Each year we post our financial resolutions for home sellers for the new year. With the current state of our financial system, you need to keep your financial house and home in good shape.
I know someone who sold a house this year. It took them seven months, and they had to cut their price a lot lower than they wanted, but they finally got a good offer and the property is scheduled to close by the end of the year.
It isn’t easy being a home seller these days. Home values are off 33 to 60 percent from their high in 2006. Roughly 25 percent of homeowners are underwater with their mortgage (meaning that their home is worth less than the mortgage amount) according to 3Q 2011 data from CoreLogic, a data aggregator. And, another million homeowners lost their home to foreclosure, putting downward price pressure on neighborhoods across America.
Despite record-low interest rates, which touched 3.7 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage and the even lower 3.25 percent for a 15-year loan, buyers have been reluctant to jump into a market where it’s uncertain whether home prices are appreciating, holding steady or declining further.
If you’re hoping to sell in 2012, you’ll be facing all these challenges, and more – the real estate industry isn’t expected to improve much over the next couple of years, although some markets seem to be stronger than others, including Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, and several cities in Texas.
Certainly, until the unemployment picture improves substantially, it will be difficult for the real estate industry to gain any positive momentum. That’s why North Dakota (with a 3 percent unemployment rate) also ranks as one of the stronger housing markets.
So what can you do if you want or need to sell in 2012? Consider my classic New Year’s Resolutions for home sellers:
• Overcome any possible objections a buyer would have.
Sellers don’t often understand that their primary job is to not only eliminate any potential objections that would stand in the way for a buyer to make an offer, but to exceed their expectations as well. If your home is competitively priced, and your home’s condition exceeds a buyer’s expectations, you’ll get an offer – even if it isn’t the offer you want.
• Get your home into selling shape.
Cleaning your home is a must. After that, you should consider hiring a stager to give your home the television-worthy polish so many buyers expect today. Assess what other sort of work needs to be done, such as fixing things that don’t work, touching up paint, or cleaning or replacing your carpets. Decide if you need to update your landscaping, and paint, clean or tuck point your home’s exterior.
• Invite at least three agents to create a comparative marketing analysis.
Often, sellers simply call the agent who sold them their home to list it. While you may wind up hiring that person, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you invite a couple of other agents in from different firms. That’s because each will bring different ideas to the table about how much your house is worth and what kind of marketing plan will work.
• Understand what it will take to sell your home.
If you live in an area littered with foreclosures, you may have to meet that price point in order to sell. Is it worth it? Probably not, but you’ll have to really evaluate price and timing in order to get the most for your property.
• Be realistic about the market.
Find out what types of properties are selling in your area and how many days they’re sitting on the market. Accept the reality of your local market and make sure you price your home realistically. Don’t blame your broker if you don’t get 3 offers over your list price within 24 hours of putting your home on the market. Sellers who set sky-high prices could wait months or years for an offer (one of my neighbors has been trying to sell his overpriced home for four years) and may wind up with the same price they would have had if they’d priced their home correctly the first time – or a lot less. In this real estate market, one of the worst things you can do is overprice your home from the onset.
• Know where you’re going.
I don’t recommend putting in an offer on another house until you have some serious interest in your current property or unless you have enough cash to cover the expenses of both properties for 6 to 12 months. It’s fine to start researching other neighborhoods, but if you’re not sure what you want to do, consider renting on a short-term or month-to-month lease.
• Read all documents thoroughly before I sign them.
Why would someone sign a legal document he or she hasn’t read? I’m not sure, but home sellers do it every day. If you’re going to sell (or buy) in the coming year, promise yourself that you’ll take the time to read and understand the listing contract, offer to purchase, and loan documents for your next purchase. (If you’re taking back a loan for the home buyer, have an attorney prepare the documents so you are sure to be protected.) Unless you’ve got cash to spare, a mistake in these documents and the warranties they contain, could seriously affect your finances.
• Not be driven by greed.
One big mistake many sellers make is to get a little greedy, particularly if the first offer is above the minimum acceptable price you’ve set. Then, the negotiation becomes a game of how much you can get.
Remember, a successful sale means everyone walks away feeling happy. If you get so greedy that the buyer walks away, you’ve let the deal get the best of you. Resolve to be reasonable and you’ll end up shaking hands with the buyer at the closing. You should also know that there are fewer buyers out there and if you lose a buyer it might take you quite some time to find another one.