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Things I Wish I Knew Before Selling My First Home

The Family Handyman logo The Family Handyman 10/9/2020 Ashley Papa
Derrick Gilbert et al. posing for the camera © SDI Productions/Getty Images

When you're ready to sell your first home, you need to be prepared for what is in store. Just like there are things you should know before buying your first home, the same goes for selling your first home. Parts of the home selling process can trigger strong emotions about the memories you've made. But it's important to remember that the sale of a property is a business transaction.

You're Not Selling Your Memories, You're Selling Property

When you first list your home, it's common to be excited and feel like you want to be the one to tell potential buyers all about the house. You may be tempted to meet the people who come to showings or open houses. But New Jersey licensed real estate agent Gregory Eisenhart, who works with a lot of sellers, says buyers aren't interested in what life was like for you in the home.

"When buyers walk through your house, they want to be able to envision themselves living there," says Eisenhart.

When it comes time to start showing your home, Eisenhart advises clients to depersonalize it by taking down photos, awards and other personal items. Also, plan to leave your home for several hours for each showing. That allows plenty of time for prospective buyers to walk through, ask questions and avoid any awkward situations.

Leaving the Photography and Staging to the Professionals

It's amazing how far smartphone cameras have come, but they still don't replace the quality and value of professional photography when selling a house. The majority of home buyers start their search online, so they're looking at photos. A professional real estate photographer will use special lenses and take panoramic videos, maybe even using drones.

Professional real estate photos also reduce the time it takes to sell homes. Often, the fee for the photographer is covered by your real estate agent.

Staging

Many first-time home sellers think "staging" — decorating a home for sale that highlights its strongest assets — is meant only for multi-million dollar estates. Later, they learn staging any home can make it more appealing to buyers. As Eisenhart points out, many people "can't see past what's in front of them."

For example, if you have funky paint colors, a stager may advise you to paint the walls a neutral color or take down any heavy, colorful draperies.


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The Value of a Home Warranty

If many first-time home sellers knew the value of offering a home warranty with the sale of their home, it would save them a lot of anxiety ahead of the home inspection.

A home warranty can be beneficial if you know there are issues with any appliances, or certain structural or systematic items are near the end of their useful lifespan. Home warranties are not prohibitively expensive (averaging between $300 and $600 per year) and offer a level of comfort to the buyer. As the seller, you'd only pay for the first year. After that it's up to the buyer to decide if they want to continue with the warranty. A home warranty can also be used to settle any disagreements that arise during an inspection.

There's More to an Offer Than Just the Bottom Dollar

Obviously, getting the most money you can for the sale of your home is important. To some, it's ALL that matters. But there are other things to consider than just the offer price. Is the buyer willing to forego the home inspection? Is it someone who can close within 30 days?

Many sellers who just look at the offer price may end up paying more if the buyers are demanding repairs or credits, or if there is a home sale contingency. As a first-time home seller, make sure to read through the entire offer contract.

Understanding the Inspection Process

Many first-time home sellers are shocked when they get the list of repairs from the buyer. Although you, as the seller, are not obligated to make repairs, it's still good to know the potential costs and what repairs you are responsible for. Eisenhart says, there's never a perfect home; something will always come up.

"I tell my clients to expect to spend between $1,000 and $2,000 in inspection costs," he says. "You will get buyers who want everything fixed and those who may just settle with a home warranty."

Think safety, system, structure. Anything involving a system, like the septic; safety, like a missing handrail; or structure, like a leak in the roof, are usually reasonable requests. Anything outside that, like cosmetic fixes, are not.

A Pre-Listing Home Inspection Can Be Beneficial

Although not typically necessary if your home is in good shape and well-maintained, doing a home inspection before you list your property can be beneficial and help identify any major issues in advance. A pre-listing septic inspection, however, is highly recommended, especially with older homes. Any issues with the septic system generally need to be covered by the seller so it's good to stay ahead of any problems.

Also, if you don't know if the home had or has an underground oil tank, doing a tank sweep before you list is also recommended. It can be nearly impossible to close on a home that has one.

Save All of Your Home Maintenance Paperwork

Generally, home sellers will always be glad they saved their home-maintenance documentation. Eisenhart compares keeping records of home maintenance paperwork to that of car maintenance.

"Having records of the routine maintenance performed on the house will benefit you and makes the buyer feel more comfortable, knowing the home was properly taken care of," says Eisenhart.

However, don't panic if you threw out all the receipts and paperwork. Whether it's exterminators, tree trimmers or septic system cleaners, most companies maintain records of the work they've done on your property, so you can get copies.

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