Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Want to Sell Your Home? Here's How

Selling a home can begin a series of arguments you have with yourself and your significant other, assuming you co-own. The first is the question, "Is now a good time to sell?"

We all read how "hot" the market has become, something that should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of those saying how "hot" things are generally have something to gain from a sale. While it's true that pricing, in general, has risen and that listings are few, it's also true that a lot of people are still under water. Of those who aren't, many have pretty slim equities. An earlier post discusses the issues, so I won't get into them here.

Anyway, here are some others.

1. Should you hire a real estate broker?

In 2013, it's easier than ever before to sell your home yourself, although I'd recommend using a lawyer. The old argument for using a real estate broker was that they were the gateway to exposure through Multiple Listing Services (MLS). While it's true that you still need a Realtor to get into an MLS, it's also true that you can get terrific exposure for your home through sites such as Zillow and Trulia. Most buyers begin their home search online without a broker, and yours will show up quite prominently.

Redfin, a brokerage with a robust and useful website in regions where it's located, also lists homes that are For Sale By Owner. If your home is priced at $200,000 or more, Redfin will provide you a full service listing for 1.5% of the sales price--far less than the standard 5% or 6%. Redfin also has a home pricing tool showing comparable sales and suggestions for adjustments based on how your home compares.

Sites such as Postlets, owned by Zillow, give you a place to upload photos of your home and syndicate your ad to other popular websites, including Craigslist. Buyers search for homes by location and price, so your number one task is to ensure that every buyer out there looking in your area can easily find you.

But don't write off using a licensed broker. Home selling may not be rocket science, but it is difficult and specialized work. Brokers' marketing tools are a lot better than those available to lay people. Brokers are trained, experienced and and they do this stuff for a living, which is why they're professionals. Services they offer vary from broker to broker, but they can help price your home, offer use of documents that protect your interest, navigate the way through the frustration of offers, counter-offers, and home inspections, analyze quality of buyer's financing, host open houses, and so on. 

Using a broker also offers you a degree of personal security--no unvetted strangers will come to your home. Most buyers will be represented as well, so you you need to ask yourself if you're comfortable negotiating with a professional. If you decided to use a broker, you can negotiate the fee, especially if you agree to use the broker to help you buy a new home.

2. Take lots of pictures.

And take good ones. If you take a photo of the bathroom, show the whole thing, not just the toilet. Buyers are trying online to visualize themselves and their stuff in your house, and you need to make it as easy for them as you can.

If you're so inclined, create a two to three minute video of you talking about your home and post it on You Tube or Vimeo, or both. Say what you like best and what you like least.

Consider setting up a website for your home. It's very easy to do on Wordpress or Blogger.

3. Get rid of clutter.

Clear off all counters. No kitchen tool or spice jars, no toasters, no vases in the kitchen. No toothbrush holders, makeup jars or razors in the bathrooms. Clear off nightstands and dressers. Remove the pictures from the refrigerator. Confine family and religious pictures to the bedrooms, and minimize them as much as you can. Stow items such as electric guitars, boom boxes, posters and the like often located in kids' rooms.

In the living areas, get rid of furniture that crowds. Just move it to the garage (don't worry if the garage is cramped). Clear the coffee tables of magazines, knick-knacks and so on.

Why? Clutter makes your home look smaller than it is, and it also draws attention to the clutter instead of the home. You'll be surprised how much bigger your home will look, even to you,when clutter is removed.

4. Fix and repair stuff.

When a buyer sees some flaw, even a small one such as knicked-up door jams or a light burned out, she or he immediately wonders what else is wrong that's not immediately obvious. Moreover, the buyer's home inspector will likely find anything wrong. 

Fix known problems. Get a furnace and air conditioning inspection and servicing. If you have rooms that are, say, painted with lollipops and angels or firetrucks on the wall, re-paint the room. If  possible, re-paint the whole house in a neutral color.If you can't re-paint, touch up every nick and scratch. Remove glitter and stars from bedroom ceilings. All appliances should be in working order. Torn carpet needs to be fixed. Replace all burnt out bulbs.

If you have outdoor landscaping, be sure it is fresh, weeded and trim. Keep landscaping away from the sides of the house, or a good home inspector will note it a possible cause of dry rot and insect infestation.

5. Clean the home.

And not just broom-clean. The bathrooms and kitchens need to sparkle, so remove water spots and mold. The beds need to be made and clothes kept off the floor. Don't just dust the furniture, but also the tops of the floor kickplates and stair rails, for example. Get rid of pet hair, and don't leave a dirty cat box. Vacuum every day, or at least before showings.

Don't use plug-in scent thingies.

6. Showings.

Turn on every light in the home before you show it. Lock up any medications you have. If possible, have cookies in the oven or just baked. Think of your home as a model home and do your best to make it look that way.

And don't be afraid to ask questions about the prospective buyer if someone, even a broker, calls to see the home. Ask a general question or two, such as, "Is this buyer local or from out of town," or "Is this your first home." You don't want to be nosy, but even innocuous questions such as these indicate that this is business, not entertainment.

7. Open Houses.

I always hated them, because most of the people coming through are the neighbors. Which, really, as a broker, I should like. Why? Among the biggest reason brokers hold open houses is to sign up clients from the people who come through. Selling off an open home is extremely rare. That said, it does happen, and people who are serious house hunters often tour Open Houses on weekends. They also show up on Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and others.

Always be aware of safety issues with Open Houses.

8. Sales Forms.

You can obtain forms at office supply stores or online, but this is the part where you really need to use a lawyer, if you're not using a Realtor. Filling in forms is, in my view, practicing law, and it's something lay people need to think long and hard about. A few hours of an attorney's time is worth the cost.

Colorado has state-approved forms downloadable from the state website. Other states may also have these. 

All in all, plenty of information is available online, and the most important thing you can do is educate yourself. And feel free to send me any questions!