Also, try to remember how you felt when you were shopping for that home. Most buyers will also be in an emotional state. If you can remember that you are selling a piece of property as well as an image and a lifestyle, you'll be more likely to put in the extra effort of staging and doing some minor remodeling to get top dollar for your home. These changes in appearance will not only help the sales price; they'll also help you create emotional distance because your home will look less familiar.
Not Hiring a Real Estate Agent
Although real estate agents command a hefty commission—usually 5% to 6% of the sale price of your home—it's probably not a great idea to try to sell your home on your own, especially if you haven't done it before.1 It can be tempting, especially if you've seen all those "for sale by owner" signs on people's front lawns or on the Internet. So does it pay to hire an agent?
A good agent generally has your best interests at heart. They will help you set a fair and competitive selling price for your home, increasing your odds of a quick sale. An agent can also help tone down the emotion of the process by interacting with potential buyers and eliminating tire kickers who only want to look at your property but have no intention of making an offer.
Your agent will also have more experience negotiating home sales, helping you get more money than you could on your own. If any problems crop up during the process, an experienced professional will be there to handle them for you. Finally, agents are familiar with all the paperwork and pitfalls involved in real estate transactions and can help make sure the process goes smoothly. This means there won't be any delays or unforeseen legal ramifications in the deal.
After reading all this, should you really hire an agent? Only you can decide.
What to Do If You Don't Use a Real Estate Agent
So you've decided not to hire an agent. That's fine because it's not like it can't be done. There are people who sell their own homes successfully. Remember, though, you'll need to do your research first—on recently sold properties in your area and properties currently on the market—to determine an attractive selling price. Keep in mind that most home prices have an agent's commission factored in, so you may have to discount your price as a result.
You'll be responsible for your own marketing, so make sure to get your home on the multiple listing service (MLS) in your geographic area to reach the widest number of buyers. Because you have no agent, you'll be the one showing the house and negotiating the sale with the buyer's agent, which can be time-consuming, stressful, and emotional for some people.
Because you're forgoing an agent, consider hiring a real estate attorney to help you with the finer points of the transaction and the escrow process. Even with attorney's fees, selling a home yourself can save you thousands. If the buyer has an agent, however, they'll expect to be compensated. This cost is typically covered by the seller, so you'll still need to pay 1% to 3% of the home's sale price to the buyer's agent.1
Setting an Unrealistic Price
Whether you're working with an agent or going it alone, setting the right asking price is key. Remember the comparative market analysis you or your agent did when you bought your home to determine a fair offering price? Buyers will do this for your home, too, so as a seller you should be one step ahead of them.
You may think your home is worth more, but remember to set a realistic price based on comparable homes in the area.
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 top 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
Because 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 high-quality 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 attributes. 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.
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 for dealing 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 after 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. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Sell a House With a Mortgage?
Yes, you can sell a house with a mortgage. During the escrow process, you will get a mortgage payoff statement (sometimes called a payoff quote) from the lender holding your mortgage that lists the exact remaining balance. When your loan closes, the escrow agent will send the balance of your mortgage to your lender, paying off your mortgage.
Should I Stage My House?
Staging a home can lead to quicker sales and higher home prices.6 However, not everyone needs to hire a professional staging service. Just taking a few steps like cleaning and decluttering can have a significant impact on a home's sale and will need to be done before moving regardless of the sale.
How Much Will I Make Selling My House?
How much you will make depends on the sale price, agent commissions, closing costs, and the remaining mortgage balance. If working with a real estate agent, you should receive a seller's net sheet before you even list your property, which details what you can estimate to make.7 When you have accepted an offer and are in escrow, you will get a closing disclosure from your lender that details exactly how much you will receive after your loan closes.
Should You Sell Your Home for Cash?
Selling a home for cash is a quick way to avoid the hassle and stress of staging a house, showing it, making repairs, and juggling competing offers. However, most cash buyers won't buy a home for more than 75% of the home's value, minus any anticipated fixing-up expenses.8 Selling a home for cash is easier, but at a significant financial cost that should be considered.
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.