A few months ago, what seemed to be a crazy idea popped into my head. So I naturally voiced it to my wife: "What if we sold our house?"
After all, mortgage rates were near historic lows, and real estate prices had risen nicely in our area since we purchased the home in 2011. Though there was nothing technically wrong with the house, it lacked a formal office space -- something I've desired since I began writing full time for The Motley Fool in early 2013.
The more we mulled it over, the clearer it became that selling was right for us. Within a few weeks, our house was officially on the market. Then, three days and a dozen showings later, we accepted an offer from a solid buyer at over 99% of our asking price.
But it wasn't that simple
For reasons I'll describe below, however, that buyer ended up backing out roughly a month later. So we promptly relisted our home, and this time received three similar offers -- including two from well-qualified buyers -- within two days.
By contrast, when we purchased this home only four years earlier, it had been on the market eight months with an asking price $25,000 below ours. What's more, our new home -- which was admittedly listed at a much higher price -- was on the market more than two years before we took action.
How did we do it? Here are five takeaways I can offer prospective sellers.
Use a real estate agent
While it was tempting to avoid commissions by taking the for-sale-by-owner route, we opted to use a reputable real estate agent. To be fair, we still had plenty of work to do ourselves. But her contributions were invaluable, including (but not limited to) everything from marketing, arranging showings, vetting and negotiating with sellers and their agents, and ensuring the proper paperwork was in place.
To market the home, our agent sent the listing to not only her agency's website and our local newspaper, but also a handful of other well-known sites including Zillow, Trulia, Yahoo! Real Estate, realtor.com, and homes.com. She was also careful to properly frame and focus every photo and even included a link in the listing to a simple "virtual tour" on YouTube.
It paid off. We were inundated with early interest and even had one buyer request to schedule a showing less than an hour after it went online. A few hours later, one look at Zillow -- where I had previously "claimed" the address as my own -- told me the address had over 700 new views, and 12 shoppers had already "saved" the home based on their online search filters.
Price it well
Serious buyers won't bite if your home isn't priced appropriately. We had the benefit of an experienced real estate agent on our side here, and we happened to be in the "sweet spot" for our city with a fairly attractive, spacious home on a reasonably large lot priced below $300,000. But the final say on price was ours.
That doesn't mean we priced it too low. In fact, we had initially envisioned asking at least $15,000 less than the price our agent suggested. But she rightly believed this upward adjustment was necessary to present it as an attractive alternative to a number of slightly higher-end (and higher-priced) homes.
Conversely, I recommend avoiding the mind-set of asking more than the market will allow -- something buyers often do with the aim of negotiating down to what should have been their asking price all along. In my opinion, this is one of the more significant challenges the previous owners encountered in trying to sell our new home, which we finally purchased at a more than 20% "discount" to the initial ask after three large price reductions, multiple selling agents, and more than two years on the market.
De-clutter and de-personalize
Next, we stuck to relatively neutral wall colors, from warm browns to inviting grays, cool blues, and the occasional cautiously chosen accent wall. By avoiding bright colors, decor, or other "brave" design choices, we minimized any distractions that might have kept someone from trying to envision the home as their own.
Relatedly, we also put unnecessary items in storage to de-clutter, including picture frames, figurines, extra toys, and even our toaster to clear space on the kitchen counters. Anything to better showcase the actual home while at the same time avoiding the feeling of being too empty.
Finally, we de-personalized -- but not completely. A few family pictures remained on the walls. But we simultaneously took down a handful of wedding photos from our dressers, as well as two large family photo murals on the walls of different rooms. In their place, we hung relatively affordable artwork -- including two smile-worthy framed crayon drawings made by my 7-year-old daughter -- giving the rooms a more generic welcoming feel.
Make it right
Strive to resolve any nagging projects, eye sores, safety issues, or otherwise unattractive parts of the home that might give a bad first impression.
In the weeks leading up to our listing, I weeded flower beds, trimmed bushes, and installed new landscape edging, fabric, and mulch. I organized the garage, replaced burned out light bulbs, and broken outlet covers. I replaced weather stripping our cats had used as scratching posts, and even bought more modern brushed nickel entry and back door knobs to replace the older gold ones. We also patched old dents in drywall, touched up paint throughout the house, and kept the lawn nicely mowed, trimmed, and watered.
In addition, I was made aware the previous owners of our home built the decks without attaching proper ledgers or lag bolts against the house -- something that would almost certainly be called out by an astute home inspector. So I hired a contractor to bring them up to code. And while I was at it, I sanded and stained the decks for good measure, replacing several rotten boards along the way.
Collectively, these items were time and labor intensive. But they also came at a relatively low out-of-pocket cost of around several hundred dollars, and the evident pride of ownership gained us untold rapport and overwhelmingly positive feedback from buyers.
... but don't be a pushover
Finally, no matter how hard you work, that doesn't mean your buyers won't still try to push the envelope.
Our first buyers' home inspector noticed siding on one wall that was originally installed incorrectly, so wore disproportionately faster than the rest of the home. As a result, he suggested they replace the siding on that wall, leaving the rest of the home's still-healthy material intact. After speaking with an overzealous contractor, however, those buyers demanded we pay over $20,000 to replace all siding, fascia, and soffit on the home with high-end pre-painted cement materials. Long story short -- and even after I collected two separate bids for comparable work at a significantly lower cost -- the buyers backed out when we wouldn't agree to pay the entirety of their higher bid.
We were emotionally crushed at the time. But I refused to give in to what I viewed as an unreasonable request, even if it meant losing the buyer.
Thankfully as I mentioned above, we were surprised upon relisting by the onslaught of other hopeful buyers wanting to purchase our home. Sure enough, after disclosing the previous disagreement, all three new offers were contingent upon replacing only the defective siding. This ended up costing me a much more modest $2,000 to remedy, including the savings of tackling tear-off and disposal myself.
In the end, it all worked out with a little stubbornness, a lot of patience, and some sore muscles along the way. Today, I'm thankful to be writing this article from the quiet office in my "forever" home, and I hope my experience can make yours just as rewarding.