The Most Common Questions Asked by Home Sellers—Answered!

​Selling a home you’ve lived in and loved over the years isn’t exactly like unloading your collection of old Slayer LPs on Craigslist (or is it…?). It’s hard. It’s emotional. And above all else, it’s complicated. A slew of questions will likely pop into your head throughout the process—and possibly keep you up at night.

Last week, we revealed the most common questions asked by home buyers. Since people on the other end of this deal have a lot on their minds, too, today we’ll tackle the most common questions that real estate agents hear from sellers—along with some answers, of course.

Q: How much needs to be done to my house before putting it on the market?

“Many sellers have extreme anxiety over the thought of having to clear out and fix up their home, so much so that it can prevent them from putting the place on the market in the first place,” says Alyssa Blevins with Pierce Murdock Group. But in most cases, there’s no need to panic here—or to overshoot your goals. “Very often, there’s far less to do than homeowners think.” So before spending months and millions (figuratively) upgrading your place—or just throwing up your hands and giving up before you begin—show your home to a Realtor®. You might be pleasantly surprised by your current sales prospects.

Q: How much is my house worth?

While the median house price in 2016 is $228,000, the exact price of your own home will depend on its size, neighborhood, and lots of other factors. Further complicating matters is your own skewed perspective: We tend to mentally inflate our home’s positives and airbrush out the flaws that are all too apparent to the cold, calculating eyes of buyers. “People always seem to compare their house to the most expensive sale in the neighborhood,” says Mary Ann Grabel, an agent at Douglas Elliman in Greenwich, CT. Instead, look at the prices of similarly sized homes that have recently sold in your area—data that agents call comparative market analysis, or “comps.” Then, price your place strategically. “If you price too high, the home is likely to linger on the market,” says Grabel. Meanwhile, pricing low can have major upsides, resulting in multiple bids that could ultimately jack up your price. So, do your homework. Then, discuss a number with your Realtor that feels right—and is realistic.

Q: How long will it take to sell my home?

Right now, nationally, houses spend around 100 days on the market before they sell, although the time varies wildly based on area and price. So, price competitively and make sure that you and your Realtor are getting the place in front of as many eyeballs as possible. “The higher the exposure, the faster the offers,” says Felise Eber, a real estate associate affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate and part of the Miami Beach luxury real estate sales team The Jills. Spread the word through your own social networks——real ones and virtual ones. You never know whose passing it along to that special someone will lead to a sale.

Q: Is staging really important?

On average, a staged home sells 88% faster—and for 20% more money—than a home that’s left as is. The reason it works, of course, is it gives buyers a “stage” onto which they can play out their home-owning fantasies and envision themselves living in your home. “Choose neutral paint colors and remove any family photos,” says Johnson. Give would-be homeowners a blank canvass that they can mentally fill with their loved ones and themselves.

Q: Should I be present when buyers view my house?

“NO!” says Johnson. (Hey, no need to shout. We’re right here!) “There is not any situation in which this is appropriate. Having the owner in the house makes the buyers uncomfortable. They feel as though they can’t make comments or ask questions that could be offensive. The owner—who has a history and attachment to the house—has the tendency to argue if a potential buyer makes a comment that could be a little negative. This can turn off buyers and lose you offers.” Got it.

Q: What is the agent’s commission?

While the commission can vary, it is typically 6% of a home’s sale price—and that’s usually shared with the buyer’s agent. But what’s implied by this question is “What are Realtors doing to earn that check?” Here are some facts to keep in mind: Unlike lawyers who get paid by the hour, or doctors who are paid by the appointment, listing agents don’t get paid unless they make a sale. For every hour an agent spends with a client, he or she will typically spend nine hours on average working on that client’s behalf doing everything from networking to finding potential buyers to filling out paperwork. And no, not all agents are created equal. Since most contracts last for a year, Realtor Susan Ratliff recommends that sellers “interview three agents prior to selecting one to represent them. It’s no different from choosing an attorney, accountant, or the doctor who will deliver your baby. You want to be sure that you trust that person and are comfortable with them.”

Margaret Heidenry,

Surefire Tactics to Getting More Money for Your Home

All home sellers hope their place will fetch a big, fat price. And while you can’t control everything that determines a house’s market rate—like, say, the state of the stock market or the quality of your local school district—there are plenty of things within your power that can nudge that number higher. A lot higher, in fact.

Granted, manipulating your home’s selling price will take some work, and usually some money. But time and again, these proven strategies make a big difference in final sales prices. Try a few, then prepare to do a victory dance on the big day you get your offer(s)

Tactic 1: Bite the bullet and make smart upgrades

Yes, overall renovations to your home will nudge up the price, although not always as much as you might hope: According to Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report, you’ll get back an average of 64% on whatever upgrades you paid for. But that ROI varies widely based on what type of improvement you do. The most profitable upgrade is—drum roll—insulating your attic. It may not be all that sexy, but you’ll recoup 116.9% of your costs. It’s the only home reno in the report that redeems more money than you spend!

Tactic 2: Boost your curb appeal

You Realtor® has probably already told you: One surefire way to jack up your sale price is to knock ’em dead before they even reach your front door. So spend some time and do it for real. Improving your home’s curb appeal can increase your sale price by up to 17%, a Texas Tech University study found. Basic landscaping such as trimming hedges, pulling weeds, and pruning trees is a must.

You can add pops of color by planting flowers in the front yard and placing potted plants on each side of the front door, says Kimberly Sands, a broker at Coldwell Banker Advantage in Apex, NC. Consider installing white panel lighting along railings, fences, or doorsteps to make your home’s exterior visually appealing for evening showings. Other low-cost projects to improve your home’s appearance include putting a fresh coat of paint on the front door, updating the house numbers, and adding porch furniture.

Tactic 3: Create the illusion of more space

It goes without saying that a higher square footage fetches a higher sum, but you can’t do anything about that, right? Not so fast: Your home’s actual specs don’t matter as much as how spacious rooms look when you’re standing in them. So be sure to create an open, inviting space. That entails removing large pieces of furniture such as the oversize coffee table (it might look nice, but it could be blocking foot traffic).

Not enough room in the garage to stow everything? Look into renting a storage unit, says Jennifer Baxter, associate broker at Coldwell Banker RMR in Suwanee, GA. If your home has beautiful hardwood floors, show them off by removing large rugs, and clear off your kitchen’s counter space by putting away blenders, coffee makers, toaster ovens, and other small appliances, she advises.

Buyers are particularly attuned to closet space, so move off-season clothes into storage. “You want to give the illusion that your closet is so large that you can’t fill it,” she says.

Tactic 4: Hire a professional home stager

Have “eclectic” design tastes? Your personal aesthetic might put off some buyers, so move all your knickknacks into storage and hire a home stager. It’s true that these professionals—who tweak your space to make it more appealing to buyers—aren’t cheap, but they can be well worth it.

On average, staged homes sell for a whopping 20% more money than nonstaged ones. Staging may be particularly important if you’re in the process of moving, and some rooms are vacant. Make sure your living room and kitchen are fully furnished, since they’re the most important rooms to buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging survey.

Tactic 5: Pick a neutral color palette

Maybe you painted your daughter’s room pink, or thought lime green was perfect for the master bedroom. (We all make mistakes!) However, boldly colored walls can turn off buyers, says Katie Wethman, a Washington, DC–based Realtor and founder of the Wethman Group. So consider hiring a professional to repaint the house throughout in a neutral color such as off-white or beige. Or if you have the time, you can cut costs by painting it yourself.

Daniel Bortz, REALTOR.COM

Ouch! Three Times You Can Kiss Your Earnest Money Goodbye

​The earnest money deposit—the cash you offer to essentially call dibs on a house—is one of the most important and misunderstood parts of the home-buying process.

Depending on where you live, you can expect to put down anywhere from 1% to even 10% of the home’s purchase price as earnest money. (In some highly competitive markets, buyers are making even larger deposits in an effort to stand out.) An earnest money deposit tells a seller you are serious about closing. Without earnest money, you could theoretically make offers on multiple homes, essentially taking them off the market until you decide which one you like best.

Don’t worry—the seller isn’t going to run off to Aruba with your cash. It remains in an escrow account or with the title company until the sale closes. And, if everything goes off without a hitch, that earnest money is put toward your down payment and closing costs. So there’s nothing to lose, right?

Probably not, except these three scenarios where your earnest money could end up financing the seller’s trip to Aruba.

1. You waived your contingencies

In highly competitive markets, it’s becoming more common for buyers to waive contract contingencies regarding financing or an inspection. You might be tempted to do the same—it will make you a more attractive buyer. But it also comes with serious risks. You guessed it: You might lose your earnest money deposit.

The financing contingency guarantees that you’ll get your money back if for some reason your mortgage doesn’t go through and you’re unable to purchase the house. The inspection contingency allows you to renegotiate the price or demand repairs if serious defects are found during the inspection.

If your contract doesn’t have such buyer protections and you run into trouble with the inspection, you won’t be able to get your money back if you abandon the deal. Most experts recommend that you not waive the inspection contingency, unless you’re planning on tearing the property down.

As for the mortgage-financing contingency, waiving it may be the only way to compete with all-cash buyers. But you’ve got to be absolutely sure that you’ll be able to get approval from your bank.

“I strongly encourage my clients to obtain a conditional approval before signing a noncontingent contract,” says Ivona Perecman, a New York City real estate broker and lawyer. “Otherwise, it may turn out that the bank that pre-approved you will not give you financing or offer a lot less worse terms and, consequently, you may lose the deposit.”

2. You ignored the timeline outlined in the contract

Your contract usually sets out a specific time frame in which you’ll need to secure financing, get the home inspected, and be available for the closing. Generally speaking, as long as you’ve made a good-faith effort to adhere to the timeline, sellers will grant a reasonable extension if a lender drags his feet or there are other extenuating circumstances that delay things.

However, in some cases sellers may include a “time is of the essence” clause in the contract. Watch out for this phrase in your paperwork—it means the closing date for the sale is binding. If you can’t make it to close for any reason, you’ve breached the contract and could lose your deposit.

3. You get cold feet

If you have a change of heart about the home you’re buying—but there’s no problem with the property or the financing—you likely will not get your money back.

“If a buyer changes her mind and was able to request the down payment be returned without consequence then the whole idea of a contract would no longer be worth much,” says Marc Kaufman, a real estate attorney with Wexler Lehrer & Kaufman in New York City. “One party cannot simply walk away and default on a whim.”

The earnest money deposit serves a protection for the sellers when they take their home off the market. If late in the game you decide that you no longer want to make the purchase, they get to keep it as compensation for the time and money they have to spend on listing their home again and looking for another buyer.

When it comes to real estate, a case of buyer’s remorse could be even more painful than a lost deposit. To avoid both, really make sure the home you’re bidding on is “the one.”

Beth Braverman,

6 Reasons You Should Never Buy or Sell a Home Without an Agent

​It’s a slow Sunday morning. You’ve just brewed your Nespresso and popped open your laptop to check out the latest home listings before you hit the road for a day of open houses.

You’re DIYing this real estate thing, and you think you’re doing pretty well—after all, any info you might need is at your fingertips online, right? That and your own sterling judgment.

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Oh, dear home buyer (or seller!)—we know you can do it on your own. But you really, really shouldn’t. This is likely the biggest financial decision of your entire life, and you need a Realtor® if you want to do it right. Here’s why.

1. They have loads of expertise

Want to check the MLS for a 4B/2B with an EIK and a W/D? Real estate has its own language, full of acronyms and semi-arcane jargon, and your Realtor is trained to speak that language fluently.

Plus, buying or selling a home usually requires dozens of forms, reports, disclosures, and other technical documents. Realtors have the expertise to help you prepare a killer deal—while avoiding delays or costly mistakes that can seriously mess you up.

2. They have turbocharged searching power

The Internet is awesome. You can find almost anything—anything! And with online real estate listing sites such as yours truly, you can find up-to-date home listings on your own, any time you want. But guess what? Realtors have access to even more listings. Sometimes properties are available but not actively advertised. A Realtor can help you find those hidden gems.

3. They have bullish negotiating chops

Any time you buy or sell a home, you’re going to encounter negotiations—and as today’s housing market heats up, those negotiations are more likely than ever to get a little heated.

You can expect lots of competition, cutthroat tactics, all-cash offers, and bidding wars. Don’t you want a savvy and professional negotiator on your side to seal the best deal for you?

And it’s not just about how much money you end up spending or netting. A Realtor will help draw up a purchase agreement that allows enough time for inspections, contingencies, and anything else that’s crucial to your particular needs.

4. They’re connected to everyone

Realtors might not know everything, but they make it their mission to know just about everyone who can possibly help in the process of buying or selling a home. Mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, home stagers, interior designers—the list goes on—and they’re all in your Realtor’s network. Use them.

5. They adhere to a strict code of ethics

Not every real estate agent is a Realtor, who is a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the National Association of Realtors®, the largest trade group in the country.

What difference does it make? Realtors are held to a higher ethical standard than licensed agents and must adhere to a Code of Ethics.

6. They’re your sage parent/data analyst/therapist—all rolled into one

The thing about Realtors: They wear a lot of different hats. Sure, they’re salespeople, but they actually do a whole heck of a lot to earn their commission. They’re constantly driving around, checking out listings for you. They spend their own money on marketing your home (if you’re selling). They’re researching comps to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

And, of course, they’re working for you at nearly all hours of the day and night—whether you need more info on a home or just someone to talk to in order to feel at ease with the offer you just put in. This is the biggest financial (and possibly emotional) decision of your life, and guiding you through it isn’t a responsibility Realtors take lightly.

Rachel Stults,

4 Mistakes that Can Derail Your Home Sale

Whether you’re in the process of selling your home or you’re thinking about taking that leap, it’s important to know that sellers have an important role in the process. It’s far more than just picking the right listing price and marketing the property to the widest audience. There are certain steps to the process that have to be navigated to ensure you reach the closing table.

With that said, there are some common mistakes that sellers make when embarking on this journey. Here’s the top four mistakes that can derail your home sale – and how to avoid them!

Not Disclosing Issues

When you list your home for sale, you’ll be required to fill out a home disclosure statement. The form varies from state to state, yet the premise is the same. It’s the seller’s opportunity to disclose any known issues with the home. This includes things like the age of the roof and water heater, any major repairs or additions, and more serious concerns like asbestos and lead paint.

Most buyers will perform a home inspection prior to purchasing your home, and if it turns out that there are big issues that you likely knew about, this can certainly derail the process.

Always be upfront with any known issues, and be sure to complete this disclosure form to the best of your ability.

Missed Deadlines

Whether buying or selling, missing deadlines can easily derail the home sale. There are deadlines to respond to offers. Deadlines for when home inspections and appraisals must be completed. Deadlines that keep the process on track, such as contingency deadlines, earnest money deadlines, and even deadlines for various signatures. Stay organized and stay in contact with your agent to make sure the process continues on smoothly.

Inability to Make Decisions

As a seller, it’s easy to want to play the waiting game: to see if any other buyers want to make an offer before accepting the one right in front of you. Just remember, that indecisiveness could cost you your best offer. To avoid feeling this way, make sure that you’ve asked your agent to show you comparable homes that have recently sold. This will help you understand what the current value of your home is, and can help you feel confident in accepting an offer that falls within that range. Don’t wait until you get your first offer to start investigating what your home is really worth!

Low Appraisals

If the buyers of your home are seeking financing, the mortgage lender will require an appraisal of your home to ensure it’s worth the amount that the bank is lending to the buyers. While the appraiser’s report is out of your control, you do have the ability to perform an appraisal prior to listing your home for sale, which can give you some comfort knowing that your listing price is in line with that appraisal report.

No matter how much the buyer loves your home – and even if they’re willing to pay your full asking price – if there is a low appraisal, the buyer would have to come up with the difference out of pocket. It’s better to get your pricing up to speed in advance, rather than derail the sale at the finish line.

Getting to the Finish Line

Getting to the finish line and selling your home is a process. With the help of a qualified agent, you can easily navigate the sale of your home. Just remember to keep this common mistakes in mind as you get started!

Home Office Design Trends for Productivity

Home office design trends continue to grow and develop as the work-at-home trends themselves change. Home offices are no longer the exclusive domain of traveling salespeople or working-round-the-clock executives. Personalized setups for home productivity zones can vary from a laptop on an up-cycled occasional table with a vintage overstuffed chair to an elaborately devised schematic with multi-functioning components for storage and display spaces.

What is right for your situation? Consider some of the ideas below.

Personalizing Productivity

Before adopting any of the latest buzzwords of design like "shedquarters" or "homework bars," we advise that you set the overall intention for the workspace. Will it be a dedicated industrial section of the home or will it have multiple uses?

Once the definition of the quarters takes shape, you can structure the appointments accordingly.

For digital natives, physical storage might not be a requirement thanks to scanning and cloud space. Those who deal in tangible products might want product organizers or a visible timeline of current or past offerings.

In those instances where the room works before and after the sun sets, furniture might need to perform as functional as well as welcoming.

Clearing the Decks

Renovating is the ideal excuse to make a decision on everything in the current configuration. Do you need those seven empty bookshelves? Is it time to replace the chair with only three wheels? Act with the goal of minimizing for the present in mind, as clutter is the antithesis of performance.

Space is a valuable commodity; make sure your furnishings are contributing and not simply collecting dust. Look around and see how you can increase productivity by improving functionality. A highly operational space will naturally lead to a better-flowing working environment.

Revamping With Purpose

Now that the slate is clean and the objective is clear, it’s time to begin determining the "what and where" for your home office. One trend in domestic commerce that translates regardless of personal taste is the modular component.

Contemporary furniture designers are moving away from built-ins and whittling their way toward utility-plus-versatility construction. Home office occupants can assemble shelving, desk space and cabinets that all fit together in one command center or disengage to fulfill an on-demand project.

Multitasking With Fixtures

Electronics are shrinking thanks to efficiencies in technology, but their sphere of influence is expanding. Now you can have a computer monitor double as a television, rule your empire from a laptop and cut all cords (literally going wireless) when printing out professional materials.

Arranging the decor of your new home office can follow suit in efficiency as mobility is as useful as a charging station. Give some thought to your situation.

South Florida homebuyers frustrated by shortage of listings

​A scarcity of homes for sale is rattling buyers, emboldening sellers and pushing prices higher in South Florida.

Analysts say a market balanced equally between buyers and sellers has a six-month supply of properties, meaning that’s how long it would take to sell all of the homes if no more were listed.

At the end of June, Broward’s single-family supply stood at a paltry 3.8 months, down from 4.9 months in June 2014, according to data from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

Palm Beach County is slightly better off but still short on for-sale signs. The county had a 4.8-month supply at the end of June, compared with 5.8 months two years ago, the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches said.

Lack of supply is one of the main reasons why values keep rising, housing observers say. The median price for existing homes in Broward hit $325,000 in June, up 7 percent from a year earlier, while Palm Beach County‘s median increased 6 percent to $320,000.

When housing prices hit bottom in 2012, sales soared as investors and traditional buyers jumped into the market, feasting on bargains.

Properties owned by lenders or facing foreclosure dominated sales during the housing recovery, but those distressed homes have largely been cleared out of the market.

In Broward, only 257 of the 1,805 single-family home closings in June involved a foreclosure or short sale, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

In Palm Beach County, Realtor board data show foreclosures and short sales represented only about 10 percent of the 1,822 closings in June.

During the worst of the housing bust, roughly half of all home sales involved a distressed property.

Without those foreclosures in the market to induce deals, buyers are pausing because they don’t feel like they have a lot of [good] choices," said Scott Agran, president of Lang Realty in Boca Raton.

First-time buyers Samantha Cutler and her fiance, Jason Novick, haven’t had much luck since they started their search several months ago.

The Plantation couple is looking in northwest Broward for a three- or four-bedroom home in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. Cutler and Novick hope to put down roots for the next seven to 10 years and start a family, so they want to make sure they buy in a good school district.

They’d like to be in a home before their wedding in November, but they don’t want to settle, either.

"We haven’t been blown away or seen anything that really wowed us," said Cutler, 26, a speech language pathologist. "When you walk into the right home, I think you just know."

Because of the shortage, homes priced fairly and in good condition generally sell quickly, real estate agents say. But some desperate buyers will even gravitate toward homes with obvious shortcomings.

Judy Trudel, an agent who works in Palm Beach and Broward, said she recently had a client wanting to sell or rent a home in the Pompano Highlands subdivision in Pompano Beach. The three-bedroom property has only one bathroom, and the yard needs major work, according to Trudel.

She said the owner insisted on listing the home for sale at an ambitious $179,900. At the same time, she listed it for rent at $1,550 a month.

"As soon as I hit the ‘send’ button, my phone did not stop ringing," Trudel said.

The owner eventually decided to rent the home. Still, it continues to draw competitive offers, even though potential buyers know the existing tenant has a year’s lease, Trudel said.

Homes priced at $500,000 and under are most in demand, with the selection more diverse in higher price ranges.

Terry Story, an agent for Coldwell Banker in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said the crop of current listings is littered with overpriced properties.

"There’s still a disconnect between what the buyer thinks the home is worth and what the seller thinks the home is worth," Story said. "We need more well-priced inventory — not overpriced, poor-condition homes."

Matt and Kenia Forget, Story’s clients, weren’t impressed with their selection of homes, though they finally found one they liked in Boca Raton and are set to close Aug. 9.

"You’d think the houses would be in a little better shape for the prices people are asking," said Matt Forget, a 35-year-old architect. "A lot of houses in east Boca needed $50,000 or $60,000 worth of work, and you’re still left with a 50-year-old house."

Rising prices are restoring equity lost during the housing crisis, and that will prompt more owners to test the market. But there’s no single event that will boost moderately priced listings in South Florida to match the level of demand, said Ron Shuffield, president of EWM Realty International in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Trent Swift, a 31-year-old attorney, said homes he and fiancee Jessica Fontaine have looked at in central Palm Beach County are either "gone in the blink of an eye or overpriced."

They’re looking for three- or four-bedroom homes from $350,000 to $550,000, though they’re learning to adjust their expectations and remain open-minded because quality listings are so limited.

They had their hopes up for a home in the College Park section of Lake Worth and made arrangements for a showing on Friday, only to find out minutes later that it had just gone under contract to someone else.

Swift said he’s encouraged by stories of friends who faced similar house-hunting woes. In almost all of those cases, when one deal fell through, a better one came along.

"I feel like the universe does have a plan," Swift said, "but it’s just going to take awhile."

August 1, 2016

PAUL OWERS, Copyright © 2016, Sun Sentinel