It’s that time of year when most of us start to count our blessings, look back at what we’ve accomplished in 2011 and think about what we’ll get done in 2012. If selling your home is part of your resolution list for next year, there’s plenty of prep work you can do to set yourself up for home selling success.
Here are 5 things you can and should start working on without further ado, if you want to get your home sold – smoothly and for top dollar – in 2012.
1. Put your intentions in writing. The first step to any real estate transaction – actually, to anything important in life! – is to get clear on your goals. Unexpected challenges and situations might very well come up in the course of selling your home, so having a clear idea of your ultimate goals at the outset is a must to help you make the right decisions along the way and to remind you when you might need to course correct.
When you’re setting your objective and writing it down, it’s critical to be specific and holistic, drilling down to the details of what result it is you want your home sale to achieve in your life.
Also, establish where your priorities lie: with speed or with dollars? For example, your goal might be to sell your house as quickly as possible so you can relocate your family by spring. Or, your goal may be to sell your house at the best possible price no matter how long it takes.
Getting as clear as possible from the very beginning on your priorities and ultimate life objectives for the sale will allow you to communicate these crucial things clearly to your agent, and will power your decisions on issues like:
- which home improvement projects, if any, to complete before you sell;
- whether to accept a particular offer; and
- how aggressively to negotiate counter-offers, and on which points to push back against a buyer’s offer.
2. Study the local market. The most successful home sales are the listings that are priced right from day one. Ask any agent: even in the toughest markets, there are listing that sell quickly, mostly because the one-two punch of the property and its price look to buyers like a very strong value.
In order to position yourself and your property at the point of pricing nirvana, you’ll need to do some leg work. stat. You don’t need to pick an exact price this moment, unless you’re planning to list your home super soon, but you can get started on what I like to think of as the ‘thinking seller’s’ three-pronged approach to pricing now, by:
- visiting open houses,
- studying nearby listings, and
- talking with local agents.
Before the year is up, try to visit a handful of open houses in your neighborhood. This will help you get a sense of the types of homes that are on the market, what condition they’re in, and how they are priced. Keep in mind that no home is going to be exactly like yours, but if it’s similar in size, location and features, then buyers that see that property will probably be the same buyers that come to see yours – and they will be comparing list prices.
Another great prep tool in gearing up to sell your home in 2012 is to study similar homes for sale on Trulia! Pay particular attention to what features they have, how they are described and priced, any incentives the sellers are offering (e.g., closing cost credits, etc.) and how long they’ve been on the market. (Hint: you might not want to price your home right in line with one that’s been on the market over a year. Obviously, that home is overpriced, and that is NOT a result you want to replicate!)
Finally, one of the most efficient and nuanced ways to get to know your local market is to begin speaking with agents who sell homes in your area. Get a few referrals, call them up and tour them through your home. Then, ask these pros for their opinion on what you should list your home for, what recent sales they think are the most comparable (and why), and how long they would expect your sale to take given their experience and current conditions.
You can use these same home tours to get a head start on selecting your listing agent by asking the agents you interview to give you a preview of what they would recommend in the way of preparing your home, timing your listing and marketing your house to achieve the objectives you set in Step 1.
3. Gather your paperwork. In planning for your sale next year, you can get a great head start by pulling together the necessary paperwork now. Keep in mind that the specific requirements vary by state, so this is not an exhaustive list. In general, you’ll need to have these ready:
- Disclosure documents: This includes any documentation of anything that might impact a buyer’s decision about your home, whether it be inspection reports, repair receipts or estimates for repairs you haven’t actually had done yet. Your local real estate pro will help determine what exactly is needed here.
- Compliance certificates: In some cities, the local government will require certain conditions be met before a property is transferred to another owner. Examples of these requirements include sewer line condition guidelines, and energy conservation ordinances that require low-flow toilets and shower heads to be installed. Again, your real estate agent and your city’s website can help you figure out which, if any, of these types of ordinances might apply to your home.
- Mortgage statements: Before the property’s title can transfer to another owner, the escrow or title company will need your mortgage statements to order payoff demands from any mortgage holder who has to get paid before that can happen.
- Financials: If you’re planning on a short sale, you’ll have a lot more paperwork to gather in your process, including paycheck stubs, bank and investment account statements, and two years’ W-2 forms or tax returns – the bank will review these to determine whether they will authorize you to sell the home for less than what you owe.
4. Prep your listing plan and timeline. After you’ve done all your pricing homework and have chosen a listing agent, you can create a plan and timeline for how all the moving pieces will come together – including who is responsible for getting which tasks done. At minimum, your plan should specify:
- prep work you’ll be doing to your property before it’s listed for sale – including decluttering, staging and any repairs or cosmetic power-tweaks you plan to make;
- if you’re planning a short sale, a timeline for submitting an application to your lender for approval (this might be before or after the property is listed – consult with your lender and your agent on the matter)
- planned list price (based on current local market conditions – this could change if you don’t plan to list your home for several months);
- the target date on which your home will be listed for sale in the local MLS; and
- how showing arrangements will work so that local agents can get prospective buyers into your house to see the place, and what.
Agents: What other elements do you encourage sellers to include in their listing plans?
5. Get a head start on your ‘home’work. How much prep work your home needs really depends on its current condition. A good starting point for many sellers is to order an inspection. Most buyers will get their own inspection before closing a deal, but getting ahead of them with your own will help you avoid any unwanted surprises later on in the transaction. An inspection will give you a reality check on your home’s condition, enabling you to decide upfront whether it’s worth it to fix something now or simply reduce the price in consideration thereof.
Your holiday vacation from work is a great time to:
(a) obtain any advance inspections your real estate agent recommends,
(b) have any reasonable repairs completed,
(c) pre-pack and declutter your place, and
(d) prettify your home’s curb appeal – painting the shutters and sprucing the landscaping goes a long way toward attracting buyers.