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Avoid these 8 mistakes when selling your home

house for sale
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house for sale
Lifestylevisuals/Getty Images

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Are you planning to sell your home soon? Whether you want to downsize, relocate or just take advantage of a hot housing market, you’ll want to avoid any missteps that could cost you money, time and hassle. There’s no need to make the process more stressful than it needs to be — or sell for less than your home is worth. Here, we’ll explore some common mistakes home sellers make, and how to avoid them:

  • Misjudging the cost of selling a house
  • Hiring the wrong real estate agent
  • Setting an unrealistic price
  • Failing to declutter and clean
  • Skipping professional photos
  • Limiting the number of showings
  • Listing at the wrong time
  • Selling without a real estate agent

1. Misjudging the cost of selling a house

It costs money to sell a house, and closing costs are typically the most significant expense sellers will incur. In 2021, closing costs nationwide were roughly 1 percent of the sale price, according to ClosingCorp. But this number could be higher or lower, depending on your state and other factors related to your transaction.

Closing costs aren’t the only expense to keep in mind, either. You’ll likely need to fork over cash to prepare the home for listing. Depending on its condition, some improvements or repairs may also be necessary to get the right offers and close the deal without a hitch.

2. Hiring the wrong real estate agent

Regardless of where you’re located, there’s likely to be no shortage of real estate agents. Selecting the right agent for you can be challenging, since there are so many options.

There are bad apples in every bunch, so it’s important to do your research. The agent you work with should be licensed to operate in your state, reputable and have experience selling homes in your area. Consider asking family and friends for recommendations, and interview a few candidates before selecting someone. And don’t forget to check reviews and ask for references. “Reviews from past clients say it all,” says Lisa Cole, a Berkshire Hathaway Realtor with the Michael Kaim Team in Cleveland. “Look for reviews where the clients truly felt taken care of in the process.”

It’s not uncommon to see some agents who offer deeply discounted commissions to earn your business. But taking advantage of what seems to be a good deal could be costly for you as a seller. “Discount agents are looking for a quick sale to get a quick paycheck,” says Cole. “They are likely not putting the time and money into the proper marketing. And they are likely discounting the commission offered to a buyer’s agent, as well, which will result in fewer buyers looking at your home. Other agents don’t want to work with them.”

3. Setting an unrealistic asking price

Most sellers want top dollar for their homes, making it tempting to set a high asking price right from the start. However, adopting this strategy may lead to less than favorable results. Pricing too high runs the risk of scaring away what could be solid potential buyers. Plus, if there’s low buyer interest, an overpriced home will sit on the market longer, possibly costing you even more money — or requiring a price reduction.

4. Refusing to clean and declutter

Potential buyers want to stroll through your home and imagine that it’s their home. Unfortunately, that’s hard to do if it’s a mess, or if they’re distracted by an abundance of someone else’s family photos and personal items.

“Sellers underestimate the value of a spotless home,” says Cole. “A clean, decluttered home drives the price up in the buyer’s mind. They can envision themselves living there. They have more peace of mind, and that leads them to make a more solid decision to move forward.” Don’t overlook the little details, either: “It pays to clean the exterior of your furnace, hot water tank and AC unit as well,” she adds.

5. Skipping professional photos

It’s quick and easy to take snapshots of your home with your phone. But it’s a practice that Cole says sellers should avoid, as amateur-looking photos can hurt your chances of attracting the right buyers. These days, most shoppers look at listings online before visiting in person, and a good first impression is crucial.

“Spend the money for professional photography — it makes all the difference in driving buyers to your home,” she says. The more buyers that look at your home, the more it creates a sense of urgency, which can lead to more offers generated.

6. Limiting the number of showings

The thought of having strangers check out your home while you’re still living there is a major turn-off for some sellers. Some even limit the number of showings to minimize foot traffic, and some who are always on the go don’t have much time to make their home available for showings. Whatever the reason, says Cole, a home with limited showings likely won’t attract top offers. Try to be open-minded about visitors and do your best to make room in your schedule to accommodate buyers — after all, the more people who see the home, the more people there will be who might want to buy it.

7. Listing at the wrong time

Sellers sometimes have to sell ASAP due to circumstances beyond their control, like a sudden job change or the death of a loved one. But if you’re not in a big hurry, it’s smart to be strategic about when you list. To maximize profits, some times of year are better times to sell than others.

“In spring, inventory is at an all-time high, which means there is more of a supply, and you tend to sell for less,” says Cole. On the other hand, buying activity is typically stronger in spring and summer, so there are more buyers out there looking than there are in the winter. Every local market is different, so be sure to consult with an experienced local agent about the best times to sell in your area.

8. Selling without a real estate agent

In a real estate transaction, it’s generally the seller who pays the commission — to both their agent and the buyer’s agent. The amount is typically between 5 and 6 percent of the sale price, split between both parties. So, trying to sell your home on your own to save money can be tempting. However, this approach may cause you to miss out on a sizable profit, particularly if you don’t have extensive real estate experience.

“Many times, sellers leave a lot of money on the table,” says Cole. “A qualified agent with good negotiating skills can list your house [appropriately] and negotiate with other agents or buyers to deliver that price to you. Additionally, when buyers see no agent is involved, they immediately think they can lowball you because you are not paying a commission.”

Bottom line

Selling a home can be stressful and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Avoiding these costly mistakes, with the right real estate agent on your side to help navigate the process, makes it easier to find the right buyer and sell for top dollar. The commission you’ll pay for their services is well worth the headaches you’ll avoid.

Written by
Allison Martin
Allison Martin's work began over 10 years ago as a digital content strategist, and she’s since been published in several leading financial outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, Experian and Credit.com.
Edited by
Senior real estate editor