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Selling Your Home: Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find a good real estate agent when I sell my home?

First, ask friends, family, and colleagues for recommendations of real estate agents. You can also look for names listed on posted "for sale" signs, especially for houses that have been sold. Once you have at least three names, schedule a telephone or in-person interview with the agent.

Ask the real estate agent what problems she or he sees in marketing your home. The broker should be honest about potential problems and be able to think creatively about solutions. Ask for a plan for marketing the home and what you as a homeowner can do to help implement the plan. Listen to the answers. Does the agent exhibit a willingness to think creatively in approaching whatever problems might exist with the selling process? Does she seem co-operative or receptive to your input? Other things to consider are whether the broker knows the good and bad points about your neighborhood or town. And last but not least, don't forget to ask the broker for a list of comparable homes, which is essential in helping you arrive at an asking price for your home.

Which type of listing agreement should I enter into with the real estate agent?

A listing agreement is a contract between the homeowner and the agent. It states how much the agent will be paid and what services are provided.

You will generally have to enter into an exclusive listing, which gives the agent the exclusive right to sell your house for a limited period of time. The listing agent gets 100 percent of the commission if he or she sells the house and a percentage of the commission if another broker sells the house.

Tip: Establish a time limit of three months for an exclusive right to sell agreement. This will give the broker an incentive to sell the home quickly and still gives you an out if you feel the broker isn't doing enough for you. If you have a lot of confidence in the broker, and you have seen and approved of his or her plans for marketing the home, you may wish to sign for six months.

Tip: If at any time during the marketing process, you feel that your broker is not as effective as he or she could be, switch brokers. Do not waste time with a broker you have doubts about.

How can I speed up the sale of my home?

Here are some tips for making your home more attractive to buyers.

Make cosmetic improvements to get the house looking as good as possible.
For instance, patch damaged plaster and drywall, repaint, and re-wallpaper. Spruce up the exterior by replacing broken shingles or shutters or doing some minor landscaping to give your home more "curb appeal."

Increase your home's appeal to a wider range of potential buyers.
Repair or replace any part of your home that's been modified that might not appeal to the general population.

Make your home cozy and inviting when potentials buyers come by.
Make sure the interior and exterior are clean, neat, and well maintained. Have a fire burning in the fireplace, bake some cookies or an apple pie, or have a pot of coffee brewing. Put away toys and tools. Keep pets out of sight. Not everyone is as enamored of Fido as your family is. Try not to cook foods like fish with lingering odors.

Here are some ideas for working with your broker to speed up the sale of your home.

Offer a warranty.
Sometimes offering a warranty on the roof, electrical system, or appliances can speed up a sale or smooth the negotiating process, particularly if it's causing buyers to balk at the asking price.

Create a home sale kit with your broker.
A home sale kit consists of flyers that are distributed to potential home buyers and contain photos of your home's exterior, interior, and surroundings. The flyer should also list major selling points and include information about utility costs, taxes, and a floor plan.

Do not help the broker show the home.
Allow the broker to do his or her job. Make yourself available for questions, but do not try to help sell to potential buyers who are looking at your home.

Offer a bonus to your broker.
A bonus shouldn't be obvious to the buyer because the buyer will wonder if the house price has been bumped up to accommodate the real estate broker's bonus. Instead, offer the bonus in the form of an increased commission, say 3 1/2 percent instead of 3 percent.

Take it off the market and re-list it later.
If your house has been on the market for a long time, it may be perceived as undesirable. Taking it off the market and re-listing it at a later time sometimes helps.

How do I get the best price for my home?

Here are some tips for negotiating with buyers, once they've made their first offer:

  • Find out as much as possible about the potential buyer. Try to find out, for example, whether the buyer needs to buy a home quickly or is in a position to take plenty of time to negotiate. This will help you to decide what type of negotiating stance to take. Knowing details about the buyer's family will help you point out how your home accommodates their needs. And, if you know that a buyer lives in an apartment and will need to buy appliances for their new home, then you can throw in deal sweeteners such as refrigerators, washer and dryers, and furnishings.

  • On the flip side, try to reveal as little as possible about your own situation.

One final piece of advice is to avoid being confrontational, which can kill a potential deal during the negotiation process. The offers you receive will likely be 10 to 15 percent below your asking price. Do not be offended by this or by any "low-balling" techniques engaged in by buyers. Be willing to make some concessions. Make counter-offers to try to bring the offer closer to your asking price. If you feel that an offer is unreasonable, however, you can always reject it outright and wait for another buyer.