Selling your home is a big task. Agents don’t make it easier: in fact, you are bound to be disappointed when an agent fails to deliver on her big promises to take care of every detail and sell your house for top dollar.
Your house is likely your biggest asset. You are more invested in the outcome than any agent could be. You will want to be engaged at every step, from preparing it for sale, to pricing, to negotiating, and finally, in closing.
Here are the key steps for selling on your own or with an agent. You’ll see that either way, you do most of the work. Taking on the few additional tasks of directly listing and showing the house can save you thousands of dollars. ForSaleByOwner sets you up for success with how-to’s, legal forms, referrals to professionals, and other tools that you need to sell your house.
1.Your Personal Timeline
Two months before listing:
- Evaluate your financial situation and budget
- Tally transaction costs and remaining equity
- Collect title, survey, mortgage, insurance and other key documents
How urgently do you need to sell your house? Is a career or job change prompting your relocation? Is your move tied to the school year, medical concerns, or financial pressures?
Urgency determines price. The more quickly you must sell, the lower you must price your house. If you can wait for the ideal offer, you can price your house accordingly.
Either way, you will want to price your house in line with current trends for your neighborhood.
2. Assess the Condition and Salebility of Your House
Two months before listing:
- Evaluate the condition of your property
- Fix problems
Nobody wants to buy your postponed projects. These days, a house must be in top condition to sell – especially if you want to sell quickly.
Tour your home with a critical eye. (You may want to get an outspoken friend to give you an unvarnished opinion of how your house looks to an outsider.) Look for three types of problems:
Cosmetic problems that can be fixed or neutralized quickly at minimal cost. Grimy walls should be painted. Torn carpeting should be replaced – or, better yet, removed and the underlying hardwood floors, refinished. Small repairs, such as torn window screens and crooked light fixtures, all must be made. Touch-ups and freshening can also update your decorating and even soften strong color schemes to make your house more appealing to more people.
Functional repairs and upgrades. Sure, you’ve lived with that gold-tone refrigerator for four decades, and it may still have ten more useful years…maybe. But why would a buyer pay top price for a kitchen with an ancient refrigerator? Ruthlessly examine the condition of appliances, plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, the roof and structural elements of your house. When you repair or replace iffy systems, you remove a reason for people to reject your house. And, your house will appeal to cash-strapped buyers who are worried about expensive surprise expenses.
Problems you can’t fix. The location of your house is something you can’t change. The same can be said for your neighbors; the school district; noise and traffic patterns; and other factors. Be honest: are there factors that erode the appeal of your house? If so, you will have to price and market your house accordingly.
Some unfixable problems (such as seepage in the basement) must be disclosed to buyers, per state law. You can provide ease of mind to buyers through a home warranty, which covers the cost of repair or replacement for some major house systems.
3. Establish the Price
One month before listing:
- Research the local market
Establish your price parameters
In a rising market, it was easy to price a house: just add the cost of the improvements to the most recent purchase price, calculate the average rate of appreciation, and voila! The asking price.
That is now a recipe for disappointment. Market conditions are uneven, at best. Foreclosures, short sales and bank-owned real estate can drag down the value of neighboring properties by as much as 30%, according to studies released in mid-2010.
Here are the essential steps to establishing a fair market value for your house.
• Check the sale price of recently sold properties. You can find prices through local property records, which are open to the public.
• Get a top-line value estimate through an automated valuation service. ForSaleByOwner.com offers valuations through a partner.
• The most in-depth, and most authoritative, valuation is an appraisal done on-site, in person, by an appraiser who is familiar with your neighborhood. The appraisal will compare the condition of your house to others recently sold, adding value for unique features (like a fireplace) and deducting for features you don’t have, or for the worn condition of the house. An appraisal can cost as much as $500, but it can also help prioritize spending for repairs, replacements and upgrades. It will also validate your asking price to the buyer, giving you a authority when negotiating.
• Calculate selling expenses. If you sell by owner, you can save all or much of the agent commission. Use our calculator to estimate how much that could be.
Whether you use an agent or sell by owner, you will still have to pay for preparing the house for sale; marketing costs; legal fees; and transfer taxes, if levied by your state or municipality. It’s important to estimate these expenses as closely as possible. Many homeowners have little equity. Marketing and transactional costs – especially the commission – can slice away what little equity they hope to claim from selling. Especially if you are counting on getting a check at closing, you must have a firm grip on selling expenses.
Monitor the latest mortgage rates and lending news at our Mortgage page, with fresh content delivered daily by Bankrate. Why? So you understand the lending conditions that potential buyers must navigate. Understanding that will equip you to negotiate the best deal.
4. Get Ready to Sell
One month to two weeks before listing:
Declutter and Clean
Clearing out the detritus of everyday life will help sellers see the actual house. You might want to rent a storage unit for out of season clothes, decorations, memorabilia, sporting equipment, furniture and other goods that come between a househunter and the house. First, clear out the clutter. Then, clean your suddenly-spacious house.
Staging is the art of creating a welcoming environment that helps buyers envision their life in your house. Chances are you can stage using accessories and furniture you already have. Staging might also involve light renovations, such as painting and replacing window treatments.
5. List and Market
One week before listing:
- Assemble materials for listing (photos, pricing documentation, room measurements, etc.)
- List with ForSaleByOwner.com – 1 day
- Collaborate with ForSaleByOwner.com experts to list on MLS and Realtor.com
- Produce print fliers and ‘house book”
• Lawn signs
• Flyers, handouts and printed materials. Don’t forget to include the required array of disclosures and other legal forms dictated by your state and municipality.
• Advertise on Craigslist. ForSaleByOwner customers get a template to make it even easier to place an ad at this popular online classified site.
• Listing at ForSaleByOwner.com
• Listing through your local Multiple Listing Service and Realtor.com. Both the MLS and Realtor.com position your house to be found by the 93% of buyers who start househunting online. The local MLS is used by agents for their clients, and by the public. Realtor.com is based on MLS listings from around the country and is the single most popular online listing site.
• The ForSaleByOwner.com Education Center includes dozens of stories, tips, and how-to articles for all elements of marketing.
6. Negotiate and Accept an Offer
- Confirm buyers’ financial qualifications
- Negotiate terms
If you can justify your asking price with recent market research, you are in a strong negotiating position. Still, you might want to hire a lawyer to coach you through the negotiations. And, a lawyer can advise you on the specifics required by your state and municipality.
7. Prepare Paperwork and Closing
6 – 8 weeks before closing:
- Cooperate with home inspector
- Cooperate with lender’s appraiser
- Furnish buyer and buyer’s agent, lawyer, and other professionals with legal documents
- Contact your lender to start mortgage payoff process
- Make your own arrangements to move
The paperwork has just begun once you accept a buyer’s offer.
Be prepared to handle:
• Disclosures as required by your state and municipalities
• Property records, building permits and receipts for the appraiser
• Property records for the title insurer
• Insurance documents
• Mortgage, loan and lien documents
• Related legal documents for financial and estate planning
• Many of these documents can be purchased through ForSaleByOwner.com.
Selling a home always takes time, attention and energy. When you sell by owner, you will reap maximum benefits for your efforts.