First-Time Home Seller’s Survival Guide: What to Know Before You List

published Sep 19, 2017
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

If you’re looking for advice on buying your first home, you’ll find no shortage of it. And for good reason, sure–buying your first home is a big deal. But, you know, so is selling your first home, and there seems to be far less insight about that equally important and just as stressful process.

Will selling your home be riddled with anxiety no matter what? Yeah, probably. However, there are things you can do and consider before you list that will certainly help lessen the stress of selling your first home. Here are 7 tips that serve as a sort of first-time home sellers’ survival guide.

Make sure you’re really ready to sell

This may sound super-obvious, but it’s one of those things that’s easy to gloss over when you’re swept away in the excitement of selling your home or buying a new one. If you love pros and cons lists, get your pen and paper ready! What are the advantages and disadvantages of selling right now? How long, realistically, can you handle having your house on the market? If you waver at all, you may want to consider alternatives like renting your house out or staying put for another year.

Start a home-selling savings fund

If you weigh the pros and cons and the pros win, start squirrelling away money right now. Before you can sell your home, you’re going to have to put some money into it – and this goes for everyone, not just those doing renovations. Little repairs like swapping out old light bulbs and changing air filters add up in the long run. If you have larger repairs to make or have decided to do renovations prior to selling, the upfront costs can skyrocket.

→ Here’s How Much It Really Costs to Sell Your Home

Get a jump start on your to-do list

Remember all of those little things we just alluded to? Do yourself a favor and start working on them before you meet with any real estate agents. If you know you’re going to sell your home, it’s a safe bet you’re going to have to do these things anyway – whether you do them before or after you meet with a real estate agent determines the size of your to-do list once they do their initial walk-through. Think: swapping old light bulbs/fixtures, changing air filters, cleaning (or hiring a professional cleaner), pressure washing, de-cluttering, landscaping, and painting if your home features uniquely bold hues.

Find a real estate agent you love

Just like the home-buying experience, finding a real estate agent you mesh with can make or break the home-selling experience. Meet with more than one agent from different firms to get a sense for their vibe. Don’t feel bad for deciding someone isn’t a right fit for you – selling your first home is stressful; selling it when you’re dealing with an un-communicative or abrasive agent is exponentially more so.

Study the market

Before you ever even sit down with a real estate agent, you might want to do some homework. Find all of the comparable listings in your area: homes with similar square footage, condition, age, environment, etc. It’s not even a bad idea to attend an open house or two of local comps to get a feel for what (if any) edge they have. You likely already know whether you’re in a buyer’s market or seller’s market, but also consider which way the market is trending in the near future. And when you do meet with your agent, ask for a CMA, or comparative market analysis. Since you will have done a lot of this legwork on your own, this will give you a good indication of the type of real estate agent you’re meeting with. It will also help you pinpoint your home’s fair market value so you can set the price accordingly.

Calculate profit-cutting costs

Yes, this is an entirely different category of expenses than pre-listing home repairs. Rather, this includes all of the costs that will eat into any potential profit you stand to make from the sale of your home. For example, if your capital gains will be greater than $250,000, you’ll have to pay a capital gains tax. There could also be penalties for paying off your mortgage (crazy, we know). Then, of course, you should expect to shill out up to 10 percent of your home’s sale price to cover your agent’s commission, closing costs, and other taxes.

It’s not personal

This sounds counterintuitive, right? How could it not be personal? It’s your first home, after all. But having this mindset is the only way to get through the home-selling process with your sanity intact. You’ll get feedback with every single showing, and sometimes it will sting. No one likes to hear that people hate the paint colors and décor choices they so thoughtfully curated (and adored, for that matter). It’s not easy hearing potential buyers prattle off about the improvements your home needs. However, if you don’t take it personally and you do digest their feedback objectively, you could very well find the perfect buyer for your first home.