Selling a home you’ve lived in and loved over the years isn’t exactly like unloading your collection of old Slayer LPs on Craigslist (or is it…?). It’s hard. It’s emotional. And above all else, it’s complicated. A slew of questions will likely pop into your head throughout the process—and possibly keep you up at night.
Last week, we revealed the most common questions asked by home buyers. Since people on the other end of this deal have a lot on their minds, too, today we’ll tackle the most common questions that real estate agents hear from sellers—along with some answers, of course.
Q: How much needs to be done to my house before putting it on the market?
“Many sellers have extreme anxiety over the thought of having to clear out and fix up their home, so much so that it can prevent them from putting the place on the market in the first place,” says Alyssa Blevins with Pierce Murdock Group. But in most cases, there’s no need to panic here—or to overshoot your goals. “Very often, there’s far less to do than homeowners think.” So before spending months and millions (figuratively) upgrading your place—or just throwing up your hands and giving up before you begin—show your home to a Realtor®. You might be pleasantly surprised by your current sales prospects.
Q: How much is my house worth?
While the median house price in 2016 is $228,000, the exact price of your own home will depend on its size, neighborhood, and lots of other factors. Further complicating matters is your own skewed perspective: We tend to mentally inflate our home’s positives and airbrush out the flaws that are all too apparent to the cold, calculating eyes of buyers. “People always seem to compare their house to the most expensive sale in the neighborhood,” says Mary Ann Grabel, an agent at Douglas Elliman in Greenwich, CT. Instead, look at the prices of similarly sized homes that have recently sold in your area—data that agents call comparative market analysis, or “comps.” Then, price your place strategically. “If you price too high, the home is likely to linger on the market,” says Grabel. Meanwhile, pricing low can have major upsides, resulting in multiple bids that could ultimately jack up your price. So, do your homework. Then, discuss a number with your Realtor that feels right—and is realistic.
Q: How long will it take to sell my home?
Right now, nationally, houses spend around 100 days on the market before they sell, although the time varies wildly based on area and price. So, price competitively and make sure that you and your Realtor are getting the place in front of as many eyeballs as possible. “The higher the exposure, the faster the offers,” says Felise Eber, a real estate associate affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate and part of the Miami Beach luxury real estate sales team The Jills. Spread the word through your own social networks——real ones and virtual ones. You never know whose passing it along to that special someone will lead to a sale.
Q: Is staging really important?
On average, a staged home sells 88% faster—and for 20% more money—than a home that’s left as is. The reason it works, of course, is it gives buyers a “stage” onto which they can play out their home-owning fantasies and envision themselves living in your home. “Choose neutral paint colors and remove any family photos,” says Johnson. Give would-be homeowners a blank canvass that they can mentally fill with their loved ones and themselves.
Q: Should I be present when buyers view my house?
“NO!” says Johnson. (Hey, no need to shout. We’re right here!) “There is not any situation in which this is appropriate. Having the owner in the house makes the buyers uncomfortable. They feel as though they can’t make comments or ask questions that could be offensive. The owner—who has a history and attachment to the house—has the tendency to argue if a potential buyer makes a comment that could be a little negative. This can turn off buyers and lose you offers.” Got it.
Q: What is the agent’s commission?
While the commission can vary, it is typically 6% of a home’s sale price—and that’s usually shared with the buyer’s agent. But what’s implied by this question is “What are Realtors doing to earn that fat check?” Here are some facts to keep in mind: Unlike lawyers who get paid by the hour, or doctors who are paid by the appointment, listing agents don’t get paid unless they make a sale. For every hour an agent spends with a client, he or she will typically spend nine hours on average working on that client’s behalf doing everything from networking to finding potential buyers to filling out paperwork. And no, not all agents are created equal. Since most contracts last for a year, Realtor Susan Ratliff recommends that sellers “interview three agents prior to selecting one to represent them. It’s no different from choosing an attorney, accountant, or the doctor who will deliver your baby. You want to be sure that you trust that person and are comfortable with them.”
Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.