Absent a housing bubble, overpriced homes generally don't sell. In a survey conducted by the informational home sale website HomeLight.com, 70% of real estate agents said that overpricing is the number one mistake that sellers make.2 Don't worry too much about setting a price that's on the low side, because in theory this will generate multiple offers and bid the price up to the home's actual market value. In fact, underpricing your home can be a strategy to generate extra interest in your listing, and you can always refuse an offer that's too low.3
Expecting the Asking Price
Any smart buyer will negotiate, and if you want to complete the sale, you may have to play ball. Most people want to list their homes at a price that will attract buyers while still leaving some breathing room for negotiations—the opposite of the underpricing strategy described above. This may work, allowing the buyer to feel like they are getting good value while allowing you to get the amount of money you need from the sale.
Of course, whether you end up with more or less than your asking price will likely depend not just on your pricing strategy but also on whether you're in a buyer's market or a seller's market and how well you have staged and modernized your home.
Selling During Winter Months
Believe it or not, there really is a right time to sell during the year. Winter, especially around the holidays, is typically a slow time of year for home sales. People are busy with social engagements, and the cold weather across much of the country makes it more appealing just to stay home. Because fewer buyers are likely to be looking, it may take longer to sell your home, and you may not get as much money. However, you can take some consolation in knowing that while there may not be as many active buyers, there also won't be as many competing sellers, which can sometimes work to your advantage.
You may be better off waiting. Barring any mitigating circumstances that may force you to sell during the winter or holidays, consider listing when the weather begins to warm up. People are usually ready and willing to purchase a home when it's warmer.4
Skimping on Listing Photos
As so many buyers look for homes online these days, and so many of those homes have photos, you'll be doing yourself a real disservice if you don't have any visuals of your home. At the same time, there are so many poor photos of homes for sale that if you do a good job, it will set your listing apart and help generate extra interest.
Good photos should be crisp and clear and taken during the day when there is plenty of natural light available. They should showcase your home's best assets. Consider using a wide-angle lens if possible—this allows you to give potential buyers a better idea of what entire rooms look like. Ideally, hire a professional real estate photographer to get top quality results instead of just letting your agent take snapshots on a phone.
And don't just stop at photos. Consider adding a video tour or 360-degree view to further enhance your listing. This can be easily done with any smartphone. You can certainly entice more potential buyers into walking through your doors for showings. You may even get more offers if you give them an introductory walk-through of your property.
Not Carrying Proper Insurance
Your lender may have required you to acquire a homeowners insurance policy. If not, you'll want to make sure you're insured in case a viewer has an accident on the premises and tries to sue you for damages. You also want to make sure there are no obvious hazards at the property or that you take steps to mitigate them (keeping the children of potential buyers away from your pool and getting your dog out of the house during showings, for example).
Hiding Major Problems
Think you can get away with hiding major problems with your property? Any problem will be uncovered during the buyer's inspection. You have three options to deal with any issues. Either fix the problem ahead of time, price the property below market value to account for it, or list the property at a normal price and offer the buyer a credit to fix the problem.
Remember: If you don't fix the problem in advance, you may eliminate a fair number of buyers who want a turnkey home. Having your home inspected before listing is a good idea if you want to avoid costly surprises once the home is under contract. Further, many states have disclosure rules.5 Some require sellers to disclose known problems about their homes if buyers ask directly, while others decree that sellers must voluntarily disclose certain issues.
Not Preparing for the Sale
Sellers who do not clean and stage their homes throw money down the drain. Don't worry if you can't afford to hire a professional. There are many things you can do on your own. Failing to do these things can reduce your sales price and may also prevent you from getting a sale at all. If you haven't attended to minor issues, such as a broken doorknob or dripping faucet, a potential buyer may wonder whether the house has larger, costlier issues that haven't been addressed either.
Have a friend or an agent, someone with a fresh pair of eyes, point out areas of your home that need work. Because of your familiarity with the home, you may be immune to its trouble spots. Decluttering, cleaning thoroughly, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and getting rid of any odors will also help you make a good impression on buyers.
Not Accommodating Buyers
If someone wants to view your house, you need to accommodate them, even if it inconveniences you. And yes, you have to clean and tidy the house before every single visit. A buyer won't know or care if your house was clean last week. It's a lot of work, but stay focused on the prize.
Selling to Unqualified Buyers
It's more than reasonable to expect a buyer to bring a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender or proof of funds(POF) for cash purchases to show that they have the money to buy the home. Signing a contract with a buyer may be contingent on the sale of their own property, which may put you in a serious bind if you need to close by a particular date.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to sell a house is crucial. Make sure you prepare mentally and financially for less-than-ideal scenarios, even if you don't make any of these mistakes. The house may sit on the market for far longer than you expect, especially in a declining market. If you can't find a buyer in time, you may end up trying to pay two mortgages, having to rent your home out until you can find a buyer, or, in dire situations, in foreclosure. However, if you avoid the costly mistakes listed here, you'll be a long way toward putting your best foot forward and achieving that seamless, lucrative sale for which every home seller hopes.