There Are No Stupid Questions About Selling Your House

Throw a for-sale sign in the yard? Grab your home’s value from an online estimator? Hire your cousin who happens to do real estate on the side?

You’ve got a running list in your notepad titled “questions about selling my house” and now you just want answers.

As a first-time seller, you need a reliable source who’s been through one of these big deals a time or two (or several hundred) before. It’s a tangle of contracts, you have to make the bed every day, and there’s a whole lot of money on the line.

Dan Edwards, a top real estate agent in Bellevue, Washington who’s sold 68% more real estate than agents in his area, shares his insights into sellers’ most frequently asked questions… because it turns out, newbies tend to have the same ones—let’s go through each one!

What do I need to do to prep my home for sale?

Before you ever put your home up for sale, find a real estate agent to be your objective set of eyes. A professional will do a walkthrough and point out the projects to complete before listing, must-do repairs, and easy ways to spruce up the space.

Some houses need more TLC than others before you can unveil them for their big market debut, but two general rules of thumb apply when it comes to prepping your home for sale:

Declutter and organize room by room

Take down family photos from the fridge, clear off every countertop, put away knick-knacks and personal items, and let the house breathe a little.

You want buyers to feel like your house is big and open, rather than cramped and cluttered.

Make your limited square footage go further with a solid purge. Go all KonMari method on your stuff if you’re the hoarder type.

Rent a pod or a storage unit while your home is up for sale—that way, if you’re not willing to part with your belongings, you can at least get it out of sight for showings.

It’s estimated that clearing up clutter can increase your home’s asking price by 3-5%.

Clean like you would for company, times 100.

Think your gorgeous, fully renovated house in an attractive location will sell no matter its condition?

Think again…a dirty home immediately drops in value in the minds of buyers taking a tour of your messy life.

Scrub the floors. Buy air fresheners. Dust the bookshelves. Deep clean the carpet. Wash the windows. Don’t miss a spot with our deep house cleaning checklist.

A real estate agent can also save you from pouring time and money into unnecessary projects. Ready to drop a bunch of money on a kitchen remodel before you sell?

Stop right there! Not all renovations or updates (especially the big ones) show a positive return on investment, and there’s no guarantee you’ll make back the money you spend.

An agent who’s a local expert in your neighborhood will know what buyers are looking for and how your home compares to others on the block.

Do I need to stage my home?

Home staging helps buyers envision themselves living in your home, which can inspire them to make offers.

Real estate experts stand behind staging as an effective way to decrease your time on market and help your house sell for more money.

The living room and master bedroom are the most important rooms to stage, and with guidance from your real estate agent, staging doesn’t have to cost a fortune. If you’ve properly cleaned and decluttered, you’ve already done much of the required work.

If your agent recommends it, hire a stager who will bring in furniture and design pieces to show all your home has to offer.

Professional help can be especially useful if you’ve already moved out and your home is vacant. An empty house is the most difficult for buyers to picture themselves moving into.

Should I get a pre-inspection before listing my home?

Edwards does ask his clients to purchase a pre-inspection before they list.

This gives you a heads up as the seller about what will come up on a buyer’s home inspection during the closing process. The reasoning is…fewer surprises make for less stress, and for a more expedient sale.

After the pre-inspection, you can preemptively fix anything that has an inconvenience factor, like the garage window that’s broken. Little maintenance problems will trigger the buyer to think about what else in the house needs repair.

Now’s not the time to redo the bathroom, but small home improvement projects can yield big returns. “Paint is the cheapest,” Edwards says, recommending it if the inside of the home hasn’t been repainted in a while. It’s an easy and inexpensive facelift.

However, be aware: you’ll have to disclose any material defects that come up in the pre-inspection to buyers upfront, in writing.

That puts pressure on your to remedy big problems before you book showings. Buyers might be more willing to negotiate with you on issues that arise if they’re already under contract.

Do I need to leave my house for showings?

Once your home is on the market, it’s your agent’s job to promote it to the most buyers and book as many showings as possible. This means—if you’re lucky and have a good agent—your house will be like Grand Central Station the first week it’s on the market.

Edwards tells his seller clients to just get out of town for the first week. Go on a vacation.

If your home is on the market for longer, yes, you need to leave the house when there are showings. Take pets with you—no exceptions!

The act of leaving is partly to depersonalize. A buyer wants to buy their next home, not your last one. Buyers also need to be able to speak freely and not feel like they are overstaying if they want to take their time.

Do I need a real estate agent?

You might feel like it’s just a house… how hard can this be?

Well, some sellers opt to go the For Sale by Owner (FSBO) route (though they accounted for only 8% of homes sales in 2017), but Edwards says after he’s helped a client through the selling process and it’s all done, he often gets this comment from clients: “I couldn’t have done this all without you.”

For one, you’re going to want a professional to help you handle the mounds of nitty gritty paperwork involved throughout the transaction. But on top of that, it’s the negotiating skills and objective lens that sellers need the most.

An agent’s going to be the one to tell you that your asking price is laughable or that your personal items scattered everywhere are distracting buyers from seeing your home’s true value.

In addition, you get all the marketing savvy that comes with your agent—think stunning photography, and an online marketing blitz—which means you are able to give your home the widest possible exposure.

How do I find a good real estate agent?

The truth is, there are 2 million active real estate agents out there—so while it isn’t hard to find an agent to help you with your home sale, it is tricky to identify the best of the best.

The top 5% of real estate agents sell homes faster and for more money than the average agent, according to our data.

So what should you look for in a top-notch agent?

  • Experience
  • Local expertise
  • A strong track record in successfully selling homes in your area

Not sure how where to start looking? HomeLight gathers real estate transaction data to identify these top performing real estate agents all over the country based on their actual transaction history. Basically, we compare and contrast agents on how well they serve their clients and we look at how well they’ve served clients with your specific needs.

Find a Top Real Estate Agent Near You

We analyze millions of home sales to find the best performing real estate agents.

Just enter the address of the house you’re selling, we’ll crunch the numbers and match you with two to three top agents who are objectively proven to sell homes in your area similar to yours faster and for more money than other agents in the same area.

Once you have your agent matches, use our handy guide for how to interview an agent in 15 minutes flat to vet your candidates and pick the right professional for your individual needs.

How do real estate agents get paid?

How agents get paid can be confusing for those new to the game. The seller pays a percentage commission—usually about 6% of the house sale—which is then split between the buyer’s and seller’s agents.

In real estate everything is a negotiation, including the commission.

Agents have to prove themselves and earn what they make, but a slightly higher price tag often means a higher level of service.

There are always agents who offer services for less. Edwards states: “Economics says you can’t create a Kobe beef steak for the price of a hamburger.”

There are also certain pitfalls when sellers try to sell direct to buyers. Though they may be saving money on an agent’s commission, they’re often leaving money on the table in terms of purchase price.

Edwards presents a real-life example: One house had two offers. One offer was cash, which meant no appraisal. The other was a non-cash offer, with contingencies, but for $10,000 more.

While a seller may just accept the higher offer, the agent went back to the cash offer, telling them that if they increased by $5,000, the seller would accept. The seller got a good amount of money and didn’t have to deal with the hassle of a lender or an appraisal.

What’s my home worth?

Well, that’s the million dollar question!

You can get a baseline estimate of your home with an online valuation tool. Our Home Value Estimator is a great place to start—it compares 5 leading estimates from Zillow, HouseCanary, Eppraisal, HomeJunction and RealtyTrac to give you the most educated guess about what your home is worth.

But online estimators are just a starting point—a ballpark figure! You should never list your home based on what internet alone tells you.

Because these digital valuations are such a big part of the selling process today, Edwards takes all the values generated by these sites and puts them into a spreadsheet. This way clients can see how much they differ even among each other.

He also notes it’s different pricing a home in a hot seller’s market versus a buyer’s market or balanced market. A seller’s ultimate goal is to be the best house within the price range.

So, count on your real estate agent to conduct a thorough comparative market analysis (CMA) examining about 10 properties that are comparable to your own home in location and size to figure out an appropriate asking price. Getting a CMA from your agent is often one of the first steps you’ll take in listing your property.

Your agent’s CMA will take into account little nuances that the online tools won’t necessarily capture, like recent upgrades you’ve made, whether your home is based on a steep hill, or if it happens to be located within walking distance to local attractions.

Agents are paid based on how your home is priced—so it’s in their best interest to price it correctly from the beginning. If they aim too high it may sit unsold, but they also want to get the seller as much as possible. This means they’re not pulling a number out of thin air.

Questions about selling your home, answered!

There are no stupid questions when it comes to selling your home. It’s a big transaction and you should have an advocate by your side who knows the process better than you do.

We couldn’t possibly answer all the questions pertinent to your individual situation, so bring any that we’ve missed to your real estate agent who will be happy to help you.

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