When you start thinking of selling your home, it is a good idea to know the overall process. Ask me as many questions as possible. The questions below are a good place to start.
· What should I do to present my home in the best light?
· What can I do to enhance my home’s value?
· How can I make my home stand out against competing homes for sale?
· What are buyers looking for in terms of location, neighborhoods, and schools, etc?
· What is the best marketing plan for my home?
· Once a prospective buyer makes an offer, how do I respond?
· Once I accept an offer how do I proceed in terms of choosing an attorney?
· What do I need to be aware of in proceeding to a closing?
Some 4 to 5 million existing homes are sold each year, and while each transaction is different every owner wants the same thing -- the best possible deal with the least amount of hassle and aggravation.
Unfortunately, home selling has become a more complex business than it used to be. New seller disclosure statements, longer and more obscure Purchase & Sale agreements, heightened buyer concerns, and a range of environmental concerns -- lead paint, radon in air and water, mold, water contaminants, etc -- have all emerged in recent years.
More importantly, the home-selling process has changed. In August of 2005 a new comprehensive real estate law went into effect. A major outcome of this law was that Realtors working with homebuyers would now represent these buyers, and not as the previous law dictated (unless a separate agreement was negotiated) that agents automatically represented sellers. Now buyer-brokerage is the rule, and good buyer-agents want the best for their clients.
The result is that while in our marketplace many existing homes are sold each month, the process is not as easy for sellers as it was five or ten years ago. Surviving in today's real estate world requires experience and training in such fields as real estate marketing, financing, negotiation and closing - the very expertise in which I take pride.
Let’s Get Ready . . . . .
The home-selling process typically starts before a property is made available for sale. In the current market buyers are less willing than in previous years to deal with fixing up issues. Therefore, it's more important than ever to look at a home through the eyes of a prospective buyer and determine what needs to be cleaned, painted, repaired and tossed out.
Ask yourself: If you were buying this home what would you want to see? The goal is to show a home which looks good, maximizes space and attracts as many buyers - and as much demand - as possible.
While part of the "getting ready" phase relates to repairs, painting and other home improvements, this is also a good time to reaffirm why you want to sell.
Selling a home is an important matter and you should have a good reason to sell -- perhaps a job change to a new community, or the need for more space or the desire for less space due to your children no longer living with you, or simply that you wish to be nearer to work or family. Your reason for selling can impact your decision-making process so it's important to discuss your needs and wants with me. Note that this information stays confidential; I never divulge to a buyer or a buyer’s agent your reason for selling unless I have your permission.
When Should You Sell?
The traditional point-of-view is that the marketplace tends to be more active in the late spring and early summer because parents want to enroll children in classes at the beginning of the school year. The spring-summer season is often when most homes are likely to be available. In the Upper Pioneer Valley however our market tends to be more balanced year-round between buyers and sellers than in many other areas. In a given community, for example, there may be fewer buyers in late December, but there are also likely to be fewer homes available for purchase. So, home prices tend to rise or fall slightly because of supply and demand patterns rather than the time of the year.
As it’s wisest not to second-guess the market, I encourage you to sell when you have a need – transfer, family change, etc. -- to sell.
Can You Improve Your Home's Value?
You should not need to make expense repairs to sell your home. Remodeling a kitchen (often expensive) may help attract a buyer but doesn’t necessarily get an adequate payback in terms of cost. The cost or other improvements such as adding a sunroom or even a deck cannot always be recovered from a sale. I recommend then forgoing costly improvements to keep your offering price as modest as possible.
Some cosmetic improvements such as painting, landscaping, thorough cleaning -- help a home "show" better and often are good investments. Mechanical repairs -- to ensure that all systems and appliances are in good working condition – can help get a top price. I can help you decide on which improvements will bring you top dollar. In fact, I wrote a bestselling real estate book published by John Wiley & Sons, “Top dollar for Your Property,” that has many inexpensive suggestions to help improve the value of your property.
Ultimately you want the highest value in terms of price and terms for your home. Market conditions and interest rates will mean a lot in determining how much you can obtain. The idea is to get the maximum price and the best terms during the window of time when your home is being marketed.
In other words, home selling is part science, part marketing, part negotiation and part art. Unlike math where 2 + 2 always equals 4, in real estate there is no certain conclusion. All transactions are different, and because of this, you it’s wise to do as much as possible to enhance the value of your home.
Have Me Create a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA)
A Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) basically provides you with a range of value figure that your home will most likely sell for provided that market conditions remain stable. A CMA will compare data of similar homes sold, pending, active on the market, and expired listings. Homes recently sold within the last 6 to 12 months are the best indicator of what you should expect. After the CMA is complete we will choose an asking price from a price range recommendation. Now we ready to market your property.
Marketing the Property
If you bought a car, you could purchase a given model with selected features from any dealer. Since the car comes from one assembly plant, it's going to be the same whether purchased from dealer Smith or dealer Jones.
Homes are different. Each is unique, the marketplace is always in flux, currently interest rates are historically low, and as the weather improves more new buyers will come into the marketplace. With such fluidity, it requires me to craft marketing plans specifically for individual homes and market conditions.
Selling can entail a variety of marketing strategies. Once listed, your home will be quickly entered into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and immediately sent by email to all buyers looking in you home’s price range and locality. Your home will also be showcased on “Realtor.com,” the national repository for all U.S. listed homes, as well as over 50 different internet venues, Trulia, Zillow, MSN.com, etc. All of my home offerings always have up to two dozen still photos plus a “Visual tour” featuring your house. I also use signs, outside brochure boxes, lock boxes, Open Houses, and networking with both local and out-of-town agents. For more details see my “30-day Marketing Plan” in section 4 on “Marketing Your Home.”
As a special service to my sellers, when first listed I send an email “BLAST” of your home’s availability to over 500 agents working with buyers in our area.
Much of my work will be quiet and unseen -- yet important. My 45 years of real estate experience is behind many successful techniques to promote your property. The quiet telephone calls, the work with contacts, the follow-ups with open-house visitors, conversations with ad respondents, the web postings and other outreach efforts are all part of the process required to sell homes. My Newsletter on local real estate has valuable information on interest rates, community pricing, and market conditions, and is widely read.
How Your Home will be Marketed.
If you look at a typical transaction you can see that there are five general areas where I will assist you in the home-selling process.
• Preparation: Before being placed on the market, your home should be in "showing" condition. I can explain what repairs and upgrades are required which are most likely to produce the best results.
• Pricing: Many agents will take your listing at a higher-than-realistic price just to lock you in; others want your listing at a low price so it will sell faster – two truths behind the high sales record of fast-talking agents.
• The Offering: As an experienced agent I know it’s more than just price. With your consultation I often construct sale terms designed to speed the selling process. It may be, for example, that a home priced at $350,000 with a 2 percent seller credit to the buyer at closing will be far more attractive to purchasers than a home priced at $347,000. Why? That 2 percent credit is worth $7,000 to the purchaser at closing -- the time when that buyer is most likely strapped for cash.
• Marketing: I will execute strategies and programs to get your home sold. Typically this includes placement on the local and statewide MLS, as previously mention Realtor.com where all United States homes are listed, and other internet venues such as Yahoo Real Estate, MSN Homes, Trulia, etc. For each home I bring to market I create special flyers and brochures, as well as a “Home Information” book that is on view in your home by prospective buyers – all in addition to related marketing, advertising and networking. (Again, view Section 4 “Marketing Your Home” for specifics.
• Negotiation: I will assist you in the bargaining process, offering advice and counsel as offers are received. I can help you complete the transaction process by assisting with the provisions found in a typical offer form.
• Closing: Once we have agreement, a series of inspections and checks are typically required as we head to a closing. To make sure this closing goes smoothly I will work closely with your legal counsel.
Holding an Open House.
Many agents frown on Open Houses or hold them near the end of the listing period when the listing is about to expire. I recommend that we hold an Open House at the beginning of the listing; and then keep holding them on a periodic basis. Open Houses draw attention to your property.
In the case of an open house, I typically advertise that the home will be open for a given period such as two hours, typically 1 to 3 on a Sunday afternoon.
At the Open House, I will provide literature, maintain a visitor log and answer questions. By interacting with visitors, I will seek feedback regarding the home and opportunities to follow up with prospective purchasers.
Typically, you will leave during the time of the Open House; afterwards I will report to you regarding the activity and how those who visited will be followed-up.
How do I Show Your Home Online?
The Internet is an important factor in real estate marketing. Online real estate information includes not only home listings, but numerous additional features and benefits of each home. For instance, my website – www.jimlumley.com -- offers neighborhood information, school data, Visual Tours, real estate news and consumer information. I am one of the few agents in our market area to enhance listings with additional written description beyond the maximum of 500 characters and spaces of MLS
Equally important, the Internet offers new communication media. E-mail and special messaging programs give me and potential buyers of your home more opportunities to keep in touch. As the Internet evolves, more technologies and techniques will be introduced to make transactions easier and more efficient.
Let’s get it Sold!
There is no question that selling a home is an important event. A home sale represents transition, movement and change. Big money is involved. Households move from the known and comfortable to the unknown and a period of adjustment. There may be job changes, new schools, distance from old friends and the possibility of new ones.
No less important, a home sale by itself can be complex. There will be people looking at your house, documents to sign and issues to be negotiated.
Because a home sale involves an array of both personal and business concerns, it's important to get it done right. You need to carefully prepare your home, understand the market and see what alternatives are realistically available. The old motto "be prepared" is a good guide in such circumstances. I am your escort to show you the way through this process.
What is an Offer?
When a home is made available for sale the owner is essentially making an offer to buyers: For a given number of dollars and other terms you can acquire this home. Buyers, in turn, can respond with several options:
• Not interested.
• Yes, we'll buy on the owner's terms and here’s our deposit.
• We're interested and here's our offer.
An offer from a buyer is nothing more than a response to the presentation of your house. And just as the buyer had three options in response to your original price and terms, you can now choose one of three reactions: accept the buyer’s offer, decline the offer, or make a counteroffer.
Offers and counteroffers reflect the back-and-forth activity of the marketplace. It's an efficient and practical process -- but also one that may contain tricky clauses and hidden costs. I will explain the bargaining process in detail and assist in the actual negotiations.
What's an Acceptable Offer?
The goal of every seller is to have a line of buyers outside the front door, each clutching higher and higher offers. And while this has been known to happen, in most markets there is some balance between the number of buyers and sellers. A number of factors determine whether a buyer's offer is acceptable. They include:
• Is the offer at or near the asking price? Is the offer above the asking price?
• Has the buyer accepted the asking price or something close? Has the buyer then buried thousands of dollars in contingencies and seller costs within tiny clauses and contract additions?
• What is the alternative to the buyer's offer? If a home has not attracted an offer in months, then you need to determine if a better deal is possible -- recognizing that each month costs are being incurred by you for mortgage payments, taxes and insurance.
• Do the buyers have to sell their current house to close? Any other difficult contingencies?
• Do you have enough time to wait for other offers?
• What if no other offers are received?
• What if several offers are received? Do you choose the high offer from the purchaser with questionable finances who may not be able to close, or a somewhat lesser offer from a buyer with pre-approved financing?
In each case, with my assistance, you will need to carefully review offers, consider marketplace options and then determine whether an offer is acceptable.
How to Negotiate.
It's sometimes argued that negotiation must produce one "winner" and one "loser." Others suggest that a "win/win" situation is possible where each side gets something of value.
Real estate bargaining typically involves compromises by both sides. It's not war; it's not winner-take-all; and it's not the time to take personally any comments made by purchasers.
Instead, negotiating should be seen as a natural business process; buyers should be treated with respect; and you should not lose sight of your best interests or your baseline transaction requirements. The latter being the standards unique to you, which must be met before the home can be sold.
Beware of negotiation limits. For psychological reasons offers and counteroffers don’t usually go on forever. Experience shows that a buyer may change his or her offer up to two times beyond the original offer; after that he or she may lose patience with the negotiation and back out from the process. So as a seller it’s wise to have established your bottom line going in to the third round.
Working Toward a Closing.
It might seem as though once a sales agreement has been signed that the selling process is complete. Not only is it not over yet, but some of the most complex aspects of a real estate transaction now begin.
A sales agreement sets not only a purchase price for the home, but also a series of terms and conditions. For instance:
• Practically all transactions involve a Home Inspection by a licensed inspector, a radon test, and, if private water, a water test. Additionally, a buyer will have a termite and wood-boring insect inspection. Note that the latter is not always done during the formal “inspection” period. You as the seller are responsible for a fire department inspection of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If your home has a private septic system you are also responsible for the state-mandated Title 5 septic inspection. I can guide you in these latter two inspections.
• Contracts routinely depend on the ability of a buyer to obtain financing, which is why we prefer buyers with pre-qualification or pre-approval letters from lenders. Generally, that will be a requirement for any buyer whose offer I bring forward for your consideration. If not presented with the offer we will request this letter before final acceptance. Note I normally keep your property on the market until all inspection and financing contingencies have been met; once all issues are resolved, the second deposit is escrowed, and the formal Purchase & Sale Agreement is signed, your property finally becomes a “pending sale.”
• Lenders usually establish conditions before granting a loan. They will want a title exam, title insurance to protect against title errors, water and termite inspections, surveys and an appraisal to assure that the home has sufficient value to secure the loan – all costs that are the responsibility of the buyer.
Note that it’s important to review the Purchase and Sale Agreement prepared by your attorney to understand your obligations. For instance, if you have agreed to paint a room or replace the dishwasher, such work must be completed before closing. I can discuss with you your sales agreement and the steps that must be taken to complete the transaction.
What Happens at the Closing?
The “closing”-- at least in our area of the Upper Pioneer Valley -- is essentially a meeting where the buyer’s attorney and the seller’s attorney act as closing agents, take in money from the buyers or buyers’ lender, pay out money to you as the owner and make sure that the purchaser's title is properly recorded in local Registry of Deeds along with any mortgage liens. Note that the attorney for the buyer has much of the responsibility here; he or she does a title search as well as has his or her buyer sign all the mortgage documents. As seller your paperwork is simpler. Days before the closing you will be meeting with your attorney to sign over the deed. Rarely will you attend the closing at the Registry.
Prior to the closing, the attorneys and their respective staffs jointly review the Purchase and Sale Agreement to determine what payments and credits you as the owner should receive and what amounts are due from the buyer. They also assure that certain transaction costs are paid (state taxes and title searches, etc) and "adjustments" are made. For instance, suppose you've pre-paid taxes four months in advance, you will be compensated for the prepayment at closing by having the buyer pay you additional money based on the proportionate numbers of days for which you have already paid. Oil and propane gas are other typical items for which you will be compensated.
This concludes the summary of the sales process. As you go through the rest of this Seller’s Guide more specific detail and guidance on each major phase is offered. Peruse each section as needed.