Seller FAQs

The following are commonly asked questions by sellers and my answers to them:

How much should I fix up the house before selling it?

Home buyers’ fascination with fixer-uppers seems to be on the wane. Even if it costs more, home buyers are increasingly looking for a home that’s move-in ready. So where does that leave you, as the home seller?

Paying more money just to get money out of your home may be the last thing you were hoping to take on (or have the cash to complete). Nevertheless, some investment may be necessary in order to attract buyer attention.

At a minimum, you’ll want to fix obvious eyesores and danger spots, such as cracked windowpanes, tiles, and plaster. Correct high-priority issues like moisture leakage or rickety stairs. Walk around your house with a critical eye, noticing areas where you’ve always meant to deal with a problem – such as a light switch that doesn’t work or a window shade that’s lost its pull string — but haven’t gotten around to it.

After that, a new paint job is one of the more affordable ways to give a house a fresh look. If painting the exterior is more than you can afford, consider at least painting the front door, and possibly the trim.

Should I sell my home myself or get an agent?

Although you can be successful in selling your home by yourself, you will be accountable for all aspects of selling a home. This will include: advertising for your home, following up on potential buyers, obeying laws and disclosures necessary when selling a home. You must also properly complete all the required paperwork. Thus, using an agent will not only manage these issues for you, but an agent will ensure your home sells for its full market potential.

When will I meet my prospective home buyers?

If you use a real estate agent to sell your home, you probably won’t meet your buyers until after the closing — if then. Your agent (or the buyer’s agent) will handle visits to the house by potential buyers and probably encourage you to make yourself scarce during those visits lest you blurt out something you regret later.

You may meet your buyers’ real estate agents if they choose to formally present purchase offers to you and your agents. You may even be handed photos of the prospective buyers, and personal letters, if they’re in a competitive bidding situation. And you can certainly find out their names from the purchase offer forms, in case you’d like to Google them later. But that’s still not a personal meeting.

Even closings are often done separately, with you meeting with the escrow agent on one day to sign documents and the buyer doing so on another day.
It’s not that there’s any law against meeting the buyers — but you’ll probably appreciate, at various times along the way, having your agent serve as a buffer in any negotiations and be the bearer of bad news, if need be.

After the closing, however, arranging a time to meet with the buyers at your house can be a nice gesture — and a good opportunity to show them things like how to turn on the furnace, turn off the security alarm, and which plants are weeds.

What will I need to leave behind in the house after it’s sold?

It’s important to prepare in advance for buyers’ expectations about what you’ll leave behind. As a general rule, you’ll be expected to leave behind all “fixtures,” defined in most states as things that are affixed, fastened to, or an integral part of the home or landscaping. For example, lights and their shades (the sort that can’t be unplugged and carried away), built-in dishwashers and other appliances, window shades, curtain rods (and sometimes the curtains), built-in bookshelves, and all trees, plants, and shrubs with their roots in the ground instead of in pots are all normally considered fixtures. No matter how good they make the house look, if you don’t want the buyer to keep them, replace them before you start showing the house.

Also realize that buyers may associate some items that aren’t technically fixtures so strongly with your house that they won’t be happy at you carrying them off — for example, a backyard statue that’s so perfectly placed in the center of a brick circle that you’d think it was a permanent part of the landscaping. The buyer may name such items in the purchase offer to make sure you leave them behind (or to start negotiations over them) — or may assume they come with the house and raise a fuss on closing day when they’ve been moved. Take a good look at what you plan to move. If anything falls into the category of “A buyer may fall in love with this and assume it comes with the house,” decide now whether to move it before the sale or to buy a replacement.

If an offer it made do I have to accept it?

No, but if it covers the framework of the listing agreement you have offered your home for sale, you may have to pay your agent a commission if you hired one. The buyer and seller must both sign the agreement before it becomes binding.

In the Disclosure Statement, how much information must I reveal?

Each state has its own rules about what information must be disclosed. It covers material or major defects that the owner is aware of such as: appliances, structural defects and modifications, neighborhood problems, and other factors that would influence the potential buyer’s choice.

Can I stay in the house longer than the date stated on the purchase agreement?

You cannot stay in the home longer than what was stated unless you reach an agreement in writing. You also cannot take any items that were to be originally left behind without reaching a written agreement either. The buyer holds no obligation to you.

If I think I can get a higher price for my home than I accepted, can I take it?

No, you have a binding contract you are obligated to uphold. If you choose to break the contract you could be subject to be sued by either the buyer, your agent for loss of commission or pay a hefty amount in damages. Breaking a contract will most likely cost you much more money than keeping it.

Will I owe taxes when I sell my house?

Thanks to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, many home sellers no longer owe taxes on the gain they make when they sell their houses. Married taxpayers who file jointly now get to keep, tax-free, up to $500,000 in gain on the sale of their home, as long as they lived in it for two of the prior five years. Single folks and married taxpayers who file separately get to keep up to $250,000.

If you’re lucky enough that your profits on the house exceed this amount, don’t panic quite yet — not all of it may be taxable gain, for example if you invested in home improvements.

If I hire a real estate agent to help with the sale of my home, what information do I need?

Make sure the person is local and knows the community. Get references from the agent. Ask the agent what will be done to market your home. Make sure the agent is someone with whom you are comfortable. Also make sure you have a full understanding of the agent’s fees.

Before I move, who should I make sure knows my new address?

Give a forwarding address to your post office, make sure you get all subscriptions changed, and contact friends and relatives.

What is the first thing I should ask myself when I decide to sell my home?

Is it a home you would consider buying? You must look at the house through the eyes of a prospective buyer and decide what needs to be cleaned, painted, repaired or thrown away.

Is there a best time to sell?

The market generally is more active in the summer because parents prefer to move their children during the summer vacation. That’s also the time that more homes are available. Experts advise owners to sell when the house is ready for sale, when there is a need to sell and when the services of a real estate agent have been acquired.

How do I improve my home’s value?

Improve it so it shows well and so it is consistent with the neighborhood. Properties that are over-improved for their neighborhood are harder to sell. Cosmetic improvements such as painting and landscaping are good investments. Mechanical repairs to make sure systems are working are required to fetch the best price.

What should I expect when working with a real estate agent?

The agent will market your home, keep you informed as the marketing process takes place and potential buyers express interest in the home and communicate written offers to you.

Why must it be a written offer?

Oral offers can’t be enforced. Written offers put the terms, conditions and price in black and white for all parties to see and provide a foundation for subsequent counter-offers from both parties.

What determines how much I can get for my home?

Two primary factors, market conditions and interest rates, will be the largest determinants.

How do I price my home?

Begin by considering that the value of your home relates to local sale prices. That is, the same home in another community would probably have a different value. Prices also are a product of supply and demand, and remember the sale price isn’t everything. There’s always terms and conditions that can be used to sweeten the pot.

What’s the most practical process to set the price of my home?

Ask several real estate agents to give you a comparative market assessment (CMA), do your own market research and calculate the price per square foot while keeping market conditions in mind.

What are the five general areas where a real estate agent can help market my home?

They can assist in preparation, pricing, marketing, negotiation and closing.

What are the advantages of an open house?

It gives your agent a chance to serve as host of your home for a couple of hours and answer questions from prospective buyers in a low-key atmosphere.

What factors determine if a buyer’s offer is acceptable?

Is the offer at, near or above the asking price? What are the alternatives to the offer? Can I wait for other offers? What if I receive several other offers? In each case, the seller should carefully consider each question noted before determining if the offer is acceptable.

When should I close on a house?

In this day and age, closings can occur within a week in some areas. However, experts advise that the process take place 30 to 45 days from the point an agreement has been reached. This will allow for financing to be arranged, inspections and appraisals to take place and any repairs promised by the seller to be taken care of.

What’s the disadvantage to waiting too long to close?

Trying to lock in on a mortgage rate is difficult if it is 60 days or more from reaching an agreement. Consequently, if rates go up, it may knock the buyer out of the running because he will no longer be able to afford the home.

How do I prepare to sell?

Make sure you look at the sales agreement and review your obligations. If you’ve promised repairs, they must be done by the time you close.

The home inspector is coming. What do I do?

As the seller, the best thing you can do is leave the premises and turn his visit over to your real estate agent. Keep in mind, the inspector is an objective third party, not someone sent over to find every possible little thing wrong with your home.

What factors determine how quickly my home will sell?

There are five primary factors: product, price, financing, timing and competition. Promotion is another factor, but always remember the best promotion in the world can’t overcome any of the previous five factors.

What costs and fees will I incur while selling my home?

It varies from market to market, but major ones are: your agent’s sales commission, closing costs, mortgage payoff, moving expenses and any money you will spend on promised repairs to sell your home.

How do I pick the best offer for my home?

Remember you don’t always have to accept the highest offer. There might be a lower offer with better terms. You also are allowed to counter more than one offer, although experts advise using a standard counter-offer form so you don’t accidentally sell your home to two buyers.

So I’ve sold the home and I’m ready to move. What’s the best advice you can give me?

Get a checklist made. Moving is a huge undertaking, whether it’s down the street or across the country. Some major items to consider:

  • Money: make sure you have enough to cover travel, food, transportation and lodging.
  • Medicine: Keep medication and prescriptions where they will be available during the move.
  • Number boxes so they can be counted on arrival.
  • Have address books available in case you need help.

Click Here for a checklist to help assist you with your move.

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