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Selling your home fast: dos and don'ts

sol homeSelling your home is challenging enough, but trying to do it quickly really ramps up the degree of difficulty. Timing often enters into house selling, whether it is because you are relocating, have another home purchase pending, or simply have a pressing need for the sale proceeds.

Some advance preparation can help the sales process go more smoothly -- and help you avoid some common mistakes that could sabotage your home sale.

What follows are some dos and don'ts for selling your home efficiently.

How to sell your home successfully: 7 steps

Even if you are in a hurry to sell your home, don't neglect taking the right steps to prepare for the process. A little effort upfront can make things go much more quickly and smoothly in the long run.

1. Know your local house selling market

It's probably been a while since you bought your home -- years, possibly decades. So, take the time to update yourself on how the local real estate market is doing.

Take note of how many properties are on sale in your neighborhood, and how they compare with yours. Research the list price of those homes for sale, and then pay attention to what the actual sale price ends up being and how long they take to sell.

All of this can help you understand how your property fits into the local market, and what you have to do to be competitive in that market as a seller.

2. Hire the right real estate agent

While you are following developments in your local real estate market, pay attention to which real estate agents are active in that market.

It's a good idea to choose an agent who is knowledgeable about your neighborhood. In addition, look at how agents raise the visibility of the properties they represent to attract sellers. Once you've identified some agents that might be suitable for your property, have a conversation with each one to see who would be the best fit.

C.J. Wright, a Realtor in Jacksonville Florida, advised HSH that home sellers should get a feel for what an agent has in mind before they commit to one: "Ask each agent about their marketing plan to see what they plan to do to showcase your home. Ask where they plan to advertise, if they will target their marketing and how many websites it will be on, then follow up and hold the agent you choose accountable."

3. Get a home inspection done in advance

Sooner or later, your home is going to have to go through an inspection. While traditionally this happens after an offer has been made, there are merits to doing it before you even list the property.

Finding out if there are defects that need to be addressed allows you to get things fixed in an orderly manner, rather than having to scramble to take care of these things once a sale is pending. Also, having an inspection done in advance could add appeal to your home listing.

This does not preclude a potential buyer (or their mortgage lender) from insisting on their own inspection when the time comes. However, an advance inspection lets you get an early jump on taking care of issues that could derail a sale later on. It also enables you to price your home appropriately, given the estimated costs of repairs that you may not have time to make before closing.

4. Make a good first impression

Home owners naturally think of their homes from the inside out. Remember though, visitors approach your home from the outside in.

This means that curb appeal is very important. When potential buyers park in front of your house, will they see a tidy lawn and garden, and a clean, up-to-date exterior? It is also very important to prepare the inside of your house, but start with the knowledge that the exterior appearance may go a long way to shaping the potential buyer's attitude before the front door even opens.

5. Get your house ready to sell: depersonalize

All the personal touches that make the house your home can actually make it harder for potential buyers to imagine it ever being their home.

Tone down decor, photos and mementos that are very specific to your tastes. Also be sensitive to the need to appeal across generations. While home sellers are often old enough to be moving up from a starter home or even downsizing, its estimated that millennials now represent over 40 percent of new mortgage loans.

That's not to say you should overreact and try to force a bunch of youthful touches into your decor. Just try to make the appearance more generation-neutral, so younger shoppers won't see your home as a place they can better imagine their parents living than themselves.

6. Get your neighbors' help with house selling

All the work you do to prepare your home to be shown can be undermined by a neighboring property with an overgrown lawn, peeling paint or a broken fence.

This kind of thing can be a touchy subject, but the common ground is that it is in the whole neighborhood's best interest for each property to sell for the best price possible. Certainly, it is bad news for everyone concerned if your property ends up sitting vacant for a while because you had trouble selling it.

Given this common interest, find a tactful way to raise the issue and offer to help spruce up anything that would reflect badly on the neighborhood. Also, give your neighbors a heads-up about things like open-houses. You can do this by way of letting them know as a courtesy, but the subtext is that it would be helpful if everyone kept their stereos down and their lawns tidy at that time.

7. Look beyond the homebuyer's offer price

When you do get an offer for your home, pay attention not just to the price but other details, such as the qualification of the would-be buyer and any special conditions they've put on the offer.

As Angelica Delboy, a Washington, DC area Realtor explained to HSH, "It's important to look at the whole package for an offer and not just price, because you never want to choose a buyer who may ultimately be unable to finalize the deal."

This means that things like mortgage pre-approval should carry a lot of weight in how you evaluate an offer. Also, favor offers that are free of special conditions that could jeopardize the sale. Remember, having a deal fall through can prevent a home from selling quickly because it can take the home off the market for several weeks before you have to start over.

7 Costly home seller mistakes

Unfortunately, all the things you do right in selling your home could be undermined by one or two wrong moves. Here are some examples of costly home seller mistakes:

1. Setting the wrong home price

One reason why the first two steps on the above list of things to do are so important is that knowing your local market and hiring a capable agent are critical to setting the right price. Aim too high, and your property could languish on the market for months or even years. Aim too low, and you could be sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars in what may be the biggest financial transaction of your life.

The potential list price is one of the things you should discuss when choosing a real estate agent, but your choice of an agent should rely more on how detailed their research and thought process is when it comes to setting a price, not simply on the number they give you. Otherwise, you might be inclined to go with the agent who tells you what you want to hear.

As Peggy Speaker, a Washington, DC-area Realtor explained to HSH, "Homeowners should never choose a real estate agent based on the price they suggest. You need to avoid working with someone who is not being genuine with you."

You may think a high list price gives you more room to negotiate, but with so many house hunters using automated search tools these days, that tactic can backfire if it excludes your house from too many searches. As Speaker explained, "Most internet search engines offer buyers a price range in $20,000 to $50,000 increments. So, if you price a property at $415,000, you may lose buyers looking at the $350,000 to $400,000 range of homes."

2. Not putting money where it's needed

Sure, your ultimate goal in selling is to take money out of the house, but don't be hesitant to first put some money into it, if necessary.

Skimping on simple cosmetic improvements like a fresh coat of paint can create such a negative impression that otherwise-suitable buyers might not even consider your home. Worse, ignoring mechanical or structural problems that need fixing could mean having a potential sale derailed when the buyers have their inspection done.

Don't expect potential buyers to look past minor defects. Nobody wants to inherit someone else's problems when they buy a home.

3. Neglecting your digital house selling presence

Just as the physical appearance of your home is vital when people come to see it, so is the virtual appearance of it online when people are browsing for properties.

Use only professional-quality photography. A dimly-lit photo can make your house look dingy or gloomy. Provide several photos to create the impression that there is a lot to the house. Make sure your real estate agent posts your property on all relevant real estate sites.

4. Tolerating clutter while your house is on the market

Even the most visually appealing home can be made to look unattractive if it is filled with clutter. People want ample space when they buy a home, so if your closets and cupboards are jammed full or your rooms are over-packed with furniture, it can create the impression that the house is crowded.

As Delboy pointed out to HSH, "buyers want to know their stuff will fit in the home with room to spare, so if you shove everything into the garage or into one closet and it's overflowing, they will be turned off."

Face it, this is a good time to streamline and get rid of some unnecessary things anyway. The more clutter you get rid of to help you home show better, the less you'll have to pack and move when the time comes.

5. Playing hard to get with home buyers

Showing your house can be intrusive and inconvenient, but it is the only way the property is going to get sold. If you place too many restrictions on when you will show the house, you are going to significantly cut down on the number of potential buyers who are able to see it.

In particular, if you are too restrictive you may exclude people with busy work schedules who have narrow windows when they are able to house hunt -- and these may be some of the most qualified homebuyers.

Work with your real estate agent to figure out a schedule that leaves ample opportunities for open houses and individual showings, and try to be flexible when necessary.

6. Taking negotiations personally

It's not an insult when someone offers a few thousand below your asking price, nor should you resent a buyer making an offer contingent on you making a couple extra repairs or upgrades.

This is simply a business transaction where each party is trying to look after their best interest. You can push back and make a counter-proposal, but keep your cool. Taking the process too personally may result in blowing up a deal over relatively minor differences. If that significantly delays your ability to sell the house and/or results in your ultimately accepting less than you could have gotten from the original offer, your emotions will have stood in the way of making the best deal available.

7. Assuming a signed home purchase agreement means a done deal

Once you have agreed to terms with a buyer and have a agreement, don't assume the deal is done. Plenty can go wrong between agreeing to a sale and the actual close.

Fortunately for you, this entails more work on the buyer's part than the seller's, but there is usually a timetable involved so you should stay in frequent contact with your real estate agent to make sure everything remains on schedule.

Meanwhile, be sure to keep up the polished appearance you maintained when selling the property. As Delboy pointed out to HSH, this can help with the appraisal process: "When the appraiser arrives, you need to make sure your home reflects the same condition as the day it went under contract."

Should a deal fall through and you have to start showing the house again, you'll find it easier if you kept everything ship-shape than if you have to ramp up and get the property ready all over again.

There's no doubt about it -- house selling is hard work and an intrusion upon your personal life. However, once you've made the decision to sell, giving the effort your full attention should help you get the process over more quickly and with more satisfying results.

More help from HSH.com

  • Making an offer on a house before selling yours

    Trying to buy and sell a house at the same time can be tricky, but there are multiple options for approaching it. Learn more to decide which way is right for you.
  • What happens with your mortgage when your house is destroyed?

    Going through a natural disaster can be traumatic. Here's what happens with your mortgage after incurring this type of loss.
  • Renting out a house with a mortgage

  • Neighbor preventing sale of home?

    Spring will be here before you know it. If you're thinking about selling your home, you need to determine now if any of your neighbors might sabotage your home sale.
  • What can go wrong at closing?

    If your home has been on the market, you're probably dreaming of the day you receive an offer that you can accept. But reaching an agreement doesn't mean your home is as good as sold.

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