Ask Brian: Sellers’ Conversations With Agents



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 askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question. Pamela from Lorain, OH asks: Hello Brian, this isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to selling my home. The last time I sold and moved was about 6 years ago. I like to think I get better each time I take on a task that I’m not very familiar with. I haven’t talked to an agent yet but based on other houses in the neighborhood I’m thinking mine should sell for about $130K. I’m planning to talk with 3 or 4 agents soon. I’d like to have a few basic questions to start the conversations. What do you suggest?

Answer. Hi Pamela, I think your approach is right on target. Whether you’ve sold one home or a half a dozen, it’s usually several years between each one. One of your first questions should be to simply have the agent refresh your memory about the overall process. You’ll probably recall the basic steps quickly so most of your time might be best spent asking if any rules and regulations have changed and what those changes mean to you as a seller.

After the regulations refresh, it’s wise to ask about your local market before diving into details about your home and circumstances. Ask questions like how long the average listing stays on the market and what types of homes are selling for the highest/lowest prices? There should be a lot of information about to your local neighborhood. Are 2, 3, or 4 bedroom homes most in demand? Do buyers want split levels or ranch style or basements (finished or unfinished)? But you don’t need to know everything about every sale for the past year. Focus on the information that is useful to you. You’re not going to be able to change your house from a one level to a two-story.

One thing you should ask know about the neighborhood is the general direction prices are going? You want specific information about prices for the past 3 to 6 months? And things like if purchase agreements have been full offers or less than the asking price? If a significant number have been less than asking price, you want to know how much less (5% less, 10% less)? At that point, ask the agent how his/her recommended selling prices have done (average list price to sale price ratio)?

Once you’re comfortable with the information about the neighborhood, you can get more specific about your own home. Assuming you aren’t in a position of needing to sell immediately, a good starter question is when is the best time to sell? Don’t be surprised when most agents say “right now” is the best time. But you should dig deeper. Ask why now is the best time to sell and then ask what to expect if you wait until fall, winter, or even next spring? A good agent should know how to sell regardless of the season of the year.

Now you’re at the point of determining how much to list your home for. But first Pamela… you probably want to discuss any improvements or changes the agent thinks would benefit your sale. These can be inexpensive and mostly cosmetic or major repairs. Each one of these leads to its own set of questions. If he or she suggests major upgrades, be sure you understand the costs and benefits for you. Major kitchen or bath remodel costs are seldom recovered in the sales price. You should gather a lot of information before making expensive decisions.

But there may be some repairs that you want to make even if you won’t recover the full cost. Start by looking at what you’ll need to include on your seller’s disclosure list. There may be issues that will scare most buyers away if repairs haven’t been made. The buyers who remain might want a discount beyond your cost to make the repair. More information is your friend here… as it is in most cases.

You will always have follow on questions. Some of these will come up before you’ve listed the home and some afterward. For that reason, you want to be confident your agent will be available to answer future questions in a timely manner. Some possibilities are:

  • Should I price my home higher in anticipation of negotiations?
  • How will you market my home?
  • How long is the listing agreement?
  • What commission do you charge?
  • Do you have preferred service providers to help with the transaction?
  • What happens if want to cancel the listing?
  • What closing costs should I expect?
  • What do buyers need to know about permits for shed and fencing that I added (and other improvements)?
  • How will you help me negotiate offers – especially low-ball offers?
  • Is a bank likely to require repairs that I’m not planning to make? What can be done about this?
  • Why aren’t buyers coming to look at my house?

Pamela, there aren’t any “dumb questions.” Only questions that you don’t know the answers to. People sell their homes so seldom that the only bad questions are the ones that don’t get asked.

Without a doubt, I’ve missed some important questions and information about the selling process. Your comments and insights on the subject will be appreciated. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.

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