Pricing a home for sale is not nearly as simple as most people think. You can’t base the price on what the house down the street sold for. You can’t depend on tax assessments. Even automatic valuation methods (AVMs), while useful for a rough estimate of value, are unreliable for purposes of pricing a home for sale.
AVMs, like those used by Zillow and Eppraisal, have been used for many years by banks for appraisal purposes. They are derived from algorithms based on past sales. But producers of AVMs agree that they are not accurate indicators of home value. For example, Zillow.com states, “Our data sources may be incomplete or incorrect; also, we have not physically inspected a specific home. Remember, the Zestimate is a starting point and does not consider all the market intricacies that can determine the actual price a house will sell for. It is not an appraisal.”
So what does Zillow recommend sellers do instead? The same thing the real estate industry has been advising for decades: Ask a real estate agent who knows your neighborhood to provide you with a comparative market analysis. To accomplish that, I typically consider the following factors—plus others, depending on the house:
The location of your home will have the biggest impact on how much it can sell for. Identical homes located just blocks apart can fetch significantly different prices based on location-specific conditions unique to each, including: traffic, freeway-access, noise, crime, sun exposure, views, parking, neighboring homes, vacant lots, foreclosures, the number of surrounding rentals, access to quality schools, parks, shops, restaurants and more.
Recommendation: Be willing to price your house for less if it’s located in a less desirable area or near a neighborhood nuisance.
Another major factor that also can’t be controlled is your local housing market (which could be quite different from the national, state or city housing markets). If there are few other homes on the market in your local area (a situation known as a “sellers market”), you may be able to set a higher price. However, if there’s a surplus of homes like yours for sale (a “buyer’s market”), your pricing will also reflect that.
Recommendation: If it’s a buyer’s market and you can delay selling your home until things change, you should consider doing so. If you can’t wait, be willing to price your home extremely competitively, especially if you are in a hurry to sell.
The majority of buyers are not looking to purchase fixer-uppers, which is why any deferred maintenance and repair issues can also significantly impact the selling price of your home. When your home’s condition is different than the average condition of homes in your location, AVMs tend to produce the widest range of error.
Recommendation: Hire a professional home inspector to provide you with a full, written report of everything that needs upgrading, maintenance or repair, then work with your real estate agent to prioritize the list and decide what items are worth completing before the property is listed for sale, and what should be addressed through a lower list price. Also, some defects are best addressed during negotiations with buyers.
If you want to sell your home quickly and for the most money, you have to make it as appealing as possible to the largest pool of prospective buyers. The more universally attractive it is, the greater the interest and the faster competing offers will come.
Hire a professional home stager (not a decorator) to temporarily stage the interior of your home. Also spend time making the exterior look its best: address any peeling paint, make sure the front door/ door hardware is attractive, prune bushes and trees, remove old play equipment and outdoor structures, etc.
The only neighboring homes that should be used to estimate the value of your home are those that have been carefully selected by a real estate professional with special training, access to all sales records, and in-depth knowledge of the neighborhood.
Recommendation: If you’re considering selling your home, ask your real estate agent to recommend a professional appraiser.
When working with a prospective buyer, most real estate agents will search the available inventory only for the homes priced at (or less than) their client’s maximum, which is typically a round number. If you home is priced slightly above or below that amount (e.g., $510,000 or $495,000), it will appear in fewer buyer searches.
Recommendation: Be willing to adjust your selling price to maximize visibility.
Periodic price adjustments
Pricing a home isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposal. As with any strategy, you need to be prepared to adapt to fast-changing market conditions, new competition, a lack of offers and other outside factors.
Recommendation: After listing your house, be ready to adjust your asking price, if necessary.
According to two recent surveys that took industry watchers by surprise, many family homeowners are putting frugality aside and upsizing to new houses that average as large as 2,480 square feet (an increase of as much as 13 percent from the year before), and sometimes exceed 3,500 square feet in size.
Meanwhile, millions of baby boomer homeowners are rushing to downsize—with some 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 saying they’re planning to make a move within the next five years.
It’s a tale of two very different segments of the population making dramatic shifts in their living accommodations to find the housing solutions that best suit their needs: one upsizing while the other downsizes.
With so many baby boomers now nearing retirement age (8,000 Americans turn 65 every day), it should come as no surprise that the number of prospective “downsizers” exceed the number of “upsizers” by three to one. With their children gone, these aging homeowners are interested in reducing the amount of house they need to care for, and are eager to bulk up their retirement savings with any home-sale profits.
As for why many families are choosing to upsize so substantially after years of downsizing or staying put, experts point to the extremely low interest rates and discounted home prices available today, and theorize that many families now feel confident enough about the economy to move out of homes they outgrew years ago.
If you’re considering upsizing or downsizing, here are some facts to consider:
How such a move can impact your life
The most common benefits of downsizing:
- Lower mortgage payments
- Lower tax bills
- Lower utility bills
- Less maintenance (and lower maintenance expenses)
- More time/money for travel, hobbies, etc.
- More money to put toward retirement, debts, etc. (the profits from selling your current home)
The most common benefits of upsizing
- More living space
- More storage space
- More yard/garden space
- More room for entertaining/hosting friends and family
- Upsizing will likely increase your living expenses, so it’s important to factor into any financial forecasts
- Downsizing will require that you make some hard choices about what belongings will need to be stored or sold
Other impacts to consider:
- The loss of good neighbors
- Lifestyle changes (walking, neighborhood shopping, etc.)
- The effect on your work commute
- Public transit options
Buy first, or sell first?
Homeowners considering this transition almost always have the same initial question: “Should I buy the new home now, or wait and sell my current place first?” The answer is dependent on your personal circumstances. However, experts generally recommend selling first.
Selling your current home before buying a new one could mean you have to move to temporary quarters for some period of time—or rush to buy a new home. That could prove stressful and upsetting. However, if you instead buy first, you could be stuck with two mortgages, plus double property tax and insurance payments, which could quickly add up to lasting financial troubles.
If you need to sell in order to qualify for a loan, there’s no choice: You’ll have to sell first.
You could make the purchase of the new house contingent on selling your current home. However, this approach can put you in a weak bargaining position with the seller (if you can even find a seller willing to seriously consider a contingency offer). Plus, you may be forced to accept a low-ball offer for your current house in order to sell it in time to meet the contingency agreement timing.
The truth is, most home sales tend to take longer than the owners imagine, so it’s almost always best to finalize the sale, and do whatever is necessary to reap the biggest profit, before embarking on the purchase of your new home.
When to make the transition
Ideally, when you’re selling your home, you want to wait until the demand from potential buyers is high (to maximize your selling price). But in this case, because you’re also buying, you’ll also want to take advantage of any discounted interest rates and reduced home prices (both of which will fade away as the demand for homes grows).
How will you know when the timing is right to both sell and buy? Ask an industry expert: your real estate agent. As someone who has their finger on the pulse of the housing market every day, they can help you evaluate the current market and try to predict what changes could be coming in the near future.
Even if you’ve been through it before, the act of upsizing or downsizing can be complex. For tips, as well as answers to any questions, contact a Windermere agent any time.