What do you wish you would have known before you sold your house?
July 6, 2009 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you would have known before you sold your house?

My wife and I are contemplating buying a larger house and selling our existing one. It's the only house we've ever owned and I'd like some tips/hints on how to make it go smoothly. Visions of finding a dream house but not being able to sell ours are dancing in my head and I'd like to learn from your experiences.
posted by Twicketface to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Well I knew this but some people may not - move everything out of your house. Well, not the furniture. But 99% of the knick-knacks and anything personal, like your wedding photos or what have you. It should show like a model home. And you'll need to pack all that stuff in the end anyway, so you're better off packing it before you put the house up and putting it in storage. It will make the house seem much bigger and it will show better.

Also, the one thing I wish I had known was that I could have done all those last minute renovations (like refinishing the floor) years earlier and actually had some time to enjoy them myself instead of wishing I could enjoy my newly tidy house for a few more days.
posted by GuyZero at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2009

If you're getting a lot of showings but no offers, lower the price.
posted by tybstar at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2009

What GuyZero said - Google House Staging Tips.

To avoid your fear of contingent new house lost in the shuffle, you might consider renting for a while. Depending on where you see house prices going.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:52 AM on July 6, 2009

The importance of curb appeal. When I decided to sell my previous house, my wife and I did a lot of work on it to make it more marketable, but we started with the interior and only got around to the exterior after we had been on the market for a long time. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake, as the house presented an unexciting aspect from the outside, and some people with appointments would drive up and not even get out of their cars.

Once we put some time and money into the exterior, it looked quite a bit spiffier and we started to get more serious attention.
posted by adamrice at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2009

Nthing GuyZero's wisdom. Put away nearly everything that sits on a surface in your home or makes things feel personal or crowded.

Fix all that stuff you've been meaning to do for years that is immediately visible.

You should also consider changing out any outlet/lightswitch/ and outlet/switch cover that is visible from the door and looks painted over/old. Makes everything look newer.

If you can, I'd also avoid showing the house with pets in it. Having animals in the house while it's being shown is stressful (realtors try, but your darlings may escape during the tour) and leaves you vulnerable to them running away or leaving smelly gifts for prospective house-hunters to discover.
posted by answergrape at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2009

N-thing the the serious emptying of all personal stuff if possible - family pictures, etc. Keep the bookshelves and clear as you can. Empty closets of half (or more) of their contents, and so on. If you know a showing is imminent, turn on every light everywhere.

Also n-thing the curb appeal. We did some minor landscaping (a few bushes, annuals and fresh mulch) and the outside looked fantastic.

When we sold our first house a couple of years ago, we got extremely lucky and got a full-price offer within a week. Our joy turned to terror when we learned that the buyer wanted to close in about ten days (because they were in danger of losing the lock on their mortgage).

It was an extremely stressful 2 weeks - there were items they wanted fixed, an interstate relo to manage, a new place to look for, and so on. We had been counting on a couple of months to get the place finally fixed and sold, but ended up having to get stuff done very fast.

So my advice: prepare to be as nimble as possible once the For Sale sign goes up. You never know when the offer will come.
posted by jquinby at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2009

Don't buy a new house until you sell the old one. I'm not sure if this is very doable anymore (there may be safety measures in place now), but I've heard several tales of woe -- including one from my own brother -- about people who, during the bubble, bought before selling and ended up having to carry two mortgages. Common sense perhaps, but it needs to be said.
posted by jdroth at 11:24 AM on July 6, 2009

I actually tried to buy before I sold and I wasn't even able to get the second mortgage. You have to get bridge financing with zero down unless you have a lot of cash on hand for a second downpayment. I couldn't find anyone willing to do that for me. So it's kind of a theoretical problem right now.
posted by GuyZero at 11:29 AM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: My wife and I sold our house in April. While I don't know that I could say these are things that I didn't know before going into the process, it is advice that I feel comfortable passing along:

1)Staging is important. While it is not necessary to move everything out, minimize clutter, get rid of extra furniture and try to strike a balance between looking like something you'd see in a magazine or TV show and being livable for you while the house is being sold. My wife and I put about a third of our stuff in storage before selling. It made our house look more spacious and it also helped when we moved out.

2) Curb appeal is also important. We spruced up the front yard and put out flowers to make sure a buyer's first impression was neutral or positive.

3) Do a pre-sale inspection. We hired an inspector 6 months before selling our house and then spent the next 6 months fixing up most of the things on the list. Then when a prospective buyer made an offer and conducted their own home inspection, it came back pretty clean (only one minor thing). This made for a much smoother selling process and we felt confident enough in our listing price that we didn't have to budge too much on it. In fact we ended up selling with only a 1% reduction from our listing price.

4) Lastly, and probably more importantly, all of the rules above are dependent on what niche your house fits in for your market. Our market here in Chapel Hill, NC is sluggish but not as bad as some other parts of the country. However our house was in the starter home niche, which is actually pretty vibrant. There just aren't that many houses in the 1500 sq. foot range, and we had an offer four days after putting the house on the market. So curb-appeal and staging wasn't as much of a deal breaker as it might have been in the 2800 sq. foot niche. That market is pretty dead here and you have to really have something that makes a house stand out.

So I'd say figure out what niche your house fits in for your market. If the market is glutted with houses just like yours, spend a lot of time/effort on staging, curb appeal and repairs or have a very competitive price and be prepared to wait. If it's a less competitive niche, staging, curb appeal and repairs may be less critical.
posted by cptspalding at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2009

Keep the house in pristine condition at all times while it's on the market - it's not unusual to get 5 minutes' notice that someone's coming over for a showing.

Rent a storage unit and start packing up your extraneous stuff before it goes on the market.

Go crazy cleaning - polish the baseboards, dust the ceiling fans, vacuum the screens, powerwash the outside - people do notice.
posted by Ostara at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2009

Sort out the junk in your attic & basement & closets -- some to the trash, some to a yard sale, some handed down or donated -- before you put the house on the market.

That way there's less stuff to hide (or stick in a storage unit), it's easier to clean around, and everything is already boxed up for the move. Also, buyers will see all the tidy boxes and think, "Gosh, these highly organized folks probably also took darn good care of this house. Must be a creampuff!"

My wife is just now getting this through my thick skull, having already done most of our basement herself.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2009

Coming at this from the point of view of someone who has recently been house hunting, the number one turnoff has been smelly houses. Some smell musty, like there is a dampness problem. Some smell like hideous air "freshening" products that only serve to make me think something more sinister is being covered up. Some smell like cheap carpet that was obviously put in recently for purposes of resale. As soon as I walk in these places, I know I'm not buying. Make sure your house smells like nothing but fresh air.
posted by HotToddy at 12:35 PM on July 6, 2009

I learned something extremely recently: When you get an offer on your house, lots of inspection type guys will show up. All of them will be annoyingly vague in their findings, and sometimes contradict each other. Unfortunately, your buyer's loan underwriter is looking for very specific language to assuage concerns about the condition of the property. Reconciling these two can be an exercise in great frustration.

Get as much detail as you can about anything that an inspector, appraiser, etc. finds, then look for a contractor who can respond to those findings in even greater detail.
posted by jmcmurry at 12:53 PM on July 6, 2009

Don't turn down appointments for others to view your home. It may be inconvenient, but that one person may be THE ONE who buys your home.

We sold our home a few years ago - I had just gotten home from the hospital after having my third child, my husband had to go into work for a few hours, the phone rings and it's a realtor wanting to show our house. I hesitantly said yes and then ran around the house tidying it up. Those people that saw my house that day were the ones who bought it!

Decluttering - super great advice. Learn to live minimally - EVEN IF YOU HAVE KIDS. From the point you put your house on the market, it's really not your house any more. Make it look like a place someone else would want to live. De-personalize. Think model home. Walk through a few model homes if you can. Also, when your house is decluttered, it's super easy to clean - makes life much easier when showing your home and having to keep it cleaned at all times.

Before you go anywhere, grocery store, getting your hair done, getting the car fixed - before you leave your home, make sure it is in pristine condition - because you never know when a realtor will show it to a client.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:53 PM on July 6, 2009

We just sold a house a few months ago. The house had a rather unusual, open layout since we don't have kids, which meant that there was no defined kid's room. We were using the space that might have been a kid's room as an office. So many buyers with kids (the target market for a house of our size/location really) couldn't see where they were going to fit in. So, if you have any rooms that could be bedrooms but are being used otherwise - as home offices or storage or gyms or whatever, do what you can to show them as bedrooms.

Also as already stated above, declutter, declutter, declutter. And clean. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most important must-be-spotless rooms. Consider having your windows cleaned if they haven't been for a while.

(though the people who finally bought our house saw it the first time when we were away for 2 weeks, and mice were having a big old party in the cellar, leaving their droppings all over the floor. So, you never know.)
posted by thread_makimaki at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2009

The $35.00 for one month we spent for a 10x10 storage unit to DECLUTTER our house prior to listing it was the main reason why our house sold in 6 days at the listed price, with the buyers waiving an inspection and offering to settle whenever we wished.

It was one of 11 homes for sale in my immediate neighborhood, and absolutely not the nicest, biggest, or the best located. When we sold it, it was the most expensive sale in the community. Like I said, we got our price (much to my pleasure and amazement).

We moved everything to the storage unit except for the items we needed to continue to live there.

I also mulched the flower beds, and made sure everything worked the way it was supposed to.

Also, we cleaned the hell out of it, and did so with two young children and a big dog.

We specified that no showings were permitted unless scheduled, so we could get ourselves and our dog out of there. We also took his food bowls (and all other evidence that we had a dog) with us during the showings.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:43 PM on July 6, 2009

We sold our NJ townhouse this year.

Things I wish I would have known:

- Plan for your address change. The postal service is stricter these days about changing your address. They may want proof of new address. If you have a private mailbox (UPS store box), you probably won't be able to have your mail forwarded from there, unless you maintain the mailbox account. Due to poor planning, I had mail arriving at my old house after I had already moved across country. Fortunately my realtor took care of it.

- I'll chime in with the other posters.... Get rid of clutter early and often.

- Pre-sale inspection is a great idea. It helps sell the house. Buyer is more comfortable negotiating for a house when the condition is known.
posted by valannc at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2009

My husband and I got very good at the super-fast clean. The phone would ring announcing an impending visit and we would be on the run:

- Light vanilla scented candles (Walmart has some great large $5 ones that smell like vanilla ice cream and cake)
- Scoop up any clutter and hide it in boxes/laundry hampers
- Put any dishes into the dishwasher
- Make the bed
- Wipe down dusty surfaces with Pledge wipes, wipe down counters/sinks with Clorox wipes, wipe down any glass smudges with Windex wipes (basically wipes are your high-speed clean best friend)
- Sweep all the hardwoods and dustbuster any piles of dust
- Drop a Plink down the disposal for added freshness
- Take out the garbage

Also, take a lesson from me: if you've ever complained about your house online, blogged about it, posted pictures of it on Flickr or done anything public on the internet about the house other than marketing its sale, take it down or lock it down. We lost an offer after they found some pictures on my Flickr account of an ant problem we had (and successfully resolved).
posted by LeiaS at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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