown bushes limit the light that enters your home and also impact the ease of evacuation in case of a fire.
- Drainage Concerns: Does your lawn slope down towards your house? If so, you might have poor drainage. Get this checked out as soon as possible.
- Roof Problems: Roof damage is definite cause for concern, but you (hopefully) won’t have to replace the whole thing. Most roofing companies can switch out tiles and repair damaged sections for a much lower cost than fixing the whole thing.
Small Cosmetic Upgrades to Make:
- Mow and Fill Out Your Lawn: Take a look for any signs of damage, wilting blades, bald patches, or overgrown weeds. Most likely you’ll need to do some work. Seeding the lawn is the best way to add color and fill out the grass. This project, if you’re curious, has a 317% return on investment. The lawn is also the first thing buyers see when they pull up, you you need to get it right.
- Power Wash the Exterior: This fix is much more affordable than repainting (if you don’t have any peeling paint) and brightens the whole exterior of your home.
- Make the Front Door Stand Out: Painting the front door is pretty affordable (it costs around $100-$300 to get it done professionally) and makes a big statement to buyers. Go bright or go neutral here–it’s up to you and your agent.
- Plant Seasonal Flowers: Flowers in bloom add a pop of color and vibrance to your exterior and shouldn’t take long to put in. You can also opt for pots on either side of the front door.
Now that both the interior and the exterior of your home are clean, decluttered, and ready to go, it’s time to get the house ready for photographs. We’re venturing back inside to stage the house and prepare it for buyers to walk in.
Getting a House Ready to Sell: Staging Your Single Family Home
You can stage the home yourself with the advice and assistance of your real estate agent, or you can call in a professional stager. Either way, you’ll need to create functional space in every room. You do not want a buyer to see a room in your home and not be able to imagine a use for it.
We asked Karen Parziale, a top staging professional in New Jersey, for some expert advice.
Karen said, “Most people don’t create focal points in each room and they don’t relay the emotional benefits of the house. What I try and do is create little lifestyle vignettes.”
You create these “vignettes” and functional space by arranging the furniture around a focal point. You’ll want white or cream walls, neutral furniture, and pops of color with flowers, art, or throw pillows. The home should feel cohesive and consistent.
Since you’ll market your single family house to growing families or families with children, this could mean that you make the spare bedroom a kids room, hint that the family room could also function as a playroom, or show off great tree-house space, climbing trees, or a pool in the backyard.
Quick Tips for Single Family Home Staging Success
- Clear all clutter from every room
- Give the walls a fresh coat of paint–but stick to shades of beige
- Leave only furniture and small details like a candle and vase of flowers out on empty surfaces
- Small details should add color and texture but should not overpower the space
How to Prepare Your Single Family House for Showings
Chris Bessette, top 1% agent for selling single family homes in Orlando, has small children. He also has his own single family home listed for sale on the Florida market right now. Chris felt your pain when he had a couple show up early for a showing.
“For showings, it can be a challenge. There was one weekend morning where we were getting the house ready. I’ve got little kids, so we’d put stuff away and they’re dragging it back out, so it’s a little bit more of a challenge, especially with kids.
And the people showed up half an hour early. I could see them walking up, and we needed that half an hour. So I walked out and said, “Can you give us a few minutes?” and they stood there for ten minutes, and we did as well as we could.
So I have a little more empathy, I think…It can be stressful, and that’s why having a great agent who can guide you through that process can certainly help.”
As Chris’s situation exemplifies, preparing your single family home for showings with little (or even a lot of) notice is challenging, especially with children or pets. The best strategy you can have is to make sure that you’ve decluttered so much that all of your items have their own place in the house and are placed there when you need to let prospective buyers in.
Here’s a list of the things you need to address when your real estate agent calls you and asks to show your house.
- Is the home clean? Take a look at your “Before Bed” cleaning checklist, and add a quick vacuum in if you have time.
- Is all clutter put away? Put any items that have strayed away from their designated spots in the house back. Make sure the kitchen doesn’t have any dirty dishes in the sink, you’ve run and emptied the dishwasher, and remove toothbrushes and toiletries from the bathroom.
- Do I have a place for my pets? Make sure dogs and cats are secured and safe in a kennel or you take your pets with you.
- How does the place smell? Take out all trash. Then, give the house a good sniff. You’ll want to deodorize right before a showing. We’ll show you how (and why) below!
Deodorizing Your Single Family Home for Showings
Preparing your single family home to sell means that it should smell as fresh and clean as the inside of a Williams Sonoma store. There are several ways to deodorize your space and make it smell amazing. Good news: when you cleaned your carpets and hardwood floors during your deep clean, you got the stink out from spills, odors you tracked into the house over the years, and pets. Now, especially for the open house and private showings, you need to eliminate any day to day odors and leave the place smelling awesome.
- Keep all trash outside or in bins with lids inside an enclosed space.
- Invest in reed diffusers or candles for most rooms. You should not overpower the space–the sent should be subtle but present. This means that your deodorizers do not need to go in every room.
- You can also DIY a simple deodorizer on the stove with lemon, rosemary, water and vanilla extract.
Smells like fresh baked bread or cookies can actually be too overwhelming for the buyer, so don’t worry about baking before every showing.
How Preparing Your Single Family Home for Sale Impacts Marketing Efforts
Your real estate agent needs to take professional photos of your single family home in order to market it most effectively. The cleaner it is, the less clutter it has, and the better the furniture is staged, the more amazing your photos will look. Spending time at this point of the process makes a big impact later on.
The National Association of Realtors found that 46% of buyers were more willing to visit a staged home they saw online over a non-staged single family home. In addition, NAR found that 81% of buyers felt that it was easier to imagine themselves living in a staged house. This is why all of the work you did is so crucial: the photos will draw buyers in. Let’s dive into how your real estate agent markets your property, and what you can do to help.
Chapter 4 Unique Tips and Best Practices for Marketing Your Home for Sale
The most noticeable difference between selling a single family home and a different type of property is marketing your home for sale. The #1 expert for selling single family homes in Las Vegas, Jeff Galindo, told us over a video conference that the difference in marketing a single family house “has a lot to do with targeting the end consumer.”
We did some digging for you to find out exactly who that “end consumer” is. The 2016 Home Buyers and Sellers report by the National Association of Realtors found the most common qualities of home buyers nationally, which gives a clearer image of who is most likely to buy your house.
The report lists 66% of home buyers as married couples with an average age of 44. 35% are first time homebuyers, which means that 65% are purchasing their second home. These buyers have a median household income of $88,500. 31% of these buyers listed “desire to own a home of their own” as the primary reason for purchase.
44% of these buyers first looked online to find their home.
You and your real estate agent also need to understand the makeup of buyers in your specific area, as it varies from market to market.
According to Jeff Galindo, “Understanding who we think we’re going to reach from a targeting market is something that I don’t think [real estate agents] do very well in our industry.” That’s why it’s imperative that you know who your agent plans to market to and you make sure that he develops a cohesive, well thought out marketing strategy.
Who’s Going to Buy Your Single Family Home? Giving Life to the American Dream
An effective marketing strategy hinges on the image of the lifestyle buyers could have in your specific single family home. According to top agent Jeff Galindo, the core theme of this lifestyle is the “American Dream:”
“As a buyer buying a single family home you’ve got the opportunity to do nice things in your backyard and become a part of the neighborhood, and paint your walls and do some interesting things, and really have what hopefully is still that American dream. And it really truly is. [The American Dream] is an achievement.”
The American Dream has developed over the years; it’s not the Norman Rockwell painting it used to be, and it’s going to be different for every single family home across the U.S.
That’s why you’ll need to use the quirks and unique characteristics of your home to build an image of the “American Dream” for your specific property.
Take a minute and picture what that looks like for you.
Maybe you love reading to your kids in the big bay window or doing puzzles on the hardwood floors in the family room. These sort of lifestyle activities help create an emotional connection between a prospective buyer and your home. They help you tell buyers why they should want your home and pay more for it instead of signing a contract for the neighbor’s home down the street.
Use these experiences to your advantage. Paint a picture in the listing description and visually create the image when you stage the home, like we talked about earlier.
Market the house with an eye to what makes your home different.
Think about this when you put every marketing strategy we’re about to list into practice. How can you tap into what makes your home unique when you add a link to the listing in your email? When you write a letter to prospective buyers? When you get the listing up on Facebook, or stage it for photos?
Your real estate agent takes on the bulk of marketing for your property, but you know what makes it special. That’s why we came up with four ways you can help your real estate agent market your home.
What You Can Do to Help Market Your Home: Tips From America’s Top Agents
Most of these marketing efforts fall on your agent’s shoulders, so it’s up to you to stay informed and involved about what they’re doing and what you can do to help. The best thing you can do is talk to your real estate agent about how you can best assist during this part of the home selling process.
We asked America’s best agents what you as a home seller can do to help your real estate agent when she markets your home. Then, we put their advice into four specific and actionable tips you can do right now.
1. Add a Signature In Your Email That Links to Your Listing
Mynor Herrera, a top 1% seller’s agent and single family home expert in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia advises his sellers to add their listing to their email signature.
Herrera told us that sellers: “Can help market the home by putting an email signature on the emails that they’re sending out to their friends with links going back to the home. Every Realtor® probably has [the home] on their website.”
The email signature should link to the home listing on the agent’s website with a short message like, “Here’s a link to my home, if you know anyone who’s interested, contact my Realtor®.”
The purpose of this is to reach out to your network so that they can connect you with people in their network who want to buy in your neighborhood. This is an extremely effective tactic because it targets prospective buyers who already know that they want a home like yours.
2. Write Prospective Buyers a Letter Explaining Away Any “Negative” Features of Your House
Jody Parrish asks her sellers to explain away any negative features and focus on the assets of their house in a letter to potential buyers.
Parrish told us, “We ask the sellers to write a letter, especially if there’s a challenge in the property. I have a house that’s right next door to a high school. The high school parking lot touches the seller’s driveway, basically. There’s about a foot in between. So it’s a bit of a challenge. So one of the things that we did was had the sellers write a letter about how much they love the high school being there, and why, and that sort of thing. And we put that letter in the house so that other people can say ‘Oh it’s really not a bad thing that it’s next door to the high school!’”
The letter should list everything that’s positive about the perceived “negative” feature of your house. For example, the sellers with the house next to the high school wrote, “If I have a party on Sunday my people could park in the high school lot” as one reason the location was an asset.
Parrish also advised, “We don’t give them any direction on it other than to say, ‘Tell us why it’s not a problem for you,’ and the sellers come up with really great letters. If we need to help them tweak it, we’ll help them tweak it, but really we want their words, not ours.”
Often real estate agents advise a lower price for homes with an unchangeable issue like a bad location. Writing a letter could convince buyers that the “bad” is actually a positive, which means that you wouldn’t have to lower the list price and you’d get more interest for your property.
3. Get Your Home on Social Media, And Ask Your Agent to Run a Paid Ad
“One thing we’ve been playing around with that seems to really make a difference is the Facebook boost for the particular zipcode that the property’s in. We create a Facebook ad and we boost it through Facebook for that zipcode to let people know that there’s the house for sale that we’re going to be holding open for the weekend. We definitely see the difference as far as the number of people who come through when we do and when we don’t. ”
Graham has had tangible success with his paid efforts on Facebook: more activity at open houses. If your real estate agent is not on the platform already, you should ask him to create a paid ad for your listing and blast it to people in your zip code.
You should also jump on the social media bandwagon yourself. Mynor Herrera, our expert on the East coast advises you to “share [your listing] on social media” and to “share it on [your] neighborhood listserve.”
Post the listing on Facebook so that your Facebook friends can see it and easily share or repost it to people they know. You should also post your listing to online neighborhood communities like Nextdoor where other people in your zip code you may not know can find it.
4. Encourage Your Agent to Get Professional Photos of Your Home
Jeff Galindo notes amazing pictures and a virtual tour of the property as “critical to success,” and his clients agree.
Melissa P. told us that Galindo “Made a lot of really great visual material. He had virtual renderings of every feature of the house, he even has a drone license, which not a lot of people have. He did great aerial images with a drone that took pictures of the whole lake area and zoomed down into the property to show the property.”
Melissa went on to tell us that, “All of those things made it easier and [they] made the house sell.”
Though your real estate agent should get a professional photographer to take your photos, you can still make a big impact on the process. The biggest influence on photography is the way you clean and stage your house. This is your opportunity to tap into that “American Dream” ideal we talked about in the beginning of this chapter.
You need to create the suggestion of a beautiful life with a clean home and furniture that suggests a home where a family could eat Sunday morning breakfast in the kitchen, do art projects together, or sing karaoke on a rainy evening. A clean house and an intentional, clutter-free furniture layout is essential to great photos and a strong profile online.
Marketing Your Home for Sale: Advertise the Lifestyle
When a prospective buyer walks into your home, “They’re not only buying a house. A lot of these people are really attracted to the lifestyle that they see,” according to George Graham, top agent in Seattle.
These marketing strategies amplify the image of the lifestyle that a buyer could live in your house. Not only should they boost the reach of your listing to prospective buyers and explain away any perceived negative features, they should also tap into the emotional connection between your home and it’s new owner.
If you’re interested in reading more on new internet marketing strategies your agent may use, we wrote an entire book dedicated to selling your single family house on the internet.
Chapter 5 What to Expect at Closing: From Big Problems to Smooth Sailing
According to Forbes, failed home sales doubled Nationally from 2.1% in 2015 to 3.9% in 2016.
There are a ton of reasons your pending sale could fall through: the buyer’s loan could be rejected, the sale is contingent and the buyer’s home doesn’t sell, you and the buyer can’t settle on a fair price, the home could appraise for less than the offer–the list goes on.
In Melissa P.’s case, she and her family faced a huge issue with the title of the house during closing that almost ended in a failed home sale.
In her real estate agent Jeff Galindo’s words, “Once we’re getting closer to closing, we realize we’ve got a huge title problem. Apparently Dad, who is now deceased, had done some things with financing with some personal family members and some other people that created a bit of a challenge with the title.
We couldn’t clear the title.
We went back and forth on that for a while until we really discovered that we were going to need a lot more time to get this thing fixed. We’re in contract, we find the buyer, we do all these things, and now we have to go to the buyer and say, ‘There’s a problem, how can we resolve it?’
Long story short we put that buyer into a lease, she leased the house that she was going to buy, and it literally took us four months to fix all the problems with the title.”
According to Desare Kohn-Laski, top 1% single family home expert in South Florida, if a pending sale falls through the options are limited. The real estate agent can reach out to other buyers who put in an offer (if there are any), but in most cases she just has to re-list the house. If your pending sale fails during closing, you’ll have to start the entire process over again.
You don’t want to get close to that situation. Even though a lot of the factors that can tank the closing are out of your control, if you better educate yourself on what needs to happen at closing day on a house, you can take preventative measures to ensure that everything goes through.
Here’s What You Need to Worry About When You Close Your Single Family Home
1. Get the Papers Ready for Escrow
Escrow is when the money for the single family home sale gets transferred to the escrow officer, who acts as a third party to keep everyone’s money safe until the transaction closes. The escrow officer also orders the title transfer. As you’ll recall, this is the point in the sale process where Melissa P. and her family got tripped up.
Make sure that you know whose name is on the title of the house and that you will be able to transfer it without hassle. The escrow officer will also prepare closing statements.
At this point, you need to make sure that everything is all set with your title, you’ve paid off any outstanding loans secured by the house, and you’ve sent in any personal information to the escrow officer.
You’ll most likely need to send your escrow officer documents related to your property. These may include:
- HOA paperwork
- Mortgage statements
- Smoke detector certificate
- Property tax bills
Specialized documents should be listed in your purchase agreement, as they will be different for every sale.
When you open escrow, your escrow officer will send you documents. The most common documents include:
- Escrow Holder Agreement
- State specific forms
- Grant Deed
- 1099-S Input Form
- Property Information Statement
- Statement of Information
- Affidavit of Nonforeign Status
Then, when you meet to sign documents at the closing table, you need to bring:
- Photo Identification (your Passport or Driver’s License)
- All house keys
- Records of home ownership
- Most recent paid utility bills
- Deed to the house
Be Aware that You’ll Probably Have to Pay…
- Fees associated with escrow, title, and any legal costs (Use this Seller’s Net Sheet Calculator to figure out what these costs may be for your area)
- The real estate agent commission (6%)
- Any outstanding mortgage loans
- Property tax, homeowners insurance, HOA fees
2. Get Set Up for The Home Appraisal
The home appraisal happens after both you and the buyer have settled on the buyer’s offer and sign the purchase agreement for your single family house. You won’t have to pay for the home appraisal, but you will have to get the house ready.
The appraiser ignores your personal belongings and focuses on the bones of your property. While they won’t assign a value based on the gray suede leather couch in your living room, you should still make sure the space is as clean as it was when you staged the homes for showings–it just leaves a better impression.
If you have not already done so when you prepped the house for sale, make sure you handle these 3 things before the home appraisal happens:
Clean and declutter enough so the appraiser can see small, unique details like a bay window, crown molding, beadboard, or original or new hardwood floors
2. Tackle the Smell
Make sure you air out the home and deodorize it with the DIY simmer pot you made in Chapter 3 or the reed diffusers you set out
3. Touch Up Your Landscaping
Re-mow the lawn and pull any weeds that popped up
You need the house to appraise for at least the number the buyers said they’re willing to pay for it. If your single family home appraises for less, you or your buyer will have to make up the difference in cash because the bank will not issue a loan for more than the home is worth.
This is the ultimate determination of your house’s actual fair market value.
3. Get Ready for The Home Inspection
The buyer also pays for the home inspection, but again–you need this to go well because the buyer could ask you to make repairs or could walk away after the results. We identified several problem areas you can look to to try and minimize any issues that could come up during the home inspection.
This isn’t an all-inclusive list, as unknown and rare problems could occur, but it should help prepare you.
- All wiring should be functional, properly installed, and up to code
- Make sure that water properly drains around your house as to not seep into the foundation, basement or interior of the house
- The roof needs to be sealed and free of leaking or cracked tiles
- Check in on your foundation to make sure you don’t have any large or small scale foundation problems
- There should be no peeling paint on the exterior
- Watch out for signs of disrepair (cracked appliances, floor tiles, or any other unsightly cosmetic issues)
- Watch out for mold. Mold can be hazardous, and it can aldo signal leaky pipes or circulation issues. Get mold analyzed ASAP and figure out the cause
- Leaky pipes. These cause so many issues–mold, foundation problems, and dry rot, to name a few. Get these fixed
- You need a functional HVAC system
Put Your Closing Documents in Order
When it’s time to sign all of the closing paperwork, this is what you need to bring to the meeting:
- A check (if you aren’t going to make money on the sale)
- Your driver’s license or passport for identification
- House Keys
- Mortgage information
- A list of home inspection repairs (if any)
- Property tax information
- The deed to the house (if you own the home)
You’ll then have to sign the closing documents. After this meeting you no longer own the house, so you should be fully moved out at this point.
Be Extra Careful with Contingency Sales
Get everything in place during closing if the purchase of your new house depends, or is contingent upon, selling your single family house. Chris Bessette had one buyer/seller situation where all three parties involved had to get to closing, or else none of the three transactions would have gone through.
“There were a lot of moving parts. If buyer A from the third party agent didn’t close on buyer B’s house and they couldn’t close on seller A’s house, then they couldn’t close on their transaction. It was a big domino effect.”
You should take precautions in the listing contract so that you’re protected if your sale becomes contingent on the sale of the buyer’s home. Make sure there is a clause in the contract that says you can accept other offers while waiting for the buyer’s sale to close.
You should also be able to give the buyer the opportunity to remove the contingency up to 48 hours after getting another offer so that they either purchase your house then and there or let you sell it to the other buyer.
What to Expect at Closing: Communication With Your Agent is Key
The stakes are high at the closing table. Stay informed about everything that needs to happen during closing (your real estate agent should keep you up to speed), and make sure you prepare and protect yourself from potential risks.
Do some research about how often pending home sales fall through in your area and you’ll see just how delicate these real estate deals can be.. Some cities, like Las Vegas, have a higher closing fail rate (7.6% compared to the national 3.9%), so if you live in an area like this you need to stay extra aware.
The more you communicate with your real estate agent and the more fixes you make to your property, the better chance you have for a smooth closing.
Conclusion 3 of the Best Tips for Selling a Single Family House You'll Ever Get
Selling a single family house is its own animal with challenges and complications. Just like the stripes of no two zebras are the same, your single family home has its own set of quirks. On top of that, marketing the “American Dream” lifestyle is different for a single family house than any other type of home.
Melissa P., a client of the #2 Real Estate Agent in Las Vegas, Jeff Galindo, helped us to understand the most pressing questions she and her sister had about selling their mother’s single family home:
”Those were the biggest questions we had. How long it would take, what we had to do to get it done, what the Realtor® needed to do in order to get the house listed, because I’m sure the way they listed houses 20 years ago is not the way they do it now, and that was a true statement.”
We distilled Melissa’s questions down into three straightforward tips for selling a house help you as you begin the process.
1. Understand That Selling Your House Takes Time
The amount of time it takes to sell a house varies from market to market, property to property. In some locations where inventory is low, you could sell your single family home in days. In other, slower paced markets, selling a house could take months.
Since even the average time it takes to sell a house varies by city, you should take a look at your city’s market trends and talk to your real estate agent for the most realistic estimate.
2. You Need to Clean, Stage, and Declutter as Best You Can
As for what you need to do as a seller, you should: prepare your house properly for sale, get together all of the necessary documents, make yourself scarce for showings, and listen to all of your real estate agent’s advice.
These actions will set you up to sell your single family home as fast and for the most money you can.
3. Let Your Agent Determine the Price
Your real estate agent is going to complete a Comparative Market Analysis to figure out the current value of your home and to set a list price. She’ll need you to prepare your home to take professional listing photos. You’ll sign a listing contract with the agent, and then she will list your home on the MLS.
The way real estate agents list, market, and sell homes is different from how they went about it 20 years ago, especially since National inventory is so low right now. The internet has taken over the real estate industry: now, 51% of buyers buy a house they found online. That’s why we created this guide: to tackle the way that real estate works right now.
The process of selling a single family home is competitive, slow at times, and fast paced at others. With your real estate agent and now, our guide, at your side, you have all of the resources you need. Keep us posted on your progress and remember–we’re always here to help!