The Things No One Tells You About Selling Your House

updated Oct 3, 2023
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(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

Buying a home is a momentous time in one’s life and, accordingly, congratulatory pats on the back abound — as does unsolicited advice. Everyone has insight about everything from how to pick the perfect house for you to saving money on home repairs.

However, there’s not nearly as much fanfare when it comes time to sell your house. In fact, where information was so readily given when you were buying your home, you’ll likely find you have to hunt down advice when you decide to sell.

And we’re not just talking about the standard stuff like staging. Rather, here are a few lesser known tidbits that could come in handy from someone who has been in the trenches (me!).

Your realtor’s commission may not be the only “fee”

Before you sign any contract with a real estate agent, make sure you pore over the paperwork for any hidden fees. You already knew going in that you’d have to cough up a commission, but what you may find is that an extra administrative fee of anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars may have snuck in there, too.

Yes, you could have to pay taxes on the sale

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. Let’s rip off the Band-Aid and get the bad out of the way, shall we? It’s entirely possible you will have to pay a pretty penny on the sale of your home in taxes. The good news, though, is that this only applies if you make a gain of more than $250,000 (for a single person, or $500,000 for a joint return). Of course, there are a few caveats: you must have used the home as your primary residence for two of the last five years, and you can only exclude the gain of the sale of a home once in a two-year period.

Real estate agents aren’t interested in what Zillow has to say

It’s easy to get excited when you log into Zillow, punch in your address, and see a sizeable “Zestimate” value of your home pop up. You may think that figure is a good place to start where pricing your home is concerned. Spoiler alert: Realtors don’t really care what Zillow says. They feel as though Zillow doesn’t accurately reflect things like local market trends, to give one example. So don’t get your hopes up just yet! Your real estate agent may toss out a sale price that is far less appealing than the Zestimate you’ve been eyeballing.

(Image credit: Zachary Zirlin )

Timing really is everything

While you might be able to sell your house any time of year, what time of year you list it largely determines how long it will sit on the market. Not to mention the amount of money you can get for your house from a buyer can change even month to month. Find a good real estate agent who can look at local market patterns and let you know when the most ideal time to list you house will be. For example, winter is a notoriously slow time of year to sell.

A pre-listing inspection is almost always a good idea

Again, file this under things everyone talks about when you’re buying a home but no one tells you about selling one. Yes, you will have to track down an appropriate home inspection professional, which costs money. But it pays to, well, pay someone to come take a closer look prior to the arrival of potential buyers. That way, you can head any problems off at the pass.

Start gathering every single shred of paperwork you have right now (seriously, go!)

When you sit down with a real estate professional, they’ll ask you a lot of standard questions about your home — many of which you know the answer to by heart, such as square footage. However, either your agent or the buyer’s will also wind up asking you a ton of things about which you haven’t a clue. Do you know if your home has an elevation certificate and, if so, what it says? How about flood insurance? Exactly how much does that run per year? How old is the roof? Have you done any home repairs? Oh, you did? Can I see the permits? Do yourself a favor and track down every single document or shred of information you can find about your house and store it together in a central location.

Open houses don’t actually do much for the seller

For as much hype as there is surrounding open houses, they don’t serve a ton of purpose for the seller. It gets bodies in the door, true. But a truly honest real estate professional will tell you that rarely do people who come to the open houses make the purchase. For the most part, it simply serves as a great networking event for your real estate agent.