By the time you’re ready to sell your first house, you’ll no longer be that starry-eyed buyer who imagines roses and rainbows behind every home with great curb appeal.
Every month of housing payments, every surprise plumbing leak, every hour spent tending to the yard hardens you into a more seasoned homeowner.
But as for selling your house? Welcome to brand-new territory!
Just as you can have regrets as a buyer (44% of all homeowners, in fact, do), sellers too can experience the pangs of “what-if?” What if I’d waited to sell? What if I’d negotiated differently? What if I’d taken more time to make the house look amazing?
At this moment you’re someone with a lot of money on the line, and no direct experience. That’s intimidating. However, rest assured that there are ways to increase your odds of selling fast and at full price, even as a first-time seller.
Do as you would do with any other fresh challenge: slow it down and dig into your research before you make any moves. We’re here to help with these 11 real estate tips on selling homes straight from the pros.
1. Make sure you’re ready to let go.
Selling your house comes with a lot more emotional baggage than, say, putting your old headphones up for sale on Craigslist. You’re parting with a place called “home” that, by all odds, is where you spent a good chunk of time over the last 13.3 years. As much as this is a financial decision, it’s also a personal one.
“You’re so invested in the home, and for most people, their home is the single largest investment they make,” says top-selling Greenville, North Carolina, agent Homer Tyre. “They have had so many great or life-altering memories in that home that it’s like being in a long-term relationship.”
Before you put your house on the market, do the emotional work. Walk through your home and talk about old memories. Reflect on how the house has served its purpose for however long you lived there. Reminisce about how you loved living here with your spouse, children, and family members. Think about what life beyond this sale will be and whether you’re happy with that picture.
Deal with whatever anxiety or apprehension you have about letting go of it (feeling this way is 100% normal!) And decide whether you’re willing and ready to hear critiques about your home. If the thought of getting negative buyer feedback makes you cringe, or you aren’t prepared to negotiate this like a business deal, then you could be in for a rough experience.
Once you accept an offer, you’re under contract to go through with the sale. One seller changed his mind after signing the contract, and then tried to sabotage the deal to scare off the buyer. Not an ideal situation. Do what you can to avoid seller’s remorse sooner rather than later.
2. Hire an agent who’s worthy of your business.
There are more than 2 million active agents in the U.S., and likely thousands in your city alone. Any real estate agent you talk to is going to gladly list your home and collect their commission at closing. But not all agents have the same experience level, aptitude, or track record of success.
So the challenge for you is not to find an agent, but to find a great one. And because an agent who’s a perfect match for you may be different than the agent who helped your coworker, friend, or neighbor, you should set out to find an agent who is specially suited for your particular needs. Take care to select the right professional during this step, and it will make a world of difference in your home sale experience.
If the thought of where to start overwhelms you, HomeLight can connect you with three top local agents who 1) have proven experience in your exact neighborhood, price point, and property type, 2) sell homes faster and for more money than the average area agent (we calculate this using an agent’s objective performance history), and 3) come highly recommended by past clients.
3. Work through the financials.
If you’re confident about the decision to sell your house, then the next step is to make sure you’re in a strong financial position to do so. You need your proceeds from the sale to cover all the fees associated with selling it (otherwise you’ll have to bring money to the table), and hopefully, you’ll also pocket some profit.
“If somebody lists a property but they don’t go over those numbers, then by the time you get in escrow, you’ll figure out just how expensive it really is to sell the house,” says Brooks Bailey, a top agent in Redlands, California. “It’s good to know those numbers ahead of time.
You should start with an estimation of your home’s value, minus your remaining mortgage balance (this is also known as your home equity). From there, subtract closing costs, which include agent commissions, fees, and taxes, and may amount to anywhere from 6% and 10% of your home’s sale price. HomeLight’s Simple Net Proceeds calculator will do all this math for you!
4. Slow your roll on the prep work.
According to one survey, 30% of first-time and repeat sellers say they wish they’d given themselves more time to get their house ready for the market — making a lack of preparation the most common regret among sellers. Don’t let this be you!
Once your house goes up for sale, it’ll start racking up what’s called “days on market.” The longer your home sits, the more buyers will start to wonder if something’s wrong with it, why it hasn’t sold, and if they can get away with lowballing you. Take the time to make the house look presentable and it’ll pay off down the line.
The good news is that home prep doesn’t have to call for massive renovations. HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for Q1 2019 shows that the simple tasks of decluttering and cleaning can add nearly $4,000 to a seller’s bottom line on average. Pass them up and you leave easy money on the table.
Other simple (and cost-effective) home prep ideas include:
Neutralize any odors to make sure the home smells fresh.
Organize your closets (remove 50% of what you have in there) to highlight your home’s storage potential.
Use apps like letgo, Offerup, and Facebook Marketplace to make a little dough in the decluttering process and incentivize yourself to part with more things before you have to move them.
5. Focus on curb appeal.
If you literally do nothing else to prepare your home for sale, at least make the outside look great. Etch this into your brain now (get a tattoo if you have to): Curb. Appeal. Is. Everything.
Seventy-six percent of top real estate agents say improving curb appeal is the No. 1 thing a homeowner can do to boost the marketability of their home. 94% of agents say curb appeal adds dollar value to the sale as well.
While appraisers can’t necessarily put a price on curb appeal through quantitative appraisal methods, appraisers do take it into account qualitatively when reconciling that final value. And there’s also the “wow” factor that draws more competition for your home and gets buyers excited to see what’s inside.
According to HomeLight’s Q2 Top Agent Insights Survey, these are the top 5 curb appeal projects to take on:
- Basic yard care service — mow and fertilize the lawn, kill any weeds (91% of agents recommend)
- Remove dirt, grime, and cobwebs from the entrance (90% of agents recommend)
- Trim your trees and shrubs (85% of agents recommend)
- Scatter fresh mulch (85% of agents recommend)
- Put a fresh coat of paint on the front door (71% of agents recommend)