You may be one of the many homeowners considering a home sale to potentially benefit from the seller’s market that exists throughout much of the U.S., where buyers outnumber available properties, leading to higher prices and plenty of bidding wars.
But selling a house can become more difficult if you ignore the tried-and-true practices that have helped home sellers in the past. “It’s a hot market, but it’s a hot market for things that are priced correctly and prepared to come to the market,” says Molly Gallagher, real estate agent and partner of the Falk Ruvin Gallagher Team, part of real estate brokerage Keller Williams Milwaukee North Shore in Wisconsin.
Here are 12 mistakes to avoid when selling your home:
— Working alone.
— Waiting for the home selling season.
— Pricing too high.
— Refusing to make changes.
— Keeping clutter.
— Opting not to neutralize.
— Skipping major repairs.
— Cutting costs on photography.
— Hiding problems.
— Being unavailable.
— Being unwilling to negotiate.
— Letting your emotions get the best of you.
Not hiring a real estate agent to represent you may seem like an easy way to avoid paying commission, but you’ll miss out on a real estate agent’s market knowledge, contacts and help with the process. Unless you have a real estate license or are planning to find an iBuyer, a real estate agent is key to a successful — and less stressful — home sale.
For-sale-by-owner properties tend to sell for a lower price overall. In the National Association of Realtors’ 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers released in November 2020, FSBO homes sold at a median of $217,900, compared to a median sale price of $242,300 for properties that sold with the assistance of an agent. If you’re looking to sell your home for its full market value, professional insight is more likely to get you there.
Waiting to Sell
Spring and early fall are often hailed as the best times to sell a house, but that doesn’t mean you should wait months to put your home on the market. While December and August see the fewest sales homes still sell every month of the year, says Anne DuBray, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Realty in Deerfield, Illinois.
In fact, February is the best month to put your property on the market, DuBray says — even in places that see long, cold winters like Chicago and Milwaukee. “People are less distracted in that month than every other month of the year,” DuBray says.
Pricing Too High
You want to sell your house for top dollar, but be realistic about the value of the property and how buyers will see it. If you’ve overpriced your home, chances are you’ll eventually need to lower the number, but the peak period of activity that a new listing experiences is already gone.
“Time will kill you,” DuBray says. “You still think you’re going to get showings and showings (as time goes on) and you just don’t.” For that reason, it’s important that your real estate agent is honest with you about what your home will sell for, based on the recent sales of similar homes in the area.
Refusing to Make Changes
Unless you’re planning to sell your house to an investor who will flip the property, selling your house “as is” won’t yield the highest possible sale price.
Homebuyers today expect move-in ready conditions and want to see a blank slate that allows them to picture themselves living in the home. That means you’ll need to update appliances, paint walls neutral colors such as gray or khaki and remove old carpeting.
It’s tough to remove belongings while you’re still living in your house, but presenting each room and space in its best light means you’ll need to declutter in more ways than one. Get rid of items you don’t need anymore, but also remove oversized couches and other large furniture that dwarfs the room, clear out closets so they don’t look overcrowded and put away decor that displays too much personal detail.
“Just because you see any empty surface doesn’t mean you have to have something there. Give the eyes a moment to rest,” wrote Jessica Harris, an interior designer and manager of production design at furniture retailer Living Spaces, based in Southern California, in an email.
Opting Not to Neutralize
While removing personal decor choices is a part of decluttering, it’s also an important part of neutralizing your house so the buyer doesn’t immediately think of the people who currently live in the home.
“Remember to remove personal photos, memorable items and more from the home,” Harris says. “You want the potential buyers to envision it’s their home, not yours. If it’s something you question, go with your gut. Think simple, clean and refresh.”
That goes for your personal design tastes as well. Busy wallpaper, bright colors and trendy furniture can look amazing in your home, but buyers won’t be able to look past them and consider the space first.
Skipping Major Repairs
Pulling up carpeting and painting the walls are relatively easy tasks to tackle, but you’ll want to fix major issues as well. Cracks in the foundation or a new roof are expensive fixes that you may be wary of taking on, especially when you won’t likely recoup the entire cost in the sale. But you’re better off fixing these issues now rather than having the buyer ask for a credit to cover the cost of the repair later. This way, you have more say over who does the job and the total cost of the repair.
Plus, newly replaced features become a selling point once the property is listed. Gallagher says replacing the roof before listing your home can be cheaper than the cost a buyer would subtract from an offer. “You’re likely to get that (cost back) in the sale price if you do the new roof,” Gallagher says.
Cutting Costs on Photography
The first way many buyers see your property is by viewing photos of the house online, so don’t make them cross your house off their list before they’ve even visited.
Most real estate agents include professional photography in their marketing budget. Even if you can’t get a professional, make sure all photos give the buyer an idea of the size of the rooms. Also make sure photos are well-lit and keep you out of the frame in any reflections.
If there are problems with the property you can’t afford to repair before putting it on the market, you have to be honest about them — even if they’re not visible to the naked eye. Sellers are required to note recent repairs, problems and updates in the seller’s disclosure.
“All those things are going to come up in the inspection,” Gallagher says, adding that it’s best for everyone to know in advance rather than let the buyer have second thoughts after reading the inspection report. Even if the inspection doesn’t catch a leak or structural issue, but the buyer can prove your knowledge of it later, you could be facing a lawsuit.
When your house is on the market, showing the house should be your priority. That means if you get a call that a buyer would like to tour the house, you need to be able to leave the house in pristine condition quickly.
Even on holidays, an interested buyer is likely serious about making an offer and you shouldn’t refuse a showing. So while you’re trying to sell your house, aim to hold Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations elsewhere.
Being Unwilling to Negotiate
If you’ve received an offer for your house that isn’t quite what you’d hoped it would be, expect to negotiate. While you’ll naturally feel your asking price is more than fair, the only way to come to a successful deal is to make sure the buyer also feels like he or she benefits.
If you would like to see the sale price come up, consider offering to cover some of the buyer’s closing costs or agree to a credit for a minor repair the inspector found.
Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You
It’s natural to have some emotional attachment to your house after living in it for years and celebrating milestones, holidays and accomplishments with your family and friends there. But you have to view selling your house as a business deal. A low offer is not a personal affront, but a start that can either be negotiated up or declined. Plans to renovate part of your house are not an insult to your taste, but a difference in preferences.
The more you can approach the sale of your house as a business deal, the better off you’ll be to make the transaction as smooth as possible.
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Update 05/18/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.