Sometimes sellers take a hands-off approach when entering the market. Confident their house will sell itself, they feel no need to help it along. Generally speaking, the longer a seller has lived in the house, the more likely he or she is to think this way.
While home pride is certainly understandable, sellers must remain objective. If you want to get your price you have to face the reality of your situation. What is the physical state of the house? How appealing is it in its current condition to new buyers? What about the neighborhood? Maybe it has changed since you moved into it years ago. Is it really as welcoming and vibrant now as it was then? And what about the surrounding town or city? How are the schools nowadays? Have the taxes become overly burdensome, or do the municipal services they support make them justifiable?
If this sounds daunting, don’t let it discourage you. With the right agent, you will receive all the professional guidance you need to get the most the market has to offer.
The first thing a qualified and knowledgeable agent will do for you is assess your home’s value. Taking into consideration all of the above outlined factors and more, he or she will report back to you regarding houses comparable to yours (known as “comps”) that have sold recently in your area. No comp is a perfect match, and the mere fact that one seller got a certain price doesn’t definitively mean you can’t do better. However, it should give you a good indication of the range in which you are operating, and you would be wise to follow your agent’s recommendations along these lines.
The next thing your agent will do is recommend a real estate attorney. Again, listen to your agent! You may know an attorney, but unless that attorney’s practice is at least fifty percent focused on real estate in your state (and, preferably, your local area), do not engage his or her in this transaction. You want someone who knows and understands not only all of the applicable law, but also the manner and pace in which real estate transactions are conducted. All too often, attorneys who specialize in other areas of the law overlook details in real estate matters which can result in missed deadlines and setbacks. At least take a meeting with the attorney your real estate agent recommends. Chances are you will be glad you did.
Now that you have your team of professionals in place you can begin working through your home sale preparation checklist. Accompanied by your real estate agent, go through each room and figure out all of the “to-dos”. Be prepared to hear the word, “de-clutter” early and often. You will need to devote at least one or two weekends to this task alone. A list of small home improvements will inevitably emerge. Get a ballpark estimate of cost and set aside a budget. A few examples of items for this list include the following:
Fixing a leaning fence;
Touch–up paint jobs;
Making sure the garage door opener works;
Fixing loose bannisters; and
Making sure all light fixtures work (and have working light bulbs).
These minor repairs may seem insignificant, but they make a bigger impression than you might think. You won’t impress anyone by addressing them, but you may very well turn off a would-be buyer by ignoring them. Someone may look at your kitchen and bathrooms and decide to completely re-do them to their own personal taste without holding your decisions along those lines against you. However, failure to perform basic, inexpensive home repairs can come across as careless and negligent. Take care of everything viewers will see and touch first, then direct your attention to the less obvious issues before inspection.
And now for an indelicate matter: ask your real estate agent if any of the rooms in your house stink. This is not to call into question your cleanliness or habits. It’s just that houses can develop odors which the owners, through long exposure, may become accustomed to and therefore unable to detect. Cigarettes, dogs, cooking aromas; these and any number of other smells may build up over time unnoticed by the seller. Don’t, however, expect a buyer to overlook them (would you?). If you have a dog, clean all of the dog’s beds, blankets, and toys and keep them out of sight. Cat owners should make arrangements to have the cat stay either with a friend, relative, or at a kennel. Make sure the litter box is emptied, cleaned, and put away. For deeper odors like those from accumulated smoking or heavy, greasy cooking, you should consider re-painting in those rooms, regardless of the condition of the paint itself. Ask your agent to do a walkthrough before your first open house to review these and any other preparatory issues.
Finally, make sure everything is aligned for where your move-in location. Don’t take any timelines for granted. Try to make your plans flexible in case your house sells either earlier or later than anticipated. As always, rely on your agent for logistical advice and guidance.