Guide to Selling a House
Thinking of selling your house? Read on to find out our best advice and what's involved in selling your house for top dollar.
Step #1 – Decide When To Sell Your House
There’s no easy or one-size-fits-all answer. You must decide the right time for you, your family, and your life. Important considerations include:
Time of year – Real estate in the Lower Mainland is seasonal, with December, January, and August historically being the slowest months. We find that the best months to list a house for sale are April to June and September, when Buyers are motivated and the other Sellers are busy preparing to list their homes for sale in the “spring” or “fall” markets.
Current competition in your neighbourhood – At any given time, there are only so many Buyers looking for the kind of house you have. If those Buyers have a big selection of houses like yours to look at, you can expect to have fewer showings and fewer offers which will usually result in a lower price. Conversely, if you’re the only renovated three bedroom house with a garage for sale in your neighbourhood, everyone will flock to your house.
Current competition in similar neighbourhoods – Most Buyers have two or three target neighbourhoods they want to live in, so it’s important to consider what’s for sale in neighbourhoods similar to yours, too. Similar neighbourhoods aren’t just those that are physically close but include those similar in quality of the schools, proximity to parks, restaurants, services, and transportation, and similar in terms of the type of people who live there (singles, couples, families, retirees, etc.).
State of the real estate market – Interest rates and consumer confidence affect prices, and while the Vancouver market has been on an upswing for a long time, like any other type of market, what goes up usually comes down. What’s going on in the market right now?
Your personal needs and goals – If you’re moving out of the city or have already bought a new house, then that timing will likely override everything else. Likewise, an upcoming baby, need for live-in nanny, wedding, or divorce might dictate your timing too.
Step #2: Get Ready: Declutter, Stage, and Clean
When preparing your house for sale, keep these 3 goals in mind:
- Declutter to maximize the space you have and allow potential Buyers to imagine living in your home. Remove personal items, extra armoires, and anything that could distract potential Buyers. Smaller furniture will make the rooms look bigger, so consider swapping out that King-sized bed that takes up the whole bedroom for a smaller one, and replacing the L-shaped couch with a more compact version. Clear out closets, and donate items you don’t use. Most Sellers end up calling a junk removal company or storing some of their belongings offsite during the sale.
- Make sure every room is staged to its optimal use. It’s okay if you’re using two of your three bedrooms as offices, but convert them back to bedrooms while the house is listed for sale. Buyers don’t often have great imaginations, so put a bed in the bedroom, a dining table in the dining room, and a desk in the den. A good Realtor will spend time identifying your house’s target Buyer and will guide you to stage your home to reflect how they would want to live in it.
- Clean, clean, and clean again! The cleaner your house is, the faster it will sell. Buyers won’t just look at surfaces – they’ll look inside your closets, your kitchen cupboards, and your bathroom vanity. Make sure everything sparkles!
Special Considerations for Houses
- Curb Appeal – We’ve had Buyers pull up to the front of a house they were interested in and instantly decide to go home. How your home looks from the outside – the porch, door, walkway, gardens – will set the tone for how a Buyer feels about your home. Give it the attention it deserves.
- Basement – Buyers love basements, so make sure to showcase yours to its utmost potential. Clear out the clutter and make sure that Buyers and home inspectors can easily reach the electrical panel and furnace. If your basement can be used as a second apartment, make sure that’s obvious to Buyers too.
- The Big Mechanics – While Buyers are often swayed by granite counters, hardwood floors and fancy appliances, the mechanics of your house matter too. The furnace, A/C, hot water tank, electrical, plumbing, roof, and insulation are all important: make sure your real estate agent knows every unsexy detail about your house.
- The Small Repairs – We all have things in our house that we’ve ignored, and now is the time to take care of all that stuff. Hiring a handyman for a day can help show Buyers that your home was well maintained and keep them focused on the important things (instead of the leaky faucet in the kitchen).
- Backyard – Many a home has been sold because of the outdoor space, so make the most of your backyard. Consider re-staining the deck, updating your gardens, fixing the fence, and getting some stylish patio furniture. If you’re selling your home in the winter, provide summer photos of your yard to your agent.
Step #3: Get Set: More Preparation Work
Get your documents together. Your agent will be asking you for copies of your heating, electrical and utility, and tax bills, so take the time to photocopy or scan them. Any current warranties and manuals should be gathered too.
Make a list of renovations and repairs. Compile a list of all the renovations and repairs that have been completed since you have owned the house. Be prepared to discuss with your Realtor any current issues with the house – it’s better to disclose any ongoing issues than get sued later.
Make an extra set of keys. We’ll likely have to show your house sometimes at a moment’s notice to Buyers, so make an extra set of keys.
Get a pre-list home inspection – Completing a pre-listing home inspection before you put your house on the market will help you identify any issues with the home that might be objections for Buyers. For example: the home inspector may determine that your house needs a new roof. Armed with that information, you can choose to either a) fix the roof before putting the house up for sale, or b) factor it into your asking price. Either way, having accurate information puts you in control of how the deficiencies in your house will affect the price you get for the house. If you’re pricing your home for a bidding war, making the pre-listing home inspection available to Buyers will encourage them to make offers.
Step #4: Pricing Your House for Sale
Pricing a house in Burnaby and Coquitlam is both a science and an art. Your Realtor will discuss with you the pros and cons of pricing your home for a bidding war, pricing high with the intent to negotiate, or pricing your home at market value.
In the end, Buyers will decide how much your home is worth by deciding how much they want to pay for it. Buyers will consider:
- Recent sales on your street and in your neighbourhood
- Recent sales of similar properties in nearby neighbourhoods
- Properties currently on the market
- Current market conditions
- The size, finishes, and condition of your home
- Location – what’s happening in your neighbourhood and how people expect it to change in the short and medium terms
Other things that can be important to Buyers include:
- Parking and/or a garage
- The basement (whether or not it’s finished or can be used as a second apartment)
- Closets and storage
- Style (modern vs character, etc.)
Step #5: Marketing
One of your real estate agent’s most important jobs will be making sure potential Buyers see your house. A comprehensive marketing campaign for your house should include both traditional and digital marketing and aim to make people fall in love with your house. Real estate marketing should include:
For Sale Signs – It’s not unusual for Buyers to cruise their target neighbourhoods in search of their perfect house, so a For Sale sign on the lawn is always recommended.
Open Houses – While curious neighbours will undoubtedly make an appearance, open houses are a great way to showcase your home to real potential Buyers. Depending on your neighbourhood and how well the open house has been promoted, you can expect anywhere from 5 to 100 or more people to attend. Great agents will be able to spot the serious and motivated Buyers and will make selling your home their only priority. Your agent may suggest hosting an open house on Saturday, Sunday, or both days, so be prepared to leave your home for 2, 3, or 4 hours.
Online Marketing – With 80% of Buyers starting their search on the web, being found online is critical! Additionally, there’s a lot more to being found online than being listed on realtor.ca . Make sure you’re working with a real estate agent who has heavy Buyer traffic on their website and who knows how to use other websites to your and your house’s advantage.
Email Marketing/Social Media – Top Realtors promote their listings to other agents via email and have a network of potential Buyers they can reach via Facebook, Instagram, and email. Don’t forget, you can help with the sale of your house by sharing the link to your listing too!
Print Marketing – Most agents will print feature sheets for your home so that the potential Buyers who see it will have a takeaway of information and photos.
Your ideal Buyer is out there – they may be first-time buyers, the parents of first-time buyers, an international investor, a recent divorcee, a newly married couple, seniors who have just sold their family home, or a young couple with a baby on the way. Smart real estate agents will go to great lengths to profile your target Buyer and create a marketing campaign to reach them.
Step #6: Showings
When Buyers make an appointment to see your house, keep the following in mind:
- Leave your house! There’s nothing more distracting for a Buyer than having to walk around the owner.
- Be flexible with showing times – Most Buyers look at properties in the evening or on the weekends.
- Board the dogs! Not everyone will love your dog as much as you do. At minimum, crate them during showings. Ideally, take them for a walk or board them.
- Consider temporarily moving out of your home while it’s for sale – If your home is popular with Buyers, you may have 3 or 10 or more showings every day. Going on a weekend getaway or staying at a friends’ or parents’ house can make your life a lot more tolerable – especially if you have kids or pets.
- Cleanliness matters! It isn’t enough to have a clean house on day 1. You’ll need to wash the dishes, make the beds, wash the floors, and weed the garden every day while it’s listed for sale.
Step #7: Offers
Sad but true: not every house Seller gets a bidding war. While your agent will take you through what to expect come offer time, if there is only one Buyer for your house, you can expect to see the following two conditions in an offer:
- A financing condition, which allows the Buyer to confirm their mortgage qualifications with a lender
- A home inspection condition, which allows the Buyer to bring in a home inspector of their choosing to go through the home. Home inspections generally last 2-3 hours.
Of course, there’s a lot more to negotiate than conditions: there’s price, closing date (the date the Buyer takes possession), inclusions (appliances, big screen TV’s, etc.), and deposit (usually 5%-10% of the purchase price in Vancouver, paid within 24 hours of the offer being accepted).
In the event of multiple offers (more commonly referred to as a bidding war), offers will generally be “firm”, meaning there are no conditions. There are many ways for a bidding war to proceed – your agent will suggest different strategies to help you get the highest price.
As closing day (the day the new Buyer takes possession) approaches, you or your lawyer will need to make sure to:
Inform the utility companies of your impending move
Cancel your home insurance (to take effect after you have confirmation that the sale has closed)
A day or two before closing day, you’ll need to visit your lawyer and sign a lot of paperwork. When the property is transferred to the new owner, you will get the money via your lawyer (less real estate commissions, legal fees, and any adjustments).
Still have questions about selling your house? Contact Ambrose and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have about selling your house for top dollar.