It Cost Me $1,925 More Than Expected to Sell My House. Here's Why

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  • It's easy to overlook the costs of preparing a home to sell.
  • By determining how much you expect to spend prepping your home, you can plan for the expense. 

With so much to get done before the house went on the market, I ended up spending more than I imagined. 

My husband and I were among the 5 million Americans who've sold our homes so far this year. As someone who tends to budget down to the dollar, I planned for sales-related expenses. Still, I was surprised by how much more we paid to get the house on the market than I thought we would. 

Expected (and unexpected) expenses

When we decided to sell, I sat down and figured out what our bottom line was likely to be and how large a mortgage we could expect to take out on the next home. I knew that 6% of the sales price would go to the real estate agents, and that our seller closing costs would add another 2% to 4%. All in, I figured we'd spend 10% of the sales price once the house sold. I was remarkably close.

My mistake was not calculating the total cost to get the house ready. 

Decisions to make

Even though it was a seller's market, I wanted top-dollar for the house. And here's where I became stressed. My husband was already working in another state and it was just the dogs and me at home to take care of business.

I knew I would need days away from my desk to move and wanted to get as much writing done as possible before that time. I also had a list a mile long of small tasks that needed addressed before the house hit the market. As someone who knows when there are dust bunnies behind the refrigerator, my list was ridiculously detailed. Also, my dogs are sweet but useless when it comes to cleaning. 

As I stared down at my "to-do" list each evening, I realized that I was going to need help. I was overwhelmed with the idea of trying to work, say goodbye to friends and family, and make the house irresistible to potential buyers. 

Help wanted

I spent evenings and weekends cleaning out the basement and every closet in the house. The goal was to keep only what we needed. What wasn't donated went into storage boxes that I bought online. 

I've been writing about real estate transactions for decades and know that a house that's been decluttered and depersonalized shows better. After taking down the million or so photos of my family, wrapping them, and storing them in the new boxes, I rented a storage unit near the house. The storage unit was amazing and gave me a place to hide away all those things I wanted to keep but didn't want cluttering the house. The storage unit was absolutely worth the money spent, but still, I forgot to budget for it. 

The windows and carpeting in the bedrooms had not been cleaned since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, so I paid to have both taken care of. I hired cleaners to deep clean every nook and cranny while I worked, an expense I consider well worth the money. New mulch made the yard look fresh and cared for, and hiring a dog sitter to keep my uber-enthusiastic pups out of sight while I interviewed potential real estate agents just might have saved my sanity. 

Extra expenses

In all, these are the extra expenses I ended up covering. I've rounded some of them down a bit for clarity.   

Professional cleaning $200
Window cleaning $300
Carpet cleaning $150
New mulch $200
Storage boxes $225
Storage unit $250
Dog sitter $100
Travel during showings $200
Cleaning crew after move-out $300
Total $1,925

You'll notice that I included travel and a final cleaning expense. Because I have the dogs, I left town the day the house went on the market, spending five days across the state. Those days allowed me to work in relative peace and not worry about cleaning up after my pups every time they pulled another sad-looking stuffed animal from their tiny toy box. 

Hiring the cleaning crew to come back after the house was sold is easy to explain. I've moved into some truly filthy homes over the years. Often, the house looked fine until the furniture and area rugs were removed, but the dirt left behind meant I had to spend hours cleaning the place before we could move in. I didn't want to do that to someone else. 

What I should have done differently

We received considerably more for the house than expected, so absorbing the extra costs was relatively easy. However, that hasn't always been the case. For anyone who's selling a home and worried about how much they'll have left once expected expenses have been paid, I offer this advice:

  • Plan in advance. If you're going to put the house on the market in a couple of months, take care of one major task each weekend until then. For example, clean out your basement one week and rent a steam cleaner for the carpets the next weekend. Save the things that are not safe for you to do (like cleaning the exterior of second or third-floor windows) for professionals. 
  • Enlist volunteers.You know the friends and family I mentioned needing to say goodbye to? I felt uncomfortable asking any of them for help. Some lived so far across town it would not have been convenient and several are elderly. If you have able-bodied people living nearby, enlist them to help you do things like transport items to storage (or better yet, to allow you to store things in their garage). 
  • Budget prepping and staging costs. If I'd made a list of the things I was going to pay for while preparing the house, I could have estimated the cost and built a better budget. I'll know better next time. 

According to our agent, the appraiser said our house was one of the cleanest they'd ever inspected. If I knew who the appraiser was, I would send them a thank-you note for noticing. And call it karma or whatever, but the first thing I noticed when we moved into our new home was that the sellers had also cleaned every nook and cranny. Because of their thoughtfulness, I didn't have to spend a minute cleaning. 

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