November 2013 Blogs

4 Strategies for a Surprise-Free Sale:

Selling a home is an odyssey. From the moment you decide the time is right in your life and in the market to make a move to the time you scrub out the crumbs from the very last kitchen drawer, you will be called upon to make literally hundreds of decisions. And to complicate matters, each decision you make is connected to dozens and dozens of other decisions.

As a smart home seller, you take great pains to get and stay informed and create a strategic plan of action for your home’s preparation, listing, marketing and eventual sale. But you know what they say about the best laid plans, don’t you? One of the scariest prospects to sellers is that of surprise glitches, twists and turns to their carefully laid transactional plan. Here are a few strategies for minimizing those surprise prospects.

1.  Sell your home on the range.  Part of the horror of a home selling surprise is in its potential to derail your plans. You expected to get X number of dollars, and a surprisingly low price makes your move-up plans impossible. You expected to sell by X date so you could be in your new hometown by Y date – and you did sell on time, but the new buyer isn’t closing escrow until well after your target moving date.

Real estate, generally speaking, is not a precision sport – particularly when it comes to expectations around time and money. Even when it comes to closing, it’s not bizarre for sellers to get a little refund check after escrow or to have closing delayed by a couple of days because of little glitches with the buyer’s mortgage lender.

You can prevent avoidable upset and plan derailment by approaching your entire transaction with the mindset and practice of planning for time and money ranges. Your agent can help you figure out how wide a time frame and how wide a dollar range you should be prepared for on any given decision and at any given point in the transaction.

Your agent can also help you get educated about the full range of options available to you at every stage of the transaction. Knowing up front that you might have the option to ask your buyer to go ahead and close escrow and then rent the property back from them for a couple of weeks so you can have the cash for your buy and the extra time in your home, for example, can help you keep your home selling plan flexible and reduce the drama that can arise when things don’t go precisely according to plan.

2.  Put your network to work.  Again, in selling a home, the math around what you can expect to net on your home’s sale can be a bit of a moving target. Most sellers have some ballpark number around what they owe on their mortgage in mind, and keep that number in mind as they do the mental math to estimate what they expect to recoup from their home’s sale.

But it’s not unusual for sellers to get close to closing and express surprise at having their proceeds reduced by:

    Property taxes

    City and/or county transfer taxes they didn’t realize were quite so high

    Old, unpaid HOA dues or assessment

    Liens from old IRS collections, unpaid waste collection fees or other debts that must be paid off at the time of closing.

Your escrow holder or title insurer will surface many of these things at the time you open escrow in the format of the preliminary title report, so it’s important to pay close attention to the line items listed when you receive this document.

And even beyond these items which sellers can inadvertently omit from their math, real-time issues like the precise day escrow closes, repairs that come up during the transaction and even city ordinances that require certain property conditions at closing can have a last-minute impact on your net proceeds. Work with your agent and your escrow officer or attorney to keep an updated understanding of how your home sale figures evolve over time.

3.  Understand that recent history is the best predictor of your home’s fate.  Surprise prevention is yet another compelling reason to stay focused on the recent sales of similar homes as you make your decisions about how to stage it and how much to list it for. Want your home to sell fast? Look at the recent comparable sales that flew off the market and emulate their marketing and pricing strategies. Want to hit a specific price target? Your best bet would be to look at the similar homes in your area that are selling for top dollar and do what they did.

Truth is, in home selling, often the homes that sell fast are the homes that sell for top dollar, but they are also the homes that are the best prepared and priced aggressively enough to present a great value to buyers.

And the opposite is true, too: if you want to avoid being surprised by a super low sale price, don’t set your expectations wildly out of line with the sale prices you’re actually seeing nearby homes sell for. Reality is a surprise to those who choose to live in a land of fantasy.

4.  Have a contingency plan.  In real estate, we most often reference contingencies when we’re talking about buying, not selling. But there are two types of contingency plans home sellers can leverage, too, if avoiding unpleasant surprises is a high priority.

First, the formal contingency plan. Sellers do have the option of negotiating a seller’s contingency into the contract for their home’s sale, which allows them the right to back out of the contract if they are not able to purchase a replacement home to move into. Sellers in strong seller’s markets might have the bargaining power to negotiate this, and it can alleviate the no-longer-uncommon surprise of closing your home’s sale and being unable to buy your next home due to bidding wars.

Sellers who get into contract on their existing home before buying a new one might also be able to negotiate a rent-back, which allows them to stay in the home for a few weeks or even longer, in some cases, after close of escrow – giving a longer time cushion for finding a home and moving out. Both seller’s contingencies and rent-backs have a number of legal and mortgage implications. Talk with your real estate professional to find out about common practices in your area.

Buyers/Sellers:  Every home sale presents its own, unique surprise. What unexpected occurrence came up in your last home sale or purchase?




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