What I Wish I’d Known about Selling My House
Effective agent shared the harsh realities.
Just about everyone knows the rules of real estate: "Location, location, location." How about "A real estate agent is an agent is an agent?"
I made up that real estate agent line. It’s totally untrue.
While all 29,000 or so members of the Ohio Association of Realtors presumably know how to place a home on the Multiple Listing Service, it is highly unlikely that every agent graduated at the top of his or her class.
There are good agents and – since I hesitate to say "bad" – I’ll just call them ineffectual. As it happened, I rushed into an unfortunate choice of agents late in the spring because I panicked about missing the summer selling season.
There were signs I’d made a mistake early on.
First, my agent asked me what price I’d like to set. So, I looked around the old homestead and recalled with great pain all the work and money I’d lavished on the place over the years, above and beyond mere maintenance. My home had graciously sucked up my disposable income, pushing the word "vacation" out of my vocabulary.
I’d recently had the kitchen renovated, put hardwood on the living room floor, installed Andersen windows in the dining and living rooms, painted ceilings and walls, and gotten new linoleum laid on the stairs to the basement. I even waxed the basement floor! Actually the waxing and some painting were the only things I personally did. Professionals did the rest.
After I took inventory of my expenditures, and reviewed my considerable affection for the results, I settled on a highly sentimental price, one that may have floated before the real estate bubble burst, but no more.
And my agent said, "Fine."
That was just plain wrong. An effective agent would have talked me down, conveying the realities of the current housing market. The agent would have toured my competition – or at least spoken with colleagues who had – and been able to articulate how my house compared, and what that meant to the pricing.
My home had a couple weaknesses, and I was well aware of them. I just didn’t like to acknowledge them. The carpeting on the stairs and in the upstairs hall was a tad shabby. And the peach and green tile in the upstairs bathroom and the pink toilet, sink and tile in the powder room were many decades out of vogue.
And 20 guests cannot gather in my kitchen to cook Thanksgiving together, as they do in ads for $4,500 Viking ranges. Yes, it’s small, not that it interfered with preparing for holiday dinners to serve 15.
I simply didn’t want to spend any more on the tile and carpeting, which I’d already changed twice in 20 years. And I’d done all I could with the kitchen – short of knocking out the front wall of the house and building an addition. It has granite countertops. Enough said.
So I told my agent, “If the next owner wants new carpeting and tile, that’s their business.” The agent didn’t even try to set me straight. The house went on the market with obvious flaws, yet priced as though it were perfect.
I wish I’d known that today’s buyer doesn’t stand in the living room, extend their arms to encompass the entire house, and announce, "Wow, I love this house! It sure has possibilities!" That’s how we did it in the olden days, like when I bought my house 20 years ago and every room was wallpapered, and all the wallpapers clashed. And the carpeting was 5-inch shag.
Buyers today – if they’re not looking for a handyman’s special – expect a house to be move-in ready, no work necessary.
"Spoiled" is the word I heard from a number of agents, but not my own. She was apparently unaware of this phenomenon.
As the summer sizzled by, a dozen or so would-be buyers waltzed through, said really nice things or noted the kitchen’s size, and moved on. There were relatively few homes for sale in my neighborhood "at my price point," as my agent put it, so I wondered why only one prospective buyer was interested in taking a second look.
I began to worry. After speaking with some very knowledgeable people in real estate, I knew I had good reason. My house was never ever going to sell without improving it some more and pricing it realistically – a euphemism for lowering the price.
It was around this time that I did some asking around and learned it is not against the law to fire your agent.
Late August, I started a new agent search, choosing to interview a few with impressive sales records. I selected one who radiated competence, yet had a nice way about her. Her sales record was stellar; she explained the market in a way I understood, and she was straightforward about changes my home needed required: The stairway carpeting had seen its day, as had the pink and green tile.
My new agent also spared me the misery of finding good people to do the work. She had names and numbers, and years of experience working with them. She made sure I was in good hands, and this was before I’d even signed with her.
Did you know that tile and porcelain fixtures can be painted with a really powerful epoxy paint that stays put for decades? I didn’t either. Now the outrageous tile colors are history, replaced by neutrals. Also, new wheat-colored carpeting was laid on the stairs.
For good measure, she suggested that my collection of fuse boxes be consolidated into an electrical panel. One of my breakers was a problematic brand, she said, and a buyer with an astute agent will know that.
A mere three weeks later, the house was ready to go back on the market at a new improved lower price. Yes, lower!
She gave me outstanding reasons for adjusting the price downward, and I understood them. There was no denying reality. The kitchen is, after all, still small; the bathrooms, while cosmetically improved, haven’t been gutted and updated from the studs up; and my house is on a border street – not good, she said.
There have been few showings since the changes, but this isn’t surprising in the "soft" fall market. My new agent had predicted this, so I’m not alarmed. She’s suggested that she’d like to take the house off the market in November, and put it back on in February, when the market traditionally heats up.
Whatever she says goes.