Hey – isn’t this the worst real estate downturn since the Great Depression? If that’s true how are some sellers still able to successfully beat the odds and sell for top dollar despite the market conditions? The answer is that they employ time tested and market approved techniques and strategies that give them an all important edge over their competition.
To model the success of these savvy homeowners, let’s take a look at the top 10 tips to sell your home for top dollar:
Price your home aggressively
Setting the right price for your home is the single most important decision you will make when you decide to sell. Go too high and you risk turning off every buyer in the marketplace, go too low and you leave money on the table. One simple but powerful technique for pricing your home aggressively is to spend the day looking at your competitors’ homes. By doing so you will be seeing the world through the buyers’ eyes. Be tough and honest with yourself. Compared to the competition what would be a price that would position your home as the best value proposition for buyers in your marketplace?
Use price points
Buyers don’t walk into an agent’s office and announce that they would like to see homes priced at a specific price like $227,900 dollars. Instead they ask to see homes between price ranges that are separated by five to ten thousand dollar increments. Because of this, consider setting your price near one of these natural price points. For instance a price $229,900 would probably net you exactly the same number of buyer inquiries as a price of $227,900, but moving your home down to $224,900 (the next price point down) would widen your potential buyer pool.
Consider value range marketing
Another pricing technique that may be the ticket to more showings and more offers is to use value range marketing. Value range marketing is a pricing technique in which you choose a listing price based on what you would sell for today if a buyer wrote you a check. You then choose another lower price – one that you wouldn’t reject if offered but would use as a starting point negotiate towards some middle ground. So instead of listing your home at a specific price of $496,000 dollars, you list the home between $459,000 and $496,000.
Offer a bonus to selling agents
The agent who brings a buyer to your home is typically referred to as the selling agent or the buyer’s agent. In a market crowded with inventory many sellers find it wise to provide an incentive to motivate these agents to show their home more frequently. While you may cringe at paying real estate brokers even more money, the fact is it may provide just the push they need to work a little harder to sell your home for top dollar.
Hire an aggressive listing agent
Not all listing agents are created equal. To find an aggressive full time agent, take the time to research the market, talk to friends, neighbors, and colleagues about who they recommend, and interview multiple agents before making a hiring decision. In addition, be sure to come to an agreement about a specific, documented marketing plan before signing a long term listing agreement.
Encourage two way critiques
Successful sellers aren’t afraid of a little (or a lot) of constructive criticism. In fact, they invite agents to give them helpful suggestions on everything, from pricing to curb appeal, to help them secure the highest possible price for their home. On the flip side, when hiring an agent, be sure to find an agent that is open to suggestions. For instance, as a seller you may find ways to improve advertising copy, flyers, photographs, or even virtual tours.
Offer incentives & pre-paids
A buyer who has narrowed their search down to two or three top choices may need a little push to motivate them to take action. To encourage buyers, many sellers offer incentives like buying the interest rate down on the purchaser’s loan, paying for closing costs, inspections, or repairs, or providing allowances or credits for home upgrades after closing. In addition, many sellers prepay for services like internet services for a year, taxes or homeowners association dues, or even golf club memberships.
Stage the home & use curb appeal
Buyers won’t pull the trigger unless they become emotionally invested in your home. To help build a stronger first impression start from the outside first by working hard to improve your home’s curb appeal. Next move inside and stage each space by creating a focal point and a story for each room. A set dining table, a book by the bed, or a game in the kids room are all simple examples of staging.
Use a pre-appraisal and pre-inspections
A pre-appraisal is an appraisal of the home before a buyer has made an offer. By having this done early you will have an objective voice that has provided a value for the property independent of your own opinion and may be a great tool in talking with buyers. In addition, many sellers do pre-inspections of the home to provide buyers with a clear whole home inspection or pest and dry rot inspection. (A word of caution: anything discovered during a pre-inspection will likely need to be disclosed whether you fix the issue or not).
Learn to fail fast
If something isn’t working, successful sellers have the strength to fail fast by making adjustments to their strategy quickly. For instance, if after implementing your marketing plan buyers don’t begin to view your home on a regular basis, this is a clear indication (a red flag) that the market is rejecting your price. There is only one solution: lower your price. On the other hand, if you have steady stream of buyers touring your listing, yet you aren’t receiving any offers, this is often a symptom of buyers rejecting, not the price, but the home itself. Something about the home is turning them off. Savvy sellers attempt to identify the problem and take proactive action to correct it.
To sell your home for top dollar takes hard work and a commitment to position your home in a way that attracts the maximum number of prospective buyers. By implementing one or more of these techniques you will be taking the first step towards a successful sale.
Buying a Home: Overview
Interested in buying a house? Orient yourself to the steps ahead, from researching neighborhoods to closing the deal.
Step 1: Confirm That You Wouldn’t Be Better Off Staying Put
Homeownership can be great, but it isn’t for everyone, or at least not at this point in their lives. Unless you really can’t stand your apartment or landlord, start by asking yourself whether your lifestyle and finances aren’t better suited to continuing to rent for now, as discussed in the Nolo article Rent or Buy a House? Or, if you’re still in your twenties, check out Buying a House in Your Twenties: Are You Ready? And if you’re a single woman, don’t miss the advice in Single-Woman Homebuyers: What to Consider. For a last bit of (serious) fun, take our Homebuying Readiness Quiz.
Step 2: Decide Which Community or Neighborhood You’re Interested In
If you’re already committed to a certain geographical area and know you can afford it, jump down to the next step. However, if you’re moving to a different state or you have an inkling that your ideal neighborhood might be out of your financial reach, see Nolo’s article Researching the Best Places to Live.
Step 3: Get to Know the Local Housing Scene
Even before you’re ready to choose a house, getting to know your local market is important — it may be very different from what you’ve read in the national or even regional media. Scanning the ads, both online and print, is a great way to start. Information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which lists most houses for sale, is widely available on national and state real estate websites such as www.realtor.com and www.trulia.com.
But ads can be misleading. You should also visit open houses to see what’s really available and at what list price. Visit a wide range of houses, noting the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, special features, and overall charm. If the seller has made pest or other inspection reports available, read them carefully, paying particular attention to the estimated cost of repairs.
Ask the agent how long the house has been on the market (a long time suggests that it’s overpriced) or, if it’s newly on view, how many offers are expected on the house (multiple bidders can drive up the list price and vice versa).
Step 4: Decide What You Want in a House
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of what’s out there, and possibly been hit with a reality check about what you can afford, it’s time to draw up a list of criteria for the home you’re looking for. Include not only the obvious, like general location and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but any other factors that are important to you, such as a view, an enclosed yard for pets, kids, or growing vegetables, a garage of a certain size, and so forth.
Have you decided whether you’re more interested in buying an existing home or a newly built home? For tips on how to view new construction, see Newly Built Houses: Pros and Cons of Buying. (But don’t rush out and visit them without an agent at your side or you may find you’ve already impliedly agreed to forego an agent’s help.)
Step 5: Assemble Your Team of Professionals
Most people prefer to work with a real estate agent or a lawyer at some point in the process. (In fact, in a handful of U.S. states, a lawyer must be hired to help finalize the sale.) A mortgage broker can also be of great help in finding the right home loan.
Experienced, responsible professionals can save you time, money, and aggravation. By the same token, incompetent or unethical ones can mess matters up badly. Take the time to get referrals from friends, and meet with a few prospects before you hire anyone.
For more on whether and how to get outside help, see Nolo’s article Should I Hire a Real Estate Agent or Lawyer to Buy a House? And, for specific advice on choosing the best agent, see Choosing Your Real Estate Agent.
Step 6: Figure Out How You’ll Pay for the House
Despite recent dips in the real estate market, the price of a house relative to the average U.S. income remains high. (Even if you buy a foreclosure, the cost of repairing it after months of neglect may be high, as described in Buying a Foreclosed Home: Your Way Into the Real Estate Market?) So, unless you’re a statistical outlier, you’ll probably have to save, scrounge, and borrow in order to afford your house.
There are three parts of the purchase that you’ll need to prepare for: your down payment, your mortgage, and your closing costs. You’ll most likely need to make a down payment of 20% or more of the purchase price in order to qualify for a loan and avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). For ideas on how to pull together down payment money, see Nolo’s article Your Down Payment: Where Will It Come From?
You’ll need to think about what you can afford to pay each month and how much uncertainty you’re comfortable with when choosing a mortgage. The two main choices include fixed rate and adjustable rate ones. The better your credit rating, the more favorable a mortgage you’ll be able to obtain, as explained in Nolo’s articles in the Affording a House & Mortgage area.
Don’t forget to factor in closing costs, too: the various fees you’ll have to come up with on the day the property transfers, for things like the title or escrow company fees, your share of the year’s property taxes, transfer fees and points on the mortgage, homeowners’ and title insurance premiums, and so forth. These can add up to many thousands of dollars, often 2-4% of the purchase price.
Step 7: Choose the House You Want
This is where many buyers falter — they look and look, but can’t commit, don’t like the options in their price range, or, in the case of couples, can’t agree on which house is the one. Being choosy is wise, to a point. Only you know what compromises you can live with. But, if you see that months are going by and no house ever seems right, it might be time to figure out what’s going on at a deeper level.
Step 8: Offer to Buy the House You Want
Here’s where you lay your cards on the table and present the seller with a written offer to buy the house. (Most states have standard contract forms that you or your real estate agent can use for this purpose and, in many cases, can be readily converted into a signed contract.) The standard offer form will usually require you to state your proposed purchase price, where you expect to obtain financing, what conditions, or “contingencies,” you’re attaching to the offer, how quickly you’re willing to close the deal, and more. (But this isn’t true in all states — some require only a very basic offer stating what price you’re willing to pay, after which the seller does most of the contract drafting.)
For more on how to craft a solid offer and negotiate toward a purchase contract, see Nolo’s article Making an Offer on a House, as well as Contingencies to Include in Your Home Purchase Contract. And don’t forget that the strength of the real estate market affects what you can ask for, as described in House Buying Strategies in a Down Market.
Step 9: Deal With the House’s Physical Condition
Whether new or old, no house is in perfect condition. An important part of the homebuying process is finding out about the house’s condition from the seller, investigating its condition on your own, and protecting yourself against problems that will arise in the future.
Many states’ laws require sellers to tell you about many or most problems that they know of concerning the house — issues like leaks, termites and other pests, a faulty foundation, neighborhood noise, past water or fire damage, and more. See Nolo’s article Required Disclosures When Selling Real Estate for advice to sellers on this topic.
No matter how informative your seller seems to be, you’ll still want to have your own inspections done by at least one experienced professional — and for the sale to be contingent upon your approving the results. See Nolo’s article Get a House Inspection Before Buying for details on the hows and whys of this step. If mold could possibly be an issue, read Mold: Is It Hiding in the Home You’re Buying?
Also, when you yourself visit the house, don’t just admire the views or the furniture and neglect to look for problems or signs of deferred maintenance. Examples you can spot yourself include cracked glass or tiles, stains from moisture damage, crumbling grout material between tiles, windows and doors that don’t close properly, and so forth.
Neither the seller nor the inspector can know everything about the house, however. Problems could be lurking that neither they nor you can see, and new problems — or disasters — could arise later. For these, you’ll need to buy homeowners’ insurance. For more detailed advice, check out Nolo’s article Homeowners’ Insurance: What You Need to Know.
Step 10: Decide How You’ll Take Title
Unless you’re buying solo, you’ll need to decide whose name should go on the ownership papers and with what rights if one of you leaves or dies. See Joint Property and Concurrent Ownership for more on this.
Step 11: Close the Deal
After the purchase contract has been signed, events start moving very quickly. Your contract will normally contain a closing date, and all of your activities will be geared toward wrapping things up by then. You’ll need to finalize your financing, review the home inspection and other reports, probably have the house appraised (most lenders require this — but the results can cause hiccups in the process, as described in Low Home Appraisal: What to Do), get title insurance, and more.
Stay focused on the big picture. Little issues will come up that need negotiating — for example, the inspection report may show a minor needed repair that you’d like the seller to pay for. If the seller refuses, he or she risks your calling off the deal. But, if you play hardball, you may lose the house over a few hundred dollars.
On the closing day, you probably won’t meet with the seller in person. More likely you’ll go to the office of your title agent, escrow agent, or attorney to sign the final documents and pick up the keys. Then they’ll record the new deed in your name at a local government office, and the house is yours!
So that’s the quick preview. But, to be a savvy buyer, you’ll want to learn a lot more, as well as avoid the mistakes that others make. For comprehensive yet fun-to-read advice, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart.
We recently took a look at 10 of the least expensive places where someone can purchase a home in the United States. The four top finishers were all in the Midwest, more specifically, from Michigan and Ohio, areas that have seen tough economic times and where decreasing population levels have put a damper on house prices.
In contrast, the most expensive areas are not necessarily places where there are many homes being sold, or even locations that are being boosted by economic upturns. Rather, these are locales associated with wealth, luxury, and opulence, and they certainly represent neighborhoods where people are buying their dream homes. It will come as no surprise that many of the top spots are found in California, where corporate executives and movie stars alike have found homes suitable to their tastes.
Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 most expensive areas in the country where someone can buy a house, based on Coldwell Banker data.
Broker / Consultant
A lot has changed in the mortgage market during the past few years. Home prices have improved, sales have gotten more competitive — even mortgage fraud has taken a different route.
Mortgage application fraud risk is down 5.6% year over year in the second quarter of 2013, according to the most recent CoreLogic MarketPulse, a monthly look at the U.S. economy and housing. What’s more interesting is the fraud trend; the reports says the industry has seen a tendency toward income-based fraud, potentially because of ability-to-repay requirements and rising property values.
As part of legislation enacted after the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, lenders now have to verify a mortgage applicant’s ability to repay the loan if it’s a typical mortgage (such as through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA or VA). One big problem that contributed to the housing crisis was the stated income loan, in which borrowers needed to provide little in the way of verification that they could repay the loan. The ability-to-repay requirement is designed to prevent lenders from approving mortgages borrowers cannot afford, and therefore some consumers may find financing out of reach. This could make it more likely that applicants try to falsely claim an income that’s needed to acquire the mortgage, CoreLogic reports.
Adding another layer of change, a new debt-to-income ratio limit goes into effect Jan. 10, meaning a borrower’s debt load cannot exceed 43% of his or her annual income. (At the moment, those limits vary by lender but can be as high as 55%.) A lender needs to verify all of this information through third-party sources, so while falsifying the numbers on your application is a bad idea in general, it’s not going to get you very far, either.
On a geographic level, the places with the highest mortgage fraud risk were the areas in and around Atlanta; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Riverside, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., as shown by an analysis of the largest metropolitan statistical areas. While it has the highest propensity for fraud, Atlanta is also considered an affordable city for buying a home, while Miami is one of the least affordable, according to a recent study by Interest.com.
The dollar value of fraudulent loan applications increased from the first quarter to the second quarter, but it did so alongside an increase in overall applications, so the quarter-to-quarter risk index remained the same.
Other highlights from the quarter include a decline in underwater mortgages in every state, particularly in Nevada and Georgia. In the second quarter, 14.5% of borrowers were underwater, down from 19.7% in the first quarter and the recent peak of 25.2% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Foreclosures have also continued to decline, with distressed property volumes falling in 96% of metro areas.
By Christine DiGangi