Ready to put your home on the market? There are several things you will want to consider to achieve your maximum selling potential. Check out our frequently asked questions to help you prepare and stay competitive no matter what the market.
REALTORS® aren't just real estate agents. They're members of the National Association of REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. When you're selling a home, here's what an agent who's a REALTOR® can do for you.
Act as an expert guide. Selling a home typically requires a variety of forms, reports, disclosures, and other legal and financial documents. A knowledgeable real estate agent will know what's required in your market, helping you avoid delays and costly mistakes. Also, there’s a lot of jargon involved in a real estate transaction; you want to work with a professional who can speak the language.
Offer objective information and opinions. A great real estate agent will look at your home with an unbiased eye, providing you with the information you need to enhance marketability and maximize price. Agents are also a great source for potential buyers who have questions about local utilities, zoning, schools, contractors, and more.
Deliver property marketing power. Property rarely sells because of advertising alone. A large share of real estate sales come as the result of the listing agent's contacts with other industry professionals, previous clients, and others in their sphere.
Give you a sense of security. Risk is a fact of life. To minimize it, real estate agents follow protocols to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety and security of you and your property. A professional agent will prescreen prospects and accompany qualified prospects through the property. They'll also help educate parties about how to prevent fraudulent dealings, such as wire fraud, that can put sales at risk.
Stand in your corner during negotiations. There are many factors up for discussion in any real estate transaction. A real estate professional will look at offers from your perspective, helping you navigate the fine points to ensure you're meeting your objectives.
Ensure up-to-date experience. Most people sell only a few homes in a lifetime, usually with quite a few years in between each sale. Even if you’ve sold a home before, laws and regulations change. Real estate practitioners may handle hundreds or thousands of transactions over the course of their career.
Be your rock during emotional moments. A home is so much more than four walls and a roof. For many owners, selling a home means saying goodbye to the place where cherished family memories were made. Having a concerned but objective third party helps you stay focused on the issues most important to you when emotions threaten to sink an otherwise sound transaction.
Provide fair and ethical treatment. When you're interviewing agents, ask if they're a REALTOR®, a member of the National Association of REALTORS®. Every member must adhere to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which is based on professionalism, serving the interests of clients, and protecting the public. When you work with a REALTOR®, you can expect honest and ethical treatment in all transaction-related matters.
These questions will help you decide whether you’re ready for a home that’s larger or in a more desirable location. If you answer yes to most of the questions, you may be ready to move.
Have you built substantial equity in your current home?
Check your annual mortgage statement or call your lender to find out how much you’ve paid down. Usually you don’t build up much equity in the first few years of your mortgage, as monthly payments are mostly interest. But if you’ve owned your home for five or more years, you may have significant, unrealized gains.
Has your income or financial situation changed?
If you’re making more money, you may be able to afford higher mortgage payments and cover the costs of moving. If your income has decreased, you may want to consider downsizing.
Have you outgrown your neighborhood?
The neighborhood you pick for your first home might not be the same one in which you want to settle down for good. You may have realized that you’d like to be closer to your job or live in a better school district.
Are there reasons why you can’t remodel or add on?
Sometimes you can create a bigger home by adding a new room or building up. But if your property isn’t large enough, your municipality doesn’t allow it, or you’re simply not interested in remodeling, then moving to a bigger home may be your best option.
Are you comfortable moving in the current housing market?
If your market is hot, your home may sell quickly and for top dollar, but the home you buy will also be more expensive. If your market is slow, finding a buyer may take longer, but you’ll have more selection and better pricing as you seek your new home. Ask your real estate professional what they see happening locally.
Are interest rates attractive?
Low rates help you buy “more” home, and also make it easier to find a buyer for your current place.
Is the effort and cost of maintaining your current home becoming difficult to manage?
A REALTOR ® can help you decide whether a smaller house, condo, or rental would be appropriate.
Trim bushes and branches so they don’t block windows or architectural details.
Set a pot of bright flowers (or a small evergreen in winter) on your porch or front walkway.
Install new, matching locks and knobs on your front door.
Repair any cracks or holes in the driveway, and clean oil spots with degreaser and a steel brush.
Edge the grass around walkways and trees.
Stow your garden tools and hoses out of sight, and clear kids’ toys from the lawn.
Buy a new mailbox.
Upgrade your outdoor lighting.
Purchase a new doormat for outside your front door.
Clean your windows, inside and out.
Polish or replace your house numbers.
Mow your lawn. Also, turning on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before the showing will make the whole yard sparkle.
Place a seasonal wreath on your door.
Executing a deep clean before putting your home on the market will not only help it shine, but it will make tidiness easier to maintain between showings. Here are some power-cleaning tips to try.
Clean windows make a huge difference.
Remove window screens and place them outside on a tarp or other clean, waterproof surface. Use a garden hose, an all-purpose cleaner, and a soft brush to gently clean the screens. You don’t need anything special to polish up window glass; just mix a solution of one part white vinegar to eight parts water, plus a drop or two of dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle. Wipe with newspaper to avoid streaks. (Washing on a cloudy day also reduces streaking.)
The fridge is the most common source of kitchen smells.
Check the drip tray underneath your refrigerator and wash out any standing water from defrosting. Scrub the inside of the fridge with a baking soda and water solution. Activated charcoal in the fridge can help keep odors at bay.
Think outside the house.
It’s amazing the difference a sparkling entryway makes to your home’s curb appeal. Wipe down your front door, give the doormat a good shake/vacuum, and make sure dust and dirt haven’t collected on outdoor furniture. Use a pressure washer to give your driveway and garage floor a good cleaning. The acidity in dark cola drinks can help remove oil, rust, and grease stains, along with a little elbow grease.
Target the Bathroom.
For tile floors, apply your usual cleaner and then run a wet/dry vac, which will suck contaminants out of the grout. Pour a quarter cup each of baking soda and vinegar down the drains, leaving the concoction overnight, then flush with boiling water. Clean soap scum and mildew from plastic shower curtains by tossing them into your washer on the gentle cycle in cold water, with detergent and ½ cup vinegar (if mildew is present, add ½ cup of bleach instead of vinegar). Put a couple of large towels into the machine to act as scrubbers. Allow the curtain to drip-dry on the rod.
Make your bed better.
Vacuum mattresses and box springs, and then rotate and flip over. Do the same for removable furniture cushions. This is also a great time to wash or dry-clean the dust ruffle and mattress pad. Add new loft to a lumpy comforter by having two people vigorously shake the quilt up and down to redistribute stuffing.
Wash the walls.
Grease, smoke, and dust can adhere to walls and make even the best decorating look dingy. Resist the temptation to spot-clean since it will make the rest of the wall look dirtier. Mop walls using a general-purpose cleaner diluted with hot water. Start at the top corner of the wall to avoid drips. Don’t press too hard, and rinse the mop head frequently in clean water. Use melamine foam cleaner to erase scuffs and stains.
Shop around for the right company.
Read the contract carefully.
Seal the deal.
Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the work.
Garage sales can be a great way to get rid of clutter and earn a little extra cash before you move. But make sure you plan ahead; they can take on a life of their own.
Don’t wait until the last minute.
Depending on how long you’ve lived in your home and how much stuff you want to sell, planning a garage sale can take a lot of time and energy. And that’s on top of the effort of putting your home on the market!
Contact your local government.
Most municipalities will require you to obtain a permit in order to hold a garage sale. They’re often free or cheap, but the fines for neglecting to obtain one can be hefty.
See if neighbors want to join in.
You can turn your garage sale into a block-wide event and lure more shoppers. However, a permit may be necessary for each home owner, even if it’s a group event.
Schedule the sale.
Sales on Saturdays and Sundays will generate the most traffic, especially if the weather cooperates. Start the sale early — 8 or 9 a.m. is best — and be ready for early birds.
Place an ad in the newspaper, free classified papers, and websites, including the date(s), time, and address of the garage sale. Add information about what will be available, such as kids’ clothes, furniture, or special equipment. On the day of the sale, use balloons and signs with prominent arrows to grab attention.
Price your goods.
Clearly mark rounded prices (50 cents, 3 for $1, or $5, for example) with easily removable stickers.
If it’s junk, recycle or donate it.
If it’s truly garbage, throw it away or place it in a freebie bin. Don’t try to sell broken appliances, and have an electrical outlet nearby in case a customer wants to try plugging something in.
Display items nicely.
Organize by category, and don’t make customers dig through boxes.
Stock up on supplies.
Having a stock of old shopping bags that can be reused encourages people to buy more items. Newspapers are handy for wrapping fragile goods.
Manage your money.
Obtain ample change for your cashbox, and have a calculator on hand. Assign one person to man the “register,” keeping a tally of what was purchased and for how much.
With the majority of buyers shopping for homes online, high-resolution slide shows and video tours are a must. Here’s how to make your home shine on camera.
Understand the camera’s perspective.
The camera’s eye is different from the human eye. It magnifies clutter and poor furniture arrangement so that even a home that feels comfortable in person can look jumbled online.
Make it spotless.
Cameras also tend to magnify grime. Don’t forget floor coverings and walls; a spot on a rug might be overlooked during a regular home showing, but it could become a focal point online.
Know what to leave.
You want to avoid clutter, but try to have three items of varying heights on each surface. On an end table you can place a tall lamp (high), a small plant (medium), and a book (low).
Snap practice pictures with your own camera.
This will give you an idea of what the home will look like on camera before the photographer shows up. Examine the photos and make changes to improve each room’s appearance, such as opening blinds to let in natural light, removing magnets from the refrigerator, or taking down distracting art.
Removing one or two pieces of furniture from each room, even if just for the shoot, can make your space appear larger on screen.
Spotlight the flow of your space by creating a focal point on the furthest wall from the doorway and arranging the other pieces of furniture to make a triangle shape. The focal point may be a bed in a bedroom or a china cabinet in a dining room.
Include a healthy plant in every room; the camera loves greenery. Energize bland decor by placing a bright vase on a mantle or draping an afghan over a couch.
Keep the home in shape.
Buyers who liked what they saw online expect to encounter the same home in person.
Feng Shui is a Chinese system of beliefs that govern spatial arrangement in relation to the flow of energy or “life force” (known as chi or qi) in a building. Learn how to appeal to buyers who follow such principles.
Chi flows in.
Pay special attention to the front door, which is considered the “mouth of chi” and one of the most powerful aspects of the entire property. Make sure the area is swept clean and free of cobwebs and clutter. Ensure all lighting is straight and properly hung. Consider lighting the path leading up to the front door to create an inviting atmosphere.
Chi can flow out, too.
Energy can be flushed away wherever there are drains in the home. To keep the good forces of a home inside, always keep the toilet seats down and close the doors to bathrooms.
Consider the bedroom carefully.
The master bed should be in a place of honor, power, and protection. Place it farthest from and facing toward the entryway of the room. The optimal placement is diagonal in the farthest corner of the room. Paint the room in colors that promote serenity, relaxation, and romance, such as soft tones of green, blue, and lavender.
Offer a formal dining space.
The dining room symbolizes the energy and power of family togetherness. Make sure the table is clear and uncluttered during showings. Use an attractive tablecloth to enhance the look of the table while also softening sharp corners.
Get a clear perspective.
Windows are considered to be the eyes of the home. Getting your windows professionally cleaned is a good idea anyway, but for buyers, your home will sparkle all the more brightly and your view will be optimally displayed.
Once you are under contract, the buyer’s lender will send out an appraiser to make sure the purchase price is in line with the property’s value.
Appraisals help guide mortgage terms.
The appraised value of a home is an important factor in the loan underwriting process. Although lenders may use the sale price to determine the amount of the mortgage they will offer, they generally only do so when the property is sold for less than the appraisal amount. Also, the loan-to-value ratio is based on the appraised value and helps lenders figure out how much money may be borrowed to purchase the property and under what terms. If the LTV is high, the lender is more likely to require the borrower to purchase private mortgage insurance.
Appraised value is not a concrete number.
Appraisals provide a professional opinion of value, but they aren’t an exact science. Appraisals may differ quite a bit depending on when they’re done and who’s doing them. Changes in market conditions also can dramatically alter appraised value.
Appraised value doesn’t represent the whole picture of home prices.
There are special considerations that appraised value doesn’t take into account, such as the need to sell rapidly.
Appraisers use data from the recent past.
Appraisals are often considered somewhat backward looking, because they use sold data from comparable properties (often nicknamed “comps”) to help come up with a reasonable price.
There are uses for appraised value outside of the purchase process.
For selling purposes, appraisals are usually used to determine market value or factor into the pricing equation. But other appraisals are used to determine insurance value, replacement value, and assessed value for property tax purposes.
Price it right.
Set a price at the lower end of your property’s realistic price range. Consider:
Prepare for visitors.
Get your house market-ready at least two weeks before you begin showing it. Make all your repairs, and then do a deep clean (or hire a cleaning service to help).
Consider an appraisal.
For a few hundred dollars, a qualified appraiser can give you an estimate of your home’s value. This is useful for sellers going through a divorce or needing to divide the proceeds for other reasons. Be sure to ask for a market-value appraisal, and find someone who understands the area and type of home you have. Your agent should be able to offer recommendations.
Be flexible about showings.
Spur-of-the-moment showings are disruptive, and making sure your home is constantly ready to show can be exhausting. But the more amenable you can be, the sooner you’ll find a buyer.
Anticipate the offers.
Decide in advance the price range and terms that are acceptable. Be clear with yourself and your agent about what kind of offers you’re comfortable with. It’s critical to know what price you’ll accept before entering negotiations with a potential buyer.
Don’t refuse to drop the price.
If your home has been on the market for more than 30 days without an offer, be prepared to at least consider lowering your asking price.
Be prepared for a lengthy waiting period.
Even if you're well organized and have all the documents in place, short sales can still be a long process. Waiting for your lender’s review of the short-sale package can take several weeks or even months. The length varies by lender and location, but these benchmarks can put your situation in perspective:
If you have only one mortgage, the review often takes about two months.
If you have a first and second mortgage with the same lender, the review can take about three months.
With two or more mortgages with different lenders, it can take four months or longer.
Your real estate professional and attorney, with your authorization, can work with your lender’s loss mitigation department on your behalf to prepare the proper documentation and speed the process along.
When the bank does respond…
It can approve the short sale, make a counteroffer, or deny the short sale. The last two actions can lengthen the process or put you back at square one.
Don't expect a short sale to solve your financial problems.
Here are some post-short sale conditions to keep in mind:
Your lender may ask you to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay back the amount of your loan not paid off by the short sale. If your financial hardship is permanent and you can’t pay back the balance, talk with your real estate attorney about your options.
Any amount of your mortgage that is forgiven by your lender may be considered income, and you may have to pay taxes on that amount.
Having a portion of your debt forgiven may have an adverse effect on your credit score. However, a short sale will generally affect your credit score less severely than foreclosure or bankruptcy.
A short sale is one where the net proceeds from the sale won't cover your total mortgage obligation and closing costs, and you don't have other sources of money to cover the deficiency. It’s significantly different from a foreclosure, which is when your lender takes the title of your home through a lengthy legal process and then sells it directly. A short sale is sometimes the route sellers take to avoid foreclosure.
Consider loan modification first.
Contact your lender to see if it has programs to help you stay in your home. You may be able to refinance your loan at a lower interest rate, switch to a different payment plan to help you get caught up, or secure a temporary forbearance period.
Hire a qualified team.
Find a qualified real estate agent and a real estate attorney who both specialize in short sales. Interview at least three candidates for each and look for prior short-sale experience. Find people who will advise you in your best interests. A qualified real estate professional can give you accurate pricing advice through a comparative market analysis or broker price opinion. The team will also be able to expertly market the home, negotiate complex contracts with buyers, and ease the process of working with your lender(s).
Prepare a short-sale package to send to your lender(s) for approval.
You can’t sell short without your lender (and any other lien holders) agreeing to the sale and releasing the lien so that the buyers can get clear title. This is another task where your team will be indispensible.
Gather documentation before offers come in.
Your lender requires several documents in order to consider a short sale. This package accompanies the offer, typically including:
A hardship letter detailing your financial situation and why you require a short sale
A copy of the purchase contract and listing agreement
Proof of your income and assets
Copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years
Offers can be exciting, but unless your potential buyer has the resources to qualify for a mortgage, you may not really have a sale. Your real estate professional will try to determine a buyer’s financial status before you sign the contract. But it’s good for you to know what buyers with follow-through potential looks like.
They are prequalified—or even better, preapproved—for a mortgage.
Such buyers will be in a much better position to obtain a mortgage promptly.
They have enough money to make a down payment and cover closing costs.
Ideally, buyers should have 20 percent of the home’s price as a down payment and between 2 percent and 7 percent of the price to cover closing costs. If they plan to make a smaller down payment, they will need to purchase mortgage insurance, through either a government guarantee program or a private mortgage insurer. Their ability to provide earnest money in a timely fashion will be an indicator of liquid reserves.
Their income is sufficient to afford the home over the long term, too.
Ideally, buyers should spend no more than 28 percent of their total income to cover the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance associated with the sale (often abbreviated as “PITI.”)
They have good credit, which they are monitoring and maintaining.
They will have recently reviewed their credit report and have actively worked to correct any blemishes or errors found.
They’re not managing too many other debts to take on a mortgage.
If buyers owe a great deal on car payments, credit cards, and other debts, they may not qualify for a mortgage.