Surviving the Sale of Your Home

Real estate agents have a phrase: "List to last." Sellers should adopt another phrase: "Last through the listing." Some real estate agents don't want to scare prospective listing clients away by telling them that selling a house can be tough, emotionally charged work. Consider this article a bit of tough love for home-sellers...your agent may be too polite to share this news with you, but it's news you can use.

People sell houses for a variety of reasons, not all of them positive. Unemployment, a death in the family, job relocation: These are just a few of the not-so-good reasons a person might need to sell. And even if you are planning to move up to a better house, there's something unnerving about selling the roof that has sheltered you and your family to the highest bidder. A sign goes up in the front lawn, and all of a sudden, your home is a commodity. Complete strangers are scuffing the hardwoods, hating the curtains and peering in your bedroom closets. Here are some steps you can take to avoid becoming an absolute lunatic while your house is on the market.

Hire the right agent
Find a real estate agent you can stand. You will be entering a short term contractual relationship with whoever lists your house—consider this person a hire, and hire someone you get along with. Ask them how they plan on marketing your house—what publications do they buy ads in? Will they print brochures? 
Do they put listings on the Internet? What type of outdoor signage will they put up? An agent who's asking full commission should do more marketing than merely putting your home in the local Multiple Listing Service. It's a good idea to get clear on what kind of sales effort you can expect before signing on the dotted line.

Get the most from open houses
There's one form of marketing that sellers tend to overrate: Open houses. This weekend ritual is more useful for introducing agents to prospective buyers than it is for selling a home. An open house might generate some interest, but realize that a lot of people hit the open house circuit to check out décor, get ideas for remodels, and to dream.

There is one type of open house that is highly useful—an agent's open, where local real estate agents are invited to tour your home. These are the open houses most likely to generate a buyer, and less likely to generate stress. Expect the agent you sign with to do a couple of agent's opens: one where they bring the agents who work in their office on a tour of your home, and another when they bring local agents from other offices through. A final note on allowing strangers access to your house: Do put small valuables, jewelry and the like away in a safe deposit box before putting your house on the market.



Follow your agent's advice on whether you need to be present for open houses and showings. Generally, it's good to have an owner present for the agent's open to answer questions about the house. Owners shouldn't linger during public open houses, or when agents are showing prospective buyers the house. Leaving during showings accomplishes two things: It allows prospective buyers to truly shop your house without fear of offending you. It also protects you from the temporary insanity of hating the strangers who hate your carpet. Most real estate agents aren't this blunt so we'll say it—excessive hovering by an owner scares potential buyers away.

Here are a few other things your agent may be too polite to tell you:
If you smoke in your house, it will be much harder to sell. Consider having it professionally cleaned, carpets to drapes, and repainted on the inside. Smoke outside while the house is on the market.
Do you have pets that come inside? Does your house smell like your dog or worse yet, cat urine? Pet odors repel buyers, and be aware of the fact that people who don't have pets are far more sensitive to pet odors than pet lovers are. In other words, you may think your house smells fine, but it might be really stinky.
Clean up for gosh sakes! Let's face it—nobody's perfectly clean all the time, but let your inner Martha Stewart or Felix Unger come to the surface while you're marketing your house. Get rid of clutter—even if it means doing some of your packing early. Keep countertops and bathrooms shiny. For some reason, there's nothing more off-putting than some other families crusty toothpaste on a bathroom sink. Nobody's going to declare, "Heck, I would have bought that house at full price until I saw the hairball on the floor of the tub." But a clean, nice smelling house speaks volumes on an emotional level, and will sell itself in a way that a dirty, funky place never will.

Be prepared for unexpected costs
So, you've got an offer you're ready to accept? Don't buy that magnum of champagne yet—that money may need to go toward some home repairs. This is the ultimate rub when selling your home: meeting the terms and conditions the buyer may request. In plain English, this means you may be required to fix problems that you've lived with for years in order for the sale to be completed. That burned out rear-left burner on the stove that you've endured for years? You can bet that the buyer will want that repaired. The mossy roof that adds character? The buyer will want it replaced.

These negotiations sting on two fronts: Firstly, there's the implied judgment about your living conditions. Secondly, you're being asked to spend money on a problem that you've lived with, so someone else can enjoy the fix. The solution? Swallow your pride and be honest with yourself about the condition of your roof, and other major systems in your home. And fix that back burner now if it will really chap your booty to have to repair it later for someone else.