I’ve been super AWOL here for the past couple of months. The title of this post is why. We sold our house in March, and we bought a new one about three weeks ago. It’s been an interesting experience and we’ve learned a lot, compared to when we bought our place six years ago as first home buyers. Here’s what I’ve learned in the process of selling our house.
Choosing a real estate agent
– Trust your gut when you are interviewing real estate agents to sell your home. Treat it like a job interview where you’re hiring them, because that’s exactly what it is. They are your employee and they need to prove they have the smarts, resources and integrity to sell your home for the best possible price. If you talk to an agent who seems too salesman-y and is a little light on details, or a little too effusive with the constant chummy, buddy-buddy behaviour while you’re chatting with them, and you feel like they’re not really getting to the nuts and bolts of what they’ll do to sell your house, consider waiting and finding someone else. If you meet an agent who seems honest, gets right to the point, and has a marketing strategy that feels like it’s more on your wavelength, list your house with them. Agents will show you all kinds of success stories, sales figures, and anecdotal evidence to try and get your listing, but if you don’t feel like you’re getting genuine advice from them throughout their spiel, move on and find someone else. Our agent was very reserved and to the point. He was friendly, gave us honest advice, and, while I was conscious that his method was a less obvious sales strategy, it was still a strategy. But I never felt like I was being placated by success stories or sales figures when I asked questions. We’re not risk takers, and his personality and attention to detail when he talked to us was ultimately what appealed to us.
– Don’t be afraid to ask A LOT of questions before you choose an agent. Ask them the following things: what is their marketing strategy? How much does their marketing strategy cost (for example, the cost for internet listing your property will vary depending on what size ad you choose and which websites it’s listed on)? What does each part of the marketing strategy cost (the internet listing, the neighbourhood pamphlet drop, the For Sale sign outside your house costs less if you don’t have photos and text on it, etc)? Are they willing to negotiate down their commission? At what stage do you have to pay for the marketing? DON’T pay for it until your house is sold – it should come out of the deposit from the buyer. At what stage do they receive their commission? Again, it should come out of the deposit from the buyer. Who will be supervising the open for inspections and how many staff will be there during inspections? You are perfectly within your rights to request that the agent you are listing your house with is the agent at your open for inspections. If they say they won’t be the one there, ask them why. Why do they get your commission but aren’t there when prospective buyers are walking through it? Ask them what the situation will be with giving them access to your house keys – who will have access to those keys and when? FYI – don’t give then a key with your address on the keychain – a good agent will tell you not to do this.
– Don’t be afraid to request certain parts of their marketing strategy be excluded. For example, we opted not to do the neighbourhood pamphlet drop. Despite our agent saying it can be a successful selling tool (ie, someone in the neighbourhood is looking for a place for a family member, sees our pamphlet and comes to have a look), we chose not to do it. Why? Because when we get those pamphlets in our letterbox we file them directly in the recycling bin without looking at them. We felt it was an expense that was unnecessary, and opting not to do it didn’t hurt our chances of selling.
– You don’t have to have open for inspections if you don’t want to. You can make your house open for inspection by appointment only, but you might not get as much traffic through. We decided to have our house open for inspection every Saturday at the same time each week. Then it would be open for inspection during the week by appointment only, but not on the days I was at home. You need a chance to relax and do stuff, like clean, do washing, let your kids play with their toys, etc. Having the constant risk of someone wanting to come through the house at any time is exhausting. Don’t let an agent convince you that you must be open to inspections by appointment 24/7 – it’s unrealistic and not fair to you. Nominate two days during the week when you will not have anyone through to look at the place and stick to that.
– When your house is open for inspection, take all your portable valuables out of the house with you when you leave. I’m talking about computers, cameras, iPads/tablets, jewellery, cash, artwork, etc. Remember that although prospective buyers must give a name and phone number before entering your house, but they don’t have to present photo ID. You are essentially letting strangers into your home and showing them all your belongings. They will look in your cupboards, at your bookshelves, in your kitchen drawers, and possibly in your garage. People shouldn’t be looking through dresser drawers or desk drawers because those things don’t come with the house, but you never know who might take the opportunity to quickly rifle through a couple of drawers to see if you’ve stashed something in there. If you don’t want them to know exactly what you have, don’t have it in the house while you’re not there.
– Our agent told us to lock out side gates on days when we had inspections. The reason for this is that people would enter the house through the front door and then also have to exit through the front door. Leaving side gates unlocked means they could walk through your house, pocket something, and exit through the side without the agent knowing. Agents often get tied up taking down details and answering questions from prospective buyers, and it’s incredibly easy to slip out of inspecting a house without them noticing. Locking side gate access prevents this. It was something we never thought of and I’m so glad he suggested it.
– Obviously you need to make your house as clean, tidy and appealing as possible during the open for inspections. A few tips: don’t cook something really smelly the night before or the morning of an inspection, unless it’s something sweet like cookies/cake. Take down your personal photographs and replace them with generic artwork. We bought a few big canvas prints from the bargain shop for less than $100 and put them up in prominent places. This gives your home a lived in, decorated look without your faces on the walls making it seem like it’s your house – you need people to be able to imagine themselves living there and that’s easier to do with generic artwork. Make sure your wardrobe is neatly folded and presented. People WILL open your wardrobe doors to see what the storage is like, and there’s nothing less appealing than stuff strewn about and shoved in messily. The same goes for your kitchen pantry and linen cupboard – expect people to look in there and tidy them up. If you have carpet, get it professionally steam cleaned prior to your first inspection. Trust me, it will look ten times better, even if you think it’s not that dirty the way it is.
Method for selling
– Don’t be pressured into selling your house via auction. Take note of how the majority of real estate sales happen in your suburb and the surrounding suburbs. Think about what you feel comfortable with – do you want a quick sale that’s over and done with in (hopefully) one day? Then maybe an auction is for you. Do you prefer a less highly pressured situation where you can try and get as much as you can from a prospective buyer? Then go with a private sale. In our area, most things sell via private sale, which is what we wanted and what our agent advised us to do. This was for several reasons: our property is a unit, therefore it’s not a showhome that they could build a lot of buzz around and bring to fever pitch on auction day. Our property would appeal to a specific few groups of buyers – first homeowners and people looking to downsize. That meant that it was likely we would get interested buyers fairly quickly, and we did. Also, our area is a big growth area, so we were confident that we would obtain a particular price easily, and anything over that was an added bonus.
– Remember that a private sale is essentially a silent auction anyway. Buyers make an offer and don’t know what the other offers on the table are (if there are any at all). This means that an auction-like atmosphere is created anyway, but instead of knowing what amount they’re bidding against and what the other buyers’ limits are, everyone’s going in blind and offering as much as they can to be the winning bid. It works in your favour most of the time, and this was something I hadn’t thought of before – I also wonder how many other people realise this when they are selling their home. The auction environment doesn’t always get the absolute highest price: the winning bid at an auction is just the bid the successful buyer places when the other bidders hit their limit. That successful buyer might have been prepared to bid another ten, twenty, thirty, forty thousand dollars. But you’ll never know because the person they outbid hit their limit, so the winning bid just had to top that by as little as five hundred to a thousand dollars, and you’ve sold your property, but you’ve missed out on thousands more because it’s an auction. A private sale means that successful bidder has to go in with their highest price almost straight away. They might start a little lower, but private sales can be more competitive from the get go because buyers know they have to make an attractive offer immediately to be a contender. The agent will still try and squeeze as much out of them, but the buyer knows they have to make a good offer quickly, so they usually do.
The nitty gritty
– Choose a good solicitor or conveyancer to handle the paperwork of things. Our agent recommended a great one, but you can always ask family and friends to recommend one as well. Just make sure you ask whoever recommends them if they were a GOOD solicitor or conveyancer. Don’t just use someone that someone else has used. Dig a little deeper – were they satisfied with the experience of dealing with them? If not, why? Always ask more questions, and eventually you’ll be able to make an informed decision instead of just getting a name from someone, using that service and being unhappy with it.
– Once you sell your house, you get the deposit from the buyer a month or so later. However, getting the deposit? NOT EASY. Our conveyancer was great and explained to me that we had to request the release of the deposit. To do this, you need to call your bank and get something called a Section 27 deposit release form. It took me LITERALLY TWO DAYS AND EIGHT PHONE CALLS to our bank to finally get someone who knew what this was AND could supply this. I am not kidding: TWO DAYS. EIGHT PHONE CALLS. I’m not going to tell you which bank we are with, but I was left seriously unimpressed by this. The amount of times I was bounced around from department to department, both inside and outside Australia, and the person I was speaking to thought we wanted to just close our home loan was frightening. It was like no one who holds an account with that bank had ever sold their home before. The people I spoke to just kept telling me they understood what I wanted and then would try tell me that I just needed to close off my home loan. NO. It caused me a bucket load of frustration and anger trying to carefully explain repeatedly that we didn’t want to close our home loan, and that I needed a piece of paper called a Section 27 sent to my conveyancer. Seriously, you guys, EIGHT PHONE CALLS. TWO DAYS.
Selling our house was a big life decision, and getting it presentable and ready was just one part of the process. We had a great agent who helped us every step of the way and was always available to answer questions, and the agent recommended a conveyancer who had real estate experience, and legal experience which helped immensely when it felt like no one understood what we needed once we had sold (BANK, I’M LOOKING AT YOU). If you choose a great agent, a good solicitor, and start getting your house ready a few months before, the stress you’ll experience is minimal, and fingers crossed you’ll sell your home as quickly as we did.
Oh, and you know that as soon as we sold, I had unfolded laundry and dirty dishes in the sink within about thirty minutes. No more open for inspections is a liberating feeling.
What has your experience of selling your home been like? I’d love to know! Stay tuned as well, next week I’m going to do a post on what I’ve learned about buying a house.
Until next time,Share this post: