Keeping It Real: Is Now the Right Time to Sell My Home?

Advice to homeowners who are considering selling their homes in a strong buyers market.

Homeowners frequently ask me if now is the right time to sell or whether they should wait until the market picks up. Well, I thought long and hard about it. At the end of the day there are two truths in real estate: first, unless you have the psychic ability of Dionne Warwick, it's difficult to time the market, particularly in a volatile one such as the one we're in right now; secondly, anytime is the right time to sell if your house is in good condition, shows well, and is priced right.

But if I was considering selling my house today, here are some things I'd consider...

Am I serious or just testing the waters?

A homeowner should always understand why they're selling and what their timeline is. Are you listing your home just because you want to see how many offers you can get or how much the offers are worth? If so, don't even bother. You're probably not in the right mindset to conduct the kinds of negotiations that might require certain concessions on your behalf in order to make the sale. And in a buyer's market, you'll have to make concessions. So, at the end of the day, there are a few good reasons to sell in a market like this.

  • If you're relocating or being transferred.
  • If you're threatened with foreclosure and need to do a sale or short sale
  • You buying or bought another home and need to sell your current one to qualify for your loan
  • You're in a good financial position and want to take advantage of the buyer's market

These are the circumstances under which I'd sell right now.

Do I have to do work on the house before I put it on the market?

In short--yes. If you want to sell your house in this market, if you want to get top dollar for it, then you are absolutely going to have to do some work on the house if it's not in model condition. If you don't want to put in the effort to do the work, then you'd better be prepared to get some seriously low-ball offers on your property. It's that simple. Housing inventory is high, which means competition is high. In this market, your house has to be the best buy in TOWN…not just on the block.

Let’s see… Your son, the six-year-old wannabe Picasso, has decorated your walls with Crayola artistry unseen since the 60s and that means you’ll have to paint--which you don't have time for. You probably should get the Yabba Dabba Do Berry Kool-Aid stains out of the carpet--which you don't have the money to pay someone to do. You probably ought to rake the leaves from the rainforest in your backyard and mow the lawn--but you don't have the time or patience for that either. Oh and by the way, the shutter on the front window is falling off, the garage door won't open, you probably should have rethought the striped, floral, burgundy and green wallpaper. Oh, and beige really ISN’T the “new black” in appliances – stainless steel is.

Well, if you're not willing to put the time in to get your house into tip-top shape then you may as well forget putting it on the market. Otherwise, your house will sit on the market for a long long time. So, you're either going to fix it up OR be prepared to reduce the asking price by the amount of the fix-up costs. If you're forced to sell because of foreclosure or relocation, then you’ve got to dig in and do the work no matter what. So, what's most important?

  • Paint and carpet. Call Stanley Steamer, rent the Rug Doctor, lose the wallpaper, and call in a few favors from your family and friends to get the lawn mowed and leaves raked. Paint in neutral, earthy colors. Buyers have to be able to imagine their things in your home, and that lime green paint and barney purple carpet you adore tends to be distracting to them. If they can't visualize themselves in your home, they WILL move on to the next one.
  • Kitchens and bathrooms. Update the appliances and countertops, buyers want granite and stainless steel. If you can't or it isn't cost effective, then be prepared to accept a lower price than what you expect. As for the bathrooms, if the ceramic is wearing off your tub and tile and you can't afford to replace them, get them refinished. Nothing will kill a sale faster than a dingy bathroom.
  • Manicured lawn. If you don't do anything else outside the house, mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Nice curb appeal will pull buyers in. Paint, carpet, kitchens and bathrooms will keep them in and make them more willing to accept your asking price.

Did someone mention price?

Let’s talk price. Well, if you don’t want to do the work fix up your house, how can you expect top dollar? In a buyer’s market no less? Well, you can’t. Sometimes, your home can be in pristine condition and you still might not get the price you expect. Why? Because an asking price, is just that…an ASKING price. Contrary to popular belief, Ask and Ye Shall Receive does not always apply in real estate. Moreover, and very importantly, your Realtor does not determine the market price, and neither do you – the buyer does. Realtors give educated guesses based on past sales, sometimes we're right on, sometimes not so much. It depends on market volatility. So if you don’t have any flexibility in price because you've got a home equity line of credit to pay off and you can’t get your house in tip top shape, then save yourself time and aggravation and hold onto it until you're in a better position. If you have to sell, then you have to be flexible on price or buyer incentives like closing costs – no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

So there you have it! Those are the major considerations I would think about when considering whether to sell my home in today’s market. Whatever you do, make sure you hire a good, honest Realtor who is willing to tell you like it is and will conduct an honest evaluation of your home and explain what work needs to be completed before placing it on the market. Hiring someone who only tells you what you want to hear may get them the listing, but it won’t get your home sold.

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