Selling Your Home – The Basics

Selling a house is a complicated process, no matter how good the real estate market is. Whether you’re a first-time home seller or not, you’ll probably have a bunch of questions.

Do I need a real estate agent? What’s “closing”? How much paperwork am I going to have to fill out? How can I get the best price for my house? How can I sell my house and buy a new one at the same time?

In this article, you’ll learn the answers to all of these questions and more as we explain what “curb appeal” is and why an open house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

There are two main ways to sell your home -- with an agent or without one. Before we discuss and weigh each option, let’s go over some general tips that all sellers should know.

Knowing the value of your house and exercising patience and restraint are key. Get your home appraised; it’s worth the $250 to $500 price tag. In a good market, the sale price can be 10 percent to 15 percent above the appraisal. In a weaker market, the sale price may be around the appraisal figure. We’ll go over how to figure out your sale price in detail later in the article.

A home inspection is also important in avoiding complications during your sale. The seller will get an inspection, but discovering problems during a pre-sale home inspection allows you to have more control over how to handle them. If your home inspection does uncover problems with your home, it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with your state’s disclosure laws to avoid future litigation. These laws vary from state to state, but they generally require you to disclose, either verbally or in writing, the presence of any hazardous materials in your home or significant flaws in construction. If you’re unsure of what you have to disclose, consult a real estate agent, attorney or your local housing authority.

Remember, patience is key. Yes, it's true that realtors express concern that homes can go “stale” after being on the market for too long, meaning they are no longer attracting interest from buyers. But a stale sale usually results from a seller overvaluing his or her home. The opposite can also occur: in a rush to sell a home, or to sell in time so as to move into a new house, a home can be undervalued.

Finally, if you're able, try to put your home on the market as long as possible before buying a new one. Otherwise you may end up paying two mortgages, which can be difficult to afford. If you do end up finding a house that you can’t wait to buy before selling your own, you can ask your lender for a bridge loan. A bridge loan is a special type of loan that, if you have enough equity in your current home, allows you to pay the down payment on a new home. You may also be able to get a home equity loan in order to help with the dual mortgage payments.

Now that we’ve gone over some basic lessons for selling a home, it’s time to consider an old debate: Do I need a real estate agent or not?

Do I Need a Real Estate Agent?

Though the Internet has made it easier to sell your home without an agent, about 93 percent of home sales are still done with some type of real estate agent. An agent can work independently or for a company that acts as the broker. The broker signs the agreement with the seller. Top agents receive 100 percent of the commission and pay a fee to the broker while less experienced agents get 30 percent to 40 percent of the commission.

There are many reasons why hiring an agent can be helpful:

  • Education and experience - A good realtor understands the complex procedure and paperwork involved in selling a home. He or she has hopefully also gone through a licensing program.
  • Saves time and energy - You won’t have to spend time scheduling and conducting tours of your home, which cut into your work and weekends.
  • Gauging offers - An agent can help discern serious buyers from those who are simply looking.
  • The market - A good Realtor knows the market and understand trends, which can help your bottom line.
  • Negotiation - An agent has the negotiating skills to help you get a good price.
  • Professional contacts - Your agent’s contacts with other realtors and with contractors, inspectors, landscapers and the like can help you find a solution for any problem you may encounter.
  • Sale price - In some cases, buyers will offer less money to someone who’s not using an agent, believing the seller is trying to save money by not paying commission.
  • "Broker’s Open House" - Agents sometimes conduct open houses just for buyer agents where buyer agents arrive in groups and check out the house. This is usually a quick process, is more convenient than a traditional open house and allows buyer agents in the area to tell their clients about your home.

A key tool for real estate agents is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a massive online database, which 900,000 agents subscribe to, that contains listings of 90 percent of properties for sale across the United States. Usually, only subscribing agents can list properties, though in some cases home sellers can pay a fee to list their property.

A full service agent does it all -- prepares your home, conducts open houses, uses the MLS, produces slick marketing materials and a nice sign for your yard and in some cases, hires a professional photographer to take pictures of your house.

Learn more about choosing Jeffrey Burnatowski as your listing agent.

Time to Sell Your House

We've said it before, but it's probably the most important part of selling your home, so we'll say it again. Don't overvalue your home. Using an appraisal helps, but in the end the market determines the price. Consider also the various attributes of your home and the area -- location, schools, weather, housing market, special amenities and home prices in the neighborhood. If working with a broker, sharing this information will allow him or her to better sell your home. There's more of a danger in pricing your house too high. If you happen to price it too low, you will likely receive multiple offers, which should drive up the price.

Prepare your house before putting it on sale, and be ready to look at it with a critical, objective eye. Consider hiring a professional service to clean your house thoroughly, including carpets, appliances and windows. Get rid of any excess clutter. You want to communicate that this is a home that has been well maintained, and even a pile of old newspapers or kids' toys strewn in the hallway can drive a buyer away from your home and towards another.

Does your home need painting? Do any moldings, shutters or trim need to be replaced? Off-white is recommended for the inside of the house, while touching up cracked or peeling paint on the exterior can greatly enhance "curb appeal," or what a buyer sees when standing in front of your home. Make sure your trash cans are put away. Put some flowers out front. Stand at the curb and consider whether this is a house that you'd want to visit if you happened to be walking by.

How to Choose an Offer

Your agent should be able to weed out buyers who can't afford your home by looking at a prospective buyer's credit and debit history, income, employment status, the amount he or she has available for a down payment and the time needed before closing on the house (which should be six to eight weeks).

While your agent is required by law to disclose all offers to you, insist once again that he or she does so. There should also be a clause in your contract requiring all offers to be reported to you.

Think about your own finances. You probably have an ideal price in mind, but, ultimately, at what price are you willing to settle? Do you require a specific amount of money in order to make a down payment on a new home or for car payments? Also keep in mind the fees incurred by the sale process -- agent's commission (if you have an agent), closing costs, attorney's fees and so forth. Factor these numbers into your accounting so that you can have a good idea where you will stand when this process is complete.

The Open House Myth

When many people think of home sales, they think of open houses, of hors d'oeuvres, soft music and strangers walking through a house, asking questions and listening to an agent extol the home's virtues. An open house is still a popular tool used in home sales, but its usefulness is actually far overrated. According to the National Association of Realtors, only 3 percent of houses are sold through the open house method. In fact, open houses are much more useful for agents than for home sellers -- the few hours an agent spends conducting an open house can yield many new clients. Consider carefully then whether you think you can benefit from an open house. If your agent is doing a good job advertising your home, the extra time and expense of conducting an open house shouldn't be necessary. The exception may be the "caravan" described earlier, which helps to spread the word about your house among buyer agents.

Closing a Home Sale

Congratulations! You’ve found a buyer, agreed to a sale price and are ready to sell your home. The long, exhausting process is almost over. Now it’s time to close the deal, so how is that done?

First, you’re going to need a title company. A title company examines the title deed, the document that gives someone ownership of the property, and looks for any issues such as disputed ownership claims or incomplete documentation. They also issue title insurance, which is usually issued to the homebuyer and guarantees against losses that come from a problem with the title.

Next, you’re going to want a lawyer, preferably one who specializes in real estate matters. Hopefully you already made contact with one, especially if you signed a contract with a real estate agent. He or she can then draw up the contract of sale and help you and the buyer work out the details, which can include items from the home included in the sale (major appliances, furniture, fixtures, etc.), the amount of the down payment, the closing and possession dates, conditions for the sale (such as the inspection), particulars of the mortgage, which closing costs are paid by whom and, of course, the sale price.

Your lawyer will also help to guarantee that this contract is fair and contains no hidden or deceptive clauses. And, he or she can advise you on tax implications from your home sale. If you are making a profit on your home sale, that’s great, but be aware that the U.S. Government is going to try to get a piece of the pie. But as your lawyer will tell you, you can generally exclude up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 for a married couple) if you lived in your home for two out of the last five years. If you’ve lived in the house less than two years but are moving due to a change in job, health reasons or for other special circumstances, you can also get an exclusion.

After the contract is signed, you’re just about done. All that remains is to find some movers, hand over the keys and get out by the possession date.

How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Seller Mistakes

Selling a home is an experience many people look forward to with about as much enthusiasm as a root canal or an IRS audit. Perhaps it is because they know that with such an important investment, one misstep or wrong turn could be more than a "learning experience."

Making a mistake in selling a home can be a costly blunder that not only jeopardizes the sale, but also can mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost profit.

What many people do not know is there is an easy way to avoid making the mistakes most commonly involved in selling a home. In fact, many homeowners make some of the same errors when selling their home, no matter how many homes they've sold in the past. In some cases, the mistakes just make the selling process more tedious. In others, they are fatal to the sale. By understanding these mistakes, home sellers can arm themselves with information and gain a better chance of achieving a profitable sale According to top Lehigh Valley Realtor Jeffrey Burnatowski, the following are the ten most common errors committed by home sellers:

1. Limiting the home’s accessibility

Buyers want to view a home when they want to view it. Always using a lockbox so the house can be shown when you're not around. Above all, be flexible. You never know, that showing you turned down could have been the one that sold your house.

2. Panic selling

In some instances, selling quickly is unavoidable. That is when it pays to know the right techniques to get your home to sell fast without looking desperate and making yourself a prime target for low-ball bidders. Sometimes, however, panic selling is a result of poor planning up front. By knowing all the ins and outs of selling before you put your home on the market and working hand-in-hand with the right real estate professional, you can make sure you don't wind up backed against the wall and settling for the first offer that comes along.

3. "My home is the nicest on the block" syndrome

Devotion is wonderful, but blindness to your home's flaws and cosmetic problems can make you overvalue your home, hurting its chances on the market.

4. Letting emotions rule

In the heat of making a deal, it's easy to get caught up in wringing that last $500 out of the buyer, instead of backing up, taking a deep breath, and looking at the big picture. Sellers should not haggle and maybe lose a sale over a small amount of money that will not mean a thing to them in three years.

5. Failure to disclose property flaws

Sellers today are required to comply with property disclosure laws. Often it is not just what you know about what's wrong with your home, but what you do not know that can hurt you. You should understand what the laws are for your area and where to find the qualified inspectors you need to help you meet those requirements. If you risk covering up flaws or ignoring disclosure laws, you not only risk the sale of your home; you risk finding yourself in court.

6. Unwillingness to make cosmetic improvements

Many sellers will not lay down new carpet, repaint the purple bedroom or mow the lawn until after their first listing has expired. People need to prepare their homes quickly to make the best impression possible. Spending $1,500 on carpet might make you $5,000 at closing time. Get an objective point of view can provide you with a detailed list of things you can do to make your home more salable and explain the most important things a buyer looks for in a home.

7. Telling your agent how to do his or her job

Would you tell your physician, following a diagnosis, that you had run your own tests and decided your diagnosis was better? Unfortunately, many sellers try to tell their agent why a home isn't selling instead of listening to the advice of a professional. If you have chosen the right real estate agent, you've got a valuable team member on your side who can not only protect your best interests, but help you make your sale as profitable as possible.

8. Doing it yourself – at any cost

In real estate as in life, everything has a price. The majority of homeowners who decide to sell their homes themselves do so because they believe they can save money by not having to pay commission to a real estate agent. However, many times those homeowners find that the true cost of selling a home themselves is found in the enormous amount of time and effort they must spend to do it, or worse, they wind up paying – even more money repairing a costly mistake that could have been avoided with the right guidance. Selling a home really is a full-time job. Make sure you are aware of all the pros and cons before you decide to try and do it yourself. .

9. Bad pricing strategies

Most of the homes that do not sell during the first listing period fail because they are priced too high. On the other hand, other homes may sell quickly but their owners may have been cheated out of their full profit because they were priced too low. Sellers need to understand what is happening in the local real estate market and evaluate the true value of their homes based on hard, cold facts, not gut instinct or conventional wisdom. Your agent has to do his job and tell you something that's in your best interest, and you have to be willing to listen.

10. Selecting the wrong Seller’s Agent

People often pick a friend or family member as their agent. What they should be doing is choosing the most successful, experienced agent in the area with the strongest track record of customer satisfaction. Highly successful agents have many contacts with buyers and know the market well. Learn more about choosing Jeffrey Burnatowski as your seller’s agent.

Home Improvements Tips

Ever wonder which home improvements will pay you back if you decide to sell your home? I’ve compiled a basic list of tips and tricks for a more attractive listing.

Pools

Have you ever heard a real estate agent say that an inground swimming pool is a negative? If you are a pool owner, you can relax. It is safe to assume that most buyers who buy a house with an inground swimming pool really wanted a swimming pool. Buyers who want a pool, and there are a huge number of them, might very well choose a house because it had a pool, over a house that does not.

The reality of the pool issue is this: If, for example, you paid $20,000 for an inground swimming pool, you can’t add $20,000 to the value of your house to recoup the cost of the pool. So, you should buy a pool if you want one and consider it to be the cost of family entertainment. Chances are when you sell, not only will you recoup some of your initial investment, but the buyer will choose your home over others because they want the pool too.

Paint

The easiest and most obvious easy answer is paint. A fresh coat of paint can do wonders and is fairly inexpensive. If you do the work yourself, and do a very good job (that means there are no paint spots on the trim or ceiling), you can recoup the expense easily. While no one will probably pick your house just because of the good looking paint job, many buyers won't buy a house that needs paint, even if they like it because it "feels" like a maintenance issue. Some buyers think that if the house needs painted, there are probably other maintenance issues not being addressed. Too many different colors in a house or a lot of pattern in the paint may turn off some buyers too. Neutral colors broaden the base of buyers who might choose your house.

Landscaping

Landscaping is like the frame on a picture. It does not need to look like the entrance to a Post Apartment complex, but it does need to look manicured and maintained. If you are trying to sell, freshen up the beds with fresh pine bark, use an edger and pick up the leaves. A little TLC and a few flowers can make a dramatic difference and many sales are lost at the street.

Carpet

If the carpet needs to be replaced, do it before you list the house for sale. Choose a neutral color of decent quality. Sellers often say they will give a carpet allowance at closing and for some buyers, this works. However, many buyers buy on emotion and won't be able to see past how the carpet looks now. The logic that says they get to select brand new carpet does not work with certain personality types. They make their selection based on what is there today. By not changing the carpet before you sell, you are eliminating many of your potential buyers.

Adding a Bathroom

Bathrooms added to a house will usually recoup their cost in a sale, again, provided the work is of good quality. An additional room might appeal to some as an office or playroom, but an added bath makes the perception of value goes way up. Adding a bath to a finished basement is always a plus, too.

Finishing a Basement

Finishing a basement to provide additional living space works well as long as the basement is dry and the work is of good quality. Houses with basements generally sell faster than similar homes without basements and finished rooms can add value to your home.

Closing In A Garage

Closing in a garage to make a den or additional bedroom is not usually a good idea. Most buyers want a garage and not having one could put your home in the negative column. First time homebuyers, moving from apartments, name a garage as one of the single most important "must haves" in their first home. Move up buyers have a hard time giving up a feature they have had in the past.

Why Choose Jeffrey Burnatowski as my Seller’s Agent?

If you need help buying your next home, I, Jeffrey Burnatowski of RE/MAX Real Estate, will provide you with guidance, market research, loan referrals and help negotiating. I will be at your side for closing and long after.

As a Seller, you establish an agency relationship with the Broker when you list your home. As a buyer, you must choose to be represented in a real estate transaction or to merely act as a homebuyer without representation. If you need help buying your next home, I, Jeffrey Burnatowski of RE/MAX Real Estate, will provide you with guidance, market research, loan referrals and help negotiating. I will be at your side for closing and long after.

It is customary in Pennsylvania that the buyer’s agent fee is paid by the Seller at closing. Because of this, buyer representation is FREE, so why not have the advantage of a REALTOR with over 30 years of experience working for you?

When buying a home, the cost is the same if you choose to be represented by a REALTOR or to have no representation. Representation offers far more benefits and greatly streamlines the home buying process. It is, therefore, to your advantage to choose representation when buying your next home.

My clients receive a level of service that is unsurpassed in the industry today. If you are buying a home or selling your current one, I not only specialize in helping you find your next home, but also in guiding your through the closing process.

Buyer Profile Program

Buyers and sellers who sign a Buyer Broker agreement can receive emails of every listing that meet their specific criteria so they can drive by and look at homes throughout the listing period. You can contact me about any home you see advertised. I am able to show any home even if it is not listed by RE/MAX Real Estate. In addition, if you decide to sell, the search for your new home will be stress-free. I will always keep you up-to-date about the market and current listings.

Listening Is my Business

I want you to tell me everything down to the smallest detail that describes your perfect home. Does it have a window seat, three car garage, an office, or perhaps a whirlpool tub? How does it feel? Open and airy, warm and cozy, or bold and dramatic? What type of neighborhood? Are schools important? What is your lifestyle like? Would you like amenities, such as a pool or a tennis court? What are some things you do not want? I will show you EVERY listing that has all of the features you desire within your price range. Then, just tell me which ones you would like to see in person. It’s as simple as that. I find the best available homes on the market. In most cases, my buyers find their new home in the first group of property matches.

Advantages of Signing a Buyer Agency Agreement with Jeffrey Burnatowski

Enlisting the services of a professional Buyer’s Agent is similar to using an accountant to help you with your taxes, a doctor to help you with your health care, or a mechanic to help you with your car. The advantage is obvious. You could learn about accounting, medicine, and automotive mechanics and perform these services yourself - but, who has the time? You probably committed to a full-time career and family responsibilities. This is why you allow other professionals to help you in specific areas of expertise.

I have devoted over 30 years to perfecting my services. It’s always better to make an informed decision to buy something than it is to be sold something. When you have me as your Buyer’s Agent your interests are professionally represented, you have more control and peace of mind than if you buy without an agent. Buying a home is a big decision. Let me act as your advocate, even if you find that perfect home yourself. Finding the home is only one step in the entire home buying process.

You Get a Great Home Quickly and Conveniently

The advantage to signing a Buyer’s Agency Agreement with me is that you will find and secure the perfect home exactly when you need it. Without an experience agent, it is nearly impossible to find a home that meets your needs, get a contract negotiated, and close the transaction in a reasonable amount of time. When you tour homes with your personal Buyer’s Agent you will already know that the homes meet your criteria for bedrooms, bathrooms, garage space, basement, square footage, neighborhood, etc. all within your price range.

You Get a Personal Specialist That Knows Your Needs

Just as your accountant, doctor, and mechanic get to know your needs through a steady relationship, your Buyer Agent also gets to know your real estate needs and concerns. This type of relationship is built through constant open communication and by touring homes together. I will compile feedback and concerns about each home and refine your search criteria.

Seller’s Checklist

Use this handy checklist to guide you through the home selling process.

1. Gauge your need to sell.

  • Define your goals for the next 5-10 years.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of selling your house.
  • Figure out if you can afford to sell, move and buy a new home.
  • Calculate your home equity.
  • Research the local housing market.
  • Consider remodeling the home to fit your needs.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of renting out your home.

2. Calculate your selling expenses.

  • List the repairs and projects you'll have to do to get your home in selling condition and estimate the costs of hiring supplies and contractors.
  • See what projects you can afford and adjust how much you expect to get for selling your home.
  • To get top dollar, consider remodeling projects and green upgrades that increase your home value.
  • Expect to pay about 7 percent to 10 percent of the home's sale price in closing costs, including real estate agent commissions, transfer taxes and prorated property taxes.
  • Factor in these costs:
    • Professional home inspection
    • Capital gains tax
    • Mortgage payoff penalties
    • Staging and marketing expenses
    • Moving expenses
    • Cost of living in new city or neighborhood
    • Costs related to getting a mortgage for new home

3. Plan your selling strategy.

  • Determine how fast you need to sell your house and how much money you want to get from the sale.
  • Interview reputable real estate brokers and list your home on the multiple listing service (MLS). Learn more about choosing Jeffrey Burnatowski as your seller’s agent.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of selling the home yourself.
  • Learn how to go about selling your home yourself.
  • Consider a physical or online auction for a quick sale in a slow market.
  • Look into home-swapping opportunities online.
  • Plan your sale during the spring or fall peak homebuying seasons.
  • If you hire a listing agent, negotiate terms of your listing contract, such as commissions and termination date.
  • Determine your home's strengths and unique features and promote them in all advertising.

4. Determine your home's fair market value (FMV) and set a price.

  • Research public records and collect information on comps (comparable homes) in your area with similar square footage, construction, age and condition that sold within the past six months and are currently on the market.
  • Browse listings for homes for sale in your area to get a sense of what is on the market and current home prices.
  • Ask your agent to prepare a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) report.
  • Find out about new construction and foreclosures in your area.
  • Figure out the average cost per square foot for your area, and make sure your home is in line with it.
  • Evaluate market trends, including whether it's a buyer's or seller's market.
  • Use your FMV to determine your asking price. Consider pricing strategies such as pricing low to urge a bidding war or Value Range Marketing.

5. Advertise and market the home.

  • MLS listings
  • "For Sale" signs
  • Classified sections of local newspapers
  • Real estate publications
  • Put ads on free Web sites like craigslist.com.
  • Create your own Web site to promote your home.
  • Email notices or flyers about your home to real estate agents, friends, family, coworkers, everyone.
  • Use photos to showcase your home. Hire a professional real estate photographer or learn how to take great pictures yourself.
  • Use a handheld video camera to give online buyers a virtual tour of your home, by walking through each room and talking about its features.

6. Prepare and stage the home.

  • Have a yard sale. Sell, donate or trash everything you don't need.
  • Make necessary repairs.
  • Make improvements to increase your curb appeal, i.e. the home's external attractiveness when viewed from the street.
  • Hire a professional home stager or research staging tips.
  • Declutter, depersonalize and decorate every room and outdoor areas so buyers can imagine themselves living in the home.
  • Paint interior rooms neutral colors.
  • Replace outdated lighting fixtures and window treatments.

7. Set up showings and open houses.

  • Keep the home in show-ready condition at all times.
  • Take appointments or set up a lockbox so agents can show the home when you're not available.
  • Hold an exclusive open house for local real estate agents to introduce them to the home and get feedback. Include food and refreshments.
  • Hold an open house for potential buyers. Advertise in local publications and put up signage in the area.

8. Review purchase offers.

  • For each offer, note the proposed offer price, preapproval letter, contingencies, earnest money amount, proposed closing date and offer expiry date.
  • Have a process in place if you expect to get multiple offers.
  • Keep emotions in check when receiving lowball offers.

9. Make counteroffers and negotiate.

  • Approach each offer as an opportunity to negotiate.
  • If the buyer's offer is contingent on selling a home, counter with a Removal of Sale Contingency.
  • If you won't budge on price, offer financial incentives that don’t require cash out of your pocket, such as paying for part or all of the buyer's closing costs, repairs found during the property inspections or points.
  • Offer to include furniture, appliances, window treatments or lighting fixtures.
  • If you're worried you won't be able to buy a home after you sell, include a "rent back" clause which lets you rent back your home from the buyers after escrow closes.
  • Make a full-price counteroffer, if your comps can back it up.
  • Make the sale contingent on your buying a home.
  • Don't forget to set a closing date and move-in date.
  • If you find a serious buyer who is having trouble qualifying for a mortgage, consider offering seller financing, a mortgage assumption or a lease-to-own deal.

10. Get through escrow.

  • Create a formal plan for handling home repairs, including when they should be made and who pays for them.
  • Clean and prepare the home for the appraisal and home inspections.
  • Choose an escrow officer who will order a title search, request payoff information for your mortgage and other liens on the home, prepare and record documents, hold and disburse funds and prepare closing statements.
  • Prepare for the final walk-through inspection.
  • Sign the closing documents and move out of your home.
  • Keep copies of your documents for reporting the sale on federal and state tax forms.

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