You’re considering selling your home on your own. After all, why should you pay a commission to a real estate agent to do a job you can probably just do yourself? Well, before you make that decision, we thought it might be helpful for you to have part of the job description to prepare you for what’s ahead. Here are twelve steps you’ll need to take when attempting to sell your home on your own:
Get your home in move-in condition before you start. You’ll need to be prepared to show the house as soon as you’ve made it known that it’s available. Everything should be clean and clutter-free both inside and outside. If you were working with a real estate agent, you would have access to their whole network of vendors to assist you with getting everything in order. Without an agent, you’ll need to enlist your own team of service providers (taking your chances on whoever’s listed in a web search or asking all your friends whom they might know) or do all the work yourself.
Price your home. This means knowing your local market. It means knowing how much the house across the street sold for and how much folks are willing to spend in your area, etc. Remember that you can run into difficulties both by underpricing AND overpricing your home. Underprice it, and you’re just leaving money on the table. Overprice it, and they’ll make an offer on another, more reasonably priced property. You can hire someone to appraise the home for you to help you come to a fair number, but you’ll pay a lot of money for a service that a real estate agent will help you do as part of the job.
List your home on a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). That’s how your home will be on other peoples’ radars and how you’ll have the most potential buyers aware that you’re selling. A real estate agent would do this for you, but if you’re selling your home yourself, you’ll need to take care of this. And you’ll need to add the cost for a flat-fee MLS listing to your list of expenses, usually to the tune of a few hundred dollars.
Be a master of marketing. This means more than putting up a “For Sale” sign in your yard. Or investing the money in the MLS listing referenced above. It means being prepared to talk about your home to anyone who will listen. Taking quality pictures of your home and yard. Staging your home—twice—once for the photos and again (differently) to show the house. Creating and posting flyers and brochures. Sharing info on social media. Visibility is half the battle, and you should be prepared to put a significant amount of time and money into making sure your home is visible to potential buyers. Staging and marketing can be expensive. Most agents spend about $1,000 up front on these items in the first few weeks of listing!
Be responsive to calls and messages. If you’ve done the marketing piece right, you’ll be inundated with phone calls and emails and social media messages. If you fail to respond in a timely manner, those people will move on to another property and owner who does respond promptly to their inquiries. Plan to receive calls that come at inconvenient times—like during your work day or when you’re at a child’s sports event or the one day the military gives your service member off for the next month. And plan to figure out a way to answer anyway or miss an opportunity.
Plan and host an open house. Time for more signs and brochures and social media that promote the event in advance. Time to do another run-through of your home and yard not just with an eye for cleanliness, but also with a plan to make it as warm and inviting to potential buyers as possible. You’ll be playing the part of host/hostess, and that means everything from setting out light refreshments, to welcoming guests, to giving the tours of your home, and to answering any questions during the day. (It also means making other arrangements for any children, pets, and housemates on the day of the open house so that you can focus on the event without distractions or interruptions.)
You’ll need to be able to speak to your home’s selling points and to do so as an objective party, not someone who’s personally attached to your history and emotions in the house. You’ll also need to be able to read your potential buyers—both what they’re saying and what they’re not saying.
Free up your schedule to show your house at a moment’s notice. You’ll be working around the availability of potential buyers (and their real estate agents). It would be ill-advised not to take advantage of every request to see your home. So be prepared to be at home, or within proximity of your home, until it sells. Be comfortable with explaining to your boss why you need to leave work early or come in late. Plan too on potentially having to miss your kids’ after-school games or extracurricular activities.
Plan to negotiate. You’ll need to field, accept, refuse, and/or revise offers. You’ll need to know what a reasonable counter offer is. You’ll be responsible for the contract, making sure that it’s fair and legal, and that it protects your own interests. You’ll have to plan to haggle over requests that are both reasonable (installing carbon monoxide detectors) and unreasonable (changing all the light switches to a different color). You’ll have to be comfortable determining what tradeoffs are worth the time or money and what you’re willing to fix versus what you’ll give a credit for. You’ll need to be okay with working the numbers to ensure that you get what you need to for the sale of your home.
You’ll also need a great poker face because it is to your disadvantage to “show your hand” in terms of what you’d really settle for.
Be comfortable working with financing. A real estate agent knows exactly what must happen every step of the way in terms of the money of it all. They can pre-screen potential buyers for those who have already been pre-approved for a loan or have their financing in order. They can point someone in the direction of a reputable mortgage broker/lender if a buyer is unrepresented and is asking about financing. If you do not have the benefit of an agent working with you, you’d be wise to align yourself with a mortgage broker who can help you learn about what the alternatives are to close successfully on your house.
Make sure everything’s legal. Have you been compliant with the laws in your state and locality? Have you provided the necessary disclosures? Have you had any contracts reviewed for any potential issues or problems? Ignorance of the law does not protect you here, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re in compliance and protected from any potential loopholes or liabilities.
Be ready to regroup, reassess, and start over again. If you’ve gotten your home “move-in” ready, priced it, listed it, marketed it, and showed it and you’re not getting the interest you were hoping for, you’ll need to be able to look objectively at what worked and what didn’t. Perhaps that will mean rethinking the timing of when you list it, if that’s even an option with an imminent PCS. Maybe it will mean lowering your asking price. Or getting someone else’s help to stage or photograph your home more attractively. You’ll need to be able to shift focus and work the whole process again if it didn’t work for you on the first attempt. And that will mean more time and money spent on your part.
You’ll need to do all the above while you’re also packing, preparing your HHG shipment, shipping your cars, getting your medical records ready, closing out school commitments, ending a job and finding a new one, saying goodbye to friends, etc. Selling your home is a full-time job in and of itself. That’s why real estate agents work full-time to make sure you get the best possible price for your home while you get to take care of all the other things life demands of you.