The Best Lessons Learned from Real Estate Mistakes

By ForSaleByOwner

One of the perks of selling your own home is the autonomy to make all of the decisions. Of course, with that power comes risk. But even in cases of potentially bad strategies or choices, the buck still stops with you. And when the strategies work out, well, you get to bask in all the success.

That’s a lesson that Gloria Menendez learned — eventually. Menendez sold three houses in her life — the first two with a real estate agent and the third on her own. In hindsight, she says she should have learned her lesson sooner.

“I got some bad advice the first two times that I think cost me time and money,” says Menendez, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. “When it came time to sell my house, which I did last fall, I pretty much became my own agent. If things went wrong, I could only be mad at myself. When they went right, I got to take all the credit.”

Renovate vs. Rebate
Menendez says her biggest mistake was listening to her agent back in 1994 when she and her sister sold their parents’ home in Troy, Michigan. “The house was a little outdated and needed some work — basic stuff, like paint and carpeting — but our agent insisted that buyers didn’t care about those things. She told us they looked past the interior and kept the bigger picture in mind,” Menendez says. “So we sold it as is. When people talked about the outdated carpet or dingy walls, our agent told us to offer money off our asking price so they could fix the house up themselves.”

Menendez found that real estate pricing strategy proved to be problematic. “If you tell people you’ll take off $1,000 so they can paint the walls themselves, they’ll go through every room and want money off for a paint job in every room,” she says. “Same goes with carpeting. Tell them you’ll give them $1,000 to replace carpeting in the living room and family room, and they’ll want $5,000 to do the whole house.”

Menendez says the take-a-few-bucks-off approach ended up shaving more than $10,000 off the asking price. “It was a buyer’s market at the time,” she says. “We could have put less than $2,000 into it ourselves and come out $8,000 ahead, but our agent insisted that it was the way things were done.”

Price Pitfall
When Menendez sold her condo in suburban Cleveland in 2004, she used a different real estate agent but again received some advice that she questioned. “The agent was completely stubborn about the price,” Menendez says. “He told me it was my decision, but he strongly suggested that I price my unit about $7,000 less than some of the other units in my building so buyers knew that I was serious about selling.”

Menendez listened and sold her condo within three weeks. “I was pretty excited,” she says. “But then I realized that two other condos sold the same month, each one for $10,000 more than mine. And I had a corner unit with great windows, a much better place than the ones that sold.”

Menendez says she learned that the suggested $7,000 drop in her original asking price didn’t matter much to her agent but it mattered to her. “He probably lost a few hundred dollars in commission — big deal,” she says. “I lost about ten grand. I could do a lot with ten grand.”

Lessons Learned
When it came time to sell her house last October, Menendez decided to go it alone. She did some basic home remodeling projects, including painting her walls white, a process that took less than two days thanks to the help of her son and his wife. The next thing she did was set a realistic asking price that allowed her some wiggle room. “I figured I’d go a little high and give myself some room to come down,” she says.

But when her asking price was met within a few weeks, she knew she had made the right choice. “You learn to rely on yourself and to trust yourself when you sell by owner,” Menendez says. “If there’s a mistake, I’ll make it and take the blame. But it’s not like I need an agent to tell me what to do and what not do. There’s so much information out there when it comes to pricing, showing and selling your home. You just have to do your research and trust your gut.”

We want to know: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received about selling your home? What was the best?