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.