Selling your house is not as simple as just putting it on the market and waiting for offers from eager buyers to roll in. (Ah, if only…) If you have any hope that your sale will go smoothly, you’ll have to sit down, take a hard look at your house, and ask yourself a few questions.
Though some steps of the home-selling process seem fairly straightforward—find a real estate agent, set a list price, hold a few open houses—there are a number of lesser-known factors that play a big role in whether your house gets sold, and how much you’re going to fetch for it.
To help you enter the home-selling process fully prepared and with your eyes open, here’s a list of five essential questions to ask yourself to get started.
Overlook these things at your own risk!
1. Can I afford to sell my house?
Although you’re going to cash a check when your house gets sold, as the adage goes, it takes money to make money. Some home-selling costsare obvious, like commissions to the listing and buyer’s agents (which typically amount to 5% to 6% of your home’s price), but there are a number of other expenses to take into consideration.
Here are some expenses home sellers often overlook:
- Professional photographs: About 4 in 10 home buyers start their home search by looking at properties online, according to the National Association of Realtors®. And, no surprise, photos are overwhelmingly viewed first. That may explain why many real estate agents recommend home sellers hire a professional photographer to take their listing photos. While the cost varies by area and the size of your property, you can expect to pay about $500 to $1,000 for professional photos.
- Landscaping: No doubt, curb appeal is crucial. After all, it’s what gets prospective home buyers in your front door. What many home sellers don’t realize, though, is just how expensive professional landscaping can be. The average cost of a full-on landscaping job—flower beds, plants, trees from scratch—is around $3,228, according to HomeAdvisor. But improving your landscaping can raise your home’s value by up to 12%, according to research from Virginia Tech.
- Staging: It’s all about presentation. In a recent survey from NAR, about 83% of buyer’s agents said staging a home makes it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as a future home. In addition, staged homes sell, on average, 88% faster and for 20% more than nonstaged homes. Last year the median dollar value spent on home staging was $400, NAR reports, but costs can increase significantly depending on how many rooms you’re staging.
- Closing costs: Closing costs will likely be your second-biggest expense behind commission fees. You can expect to spend roughly 2% of your home’s sale price, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at mortgage information resource HSH.com.
2. What do I need to disclose to homebuyers?
As much as you want to present your house in the best light, you should also be prepared to disclose some of your home’s flaws, says Rick Davis, a Kansas real estate attorney.
Though disclosure laws vary by state—and even by city—sellers should disclose any known facts about the physical condition of the property, existence of dangerous materials or conditions, lawsuits or pending matters that may affect the value of the property, and any other factors that may influence a buyer’s decision.
“Most sellers think it is in their best interest to disclose as little as possible,” says Davis. “I completely disagree with this sentiment. In the vast majority of cases, disclosing the additional information, especially if it is something that was previously repaired, will not cause a buyer to back out or ask for a price reduction.”
3. Should I hire a home inspector?
Many home buyers will include a home inspection contingency in their offer. But some real estate agents recommend home sellers hire a home inspector to perform what’s called a “pre-inspection,” where a professional inspector scrutinizes your property for problems before it’s even listed.
There are pros and cons, of course, to doing a pre-inspection. One huge advantage is that pre-inspections give sellers the ability to fix problems ahead of time—and present buyers with a clean bill of health on the property. This can be a strong selling point if you have an older house. However, pre-inspections cost money (about $200 to $500 on average), and just because you hired a home inspector doesn’t mean the buyers won’t hire their own—and their results won’t necessarily be the same.
4. Which areas of my home get the most attention?
Even if you don’t have the money to stage your entire house, many home stagers recommend home sellers, at the very least, stage their house’s living room, kitchen, and master bedroom, since home buyers focus on those areas. Also, don’t forget about your home’s entryway.
According to the “Psychology of House Hunting” report by BMO Financial Group, 80% of prospective buyers know if a home is right for them within seconds of stepping inside. Therefore, you’ll want to spruce up the area they’ll see in that time frame—namely, your foyer.
Most importantly, make sure the foyer is decluttered.
“It can be a challenge to keep this area tidy since that’s where homeowners put their mail, keys, coats, shoes, dog leashes, and other items,” says Sissy Lappin, a real estate broker in Houston.
Pro tip: Containers are key for keeping this mess under control. Use baskets or racks for shoes, bowls for keys and change. Also, be sure to stash any seldom-used items elsewhere.
Another room home sellers make the mistake of overlooking: the garage. In fact, a recent realtor.com® survey found that 32% of home buyers said the garage is one of the most important rooms in a house! Thus, it may make sense to jazz up the space, like by adding storage space or even a fresh coat of paint.
5. What do I have to leave behind when my house is sold?
While it’s ultimately your decision what house items you leave behind for the home buyer, there are rules governing what things convey with your property.
“The law says that anything bolted to the wall or ceiling goes to the buyer unless specifically excluded in the contract,” says Avery Boyce, a real estate agent with Compass Real Estate in Washington, DC. “If you want to take your flat-screen TV, chandelier, or custom pot rack, be sure to label it as soon as the house goes on the market, so that buyers don’t bank on owning that item and wind up disappointed.
Daniel Bortz has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Money magazine, Consumer Reports, Entrepreneur magazine, and more. He is also a licensed Realtor in Virginia.