Buying or selling a home seems like it should be fairly intuitive. A buyer and a seller agree on a price and voila – a deal is made. But of course, as any homebuyer or seller will tell you it’s much more complicated than that.
In many markets, buying residential real estate has become all but a contact sport, and selling seems just shy of a Stepfordian beauty pageant. Not only has technology changed the way properties are marketed and searched for, but the smoke-and-mirrors of home staging has raised the bar for sellers’ presentation, and therefore made it more difficult for buyers to spot that diamond in the rough. And, of course, a seasoned Realtor can advise even the most veteran or rookie client.
Many real estate professionals have begun to call themselves real estate advisors, and in many ways, the title is appropriate. For the average American homeowner, a home represents the largest asset they have. Therefore it is a wise move to hire someone to advise, regarding how and when to smartly buy or sell the asset.
[Read: How to Find a Real Estate Agent]
For many buyers and sellers, the real estate agent has become a trusted advisor, much like a portfolio manager. If someone is living in a robust real estate market, like a cosmopolitan city or affluent suburb, it makes sense to not only hire a smart and experienced agent to shepherd the often confusing process of buying or selling property, but also to follow his or her advice.
Chances are your real estate agent is going to echo other professionals in a few key topics when it comes to buying or selling. Here are a few notable examples of advice your agent may give, and why they'll help you buy or sell your home.
Stage Your Home
These days, buyers have very little imagination, and they expect to see houses that look like clean slates, and the popularity of both newly developed properties as well as TV shows about interior design and real estate deals further the expectation. These professionally staged homes are selling a dream, and if your resale is going to compete, you also have to sell the dream of clean and bright. Anything too far from that can easily turn off many potential buyers.
If some of your furniture looks old or odd, bringing in some newer pieces instead might be a small investment that will net you more money – and more quickly – upon the sale. And if your agent asks you to put a bowl of lemons in the kitchen or flowers in the living room, just do it.
Clean Up and Declutter
Cleaning up means not only giving the bathrooms and kitchen a deep cleaning, but it also means decluttering. Remember: You’re moving. Think of this as step one of packing, including getting extra furniture, toys and out-of-season clothes out of your house. Closet space is paramount. Keep your closets as neat as possible while your home is on the market. The floors of the closets should also be clear – if there's clutter on closet floors, it telegraphs to buyers that this home doesn’t have enough closet space.
And for each showing or open house, make the beds, get dishes out of the sink and remove laundry from sight – and close those toilet seats.
Personal effects can distract buyers from focusing on the space itself. All family photos, or other identifying decor pieces like awards and diplomas, should be moved into the new home or put into storage. They’re not going to help sell the property and your privacy is important. A good way to think about selling your house is that although the property is your home, once it’s on the market, it’s a product for sale. Depersonalizing also means neutralizing decor choices that are specific to you, like painting the chartreuse foyer white, storing your beer-soaked pleather recliner from college and taking down the bead curtain from the bedroom door frame.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Before you begin to look at properties, decide if you’re going to take out a mortgage and get preapproved by a bank. It will give you an idea of what you can afford, and what you can’t. Many real estate agents are happy to help you reach out to lenders, but they won't want to show you homes until you know how you plan to pay for a house.
Make a Wish List
To best utilize the time and talents of your agent, give him or her your wish list. What are the things you must have versus what you’d like to have? An open kitchen? A view? Proximity to work? Outdoor space? A home office? The must-haves and want-to-haves help your agent narrow down potential properties, which shortens the time it takes for you to find a home that meets your needs.
[Read: The Guide to Buying a Home]
Let Your Agent Play Devil’s Advocate
When you tour properties together, tell your agent what you liked and disliked about each property, but ask him if you’re missing something. Is bad decor throwing you off from seeing the amazing bones of the house? Is a fabulous renovation distracting you from dark views or an unlivable layout? Your agent should be able to see a neglected gem, as well as through the smoke and mirrors of great staging.
Whether someone is new to the market or has bought and sold many properties over the years, one of the biggest mistakes that buyers or sellers make is to think they can outsmart the market or cut corners regarding their Realtor’s advice. As you would listen to the advice of your accountant, financial advisor or attorney, if you’ve bothered to hire a real estate agent whom you respect, listen to the advice he or she is imparting to you.
Are these must-haves on your list?
One of the first steps you take when deciding you want a new home is determining what you need in order to be happy there. The list of your must-haves can get long, and you reasonably can’t expect to find a house that perfectly matches all your criteria. “Someone has a list of 10 things – if they can find a house that has seven or eight of those, they’re doing pretty good,” says Jeff Plotkin, a Texas-licensed Realtor, attorney, certified public accountant and vice president of Habitat Hunters Inc. in Austin, Texas. Deciding what needs win out in your next home search can be tough, but there are a few key features and amenities many buyers seem unwilling to live without.Right in your price range
Right in your price range
Being able to afford your new home is a given, but buyers are often faced with having to choose between stretching their budget to have the master suite they want or having more reasonable monthly mortgage payments. Price often wins out in the end – you’re less likely to enjoy that master suite if you’re eating soup and foregoing vacations for the next five to 10 years to pay it off. In the 2018 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, home affordability was one of the three most important factors for respondents who recently purchased a home – behind only quality of the neighborhood and a location's convenience to work.In your preferred location
In your preferred location
Homebuyers care a lot about being able to get from point A to point B – as well as points C, D and E. Your future neighborhood can dictate what school your kids go to, how long it takes to get to work and how easy it is to stop at the grocery store when you forgot an ingredient for dinner. Plotkin says buyers put a lot of stress on where the house is, rather than what’s in the house itself. They’re looking for “proximity to schools, shopping, entertainment, public transportation,” he says.Interior over curb appeal
Interior over curb appeal
A handsome exterior keeps potential buyers from quickly driving away, but insight from new construction marketing site HomLuv.com reveals that it’s the interior that most often serves as the deal-maker. HomLuv’s website allows homebuyers to begin their search for a new home from the room they care about most, whether that’s the kitchen, living room or master bathroom. The one part of the house people don’t seem too worried about? Outside. In the roughly two months since HomLuv launched, “no one has chosen to look at exteriors first,” says Mark Law, vice president of product management for BDX, a home builder marketing company and parent company of HomLuv.The right number of bedrooms
The right number of bedrooms
While the interior of the home allows more wiggle room to compromise on your needs, there are some details that buyers must have. The right number of bedrooms would be the big one. Family expansion is often a primary reason homeowners start looking for a new house, so leaving out that extra room would defeat the entire purpose of the sale. According to the NAR report, 85 percent of homes purchased by respondents in 2017 had three bedrooms or more.Window treatments for reference
Window treatments for reference
Staging matters in a home. As much as we think we can picture how a vacant house will look with our own furnishings and decor, at the end of the day we need some suggestions. Law says builders will include big picture windows in bedrooms or over the tub in a master bathroom to let in natural light, but if the photos show the space without curtains or blinds, house hunters will inevitably see a design flaw. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not an exhibitionist,’” he explains. To avoid turning homebuyers off, window treatments should be included in listing photos and for home tours.Move-in ready
The condition of the home you shop for often goes hand in hand with your budget and the neighborhood you hope to live in. If your budget is at the lower end of the price range in the hottest community in town, you’ll likely find yourself buying a house that needs a little love. If your budget doesn’t restrict it, chances are you’ll have your pick of properties that have been turned by real estate investors. “The [buyer] demand is for 100 percent move-in ready condition,” says Bobby Montagne, CEO of Walnut Street Finance, a private money lender focused on home flipping in markets in Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia metro area.Possible to picture your vision
Possible to picture your vision
Even if you’re one of the detractors who prefers a fixer-upper, it’s still necessary to be able to envision how the space will look once you’ve added your personal touches. Based on reactions from HomLuv users, details as small as the cabinet color in a photo can change the way a person thinks about a house. Law says he’s found preferences differ from region to region – darker cabinets may see more love in the South, while in California the preference is for white kitchen cabinets. “You could offer a free puppy and free pots and pans with the house, but if the cabinets are dark they still don’t want it,” he says.Warranty available
For newly built homes and those that have been recently flipped with significant work, you want to know that the professionals involved stand by their work. New construction homes often come with a warranty from the builder or the option to get a third-party warranty, and you should ask the investors involved with a flip for the same level of protection. “A good builder [or] a good flipper does not have a problem with that,” Montagne says. If an issue arises within the life of the warranty related to the workmanship, you can rest easy knowing you’re covered financially for the repairs.Potential for value growth
Potential for value growth
Your home isn’t just where you’ll live – it’s also an investment. There are a few easy decisions you can make that reduce the chances of losing out on potential growth in value over time, whether that means buying in a neighborhood where home values are steadily growing, finding a home in a desirable school district or avoiding living next to a strip mall. “When you’re buying a house, you’re not only buying it for yourself, you’re buying it for resale,” Plotkin says. “So most people are not going to want to back up to commercial [property] or a busy road.”Read More