En español | We're a mostly stay-put nation: Nearly half of American homeowners 50 and older have been in the same residence for 20-plus years. Which means that when it finally comes time to move on, you should be prepared for some sticker shock. Selling a home costs a lot of money, often as much as 10 percent of the sales price. But you can reduce that with a little negotiating, planning and do-it-yourself taskwork. Here's the lowdown.
As far as fees go, these haven't changed much. The seller is typically responsible for paying commissions to both the listing agent and the buyer's agent. These will total 5 percent to 6 percent of a home's selling price, usually split equally between the agents. On a $300,000 home, for example, that means $15,000 to $18,000.
How to save. Ask. Nearly half of recent home sellers pushed for a lower commission — successfully so 55 percent of the time, according to estimates. You can often get a listing agent to lower her commission, for example, if you agree to use her as your buyer's agent when purchasing your next home.
If you're willing to tackle some of the work that goes into selling a home, hiring what's known as a hybrid broker can help you curb your agent fees. Hybrid brokers, such as Houzeo and Xome, offer à la carte services — like advising on a listing price or hosting open houses — instead of charging a percentage of the home's selling price. Houzeo, for example, charges $180 to produce professional photos and a video tour of your home.
How to show your home's best side
Make a good first impression
- Paint the front door a bright, cheery color.
- Weed and mulch all beds.
- Patch up bare spots in the lawn.
- Fill cracks in the driveway.
Let it shine
- Hire a cleaning service for a top-to-bottom scrub.
- Polish the stainless steel in your kitchen.
- Wash your windows.
- Open curtains and raise blinds and shades.
- Replace light bulbs as needed; turn them all on.
Spiff it up and clear it out
- Paint rooms, preferably in neutral tones.
- Declutter, declutter, declutter: Take half your books from shelves, half your art from walls and half your clothes from closets. Put it all in a rented storage locker.
- Depersonalize: Remove all family photos, religious artifacts and politically fraught displays.
- Thoroughly clean and organize the garage.
You'll want to fix up your home before you put it on the market. Even a minor flaw, like a leaky faucet, can dissuade potential buyers from making an offer. Unfortunately, that means you could be facing some hefty bills. A common rule of thumb is to budget at least 1 percent of your home's value annually for maintenance (you may need to at least double that for an older home). If you've been procrastinating on basic fixes, your catch-up costs could be in the thousands.
How to save. It pays to be a diligent homeowner over time, fixing problems as they emerge. But if you've neglected the small stuff, consider focusing on the flaws that would be most noticeable during showings, like hairline cracks, which a professional can fix for about $50 to $330. “You have to prioritize where you put your money,” says Julie McDonough, a real estate agent in Southern California. That said, don't hide significant flaws, and be sure to disclose issues in writing. You could be liable for not disclosing defects if you misrepresent the health of your house.
Presale home improvements
About 3 out of 4 home sellers make at least one home improvement before selling. According to a Houzz survey from a few years ago, people preparing to sell their home spend an average of $36,300 on renovations.
How to save. Unless parts of your house are certain to scare away buyers, skip the interior makeover. None of the 22 home improvements Remodeling magazine analyzed in its “2020 Cost vs. Value Report” fully recouped the homeowners’ investment when they sold their house. Instead, put money toward sprucing up the exterior. According to a recent study by the University of Texas at Arlington, homes with high curb appeal sell for an average of 7 percent more than homes that look less inviting from the street. To add a pop of color, you could pay a professional landscaper to install a flower bed, which can run from $300 to $3,000, depending on the size of the garden, HomeAdvisor reports. And while the landscaper's at it, get a full yard cleanup and some mulching, too.
Don't know the term? Today it's common to remove most or all of your possessions and replace them with rented furniture, art and rugs that show your home in a more contemporary and neutral way. After all, you're not trying to sell someone your old house — you're trying to sell someone his or her future house. In a survey by the National Association of Realtors, 17 percent of sellers’ agents said staging a home increases its dollar value between 6 percent and 10 percent. But staging costs can add up: Furnishing a 2,000-square-foot house can cost around $2,000 per month.
How to save. Rather than stage your entire home, stage the rooms that have the greatest impact on home buyers, recommends Chris Dossman, a real estate agent in Indianapolis. “The living room and kitchen are the most important,” she says. Staging two rooms would cost roughly $900 to $1,300 per month.
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While buyers cover most closing fees, which amount to about 3 percent to 4 percent of a home's selling price, sellers typically pay closing fees of 1 percent to 3 percent, in addition to agents’ fees. That's $3,000 to $9,000 on a $300,000 home. These fees cover expenses like attorney fees, outstanding property taxes and transfer taxes.
How to save. Although it's customary for sellers to pay a portion of the closing costs, you may have room to negotiate a lower contribution right now because it's a seller's market in most cities around the country. Sellers often pay for the buyer's title insurance policy (called “owner's title insurance"). That item, usually a onetime expense averaging $850, is something you could ask the buyer to pay for.
There are three key factors: How much has to be moved (often measured by weight; a household with lots of big furniture, books and appliances can weigh over 15,000 pounds); the distance of the move; and whether what's being moved includes fragile valuables. In general, though, the average cost of a basic move ranges from $550 to $2,000 for distances up to 100 miles, with an additional cost of up to $60 per hour for labor and another charge for insurance. A longer-distance move will usually run you between $2,000 and $7,500, according to move.org, a quote-comparison site.
How to save. You can cut out a professional mover altogether by renting a mobile storage container. “It's pretty seamless,” Dossman says. “It's delivered to your home, you load it up with your belongings, and the company transports the container to your new home.” One company offering this service, Pods, says most of its local moves cost between $535 and $1,975, while long-distance moves generally cost between $1,535 and $5,475. That includes both the container and moving it to the new location.
Daniel Bortz writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications, and is a real estate agent.