This page was last updated on Thursday, 20 March, 2014.
Part 1 of 2 Parts
Moving was daunting. The realization of the necessity of moving lectured my conscience like a nagging parent. Some of us hear the call of Providence or have honed intuition, and others are reluctantly putting the pieces together now as multiple improbable theories about the future in America come to shocking fruition. It’s like elementary addition. We know what we know. We knew we were going to move across state lines, somewhere, for an improved existence and safer retirement.
Once we sold our house nothing would tie us to this area but his job. I had resigned mine a couple of years before due to injury from a car accident and making up the loss of that income was challenging. We had no other dependents or obligations to keep us in this area, so we literally could go anywhere we felt we could continue to make a living. The children were grown and gone with lives of their own. And that really is the key to making this type of move work is moving to where it is possible to still commute and make a living. You have to have a steady means of support and off grid and sustainable living isn’t cheap to begin.
There are times in life when you feel compelled to make a turn at a blind corner. I suppose we could have just gone straight along in a status quo manner and gotten run over in the figurative “street” by the game of life in America in the 21st century, but I felt a strong sense of danger if we continued the same way. I wasn’t sure what lay ahead, and it worried me to the bone.
We knew that the cost of living was high where we lived in Virginia compared to other areas in the country, our real estate taxes were ridiculously high, and this wasn’t our dream home. We were also concerned about the rise of crime in our area and about the safety of being in this city if something were to happen, as it seems anything now could. The death of the dollar, truckers impeded from their delivery schedules, riots…all are looming possibilities now. Not to mention worse. We wanted to be dealt a new hand in the game, a better place to ride the tide.
Living in America during the past decade and specifically in 2013 Anno Domini, was like swimming toward and rushing headlong over a waterfall, yet there are still so many people blind to the evidence in front of them. Try explaining why you want to move to friends and relatives who don’t necessarily share your point of view!
Moving lock, stock and barrel to where we could make a better stand for the future was the inevitable conclusion of a gut hunch and scarier newspaper headlines. Intuition told me to make that decision and take the turn now. The feeling builds up on you and pounds like a drum the time you know you have to act. If you ever staked your future on a hunch, that’s the feeling I’m talking about. That is when I decided to talk my sweetheart about taking the plunge without looking back. We needed to heed the call and move, even if it meant giving up all of our hard work on our current property.
Where? We had talked about and assumed we were going to Florida. We took several vacations there and even used some of that time for him to go on job interviews. I wanted an in-ground pool and year-round warmth. We liked the Naples area on the Gulf side. I told neighbors we were moving to Florida and I just had to sell this house! Several family members in the recent past did not fare well in the snow and ice when they were older, and I took that as a strong hint to go. The factors that we used when we made our decision will be listed later in part two of the article. The clincher about nixing this location came later.
We HAD to sell this house in a bad economy and try to protect as much of our equity as possible. But how can I do it and keep enough of my money to make it worthwhile? As you know, the market is really bad compared to pre-bubble collapse even with the projected positive outlook by feigned official reports. Friends horror stories, articles on-line, on TV and in the paper, and my own serious losses in the housing and stock market were serious consideration of the daunting task I set for myself. Since the collapse of the bubble I took out a home equity loan and cashed in my 401k. The truth is we were just treading water. We simply must move and find a place where we can get a little ahead and thrive in this world.
I prayed a lot. I also did all of the homework and extra credit I could think of to bone up on how to make this happen seamlessly as possible. I am going to write it all down and share it with you. Drawing on all my past experience buying and selling real estate, I knew I needed a positive and cheerful Realtor who knew her onions too. Here is a summary of what I learned up to and during my home sale in 2013:
Do not confuse real estate knowledge with a Realtor who has learned the hack of how to get you to list your house for rock bottom in order to move your property. This happens a lot. This tactic gives her a feather in her cap from all angles, she benefits and you lose more money than you have to. This is a malicious tactic some successful real estate agents use in order to boost their sales. Many of the most successful ones do this. I say malicious because it robs you, and benefits them. It’s not just greed, because you get hurt, so it’s worse – it’s malicious. Ignorance is bliss, they say. You need to understand that not only do they employ this method to move your property, but they take 6-7 percent of the sales price off the top for real estate sales fees and that can really add up. If your house sells for example $250,000 then Agent X, her brokerage, and the buyer’s agent will split that 7% commission of $17,500. That’s SEVENTEEN THOUSAND five hundred on a $250,000 sale. Has that sunk in yet? Almost twenty thousand dollars of your equity to a fee! So that leaves you with a little over $232,000 to take away and pay off your mortgage and buy a new home. I am not trying to indicate that Realtors are the devil. What I am saying is make them work hard for it. Some make that commission by practically doing NOTHING and it galls me. You’re looking for an agent who not only is sympathetic with your situations, but mainly who plainly lays out her plan of action, gives you a written estimate of costs, and publishes a positive description of your home with attractive pictures that can be seen on the Internet.
I am not trying to scare you. But in this economy where many are losing all of their home equity, knowing this may help you decide when to hire or fire an agent. Sadly, many are in pre-foreclosure and/or are underwater on their mortgages. I don’t have much to say that will help you unfortunately. I never dealt with that situation. In your circumstance, selling at a loss may be better than not selling at all. This is something you need to work out for yourselves. You have my deepest sympathy and prayers. Some of the following information may increase your chances of selling, however.
Know that there are “seasons” for selling houses. The best wave you can ride is in the late winter, early spring. This window is the most lucrative all year for selling and buying, but particularly for selling even in this depressed economy. If your house was for sale last year and it is still on the market now, pull it off immediately. The days listed will count against you when that offer finally comes in. You need to cancel the listing now with the idea of putting it back on the market in a few weeks with “lipstick”.
If your house has not sold in up to or over a year find yourself another agent. One who actually will have a clear marketing plan for your home and understand that pictures and the Internet are how houses are really getting sold lately. Take lots of new pictures after you move furniture around and redo some things. “Redo what?” you say, it’s perfect. Well maybe it’s perfect for you but a potential buyer has his and her own taste, and they are looking for NEUTRAL. Get that? Buyers want neutral and clean, wouldn’t you? Dirty or stained carpet is a turn off, replace it and it’s a selling point. Buyers want move-in ready, and the name of the game is called “SELL”. It’s an important word you are learning to sell your home. If you have any strong colors on walls at all, REPAINT it an off-white shade. Ask the realtor’s advice in this regard. A good Realtor will walk through your home when you first engage her and advise you about this. Listen to her. Remove excess furniture, and make the changes she suggests. This is not a judgment about your personal taste, but a leg up to get your property SOLD. With the changes made and listing new and updated with new pictures that shows your home to its advantage, you will have your best shot at the highest price offer your home can bring in right now.
Do not waste your money doing excessive renovation just make sure it’s clean and neutral, light and bright. Arrange furniture in rooms according to the room’s proper use, or else you confuse the buyer. Less is more when decorating too. Unless you’re really clueless about this process, don’t hire someone to stage your home because it’s pricey and not cost effective if you’re selling your home under $350,000 or so. No one else will tell you this, but I will. Save your money and instead buy paint, a new shower curtain and some flowers. Make sure that the pictures show your home in its BEST light, and use plenty of them.
Now for a final thought on selling your home since the bubble burst. A wise home seller will have his/her home inspected herself BEFORE it goes back on the market. WHY? Because then you will know what is and is not wrong with your home before you’re between a rock and a hard place in a sales negotiation.
Why Sue, what are you saying? Why would I want to spend that kind of money up front, and then what if something major is wrong the Realtor says I will have to disclose it? Because it will probably help you get the best financial deal possible on the sale of your home. This is full-metal home selling, so to speak. Let me tell you fore-warned is fore-armed and will help you show your home in its best light by having all the small things attended too before a ruthless home inspector(s) hired by your buyer’s agent can come in and nit-pick you death. Trust me. Been there, done that. Do the inspection BEFORE you engage your next agent and no one is the wiser. Once I even left my own home inspection report on the counter for a walk through. I got a good contract and the buyer never requested a home inspection of his own.
Remember the buyer can bring in multiple inspectors. As many as the buyer can line up and pay for within a specified period according to the sales offer – not just the generic standard home inspector, but a chimney inspector, an HVAC inspector, a roofing inspector. The buyer usually just does the standard generic home inspection, unless he/she really wants major money back at settlement or is trying to get out of the contract altogether. Either way, it is prudent to have your own inspection done beforehand to give you the strongest negotiating position.
Better to know what is wrong with your home now, so you can fix small things yourself. During sales negotiation a buyer has the right to request a professional fix every jot and tittle on that report, and that can be costly for you. You can have time to address major things and get a leg up on explaining them, fixing them, or having your eyes open when you next engage the sales process. The alternative is to get blindsided as they plot together to rape you of every dollar you thought you could make on the sale of your home. It’s a racket. I would rather spend the approximately $350.00 it will take for the pre-listing home inspection myself, than to be ignorant regarding my own money and how they can work the system. Don’t expect your agent to be blindly loyal to you and hold your hand. She’s only loyal to her pocketbook and will collude with the buyer’s agent on how to make the sale go through, regardless of how much money you lose. That’s what will happen if you remain ignorant of the process. Once you are informed, the process can move forward in a more business-like fashion, with you maintaining better control of your assets and future finances.
Again, I’m not trying to scare you, but to PREPARE you. I advised you about the major game for selling agents in the first part, and now I’m going to clue you in on the buyer’s agent game. You may negotiate an agreeable sales price and the contract is drawn up. There is a negotiated time for inspections to occur, and that is when the buyer and his/her agent can work you down in price. You can also use this to your advantage by learning and employing the same game. I just suggest you be fair, and understand that the real estate world is dog eat dog…and you’re usually the sad puppy on the menu.
When the inspections take place, the buyer can and has a right to be present at all inspections, and so do you. It is probably advisable to have someone there who represents your interests as well. Once I had my mailbox destroyed by a car during a home inspection, no one ‘fessed up and I never found out who did it. The inspectors work for the buyer, not the seller. Therefore, the inspection findings can work against you. Which is why I suggested you have your home professionally inspected yourself in the beginning. Then you have your inspector’s word against theirs later…if you want to disclose that because it could rebut their “expert witness”. Word to the wise, one of their favorite places to gig you is on chimney inspections. They will use cameras and other tests to find every crack in your flue that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars to fix or give them the money off at the settlement. Yes, that’s right. It can and has been done.
At the very least, get your chimney swept and inspected on your own prior to re-listing your home and make sure you have receipts and paperwork showing any other prior work that was done as well. I am specifically thinking of an instance where I had a buried oil tank, tested and removed, and replaced with an above ground tank for environmental reasons, etc. In Virginia, that’s a big deal, and a requirement before selling an older home with an oil system.
Now that your home is fresh and re-listed, you can rest assured you have done EVERYTHING possible to sell your home for as much money as possible this time around. It wouldn’t hurt to even leave a receipt for that chimney cleaning and inspection on the kitchen counter during showings. They aren’t supposed to look closely at your things, but something strategically placed receipts on the kitchen table or counter doesn’t hurt. Use this trick also if you’re proud that your utilities are on the low end, and think they should be taken into consideration because it just doesn’t hurt. Neither do air fresheners in rooms and cookies just taken out of the oven hurt, but help to bring out favorable emotions from a buyer. Try cinnamon and apple in the kitchen.
For goodness sake leave during a showing. DO NOT be there when the home is shown, do NOT have your animals in the home and make sure the dishes are done and the sink is CLEAN. Ovens and tubs must also be clean. Try to get a friend or relatives to keep the pets for the first few weeks while interest in your home is hot. Drive around in your car with your pets with you until the showing is over. If you must keep an animal in the home, make sure you confine them in the garage or basement, or get a neighbor to take them for the time of the showing. This is important particularly in the first month that your home has been re-listed. You are trying to encourage a sale by emotion and impulse, which is the way most buyers jump. Is this way of thinking unethical? NO. You are not trying to cover anything up. Just make it more pleasant because first impressions are important. Is this cheating? NO. Remember it’s dog-eat-dog out there, and buyer beware. Anything legal goes and your agent can help you walk the line. Do not miss your buyer! Employing emotional tactics is not cheating, but smart marketing.
Another idea that may benefit you if you have acreage is to divide off one or two lots by survey. Then you can add the lot value to your home, and often this will increase the value. You don’t actually have to market your property as separate parcels. Change the classification of your property if you can. Do you have a ranch type of acreage? Can you call it a horse ranch? Is it in an area that’s in demand? Contact a Realtor who specializes in selling horse property. I did this once and doubled the price of my property by combining this tactic with the first idea in the paragraph – but that was in 2003.
Do not accept a buyer’s contract unless they come through a Realtor with a letter of pre-qualification from a reputable bank. Rule of thumb is to look for the letter of pre-qualification and the amount of cash they are putting down before deciding who buys your home. Don’t be suckered by Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow who are offering you full price, but buying with no cash down and say they’re qualified by an Internet lending company with a television ad.
Please consider that this is not the time to try and sell your home by yourself to save the fee. I recommend using a licensed Realtor, just make her work for her commission and hold her feet to the fire, so to speak. You have power in the sales process. Now is not the time for YOU to get emotional about selling. Do not get offended at your realtor’s suggestion to de-clutter and take your family pictures off the wall. You want a buyer to envision themselves moving in – not be overwhelmed by your family’s faces and taste. Be honest in her and your assessment of your home’s condition and value. The ideal here is to make your home appeal to the broadest audience net to real in that perfect buyer.
A good Realtor has a lot of selling contacts and tricks up her sleeve that are good and beneficial to get the job done. Just remember she is primarily in business for money, but that being said you can work TOGETHER to get the best POSSIBLE sales price for your home. That may not be what your home was worth before the bubble burst. But the best offer in this economy. I got $20,000 less than my home was valued before the bubble burst, and I was very happy. Remember selling it yourself and/or using “Sale by Owner” multiple listing programs are difficult in the best of times because the regular Realtors in the large pool treat them like poor cousins and will not promote them. This will severely limit your buying audience even if they are on the MLS. Generally real estate agents will promote properties that will keep their own commissions high and yes they do make back-room deals. Keep that in mind and do not be offended if your Realtor suggests sweetening the deal in realtor’s comments regarding bonus incentives. It could be $1,000 extra well worth paying.
The “right” Realtor will draw up and explain an estimated charge list for selling your home. It should include comparable properties that have sold in your area (make sure they’re the same square footage, and have the same features). Remember an accurate square footage measurement of your home is important to determining its current market value. Another trick you may employ which costs you out of pocket up front again, but is worth it, is getting a home appraisal prior to listing with an agent. Now they don’t just DO home appraisals for nothing, so you may need the excuse of a home equity loan. Perhaps you already have an appraisal from a recent application. This will help establishing current market value. But you can’t just demand one. Your real estate tax bill isn’t going to help much because they’re not always accurate since the change in the economy.
Hopefully the mystery of the home sale process has become a little clearer to you. My suggestion is to find an eager agent with a plan for selling your home and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about the condition or appearance of your home. Don’t waste your precious time on an agent who can’t give you the time of day. Curb appeal and the first impression through those Internet pictures is vitally important.
In my successful home sale last year, this relationship was achieved after prayer to the Almighty God that He would bring me the right Realtor as I search, and indeed He did. But a little experience and knowledge helped me to understand her value and focus on selling, too. God expects you to reach out to engage your opportunities, but not to always sit idly by and expect miracles. Miracles are at God’s discretion, not ours. You are the architect of your own success, so DO it. Boldness has genius!
Before my final success I had been trying to sell my house off and on for about three years. It’s not that it was unsellable, because it was. I think it was when I decided to pull all the stops out including fasting and prayer that it happened. Yes, I employed all of these tactics. I re-caulked and repainted the master bedroom, living room and dining room a neutral light tan color. I made all of those repairs I put off. Using the repair list from a previous failed contract we did everything we could possibly finish ourselves with advice from our hardware store pros, and we were upfront and honest about the age of the HVAC and roof.
I knew from previous home sales not to sell the home “As Is” because it scares off buyers, and your Realtor should tell you this. However, addressing the little things to be fixed was the best thing I could possibly have done. In the end, we had two competing contracts which drove the price up in negotiation. I did not choose the highest offer, but prayed and chose the more stable of the two buyers, and I thanked the other for their offer. I praise my Lord and give him the credit for a successful sale. I could not have had a better and more honest Realtor. Now I could look to the future and in the ensuing segment will explain the reasoning behind our decision on where to move and why. Here are some pictures of my hard work for the home sale that paid off. I elected not to hang much back up on the walls – less is more – and the buyer sees themselves using it the way they want to. See how the clean look of the neutral paint is so appealing? Was it hard? You betcha!
To be continued in PART TWO –BUYING, the next installment of this article.