So you want to sell your own house? Perhaps you want to save money on a commission that would be paid to a broker. Perhaps you are one of those individuals that believe that selling a home is a simple process because it appears so easy on TV. I understand it’s probably not as difficult as performing a root canal on yourself, but if attempted without preparation it might feel like you attempted the aforementioned.
The first thing to consider when selling your own house is to determine what the current market is like in your local area. This does not mean you should buy a copy of the Wall Street Journal and try to extrapolate what your local market is like based on national or worse yet, international trends. Some markets never experienced a large up or down over the last decade despite what was going on elsewhere. So how can you find out information that is pertinent to the local area? One way is to contact a local real estate agent and ask, but that can bring on some unwanted pressure to list with them instead; which I actually suggest for the vast majority of homeowners. Another way is to check local papers that may disclose certain statistics such as average days on market, a comparison of sales prices to listing prices (they are rarely the same, except perhaps in a hot market), and local interest rates. Now what do you do with all this information? For now hold onto it, as we will be using it to help price your home.
Once we have gathered some basic data the next step is to start finding some comparable properties. A comparative market analysis is the most accurate way to price a „normal“ home. It may not be the best way to assess the value of a new home, historic home, income property, or commercial property. What you will want to do is gather the SOLD price of at least SIX comparable homes, that have sold in the last 6 months. If you use home sales older than that, you risk the comparison not being very accurate. Comparable homes should be as similar to your home as possible, but do not have to be identical. These homes should be in the same school district, zip code, and if possible same housing complex if applicable. Explaining exactly how to do this process can be very verbose, so what I will say is that for an amateur analysis make sure your home is priced less than homes offering greater amenities and size and greater than homes offering less size or that are not as updated. Knowing exactly how much these differences effect the price of your home from the comps takes market knowledge that most homeowners don’t have. Remember that money spent on renovations does not correlate 100% to an increase in value.
Ok, so we now have an idea about the list price. The next thing we need to do is go back to what is happening in the local market. If homes are selling fast, I would suggest sticking near your estimated price for a quick sale of your home. If homes are selling at an average rate 3- 6 months (again average is different depending on location) I’d consider sticking at your estimate list price or as much as ten percent less if you are hoping for a quick sale. If homes are not selling on average in less than 120 days, as a for sale by owner you will need to price yourself well below the competition 10% or more. My reasoning for this is that highly marketed homes are not selling, where your home will have a fraction of the advertising versus those listed with a broker. You will need an edge to beat out the competition.
Well, we accomplished step one; pricing our home. This is actually one of the easier tasks we will have to do. Step two will be determining our budget for marketing the home. This is actually the main reason I suggest hiring a broker, since advertising if done haphazardly can cost MORE than hiring an agent. Now you can advertise on sites that cater to for sale by owners, but honestly the traffic they generate is simply pathetic compared to many of the better known sites. If you are serious about this, I suggest you list on a big name site. As far as advertising in the local paper goes, it certainly does not hurt, but realize that more buyers find their home online than through the local paper. The local paper though does appeal to the older generations and can help with a cross generational marketing campaign. Another consideration is that according to the national association of REALTORS 89% of surveyed home buyers in 2011 used an agent to buy. That means, whether you want to or not, you will likely have to deal with and or pay an agent. As a for sale by owner you can offer to pay an agent for bringing a buyer to you. This may help you save some money compared to having an agent list it as well. A good number to start with is offering a 2-3% commission to any buyer’s agents. This will ensure that the 89% of buyers searching for a home with the aid of an agent will not totally avoid your home. Another marketing tool you can use is a yard sign. These can be obtained relatively cheap from a local printer or online. If you are gutsy enough to let total strangers roam through your home, you can also host an open house. It is estimated that nearly 5% of home purchases are done on impulse, so it cannot hurt your sales effort. I would like you to consider that bringing strangers in your home can be unsafe so proceed with caution.
Alright, we are moving right along to getting our home sold. We have a price, we know how we are going to market it, and we are ready to list right? No, I’m sorry we still have some work to do. The next thing we have to do is complete a seller’s disclosure form to give to potential buyers. This form can be obtained from a local housing authority or online. In addition, we need to provide potential buyers with a lead-based paint disclosure act if your house was built in 1978 or earlier, thanks to a 1992 law. In addition, this is the time to neutralize your home, fix peeling paint (trust me, fix peeling paint), and complete any other small maintenance tasks that need done.
Ok, now we can go ahead and list the home. The easy part is done, we are moving onto the hard and hardest parts of selling a home. Now if you listed it yourself I suggest purchasing a land line phone number to use for advertisement purposes. There are many places where you can find one cheaply. When your first perspective buyer calls, greet them politely and share whatever information they need. As tempting as it may be, before having them over to view the house, make sure they have be pre-approved, or at least pre-qualified for a loan; ask them to bring their pre-approval letter. People have no problem wasting your time. If they refuse to bring any such paperwork, skip the viewing because it is likely they are not that interested in your house anyways. In fact, they cannot even make a real offer at this point. Show buyers around that have met the pre-qualifications, but refrain from harping about anything personalized within the home, as they will likely be envisioning how they can change your house to suit their needs. If they are interested in making an offer, please do not entertain a verbal negotiation of price. First, their offer is not legally enforceable by the statute of frauds and back and forth negotiations may elicit an emotional response on your part. Instead, insist on a written offer and binding contract. It is likely they will be working with an agent, so this is usually a mute point. When the offer is presented, remain emotionless whether it is more than you had hoped for, or less since most buyers will expect the savings you received from not paying a commission to be passed onto them (Now if you used my suggestion of offering a buyer’s agent commission you might find that you receive a more reasonable offer). You have two options; accept or reject the offer. If you reject the offer, you can always counter-offer. Some things to expect during this time is the buyers wanting you to purchase a home owners insurance warranty (which you should do to save yourself a headache 6 months from now when your water pipes burst or your furnace dies at only 4 years of age). The second is that they will likely place several contingencies on the offer, which are completely normal. These contingences may include a home inspection, land survey, title insurance, dye test, as well as several others.
Ok so you have found a buyer and your home is under contract. The coming 30-90 days will be the roughest yet, but hang on because you are almost there. During this time a home inspector after examining your home will come up with a list of several hundred problems that your house has. If you already disclosed these items in your seller’s disclosure there should be little concern, as they will not be items that your potential buyer could use to back out of the transaction. Now for the things you were unaware of, buyers may try to haggle the price even lower. I suggest for small ticket items, hold your ground. Bigger ticket items will likely require some concessions on your part. Your other option is to not give any concessions and try the whole process over again, disclosing the newfound issues. If things do progress past this point, prepare for yet more expenses at closing. You will need to pay transfer taxes on the property, as well as, prorated property taxes if you have not yet done so for the fiscal year. Again, there will be some other expenses and rather going into detail here, I suggest you take a look at a HUD-1 form to get a strong understanding of what expenses are dealt with at closing. If closing is not being taken care of by their agent, I suggest you hire either a transaction licensee or lawyer to handle the paperwork. DO NOT attempt to complete this stage on your own unless you are an agent or an attorney.
Well if you made it past closing, you have done what only 15% of for sale by owners are able to! Congratulations, and when you go to look for your next home use an agent.
by Adam M Slivka