Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question. Heidi from Bloomington, Indiana asks: Brian, we unexpectedly have to relocate for work reasons. We have about two months to make some important decisions about selling our house outside of Bloomington and relocating to near Chicago (almost 250 miles away). We are getting some financial help with the move but need to be in Chicago the first week of December. We don’t have any experience as landlords and we don’t want to deal with renters more than four hours away. We’ve decided to sell. Our house is in decent shape but we don’t have enough time for major projects this fall. The house goes on the market next week. My specific questions are what should we expect selling a house this fall and what can we do to improve our chances to obtain the best offer?
Answer. Hi Heidi. The good news is that selling this fall can be a good thing. The market is a little softer than this past summer but should remain fairly strong. Almost certainly a better market than the coming winter. Interest rates remain near historic lows and are expected to remain that way. The tough part is that the reason interest rates remain low is because the global economy is soft and southern Indiana has felt the impact. Fortunately, the Bloomington real estate market remains healthy. Going into the fall it still favors sellers. However, houses are staying on the market for about 60 days. So listing yours quickly should work in your favor.
On the down side, buyer sediment is weakening for several reasons. Affordability remains the biggest reason. Buyers continue having trouble qualifying for mortgages (even at these low interest rates) because of high prices. Bloomington has seen substantial increases in values over the past few years and price increases continue but at a slower rate. Although people aren’t fearing job loses, they are starting to hear more about how the economy could be weakening. Some think postponing buying could work in their favor. In fact, many houses in Bloomington are selling for about 15% less than the listing price. That doesn’t mean home prices are falling. It means that many sellers are listing prices too high. Some potential buyers aren’t making offers and those that do make offers are negotiating prices down. That slows down the sales process and some deals fall apart.
Heidi, for a sale in less than 60 days, your strategy should probably be to price your home competitive with recent sales instead of trying to squeeze the last few dollars out of buyers. You’re almost certain to sell at that price anyway. Why not make it a little easier on yourself by making the sale quickly during this time when your life is in some turmoil? You didn’t say, but I assume you’re also looking to soon buy a new home in the Chicago area. Even if you will rent for a year or so and have children, you’ll probably want to rent in a good school district, possibly the one you eventually want to buy in. Looking for a home in Chicago is also going to take time.
As you mentioned, you don’t have time for a lot of improvements but there are quick and simple things you can do to attract the best offers. Curb appeal is important all seasons of the year. Keep the lawn mowed and leafs raked up this fall. Even if you have to hire for this, yard maintenance is pretty inexpensive. Consider having the summer vegetation growth cut back close to the house and especially around windows. Potted mums and marigolds on the porch usually do well this time of year even in northern climates.
Inside your home, there are several simple things you can do. Decluttering is the best way to make your home look more attractive to buyers. Because you are moving soon, this works in your favor. Start packing early with a focus on opening up more space to make rooms look larger. Also, do your normal fall maintenance by having the HVAC cleaned and tuned up. Your real estate agent can use this for marketing that you house is well maintained and ready for the winter. Bad house odors become a bigger concern in the fall when we start closing the windows. You’d be surprised how many buyers are put off by bad odors that homeowners don’t even notice. Embrace the fall with pumpkin spiced coffee, cinnamon smells and even a scented candle or two (but don’t overdo the candles). Other things you can do inside are turn on more lights and start a fire in the fireplace. Also, ask your agent for tips about easy staging ideas that work best in your area.
Heidi, you’re going to face some difficult decisions during this hectic time when you are trying to get out of town. Try to make a few of those decisions sooner rather than later. An important one is whether or not you want to risk pushing the sale into the winter season. For people not under pressure to sell, this is an easier decision because they can postpone until the spring season comes along. The fall season is actually a good time of the year to sell. It does slow down some from the summer because buyers who wanted to be in a new home before the school year started are no longer looking. However, those who spent the summer on vacation and enjoying the outdoor weather are now ready to get serious about finding a new home before the holiday season. Buyers in the market will become fewer as the holiday season approaches. Knowing that should be part of considering any offers you receive in the next several weeks.
Please share your comments about selling in this fall, especially when the sale needs to be quick.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].