12 mistakes to avoid when selling your house

woman and child packing bedroom to move

Learn how to sell your house without extra headaches

By Emma Lazo

In this article

  • Not clarifying your goals
  • Underestimating the value of a real estate agent
  • Choosing an agent who’s not right for you
  • Thinking the online value for your home is legitimate
  • Selling your home during the winter
  • Expecting buyers to love your style
  • Overlooking things you’re used to
  • Using amateur photos
  • Trying to hide issues
  • Making it difficult for buyers to tour your home
  • Glancing over the details of the offers you receive
  • Waiting to plan for your next step

There’s so much to think about when you decide to sell your home. From choosing a listing agent who has your best interests at heart to accepting the offer that makes the most sense for your goals, listing your home is a daunting process. Most people know that clutter in a listed home is the enemy. Beyond that, do you know where to start when you’re thinking about selling your home? Avoid these twelve common mistakes to give yourself a smoother experience from listing day to closing day.

Points to remember

  • Everyone has their own reasons for selling their home and goals for what to get out of it. Make sure you’re clear on what you want and that your agent does, too. 
  • While looking at home values online is easy, the prices you find there aren’t consistent. You’ll get a more accurate valuation when a real estate pro weighs in it in addition to available data. 
  • To get the most proceeds when selling your home, it’s beneficial to make some improvements, such as updating to neutral wall colors. Address small issues that you’ve gotten used to ignoring. If there are big issues, repair those before listing your home or, at least, disclose them to potential buyers. 
  • Make sure you understand all the nuances of the offers you receive. There’s more to think about than price! 
  • Figuring out what’s next for you should be one of your first steps. Do you know where you’ll be on the day someone new moves into your current home?

Mistake: Not clarifying your goals

People who want to sell their homes usually fall into one of two categories: (1) those whose lifestyle changed to where their current home no longer suits their needs and (2) those who are motivated by the potential to make a profit from selling their current home.

The pandemic has been a prevalent reason for lifestyle change as people now work from home and need more space, especially condo owners. Other lifestyle changes, such as a growing family or new pets, also result in homeowners wanting more or less outdoor space, interior square footage, extra bedrooms, and more.

If you’re selling your house because of a lifestyle change, it’s best to consider how quickly you can sell it over your net sale proceeds. If you’re selling your house because of a lifestyle change, you might consider how quickly you can sell it over your net sale proceeds. When you need to make a change because your home no longer works for you, moving along quickly might be more important than getting the absolute highest price.

If you’re selling mainly to make a profit, think about exactly how you’ll use that proceeds. Do you want to rent next, instead of owning? Are you planning to re-invest in another property? If you’re looking to buy again, are you seeing listings in your target neighborhoods that also meet your home search criteria?

Once you identify your priorities and next steps, you’re ready to connect with a real estate agent and see if their strategies meet your goals.

Mistake: Underestimating the value of a real estate agent

Here’s a common question among first-time home sellers: Can I sell my house without a real estate agent? The answer is, technically, yes. Some people choose to sell their home without an agent.

If you do, remember that you’ll be responsible for listing and marketing the home yourself. You’ll also have to negotiate with the buyer’s agent. Note, too, that it’s not free to sell your home yourself. Among other costs, the seller is typically responsible for paying the buyer’s agent, usually about 2.5-3% of the home’s sale price. 

Working with an agent to sell your home typically means paying them about 3% of the sale price. What do you get for this cost? The short answer: EXPERTISE! 

A listing agent spends their daily life understanding the local market. They’re experienced at pricing homes using a combination of: (1) science (what the market tells them) and (2) skill (what they know from experience about buyer behavior and what they understand from your goals).

They know what is and isn’t worth doing before putting your home on the market. They know how to make your home shine and attract buyers. They negotiate home prices and deal terms on a regular basis and may even have an existing relationship with the agents who submit offers for your home on behalf of their clients. Lastly, they understand the complicated paperwork involved in closing on a home sale, so they can ensure that your deal goes smoothly. 

Mistake: Choosing an agent who’s not right for you

Treat your first meeting with a listing agent as if it’s a job interview. It’s important to choose an agent who you believe will work hard for you, and who understands your goals and priorities. 

While friends and family may refer real estate agents who they’ve worked with in the past, it’s beneficial to do your own research to find the right one for your situation. Look at online resources that show how many homes an agent has sold recently. You might also look for homes similar to yours in your area and take note of the agents who are selling those homes. 

Before a listing agent even visits your home, you can suss out whether they’re good at listening to your needs. 

Here are a few questions you might want to ask: 

  • How many homes have you sold in the past year? Ask for a list so you can take a look at the homes online as well. You’ll be able to see if they sold at, above, or below list price. 
  • How quickly are homes selling in my neighborhood? This question will help you understand if they’re familiar with market ups and downs, and with your specific area. 
  • What should I do now to prepare to sell my home? Even before they’ve evaluated your home in person, an experienced listing agent should have tips for you. 

Trust your gut about whether or not the agent understands not only the real estate market but your individual needs and reasons for selling.

Mistake: Thinking the online value for your home is legitimate

It’s tempting to type your address into a search bar and get excited (or disappointed) by the value that pops up. However, these numbers aren’t meant to be trusted in isolation. Generally, your home’s value as a buyer sees it falls somewhere between the lowest and highest you’ll find online on different sites. 

Why isn’t the home value on a website trustworthy? Because it comes from an algorithm that’s not able to make judgement calls. 

In order to understand the value of your home in the current market, you need an expert to evaluate it and tell you more than just a ballpark selling price. 

An expert home valuation can help you understand: 

  • The overall value of your home and an estimated price per square foot
  • Recent sales of similar homes in the area
  • Walk, bike, and transit scores for your area
  • Nearby schools and their ratings
  • The methodology used to find this information

Does your home value look a little too low? Remember that buyers ultimately determine the value of the home at a given moment. Real estate agents often say that a home is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. When you list your home, buyers will respond with offers or not. If necessary, your agent will recommend a price adjustment based on the market’s response. 

Remember, too, that home values fluctuate. In particular, seasonality has a major effect on home prices. January through March is when buyers typically start touring more homes, and they typically buy more from April through August, pushing prices up. Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is traditionally a slower time for home sales as people tend to focus on holiday celebrations, so prices could be lower.

Flyhomes offers free home valuations.

Mistake: Selling your home during the winter

snow covered wooden house near trees
Winter is the most difficult time to sell a home. Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com.

While the market changes from one year to the next, seasonal trends tend to hold true. Winter, especially during the holiday season, is usually the least active time in the market and, therefore, can be a difficult time to sell a home.

Of course, there are buyers in the market year round. Just like you need to sell in the winter, someone else needs to buy. Talk to your agent about how to set your expectations accordingly. It may take longer for your home to sell than it would at another time of year, so it’s important to list your home strategically. 

Keep your eye on local real estate market reports to understand what to expect in your area at a given time. Each month brings new data around how fast homes are selling, how much buyers are paying over or under list price, how many homes are available to buy, and more. Getting used to following these trends will make you confident that you have a true sense of the landscape when it’s time for you to sell. 

Mistake: Expecting buyers to love your style

black table lamp on nightstand
Neutral wall colors make it easy for buyers to picture their style in your home. Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash.

Your home reflects your personal style. If you want to live with wild blues and vibrant yellows, go for it! That is, until you’re ready to sell.

When buyers look at photos of your home (and when they tour virtually or in person) they should be able to imagine themselves living there. While something like paint color isn’t difficult to change, it makes a huge impact on how people perceive the home. 

Prepping your home to sell is a key step. One tip: a neutral palette gives you the advantage of making it easy for other people to imagine their furniture, art, and decor in the space. Agreeable Gray from Sherwin Williams is often looked to as the top choice of home stagers. 

Most people don’t want to deal with repainting their entire home while they’re also dealing with all the other tasks of selling a home and moving. For that reason, you might consider living with neutral walls that allow you to express your style with furniture or accents that can move out before a stager sets up your home for buyers.

Mistake: Overlooking imperfections

We all have little things in our homes that we’re used to ignoring. Maybe there’s that scratch on the wall from moving your bedroom set years ago, or your kitchen faucet needs to be twisted just so before it turns on. 

Look at your home through the fresh eyes of a buyer who’s touring it for the first time. Assume that they’ll notice―and judge―everything. What you’re used to might be what turns them off from submitting an offer.

Your agent can help you prioritize what to take care of before the photographer arrives. The list will likely include items both inside and outside the home.

One of the most important aesthetic changes you can do is have all matching appliances. The brands don’t need to be the same, but the colors should be. Buyers can be turned off by things like a stainless steel fridge with a white dishwasher.

Mistake: Using amateur photos

Listing photos are the buyer’s window into your home. As they scroll through the online images, they’re getting a first impression that helps them decide if they want to take your home seriously. It’s important to come off as well as possible, so they take that next step to actually tour the home. 

Use professional photos of your home that include unique features of the home, like the view. It’s smart to take photos at different times of day. It helps potential buyers understand both daylight and nighttime looks, especially when considering the home’s exterior. Outdoor lighting is often overlooked but can really help a home stand out.

You likely won’t have to do the legwork to get stellar photos taken. Most agents include professional photography and even 3-D virtual tours with their listing packages. They work with trust service providers who have done great work for previous clients. This cost can be part of the listing fee you pay after your home is sold.

Mistake: Trying to hide issues

Your agent may recommend a professional home inspector to inspect your home prior to listing it. Addressing any issues early on can help with list value and avoid surprises later if a buyer conducts their own inspection. Making your home inspection report and repairs list available to potential buyers could also prevent them from including an inspection contingency in their offers.

Even if a pre-inspection doesn’t happen, an inspection will be done before the sale closes. At this point, you’ll either be able to fix issues, price the home lower to accommodate fixes you know will need to be done, or simply disclose the issues and let buyers decide if they’re willing to fix them (many states have disclosure rules you can’t get around, anyway). 

Remember that some issues―such as mold―may not be safe for you to live with and will need to be addressed soon after they’re discovered. While other issues may not need to be fixed before listing, being up front about what needs to be fixed will give buyers a reason to trust you.

Mistake: Making it difficult for buyers to tour your home

Living in a home while it’s on the market can be a nuisance. However, planning to make your home more available for buyers to see it will help the process go quickly and smoothly. 

Some sellers move out of their home prior to listing, making it easy to stage the home and for potential buyers to come and go.

If you need to live in the home while it’s listed, connect with your agent on what to expect regarding tours. It’s likely that you’ll need to respond to urgent requests in the evening, and you may be asked to clear days for open houses.

Along with vacating your home so buyers can see it, remember that you’ll need to keep the home in great condition while it’s active. Buyers are likely to open cabinets, closet doors, and the refrigerator. Make a plan to keep it tidy and clean, and ask your agent what else you can do to make it more appealing.

Mistake: Glancing over the details of the offers you receive

At first blush, you might think the highest priced offer is obviously the one to accept. Remember your priorities! Is moving quickly important to you? If selling your home fast is at the top of your list, maybe you’d prefer to accept an offer that’s a few thousand dollars lower but closes a few days sooner. 

You may receive both cash offers, where the buyer has the funds to pay for your home right away, and financed offers, where the buyer is getting a mortgage loan. Many sellers prefer to accept cash offers because they come with more certainty, tend to close quickly, and help avoid contingencies. Cash offers avoid the risk of the buyer not getting the loan they’re counting on and eliminate issues if the home’s appraised value is lower than the offer price. 

Every scenario is different, and your agent can help you understand the nuances of multiple offers that you receive so you can compare them and choose the one that’s truly best for you. 

Mistake: Waiting to plan for your next step

Where will you go once your home is sold? If you’re buying another home, do you have the funding to cover two mortgages at once? Do you need to buy before you sell? 

To avoid a sticky situation, these questions are all ones to think about well before your home is listed. The closing process once your home is sold typically takes at least 30 days when you accept a financed offer, but at that point it’s too late to make big decisions comfortably. Your agent can help you think through them while you’re still considering whether or not it’s the time to sell your home. 

If you need more time in your home, you and your agent might consider asking the buyer for a rent-back agreement. In this scenario, they’ll agree to let you stay in the home after closing for a fee. If you want to be settled in a new home before listing your current one, they may have a solution such as the Flyhomes Buy Before You Sell program. 

FAQ about selling a house

How do you start the process to sell your house?

Many people start by browsing online listings of similar homes in their neighborhood. While this can help you get an idea of the price your home might sell for, note that online prices aren’t as trustworthy as home valuations that come from real estate professionals. Once you’re serious about selling a home, choose a listing agent after interviewing a few to gauge their experience and expertise in your local area, as well as how well they listen to your personal goals. 

How can I increase my chances of selling my house?

Working with an experienced listing agent who regularly sells homes in your local area will give you a great chance of being successful in selling your house. They’ll help you think through your list price strategy, tackle a list of to-dos to make your home look its best to buyers, understand the offers you receive, negotiate with buyers’ agents, and work through the paperwork to close on your home. 

What is the best way to sell a house?

Different people have different goals, and the best listing strategy for you will depend on what you prioritize. A listing agent can help set expectations about how to achieve different outcomes, such as selling fast or selling for the highest possible price. 

What do I need to do when selling my house?

First, you need to be clear about your own goals and priorities for selling the house. Then, you need to choose a listing agent who can help you navigate the rest of the process. If you want to, you can start to prep your home for sale even before finding your agent. 

How much money do you get when you sell your house?

After you pay the fees associated with selling your house, such as agent fees and closing fees, you will receive the equity you have in the home. If you bought the home with cash, this will be the purchase price (less the costs associated with selling). If you have a mortgage loan, it will be the difference between the purchase price and the amount you owe on the loan (again less the selling costs).

About the author: Emma Lazo is Brokerage Product Manager at Flyhomes and a licensed real estate broker in Washington state. She has led teams of agents and developed successful strategies for homebuyers and sellers. At the time of publishing, her annual sales volume is approximately $20,000,000.

Cover photo image by HiveBoxx on Unsplash

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