What should I look for when hiring a Realtor to sell my home?A lot of people choose their Realtor for the wrong reason and  don’t end up getting the experience they hoped for.  A person’s home is usually one of their largest assets, yet many people choose who will represent the sale of it because someone is a friend, relative, or will offer a discount.  Would you trust your $500,000 retirement account to a part-time financial advisor with little experience?  Hopefully not.  It’s important to hold your Realtor to the same standards.  Anyone can make a flyer and put pictures on the internet, but it takes a wealth of knowledge to not only get your house under contract, but get it closed for the most amount possible while shielding you from liability, and making it as  smooth as possible.  Here are a few things to consider when looking for an agent:

  • Hiring a Team vs. an Individual Agent: What kind of an experience are you looking for? Selling your home is a personal experience – are you comfortable with being a number or do you want to have a relationship with the person selling your home?  Do you want to talk to several people or do you want direct access to the person who is on the front lines?  When looking at a team, it’s important to study the qualifications of EACH member of the team – especially the person handling the negotiations.  The person who comes to meet you is most likely not the one who will be “selling” your home to potential buyers!  Will each member of the team be an expert on the ins and outs of your home?  When a buyer calls off an ad or the sign, who will answer the phone?  Have they even seen the home?  How can they really be “selling” your home when they have dozens of competing listings?  Make sure you have all the answers before making your decision.
  • Experience Matters!: There is an extremely low barrier to entry in the Real Estate industry.  There are literally thousands of part-time agents in the Austin area.  In fact, it is widely known that only 20% of the Realtors sell 80% of the homes.  Less than 10% of Realtors average even one sale per month.  Selling real estate is not a hobby or something to do on the side, or “just for fun.”  It’s serious business and it takes skill.  Trusting your home sale to a new agent or part-timer would be like having a med-student perform your surgery – with no one assisting.  It’s just not a good idea.  Ask how long they have been selling homes FULL TIME.  How many homes have they recently sold in your neighborhood?  What is their annual production (individual, not combined team production)?   You’re looking for a minimum of 10 years / 10 million annually.  The more the better!
  • Neighborhood Expert:  When it comes to negotiation, knowledge is power.  A neighborhood expert will specialize in your neighborhoods and know it like the back of their hand.  They will know pricing, statistics, good and bad streets, amenities, schools, and have intimate knowledge of the sections, builders, floorplans, etc… They will know the inventory, past and present.  They will also have relationships with the other agents who work the area.
  • Commission:  You typically get what you pay for.  Be wary of agents who voluntarily cut their commission – they’re the ones who will be fighting for your money later – on a much larger scale.  If they don’t fight for their money, chances are they’re not going to fight very hard for yours.  An inexperienced agent can EASILY cost you more than .5-1% by making even one simple mistake.
  • Marketing:  Any agent can make a flyer and put you on the MLS.  What do they do beyond that?  The MLS automatically feeds to all the popular websites (Zillow, Realtor.com, Hot Pad, Trulia, etc…) and to all other Broker’s IDX sites, so this is not unique.  Your property is unique – the marketing should be also!  What kind of networking do they do?  What about follow-up?

 

What am I required to include with the sale of my home?

The following things are contractually required to be included with the home, unless excluded.  Be SURE to exclude these items on the contract – having it in the listing is not enough! Think very hard before listing the home – if there are any window treatments, chandeliers, mounted televisions. etc.. that you want to keep, make sure to note it or better yet, switch it out before listing!   Also, be sure NOT to check the box next to it on the Seller’s Disclosure if it doesn’t convey.    Usually the rule of thumb is that if it’s on a nail, it’s not considered “attached.”  If it’s screwed in, it is. Ask your Realtor if you’re unsure.  Anything permanently installed or built-in stays, including but not limited to:

  • All built-in equipment and appliances (including a built-in refrigerator, excluding a stand-alone).  A stand alone stove is included.
  • Window treatments – valances, screens, shutters, blinds, awnings, curtains including the rods, shades
  • Permanently attached mirrors (it’s a good idea to exclude any bathroom mirrors that are hanging on a nail, just to be safe)
  • Ceiling and attic fans
  • Wall to wall carpeting
  • Heating and A/C units – including wall units
  • Mailboxes and any associated keys
  • TV antennas and satellite dish system, equipment, and controls
  • Security and fire detection equipment
  • Plumbing and lighting fixtures including chandeliers
  • Water softener system
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Garage door openers and controls for openers (note on Seller’s Disclosure how many you have)
  • Entry Gate Controls (if you have a private gate – controls for Steiner gates must be returned to HOA at least 48 hours prior to closing)
  • Cleaning equipment
  • Shrubbery and landscaping
  • Outdoor cooking equipment
  • Above ground pool, swimming pool equipment and maintenance accessories
  • Artificial fireplace logs
  • Door Keys

 

What do I need to know about the required disclosures?

  • Seller’s Disclosure Notice – The Seller’s Disclosure is probably the most important document.  Be sure to fill it out honestly and completely.  To limit your liability, it’s important to disclose any and all known deficiencies in the property.  The form is designed to be very thorough, so if you read it carefully, you shouldn’t “forget” anything.  When filling out Pages 1 and 2, “Features and Equipment,” It’s best to go from left to right on each line.  In the first box, put a Y,N, or U for Yes, No or Unknown – this is whether or not the property HAS THE ITEM, not whether it works or not.  To the right of the item name is where you circle Y,N, or U indicating whether or not the item is in working order.  Next to that is a space for additional information.  If there are any deficiencies, those will be explained on page 3.  You fill out Page 3 the same way.  Information for the utility companies can be found here.  Also, don’t forget to update this form throughout the listing period if anything changes.
  • WCID #17 Notice to Purchaser – this form should be provided by your Realtor, but can be seen here.   This just notifies the buyer that the property is located in Water District #17.  You will sign a similar document at closing, but we also provide it up front.
  • T-47 – This form is an affidavit that goes along with the survey.  It is customary for the seller to provide their existing survey (but not required, it is negotiable on the contract).  This form is where the seller discloses any changes, if any, that were made to the property that would affect the survey – things like adding a fence, extending the structure, adding a pool, etc…  Because this is an affidavit, it must be notarized.
  • Additional Disclosures may be required by your Realtor’s broker.

 

Do I have to provide a home warranty to the buyer?

You aren’t required to provide one, but it is customary and most buyers will expect one..  It’s good protection for both the buyer and seller – keeps the buyer from coming back after the sale because of items in the house breaking.

 

Am I required to have an energy audit done to sell my home?

These are not required in Steiner Ranch.  However, if your home is older than 10 years and you live in the city of Austin, you probably need one.  Click here for more information, or you can call 311.

 

What do I need to know about security while my home is on the market?

It’s important to realize that you have NO privacy while your home is on the market.  There are photos of the interior of your home on the internet with the address.  Most people think of the obvious things – hide valuables – cash, jewelry, guns, etc… but a lot of things are frequently overlooked.

  • Spare keys – don’t leave these in plain sight.  I often see spare car keys hanging on a hook by the garage.  It would be very easy for someone to slip these in their pocket and come back for the car.  Same with house keys.
  • Medicine – Hide and/or lock up any prescriptions, especially narcotics.
  • Children’s information – sure, we all love those little wooden letters spelling out kids’ names hanging in their rooms, but consider whether you want to publish the name of your child and where he or she lives on the internet.

Only licensed Realtors and their affiliates will have lockbox access. Realtors must pass a background check and be fingerprinted prior to being licensed.  Lockbox keys have to be updated daily, so if a Realtor is ever suspected of anything, their access can be cut off.

If you regularly set an alarm, consider how you will handle this for showings.  You want to make it as easy as possible for people to show it, but if you must leave it on, prepare for false alarms.  When showing several properties, some things can get overlooked, and a security code is easily missed on the MLS print-out.

 

What should I know about pricing my home?

A good Realtor will provide you with recent “comps” or comparable homes that have sold in the past 6 months.  They should be within a few hundred square feet, similar lot size and age, and in Steiner, ideally in the same elementary school zone.   Things that can affect pricing are finish out, view, location on the street, greenbelt, cul-de-sac, lot width, floorplan (master up vs. master down), number of garage spaces, etc…  There’s no magic $/SF per neighborhood.  Pricing has nothing to do with what you paid for the home, what you have in it, or what you want.  It is completely market driven.  It’s also very important to gauge where you fit in with current active inventory.  Go see your competition and try to be objective.  If the 10 houses you’re competing with have wood floors, granite, and stainless steel appliances, and you don’t, you’re clearly going to need to be priced less.

It’s extremely important to be priced accurately in the beginning.  The people who are most interested in your home will come in the first two weeks.  If your home is overpriced, it will help “sell” those buyers on your properly priced competition.  It will be hard to get them back in a  few weeks when you reduce.  Once your home is on the market, it’s important that you continue to keep a close eye on the market.  You can price your home perfectly one day, but if better listings come on, more inventory, or if new lower comps come up, you will need to adjust.  Be sure to get feedback from as many showings as possible.  If you haven’t received an offer in 10 showings, you either need to improve the condition or adjust the price.

 

Do I need a price reduction?

  • Pricing a home for sale is not an exact science. Even after a thorough data analysis, the best that anyone can really do is make an educated guess when setting the price on a home.  We use a number of factors to decide what a home should be priced:  pricing of similar homes that recently sold, pricing of similar homes currently on the market, pricing of similar homes that failed to sell, average $/square foot for similar homes that recently sold, and general housing market conditions.  But even after we conduct a thorough pricing analysis, we won’t know if our pricing is correct until we put the house on the market and see how buyers react.  Large companies use market research firms to survey potential buyers before they price a new product and put it on the market. But these companies know exactly what products they are competing against. They know the features and pricing of their competition and can use that in their market research. They can survey hundreds of people in advance and get their reaction.
  • When a home is put on the market, there is no way to know what it will be up against. New home listings come on the market with no notice and the existing competition can reduce their price at any moment. Once the competition does sell, they announce their reduced sale price on closing day for everyone to see. Home sellers who are still on the market are impacted by all of this, but none of it could be predicted when they set their initial price.
  • In real estate, the first buyers to come see a home act as our test market group. When these buyers rush to schedule showings and offer glowing feedback, we can trust we are at the right price and the house should sell easily. If our marketing has worked and resulted in showings, but the buyers tell us that they expected the house to have better features or to be in better condition, then you need to reconsider your pricing.

 

What does it mean if we’re not getting many showings?

Today’s buyers use the internet to screen homes rather than physically going to see them all.  Don’t assume a property which is not getting physical showings wasn’t seen by buyers online. If a property’s advertising is getting a large number of internet hits but is not getting showings, the first thing to look at is the marketing.

Consider the buyer who has looked at 100 homes in their price range for a specific part of town. They start seeing patterns in the features that they can expect at their price point. They expect to see pictures…and lots of them. They also start making assumptions that if the house was in good condition and updated, there would be pictures that showed them all of the rooms. They look at poor quality pictures and make judgments about the house based on those pictures. You would be surprised how many times buyers have told me that they eliminated a house because there wasn’t a picture of the kitchen or the backyard, and the omission must have been purposeful. Buyers assume that if a house looks good, the listing agent would have shown everything to them.

If that house isn’t getting showings, then it is overpriced.  Let’s think about this in terms of houses available for sale.   Imagine there are 10 homes for sale in a particular neighborhood that are all priced at $450,000. All of the homes are 2 story homes with 4 bedrooms and a modern kitchen. There are some minor differences between the homes, but nothing that would make one house so much better or worse than the others. Except for one. This home backs to a busy street and white appliances.  Buyers see these things as negatives and decide not to waste their time on this one.  Even if the owners of this house priced their house at $440,000, they probably still wouldn’t get showings. For $10,000, buyers would rather have a house with a good yard which doesn’t need a lot of work.

Now imagine that the owners of this house decided to price their home at $400,000. They open themselves up to 2 groups of potential buyers. There are some people who want a 2 story in that subdivision and are willing to fix it up themselves if they can get a good enough deal. They could afford the more expensive homes, but they don’t mind the backyard and like the idea that they can afford to redecorate and put in the appliances that they prefer, while still saving money in the end.

Then there is also another group of people:  This group simply can’t afford $450,000. They had been looking at less expensive older homes in this subdivision even though they really wanted something newer with more upgrades. They were also looking newer homes in say Cedar Park but they didn’t like those areas nearly as much. The older $400,000 home in Steiner Ranch which needs some updating becomes a gem to these buyers. If they can get into Steiner, they’ll simply live with the dated fixtures for a few years. They recognize that the old appliances still work perfectly fine and they’ll put up with a less than ideal backyard. They have a different set of expectations on what makes a great house.  At $400,000, online buyers pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. But at $450,000, these same buyers will see a house that doesn’t look nearly as good as the other options. They’ll skip over it without a second thought.

 

Should I have an open house?

The National Association of Realtors reports that less than 1% of homes sell due to an open house.  Of those, it’s unclear how many of those buyers would have seen the property anyway via another method – the Internet, their Realtor, etc…  They are a safety risk for both the homeowner and the Realtor holding it open.  You have photos of your contents all over the internet.  An open house advertises when the house will be unlocked – typically with only one person to watch 10+ rooms of the house.  It’s just not worth the risk for such a small percentage of the buyers.   It’s also a pretty passive method of looking for a buyer.  Think about this – is 3 hours of your Realtor’s time better spent sitting in the house waiting for people to come to it or on the phone, actively marketing your home to local Realtors?

 

What can I do to get my home ready for photos?

If you’ve done everything suggested by your home stager, you should be ready!  Pictures are THE MOST important piece of your marketing.  A professional photographer is a must.  Before they arrive follow these tips to make sure he gets the absolute best shots:

  • Fans: Turn off all the fans so they won’t be a blur in the photo.
  • Blinds: Adjust the blinds to show or hide what is outside that window. For example, if you want to show your backyard, then pull them up enough the show a nice view, but not all the way so it’s obvious there are blinds – window treatments are a plus in a sale!  OR if there is a close house next door, or AC unit, etc… I recommend you keep them closed.
  • Declutter: Pick up all toys, clothes, and items that you do not want to clutter up the picture. Remove magazines, remotes, newspapers, mail etc…
  • Contain Pets: I don’t recommend pets in the photos, so to keep them from walking through/sleeping in the shots, I suggest they be contained during the photo shoot. Also remove any pet bowls or beds.  Buyers who are allergic to pets will notice these items!
  • Clean Bathrooms: When it comes to the bathrooms, the cleaner the better. Please clear off your bathroom countertops, hide shampoo bottles, scrubs, wet towels etc… Be sure all toilet seats are down and fresh towels are nicely displayed.
  • Make Beds: Make your beds as presentable as possible, straighten your bed covers and pillows.
  • Turn On Lights: To help the shoot be efficient as possible, please have all the lights, including lamps and outside lights, turned on prior to my arrival. Be sure to replace any burnt out bulbs prior to the shoot. While it may not be illuminating the space, the light provides a great accent to the photos.
  • Clear Front and Side Of Refrigerator: Personal items on the outside of the refrigerator can be very distracting to the eye.
  • Hide Kitchen Trash Can: If you have a kitchen trash can that is out in the open, please place it in the garage.
  • Clear Backyard: Remove any hoses, dog toys, or any other items that will make the yard look cluttered.
This is a very large game room with a tray ceiling and nice wall of windows, but I bet you’re looking at the teddy bear and the cords on the floor.

 

This is an actual listing photo for a house on the market for $260,000. It looks more suited for a Craigslist ad selling the couch! Not a professional photo.

 

What do I do with my Steiner Ranch amenity and gate keys?

Try to get them turned into the HOA a few days before you are scheduled to close or they will charge you for them.  The fines are hefty!  If you forget and return them after closing, they will refund the money only if it’s done within a week.

 

What can I do to make the inspection / repair negotiations go smoother?

  • Make sure your air filters are clean as well as any return air vents.  To take it s step further, if you haven’t done it in a year, have your units serviced.  Home inspectors don’t necessarily specialize in anything – A/C, Electrical, Plumbing, etc…  so if they see something that maybe doesn’t look right, but they don’t know the answer, they can potentially alarm the buyers for something that is minor.  Recommendation: Christian Brothers A/C
  • Make sure all trees are trimmed a min. of 3 feet from the roof.  Recommendation: Texas Tree Tamers
  • Do a visual inspection of your roof and eaves.  Keep an eye out for any “chew marks” from squirrels / rodents, any loose shingles, or disrupted flashing around vents and chimneys.  Have repairs completed prior to sale or inspection.  Recommendation: Bird Creek Roofing
  • Make sure your sensors are aligned to auto-stop the garage door.
  • Make sure all bulbs are working.  Recommendation for all handyman work: Chris Miller, Handyman & Carpenter (512) 934-7906
  • Replace any fogged windows.  Recommendation: Fog Gone Glass
  • Check all faucets for leaks or loose parts.  Check under all of your sinks for drips or condensation.
  • Remember that the inspector will point out things that are not up to current code (most frequently noted are ARC fault breakers, expansion tank on water heater, drip legs on furnace).  While you are not REQUIRED to bring them up to code, everything is negotiable.

Typically buyers ask for any A/C, electrical, plumbing, and roof repairs to be done as well as anything that’s just not working.  There will always be buyers who ask for every little thing.  It’s important to stay calm and remember that it’s all part of the process and everything is negotiable.  Also, try to keep in mind what you’d expect as a buyer purchasing a home in the price range of your home.  These days, a lot of lenders do not allow any repairs to be made part of the contract.  They’d rather see a credit for closing costs with no mention of repairs.  Another reason to get these things taken care of prior to the inspection – buyers almost always have an inflated sense of what things cost.  They may ask for $1000 credit for something that can be fixed for $150.

 

What do  I need to bring to closing?

  • Government issued photo ID
  • Blank check if you want your funds wired
  • One key – leave others and garage door openers in the house
  • Any money owed for a rentback
  • If there’s anything else, you will be notified by the title company or your Realtor.