Selling house absentee-style...need reassurance
February 1, 2014 7:11 PM   Subscribe

I got a new job in a new town that required me to relocate from central New Jersey to Northeast PA. I moved and my husband stayed in the house. Now we're living separately and we can't carry a mortgage and rent for long. How best to sell our house when we're three hours away?

So after a miserable month apart my husband wants to join me in our rental house ASAP. Does anyone out in MetaFilter-land have experience selling a house long-distance? Added level of difficulty: we plan to move the remaining house contents when he joins me, which means the house will be listed and shown empty. The house is a good one (nice layout, restored wood floors and woodwork, spacious kitchen), but old (built 1910), and while not a total "fixer," will need work (needs exterior paint/siding, probably a new deck). We plan to hire a landscaper to do a thorough yard cleanup (snow permitting) and get the interior professionally cleaned after it's empty. We need to get a certain price to break even on the sale, which right now is all I care about.

I've read all I can on Ask and haven't seen anything very recent about selling. The market here in the Northeast US seems to be picking up, but I wouldn't count on it. Has anyone recently had success selling a house that you didn't live in? Bonus points if you sold long-distance or with the house empty.
posted by Otter_Handler to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My husband and I did this on a job relocation from Houston to Jersey City in 2003. Obviously I can't advise you about recent market information, but I can tell you two things. First, you need to have a great realtor (get recs, a lot of them). Second, you should really have someone on hand to help with anything needed at the house. My mother kept an eye on things for us.

I moved in April and we sold our house in October. It was a nailbiter, but the market sucked and our realtor was not great. We actually had to drop realtor #1 at the end of the contract and realtor #2--recommended by a friend--got the house sold. I wish you better luck than we had.
posted by immlass at 7:27 PM on February 1, 2014

This is what realtors are for.

It's actually better to have it empty while it's being shown because then people can more easily imagine where they will put their own stuff.

I sold my townhome in Vegas after we moved to Virginia and my realtor coordinated getting minor repairs and cleaning done and all I had to do was pay for stuff. I went with a small agency that had been around for a while and had multiple agents working under one broker, so they had good contacts for everything that needed to be done.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:27 PM on February 1, 2014

We bought our house from someone who did this. Their realtor did a shitty job of showing it, maybe because the owner had no way of knowing what was going on. (E.g. didn't bother to show up to appointments to view it, produced terrible photos for the sales listings, (presumably) didn't notify the owner of maintenance that needed during during the six months it was empty.)

The biggest issue from the owner's perspective would have been (if they had known) that the house just got very unkempt looking while it was empty. Layers of dust on everything, dead insects on the floor, overgrown garden, spider webs in all the corners and on the windows. I think it probably put a lot of potential buyers off.

So if you have a local friend or family member you can trust, I'd get them to check in on the place at least once a week while it is on the market. Maybe don't trust the realtor to let you know about this sort of thing. And/or hire a maid service to do a quick spruce up once a week or before any open house.
posted by lollusc at 7:43 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a fantastic realtor, spring surprise visits if you have to, and add an extra bonus above the standard percentage, cash bonus, to the BUYING agent.
posted by tilde at 7:56 PM on February 1, 2014

I sold my old house in Australia while living in the USA. While their would be some differences in paperwork, the trick is to find a Realtor you trust, don't take the first one that comes along. I organised mine by email, but as your husband hasn't left yet you guys can talk to them in person before you go, heck you are only 3 hours away so surprise visits etc are no worries.

I'd recommend you don't take all your furniture with you, you can take the basics but leave enough so that people can get some idea of what the house looks like with furniture in. Movers can move the rest of your items no problems without you there. Arrange for a cleaner & a lawnmower/garden guy to keep the house looking nice.

I had my family sell my crap furniture, had a cleaner come through, sold the house and then the movers came in and packed up and shipped my furniture to me in the US everything was done online and by email including signing of all paperwork. Laws might vary here in the states, but paperwork can always be couriered or posted.

My only suggestion if you want to sell fast, is don't scrimp on photos, everyone thinks they can get by with some snapshots they do themselves, I splurged on a professional Real Estate photographer, cost me $500 bucks. He staged photos, and then left the house like that for me, I ended up with 3 people in a bidding war for the house at the first open inspection, one was in another state and had only seen it online, the house sold for $15K above asking.
posted by wwax at 8:36 PM on February 1, 2014

Seconding that you can let your real estate agent take care of all the fix-it items, cleaning, staging etc. All you have to do is write the checks.

Empty can be OK but CLEAN and BRIGHT is really important. One big benefit to moving first is that it is much easier to put in new carpets and fresh paint. Most buyers are utterly lacking in imagination. Even though it makes more sense to give them an allowance and let them pick out the carpet that they really want, too many let their first impression based on the old carpets override the reality of how great the house is.

Actually, it depends on your local housing market and price point of your house. A good real estate agent can let you know when it invest in these cosmetic improvement and when it isn't worth it. Some homes will be fine empty, others will move much better if you pay to have them staged. (Staging - a professional brings in their own furniture to set up your house to be shown to buyers. Our dining room looked much bigger staged with a table for four!)
posted by metahawk at 9:06 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure your realtor understands technology such as electronically signing documents and scanning/creating/sending PDFs. (And make sure you understand how to do it too.)
It will make doing business over the distance much, much easier.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:12 PM on February 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I sold a house empty, which didn't seem to be a problem at all and is an advantage in that your crap isn't cluttering up the place and they can show it any time. I spent what was in retrospect a very small amount of money taking care of minor cosmetic issues, all those things that accumulate and you ignore while living there, small holes in the walls, paint, etc, and I suspect that small investment paid off many, many times over both in sale price and speed of sale.

And as has been said, you want a good agent, someone who is a professional with a strong history of getting houses sold. Most agents don't fit that description, so don't pick someone randomly or a spouse of an acquaintance.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:46 PM on February 1, 2014

Also I paid to have two people spend most of a day deep cleaning the place, after all of the cosmetic work was done. It was probably only a couple of hundred dollars, but the difference was amazing, far better than I could have done and much better than most houses I have toured bother to do. It's small money relative to the price of the house, and potential with a big payoff.

In my case I took care of all these things, but any good agent will have people to call.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:52 PM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

We just sold our east coast house while living on the west coast. Our real estate agent was invaluable, but the house needed lots of work and I wish I'd taken care of all of it before moving --- finding and scheduling plumbers/HVAC/carpenters/etc is much harder if you're absentee. Your husband should find a real estate agent and have any necessary maintenance and cleaning done before he leaves town.

You will also need access to a printer/scanner (and a fax unless you sign a form that agrees to recognize emailed pdf signatures), or you can sign over power of attorney to a local lawyer.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:22 AM on February 2, 2014

I've also done this (though not by choice, just couldn't get the thing sold before my work relocation). Definitely get a good realtor (seller's agent). Make sure home is kept up, ie, yard care, cleaning/dusting. Consider a home realtor had one as part of her package (started when I signed with her and I think conveyed to the buyers?). That was helpful when the central AC started leaking through the ceiling days before I moved.
Electronic signatures would have been nice, I just ended up scanning and faxing lots of paperwork.
posted by maryrussell at 5:06 AM on February 2, 2014

I'm currently on deployment and am using my real estate agent to do everything, including:

- Getting a storage unit
- Moving my stuff out of the house
- Cleaning the house
- Painting walls
- Minor patch work
- Minor landscape work
- Showing the house

RE agent even worked with my roommate to coordinate schedules until he moved out this past week.

All I have to do is provide the necessary funds, and he does the rest. That's what RE agents are for!

One thing I've had to deal with is the lack of a fax machine on the boat, but that was easily solved by using MyFax.
posted by squorch at 6:26 AM on February 2, 2014

I always stage my houses for sale, and I've always sold quickly and for top dollar.

If you plan to keep everything you own, do thrift store buying for some basic pieces for showing. You might even ask neighbors if you can borrow some things while your house is on the market.

A card table with a floor length table cloth in the dining room, inflatable mattresses made up like beds in the bedroom (an Aero bed on cardboard boxes will work) A desk in one room as an office. Just a suggestion of the uses the rooms can be put to.

We bought our last house with no furniture in it, but I have an imagination, so it's not a deal-breaker.

Get a GREAT Realtor, someone who can keep you apprised of everything, and someone who can tell you exactly what to expect from the market.

What are you plans if you can't sell for the price you want? Is it realistic? What about closing costs? Have plan B thoroughly in place, just in case.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:43 AM on February 2, 2014

Thanks for all the responses...I'm feeling a little better, and now will focus on finding a stellar real estate agent. Anyone who knows an agent they love in Hunterdon County, please feel free to memail me!

I'm a little surprised by how many people say that I should bother with staging the house - in my experience, when we were house hunting, I hated seeing other people's idea of what should go in the rooms and found it distracting from seeing the bones of the house. In truth, the rooms in our house are very bright and airy, but not that large compared to more modern houses - I think leaving them empty would create more visual space. It will also be a lot easier to keep clean for whoever we hire to do that maintenance.

Anyway, thanks to everyone! It's all very helpful advice.
posted by Otter_Handler at 5:13 AM on February 3, 2014

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