Questions and Answers


Seller's Questions and Answers



Real Estate Agent vs FSBO

Pricing the Home

Preparing the House for Sale

Pre-Sale Inspection

Fixture vs. Personal Property

Moving With Children

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I'm Thinking About Selling My House Myself. Do I Really Need an Agent?

If you think you might want to try selling your house yourself, at least know what is involved. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Can I afford the time it takes to sell a house using only a sign in the yard and advertising in the local newspaper? Research shows that 60% of buyers learn about a house through an agent. Without access to those buyers, it will take considerably longer to sell your own home.
  • Can I stay home to be available to show my house to potential buyers or risk losing them? Am I willing to hold open houses on weekends? Am I able to separate buyers from lookers?
  • Am I familiar with Federal and State laws (failure to properly apprise the buyer can result in a lawsuit after the sale). Do I have the financial and legal expertise to negotiate a contract and close a sale? If not, am I willing to pay an attorney.

If you answered yes to these questions, selling yourself may be an option for you. If you have any hesitation, talk to a real estate professional before making your final decision. Research shows that 96% of all homes are sold through brokers and agents. An agent will give your house exposure through the Multiple List Service; helps you price your home correctly; screens buyers; shows your home; negotiates the best sale; and helps with closing.

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How is the Listing Price Determined?

Fair market value often is defined as the most probable price a property will bring if it has been widely exposed on the market, if sufficient time is allowed to find an informed buyer, and if neither party is under undue duress. Fair market value may or may not be the same as the eventual sales price.

To arrive at a realistic listing price, your agent will research your competition's pricing through comparable sales (completed transactions as similar to your home as possible). The homes selected for comparison should be physically near; the sales should be recent (within 6 months); and should be close in style, size and condition to your property.

Besides considering the comparable sales, you should study a complete list of homes currently on the market in your area. Remember, buyers will be choosing from that group.


Is it Prudent to Put "Wiggle Room" in the Listing Price?

Setting a fair sales price from the outset is always the best strategy. You need to determine the figure that will attract buyers and at the same time bring the most money for your home.

If you overprice your home agents probably will not bring you any prospects. An overpriced property receives little attention, even though it may be much nicer than others in the neighborhood.

Another problem with an overpriced house is that most buyers seek institutional financing and when the lender has an appraisal done, your house will not appraise at the selling price. If that buyer then backs out of the sale, you may lose six to eight weeks when your home could have been on the market. Knowledgeable buyers want to know how long a house has been on the market and why it hasn't sold. Buyers become suspicious of properties that have been on the market too long, fearing there is something wrong with the house. Even when the agent explains that only the price was wrong, many buyers remain suspicious. Since there are few ill-informed buyers, your home likely will stay on the market and you will have to reduce the price every month or so until it sells.

Setting the asking price for your home is a very important decision that will determine how long your house will be on the market. If the figure you set reflects the true market value, it will attract buyers and your home will sell. Remember that a realistic price has nothing to do with what you owe or what you've put into the property. Price is only what the market will bear.

My best advice is to price it right. Price it too high and your competition looks like a better deal. Overpricing your house only sells your competition.


My House Hasn't Sold. Is There Anything Else I Can Do Besides Lower the Price?

Sometimes cash incentives are as effective as lowering the price, especially in the lower price range where buyers may be "cash poor." You may offer to pay some or all of the buyer's closing costs, discount points required by the buyer's lending institution, or offer a bonus to the selling broker.

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How Can I Make My House More Appealing to Buyers?

If you want to receive top dollar for your house and make it appeal to the largest number of prospective buyers, get it into tip-top model-home condition before it goes on the market. If a house goes on the market before it is ready, agents are likely to write it off and move on so they don't miss a better opportunity. Most buyers just want to turn the key in the front door and move in.

The first impression is critical and buyers begin forming their opinion of your house long before they go inside. No matter how impressive your house is on the inside, many buyers will drive by without stopping if the property lacks curb appeal. Your house's exterior and landscaping will either attract buyers or turn them away.

A freshly mowed, neatly trimmed lawn gives your house a well-maintained appearance. Filling flower beds with annuals is an inexpensive way to add color and charm to the property. Keep lawn equipment, garden hoses, and children's toys out of sight.

Remove or replace dead or dying trees, hedges or shrubs and prune anything that looks scraggly or overgrown. Cut back shrubs that block windows and prevent light from entering your home. Sweep your sidewalks daily; power-wash if dirty. Keep your walks free of snow and ice in the winter.

Keep your garage door closed. Downspouts and gutters should be firmly attached and clean. Remove unsightly oil stains and fill in small cracks in your driveway. Also, be sure to give your mailbox and front door a fresh coat of paint.

Replace missing roof shingles. Replace or repair broken stairs, broken or missing fence slats, and defective doorknobs.

Cracked window panes or torn window screens leave an impression that the house has been neglected; attend to them before anyone views the property. Keep your windows spotless inside and out throughout the marketing period.

Because prospective buyers often drive by in the evening keep at least one light on in each room that faces the street from sunset until you go to bed. Interior lights that can be seen from the street make a house look cozy and inviting.

Curb appeal draws buyers into your house but the interior makes the sale.

Paint every room the same color to make the house look larger. Stick to neutral colors that won't clash with most prospective buyers' tastes. If your basement is dark and gloomy, paint the walls and ceiling a light color and put the highest wattage light bulbs you can safely use in your light fixtures to brighten up the space. Replace burnt-out light bulbs. Your electric box and water heater will be inspected so clean off cobwebs and dust.

Clear everything you don't need out of the house and garage. Eliminating excess furniture makes rooms appear larger. Clutter and excess belongings should be packed away; after all, you will be doing that when you move.

Remove personal possessions such as trophies, family pictures, political and religious items. You want your rooms to allow the buyers to picture their furniture and personal items. A home with less furniture and knickknacks shows its space better and almost always sell quicker than those that have not been de-cluttered.

The kitchen and bath are the rooms that traditionally sell houses. The stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave, ventilating hood and other appliances must be spotlessly clean inside and out. Keep clutter off kitchen counters and dirty dishes out of the sink.

Leaky faucets must be repaired and stains removed from sink. If any of your sinks or bathtubs drain slowly, unclog them. Buyers consider leaky faucets and clogged drains a sign of poor maintenance.

Check grout around your tub and shower. Remove tub mats. Always have fresh towels in the bathrooms. Buy new shower curtains or wash the old ones with bleach to remove mildew. Put new soap in the soap dishes.

Closet space also sells houses. Create additional space by packing away or donating all those old clothes you never wear anymore. Serious buyers will inspect your closets and open built-in drawers. Be sure that they are neat and roomy. All your closets will look larger if they are orderly and uncrowded.

Buyers will notice strong smells as soon as they walk through your front door so eliminate smoke, mildew, food odors, and pet odors. Cleaning drapes and carpets helps get rid of odors. Clean your cat's litter box daily. Remove ashes from the fireplace. If you're a smoker, take smoking breaks outdoors until you sell your house. Aromas like freshly-baked cookies or just-brewed coffee bring back wonderful memories of home while odors from pungent foods such as garlic and fish are a turnoff.

Understand that while you are marketing your home, you will be living in a "model home." That means that in addition to making sure the kitchen is constantly clean, the beds are made and the dusting and vacuuming are kept up, you need to be willing to move that favorite chair to help turn your cozy den into a more spacious area that a potential buyer may envision as theirs.


What Should I Do With My Pets When I'm Not There?

Make plans to take pets with you when leaving the house. If that's too difficult, consider kenneling them while your house is on the market. Remember, up to half of all buyers are allergic to, dislike, or are afraid of pets.

All animals have natural odors so pay special attention to keeping your pet clean to avoid strong animal smells even when he is not at home. And remember to change the litter box daily.


I Don't Want to Go Through the Hassle of Improvements. Can I List My House For Sale "As Is"?

Sometimes selling a house in its present "as-is" condition makes sense, especially if you've owned the house a long time and are not chasing the last profit dollar.

Be aware that an "as-is" house appeals to a smaller number of potential buyers. "As Is" generally means the seller makes no promises about the condition of a house and has no intention of correcting any defects a potential buyer may find. Even if the house is sold "as is," the seller still must disclose known defects to prospective buyers.

An option is to list the house for sale "as is" for 60 days. If it doesn't sell at an acceptable price, then take it off the market and fix it up so it will appeal to more prospective home buyers at a higher asking price.

To maximize profit, fix up the house before listing it for sale.

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I've Been Advised to Have a Home Inspection Before Putting My House on the Market. Is that Necessary?

I urge sellers to hire a home inspector and make the pre-sale home inspection report available to buyers. Up-front inspections are the only way sellers can learn the information they need to make intelligent pricing and repair decisions before they submit a contract. Such a report will make a house stand out from the competition, thus raising the chances of strong bids.

The inspector should look at such items as the plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems; irregularities in the roof framing; cracks in the foundation; evidence of water intrusion into the attic or lower levels of the home; effectiveness of the insulation, etc. At the conclusion of the inspection you should know (1) the condition of your home, including all positive and negative aspects; (2) what repairs are needed, as well as the urgency of the needed repairs, and the magnitude of the repair costs; and (3) if there are any unsafe conditions, and whether there are any risks of hidden deterioration.

When buyers and sellers are surprised by property defects found during an inspection, it always leads to chaos in the transaction and often leads to a deal that is broken.

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Do I Have to Leave the Custom-Made Drapes and Chandelier? What Remains With the Property When It Is Sold?

Many disputes in real estate transactions center around what stays with the house when it is sold. Those disagreements can result in the collapse of the transaction and expensive lawsuits. In general, personal property — that which is movable — may be taken to your new home; fixtures — are those attached to the land and house — must remain. That chandelier given as a wedding gift was personal property when it was sitting in the box; after installation, it probably became a fixture, and would go with the sale unless it was specifically excluded by the contract.

Appliances such as the washer, dryer, microwave oven, freezer are normally personal property that the seller may take. If the appliance is built-in or custom-made, it is usually a fixture. Cabinets, shelves, and built-in (not free-standing) bookcases are usually fixtures.

Window dressings can be items of dispute. Curtain rods, blinds, shades, draperies and valances are usually not considered fixtures unless they are tailor-made, custom-size items. Light fixtures, to include chandeliers, are generally considered to be fixtures. Built-in mirrors are fixtures; hanging mirrors are not. Security systems, television antennas, satellite dishes, and telephone wiring & jacks have been held by courts to be fixtures.

Items outside your home may also be fixtures. Basketball backboards, awnings, storm windows, and screens are usually fixtures. On the other hand, picnic tables, patio and deck furnishings, and window air-conditioning units are usually deemed personal property.

To avoid argument, remove any fixture which you may want to take with you before anyone views the property. If you plan to keep the dining room chandelier, for example, replace it before the house is shown.

To avoid problems at settlement or thereafter, when you move remove only those fixtures that were excluded in the contract of sale. All other fixtures must remain with the house.

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How Can I Make the Move Easier on My Children?

Talk to the children early on about the reasons for the move. Then make a special effort to include them in all stages of the move. Since their world centers around home and friends, a change in those safe environments can be difficult for them.

Make them feel comfortable about the new house and neighborhood before you move. If possible, drive by the new house and the school a few times, then go to the park, the pool and other areas of interest to them. Go to the library and get your cards. If the new house is far away, ask your realtor for interior and exterior photos.

When packing, have your children put their special things in a box and promise to transport them in the car on moving day. Let them decide what toys and books to move and what ones to give away, even if you have to haul unused, unloved possessions to your new home.

And when you get to the new house, set up the children's rooms first to make them feel safe.