Can I sell my house myself?
Many people believe they can save a
considerable amount of money by selling on their own. They look at the
commission on a house and remember
stories of friends or relatives who managed to get through the process
with seemingly little trouble. "Other people have sold their own homes,"
they say — "so why can't I?"
Approximately 10 percent of American
homeowners handle their own sales. But in order to do this, you'll need to
realistically assess exactly what's involved. The routine parts of the job
involve pricing your house accurately, determining whether or not a buyer
is qualified, creating and paying for your own advertising, familiarizing
yourself with enough basic
real estate regulations to
understand (and possibly even prepare) a real estate
contract, and coordinating the
details of a
closing. These are serious
responsibilities to take on, and they include the concerns that your house
is only on the
market when you're home, your
marketplace is limited to those you can reach locally, and a mistake may
cost you the money you're trying to save.
The best reason for working with a real estate
broker is the enormous amount of
information they have at their disposal — information that can help make
your house sell faster and easier. Professionals know about
market trends, houses in your
neighborhood, and the people most likely to buy in such neighborhoods.
They also know how to reach the largest number of people who may be
interested in your house (both through old-fashioned sales skill and the
Internet resources of a reputable real estate company), and are trained in
areas like screening potential buyers and negotiating with them. Finally,
they're always "on-call," and willing to do the things most of us don't:
working on the weekends and answering the phone at all hours.
What makes a house sell?
This entire book could be devoted to answering
this question. But to be as concise as possible, a successful sale
requires that you concentrate on six considerations: your sale price, your
terms of sale, the condition of your house, its location, its
accessibility, and the extent of marketing exposure your house receives.
While some of these factors are beyond your control (such as the actual
sale price), you can compensate by taking advantage of others (like a new
paint job) to make your property as attractive to prospective buyers as
When is the best time to list a house for
The "best" time to list your house is actually
as soon as you decide to sell it.
If you want to get the best price for your
house, the key is to give yourself as much time as possible to sell it.
More time means more potential buyers will probably see the house. This
should result in more
offers; it also gives you time to
consider more options if the
market is slow or initial
interest is low.
Is there any seasonality to the
Peak selling seasons vary in different areas
of the country, and weather has a lot to do with it. For example, late
spring and early fall are the prime listing seasons in many areas because
houses tend to "show" better in those months than they do in the heat of
summer or the cold of winter. And of course, people like to do their house
shopping when the weather is pleasant.
But keep in mind that there are also more
houses on the market during the prime seasons, so you'll have more
competition. So while there is seasonality in the
real estate market, it's not
something that should dominate your decision on when to sell.
market conditions — price trends,
, and the economy in
general? Should they have any bearing on when I list?
Probably not. Even if you're under no pressure
to sell, waiting for better market conditions is not likely to increase
your profit potential.
Create a "fact sheet" about your house and neighborhood and distribute
it to as many people as possible.
How long should it take to sell?
Average listing times vary from 30 to 180
days, according to
market conditions in a particular
region, town, or even neighborhood, and of course, price, terms,
condition, location, accessibility and exposure play an even greater role.
Selling in any market is easier if you keep time on your side. Most
professionals will tell you that allowing yourself at least six months
will put you in a position to get a better return from their marketing
What if I can't sell my old house before I
have to move?
This situation can arise for any number of
reasons. For instance, getting the job promotion you've been waiting for
may mean having to relocate very quickly. Another example: you finally
find your "dream home," and need to get it under
contract before it sells to
another buyer. Whatever the reason, don't panic. You have some viable
alternatives to the worrisome possibility of double
If you don't have to sell in order to buy a
new home, consider the advantages and disadvantages of renting your old
house. If you're being transferred before you've had a chance to decide on
the new house, you may be able to obtain a short-term rental of your own
while you're becoming familiar with the new area. Either way, a local
real estate professional can
usually help, by advising you how much you can expect to pay for rent in
your new city, or what you need to charge for your current home to both
cover your mortgage payments and take care of other costs you'll entail as
Another solution available from some brokers
is the guaranteed sale plan, which is detailed in the next question.
What if I do have to sell my current house
Some brokers offer guaranteed-sale plans,
which are essentially a written promise to buy your house at a
pre-determined price if it doesn't sell by a certain date. The amount of
the guaranteed price varies considerably between brokers.
If you opt for the guaranteed-sale route, look
into the ERA® Sellers Security® Plan. It's a unique guaranteed-sale plan
offered in all 50 states. You'll sleep better knowing your participating
ERA Real Estate has the financial backing to fulfill the terms of the
plan. You are also entitled to some additional benefits that are
automatically included in the program.
How do I price my house?
Always price your property sensibly.
It is important to be realistic about your
home's value and price it accordingly. To determine the fair market value,
a real estate professional can supply information on comparable homes that
have sold or gone under contract in your area.
What is "fair market value," and how do I
Simply put, the
fair market value of a house is
the highest price an informed buyer will pay, assuming there is no unusual
pressure to complete the purchase.
To get an estimate of fair market value,
contact a local ERA® office and ask for a
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA)
of your house. The analysis will give you a realistic figure based on the
most salient features of the local real estate market. It should provide
information about recent sales of similar houses, including how much they
sold for and how long it took. The real estate professional's price
opinion is very helpful in determining the right
What's the difference between fair market
You can assume that some negotiation will be
necessary to reach an agreement with a buyer. The professional who
presents you with the results of your CMA will provide all the data that
fair market value.
Then, based on your own timing and marketplace variables, your real estate
professional will be willing to help you establish a competitive pricing
strategy. Generally speaking, the owner's asking price — the advertised
price of a house when it goes on the market — is set slightly higher than
fair market value.
Who can help me determine the right
sales professionals suggest
asking prices based on a wide
array of information you may not have at your disposal, including recent
listing and selling prices of
houses in your neighborhood. If you're not completely confident in their
suggestions, you may want to order an
Next, establish clear priorities. If you had
to choose, are you more concerned with selling quickly, or getting the
Someone else — a neighbor, friend or relative
— may point out advantages or disadvantages about your house that you
hadn't thought about. Third-party views will help you start thinking of
your house as a commodity, with positive and negative selling points. Then
you should decide on a price that you feel is competitive and consistent
with what other houses in your area have sold for.
How flexible should I be about the
Generally, the first three weeks will be the
test period of your initial asking price. If you see showings drop off and
very few return visits, you may want to consider repositioning your asking
price. Most buyers leave room for negotiation when they make an
offer. Thus, a certain degree of
flexibility is usually called for on the part of both the buyer and
While it is ultimately your decision to accept
or reject an offer, or present a counter-proposal, a good
real estate professional can be of great
assistance to you during the negotiating process. In fact, negotiation is
one of the valuable skills a real estate professional can offer you. As
negotiations proceed — whether in writing, face-to-face, or by phone —
your sales professional will inform you of your options in responding to
each offer from the buyer, so you can make an educated decision as to how
you want to proceed.
HOME IMPROVEMENTS FOR SELLING
Should I fix my house up before it goes on
Unless your house is nearly new, chances are
you'll want to do some work to get it ready to market. The type and amount
of work depend largely on the price you're asking, the time you have to
sell, and the present condition of the house.
If you're in a hurry to sell, do the "little
things" that make your house look better from the outside and show better
inside. Read on for several specific ideas for making low-cost
What is "curb appeal," and how do I create
"Curb appeal" is a common
term for everything prospective buyers can see from the street that might
make them want to turn in and take a look. Improving curb appeal is
critical to generating traffic. While it does take time, it needn't be
difficult or expensive, provided you keep two key words in mind: neat and
Neatness sells. New paint, an immaculate lawn,
picture-perfect shrubbery, a newly sealed driveway, potted plants at the
front door — put them all together, and drive-by shoppers will probably
want to see the rest of the house.
Then, for both the inside and outside of your
house, if you're going to repaint, choose neutral colors, and keep clutter
and personal knick-knacks, photos, etc. to a minimum. Remember, when a
family looks at a house, they're trying to paint a picture of what it
would be like as their home. You want to give them as clean a canvas as
What should I do to make the house show
First, make your house look as clean and
spacious as possible. Remember, people may look behind your doors — closet
and crawlspace doors, as well as those to the bedrooms and bathrooms. So
get rid of all the clutter; rent a storage space if you need to, hold a
garage sale or call a local charity.
After you've cleaned, try to correct any
cosmetic flaws you've noticed. Paint rooms that need it, re-grout tile
walls and floors, remove or replace any worn-out carpets. Replace dated
faucets, light fixtures, and the handles and knobs on your kitchen drawers
and cabinets if needed.
Finally, as with the outside of your house,
try to make it easy for prospective buyers to imagine your house as their
home. Clear as much from your walls, shelves, and countertops as you can.
Give your prospects plenty of room to dream.
ERA® "Show &
Sell" Checklist to get specific ideas on how to make your house look
its best. Additionally, ask your real estate professional for any company
brochures or videos on the subject. Such materials are usually free and
extremely helpful to most homeowners.
Before you list, give your house a bath — most equipment rental shops
carry power washers.
Should I make any major home improvements?
Certain home improvements that are useful to
almost everyone have proven to add value or speed the sale of houses.
These include adding central air conditioning to the heating system;
building a deck or patio; finishing the basement; doing some kitchen
remodeling (updating colors on cabinets, countertops, appliances, panels,
etc.); and adding new floor and/or wall coverings, especially in
bathrooms. On the other hand, improvements that return less than what they
cost are generally ones that appeal to personal tastes that not everyone
may share, like adding fireplaces, wet bars and swimming pools, or
converting the garage into an extra room.
The challenge that comes with any home
improvement designed to help sell your house is recouping your investment.
There's always the risk of over-improving your house — that is, putting
more money into it than neighborhood prices will support.
So how much is too much? Professional
renovators have found that, no matter how much you improve any given
house, you're unlikely to sell it for more than 15 percent above the
median price of other houses in the neighborhood, whether you do $1,000
worth of work or $50,000. That's why you might want to ask your
sales professional's opinion about
the viability of recouping the cost of any major renovation you have in
mind before you start the work.
Should I do the work myself?
If you have the time and talent,
do-it-yourself improvements are the most cost-effective way to go.
Painting, wallpapering, replacing cracked trim and old plumbing fixtures —
the difference between work done by a competent amateur and a professional
is usually time and money. Just make sure you don't tackle something you
can't handle — this is no time for "on-the-job training." If you're not
experienced, it may be worth calling in a professional.
Larger jobs involving mechanical systems
(heating, electrical, plumbing, etc.), or work that must meet local
building codes, are another story. Even if you or the family handyman know
exactly what you're doing, it's not a good idea to engage in this type of
work unless you're licensed to do so. Your attempts could make you
responsible for more than you realize if something you worked on goes
wrong after you sell.
Am I liable for repairs after I sell?
Yes. If the buyer's
inspection reveals major problems
with your house's structure or mechanical systems (heating, electrical,
plumbing, etc.), the buyer may wish to negotiate the price downward on the
basis of anticipated repair costs. So even though the repairs won't be
made until after the sale, practically speaking, you'll be paying for
Sometimes, repairs may be required before the
title takes place. This is
especially true in sales that involve financing that's insured or
guaranteed by the government (FHA/VA
loans, for example).
You may also have heard about lawsuits
involving sellers who failed to disclose major problems before the sale —
like an addition to the house that wasn't built to code. Most states now
maintain very specific disclosure laws that require sellers to disclose
any pertinent information related to the condition of the property. For
example, most states require sellers to notify buyers about the presence
of any lead-based paint. It is important for you to be knowledgeable about
your state's disclosure laws.
These are just a few good reasons to retain a
sales professional who know as
much about the condition of your property as you do. It's also a good idea
to get the buyer's written
acknowledgment of any major
problems when you accept their
What about home warranties? Are they
available to sellers as well as buyers?
Yes they are, and they're worth investigating.
It's our belief that the ERA® Home Protection Plan® is one of the best
selling points you can add to your house. It's easy to see why. After a
buyer has invested substantial funds in a
down payment and moving expenses,
the last thing they want to worry about is a costly home repair. With the
ERA® Home Protection Plan®, they don't have to.
warranty offers protection for you
and your buyer, covering repair or replacement costs for breakdowns to
most major systems and built-in appliances for up to a year after the date
closing. In many states, there is
no additional cost to sellers who provide coverage for their buyers,
except for a small deductible if you make a claim. And when you consider
the peace of mind that comes with knowing 24-hour emergency service is
always just a phone call away, it's hard to imagine a better investment.
Buyers want kitchens to be spotlessly clean and efficient, with as
much counter space as possible.
MARKETING YOUR HOME
How do I reach the right potential buyers?
Today, people are moving farther and more
frequently than they used to; it's not unusual for upwardly mobile
executives to relocate across the country more than once in a year. The
result is that the pool of potential buyers for your house is much larger
and spreads far wider than ever before, and the competition to reach them
These developments make it more important
than ever to choose the
real estate company with the
most sophisticated and savvy marketing techniques. Companies with
much-visited Web sites, extensive available listings, web tools
designed to help consumers buy and sell, and prominent, effective
advertising and marketing materials are essential for identifying the
right buyers and convincing them that yours is the house for them. The
yard sign is just the beginning, but with a knowledgeable sales
professional, your selling process can promptly reach a happy ending.
What's an MLS and why do I need one?
Multiple Listing Service, or MLS,
is another resource to help ensure you reach a large number of prospective
buyers and dramatically increase the exposure of a property.
Quite simply, it's a system under which
participating brokers agree to share
commission on the sale of houses
listed by any one of them. So, for example, if you list your house with
broker and another broker actually
sells it, they share the commission. The advantage to you is clear; more
people have an interest in selling your house.
Over the years, the MLS concept has grown from
a strictly local sales tool into a powerful national marketing system.
That's due largely to ERA Real Estate, whose pioneering use of the fax
machine, back in 1971, led to the development of the nation's first
Remove any attached decorative items — e.g., chandeliers, stained
glass, etc. — that you don't intend to sell with the house.
How important is advertising?
Advertising remains an important component in
the marketing process. Today, however, this means much more that an ad
placed in the local newspaper. Today's real estate brokers have the
knowledge and resources to market your home through an array of proven
modern methods, including TV, magazines, radio, the Internet and direct
mail in addition to traditional print advertising. They are trained to
determine where the pool of buyers for your particular property might most
likely be found and from that, can best determine the type of advertising
that is best for your property
What should I expect from an open house?
open house is another valuable
part of the marketing process, offering prospective buyers the chance to
view houses in a low-pressure, "browsing" atmosphere. With that in mind,
you shouldn't expect it to generate a sale, at least not directly. What
you should look for is interest expressed and requests for private
showings made to your sales professional in the days following the open
Open houses are always valuable. If
many prospective buyers attend, it shows you that the property is
attractive and saleable. If very few people show up, it can indicate that
the price is too high, and cause you to look for ways to improve
Curb appeal. Try not to draw your
own conclusions — your
sales professional will give you a
full report on open-house activity and offer a professional assessment of
Sales professionals often hold an open house
for other sales professionals shortly after a house is listed. This event,
usually held mid-week when real estate people can give it their full
attention, can be as important to your efforts as your
listing in the local MLS. The more
professionals who see your house, the more prospects you're likely to
Should I try to avoid being at home when
the house is shown?
You should definitely plan to be out of the
house during any
open house your sales professional
has scheduled; the same goes for first showings to prospective buyers.
People often feel uncomfortable speaking candidly and asking questions in
front of current owners. You want them to feel as free as possible to
picture your house as their "dream home."
Who actually sells my house — a
broker or a sales professional?
Both. In legal terms, a
real estate sales professional is
an individual trained and licensed to act for other people looking to buy
or sell a piece of property. While that definition applies to both, the
broker is permitted to collect fees and/or
commission for such work.
Thus, the sales professional — with whom you
have most of your day-to-day contact — works on behalf of, and is
compensated by, the broker.
Will my sales professional be present at
If you wish. while the law does not require
their presence, both the
buying agent and the
selling agent may attend the
closing. Even though most of the
procedures are handled by the lenders,
title companies, and in some cases
an attorney, you'll find that your
sales professional can be a
valuable source of information and counsel, especially if any last-minute
Good sales professionals are also extremely
helpful in the days immediately prior to the closing. They'll help you
prepare by giving you a step-by-step preview of the entire process and
what will be expected of you. And they'll make certain you bring all
necessary documents and other information.
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WITH A REAL ESTATE PROFESSIONAL
What makes a sales professional effective?
We believe good training and experience make
sales professionals. But the truth
is, not every sales professional is right for every seller. That's why we
suggest that you follow this simple formula to help you decide whether a
particular sales professional will work well for you
COMPETENCE + COMFORT = CONFIDENCE
Competence: When you first meet with a
real estate professional, they'll do their best to show you that they have
what it takes to sell your house. You can expect to see a portfolio of
credentials, past achievements, sales volume and letters of
recommendation. Look for evidence that their background is relevant to
your needs. The sales professional you choose should also be up-to-date on
the current pool of potential buyers for houses like yours; professionals
can stay informed of this through real estate company Web sites, such as
ERA.com, and industry networking.
Comfort: The importance of being
comfortable with your sales professional as a person cannot be overstated.
You're going to be dealing with this individual on a regular basis, maybe
for months, during a time that can be emotionally trying for you and your
It takes a unique combination of these two
characteristics — competence and comfort — to inspire the confidence a
homeowner needs to maintain peace of mind through the process of selling a
house. It's something for which every ERA® sales professional strives.
Always There For You® is more than a tagline. It's our way of doing
How do I find the sales professional who's
right for me?
A good place to start is by talking to
friends, neighbors, and relatives — anyone whose recommendation you trust.
You can also try responding to
sales professionals' local
advertising, direct mail, or Web site profiles. If they have the resources
and initiative to maintain such a presence in your marketplace, it's a
good sign that they may have the sales skill you're looking for.
Do I have to pay a commission even if I
find the buyer?
That depends on the type of
listing you agree to. If you sign
exclusive agency contract, you may
sell the house on your own without paying a
commission. In an
exclusive right-to-sell agreement, you owe a commission even if you find
the buyer. Which type you choose may largely depend on which sales
professional you work with and how much trust you place in his or her
abilities (as well as how much time and expertise you feel you have to
devote to finding a buyer and negotiating a
contract on your own.)
What is the advantage of an exclusive
Incentive — it lets sales professionals know
that their time and effort will not go unrewarded. That's one reason the
great majority of residential listings are marketed under exclusive
What if my sales professional doesn't
commission, the most important
matter you negotiate at the time of
listing your house with a
broker is the duration of the
contract. Terms vary, but
listing agreements are seldom for
less than three months or greater than one year.
But what if you find yourself dissatisfied
midway through a nine-month contract? While the listing contract is
legally binding, some brokers offer homeowners an "out" if they are
unhappy with the services they are receiving. The ERA Commitment to
Service is one example of such a satisfaction-guarantee, and more
information about it is available at the end of this section.
Why list my house with an ERA
Exclusive services that can make selling your
house faster and easier, and unparalleled expertise in local and national
markets — those are two of the most important reasons why no one can sell
your house more effectively than an ERA® professional.
Beyond that, we're sincerely interested in
helping make the experience of selling your home as smooth and easy as
possible. So even if you're not ready to list your house — if you simply
have questions about the market in your area, price or mortgage trends, or
anything else about
real estate as it relates to you —
just pick up your phone and call the ERA® office nearest you. As our
tagline states, we're Always There For You®.