Help! I Want to Sell My Home and Don’t Know How to Start…

One of the most stressful things we do in our lives is to sell the family home.  It affects so many core parts of our world.

♦Financial (“will I get enough money?”)

♦Physical (“I have to get it ready and how do I ever start?”)

♦Legal (“how on earth do I go about a contract or finding the deeds to the house’)

♦Emotional (“I have all these memories here?”)

♦Personal Angst (“what if no one likes my house”)

♦Trust (“Oh wow – I am handing this all to a complete stranger and hope they will do the right thing by me”)

You are not alone.

A trusted real estate advisor does more than just rock up to an open house and hold the door open for buyers. The selling process can start several months before the first buyer even hears about the home.

So here are a couple of stories of people, just like you, who didn’t know where to turn, or how to start, and here’s how a real estate agent can help:

♦ 70 something year old couple Mr & Mrs S. had lived in their house for nearly 40 years and were ready to downsize and have a more manageable garden. They had no idea where to start. We recommended a local solicitor to begin the contract of sale. The house was basically in good condition and had recently been carpeted and painted so no tidy up needed.  Just some specific advice about decluttering, changing the bedding to a fresher, more youthful style, moving some furniture around to increase floor space visibility. Small changes to increase the saleability. Took down the heavy curtains and the nets. We arranged a photographer to take photos and to also measure the house for the floorplan. We discussed strategy and whether auction or private treaty would work best and some advice about the best, cost effective places to advertise. For these clients, no newspaper and private treaty – an advertised price. We achieved their dream price in the first four weeks.

♦ Mr and Mrs D. had a rental property with a sitting tenant who had given notice. We helped the tenant organise to move out to make it as pain-free as possible for the tenant, organised a pest and building report so the out-of-area owner knew the shortcomings of the home and had the rotten deck repaired. They wanted to paint but we advised it wasn’t necessary. Suggested the massive bush at the front door be cut back to let in more light. Styled with a local company, photos and video done for this one. Auction for this one and lots of internet advertising. Sold in the first week.

♦ Mr. H. owned a small 2 bed rental unit and had some ‘harsh’ tenants. We organised the holes in the doors to be patched, the damaged carpet to be replaced and the walls painted (I even brought my own outdoor furniture and cushions to decorate the patio as the home was now empty of furnishing.)  Advised against a new kitchen. The owner wanted a quick sale so we advertised to our extensive data base before the work was even finished. Sold at the first open house.

♦ Mr & Mrs M.  owned two neighbouring properties both used as occasional weekenders, both very stuck in the 80’s. We organised a colour consultant, painter, carpets, gardener, tiler, electrician and handy man. Plus, a styling company and four months of careful hand holding later it was ready to go to market. Even though we didn’t recommend big changes, this owner wanted everything done to a high quality and replaced the dishwasher, the stove, the benchtops, the tiles, the toilets and the shower fittings. A big cosmetic freshens up which helped both properties far exceed the original expectations.

♦ Mr T.  loved his immaculate cottage which was firmly placed in the 70’s. He had an image of how the house once was and was not interested in changing a thing. We assisted with referrals to solicitor and he let me move some of the furniture around. No paint, no new carpet, no fancy stylists, no video, no signboard, no open houses, he wanted to write the advertising copy. I took my own outdoor furnishings, blankets, cushions for the bed, even a pot plant and lamp to help style the home. After a few weeks of gentle encouragement, he trusted me enough to write the copy for him and invite a few people in to see the home. He was thrilled with the result, as was the new purchaser.

♦ Mr & Mrs E. owned a weekender cottage. Little. Unassuming but crammed with 25 years of holiday furniture. And no closets. We suggested moving out some of the furniture and arrange for a removalist quote, and a tip run. They decided to take everything out and we helped with a styling company to bring in a fresh new look. No newspaper advertising, this one sold at auction for dramatically over the reserve.

So massive remodel on one end of the spectrum, to sweeping the front step on the other end, your agent should be trusted enough to advise you how to maximise your result.  Sometimes you don’t need to paint or recarpet because it won’t bring you in any more money.    Sometimes you just need to rearrange the furniture a little and trim back that one shrub.      But call in the agent even before you think it necessary because that big reno you are undertaking just to sell, may not be needed at all.  And whether you need a solicitor, a painter, a landscaper, a handyman, a cleaner, a styling company, a carpet quote, an exterior house washer, or just to think things through your trusted agent will supply all that and more.

And don’t forget, if you are after some advice, do not hesitate to call me on 0438 802 648. I have a myriad of contacts, and experience of course!

Buying My First Home Part Two

Missed Part One? Click here

So you’re ready to get serious.

Talk to the agent of the property you are interested in and tell them you want to make an offer, subject to your due diligence. Your due diligence is anything at all that YOU need to satisfy you that the property is sound and that you have found ‘the one’.  It can include a pest and building report, confirmation of your loan approval, whether there are sufficient funds in the strata sinking fund, if the swimming pool is approved, if the climate suits your orchid collection – anything at all that would be material to your purchase.

Feel free to start a little lower with your offer.

Don’t be ridiculously insulting, and allow the process to move your price upwards if necessary. I mean, yes, the agent works for the vendor but they also don’t get paid unless the deal comes together. Talk to the agent about a reasonable price to offer.  A good agent will help both sides get what they want.

There are typically three prices…

“OMG I am thrilled I got it for that”,  ‘That’s fair and reasonable price’ and  ‘I am not paying another cent’ price. Hopefully you end up in the middle of those ranges. Fair and reasonable. Remember you will have closing costs – stamp duty and conveyancing fees to consider, moving and relocating costs and possibly some redecoration back up cash. The seller doesn’t care about any of ‘your’ costs so don’t feel these are items to help you negotiate. You should have all those costs in your allocated budget.

Don’t obsess about overpaying.

Everyone wants a steal but its unrealistic. Markets go up- and markets go down. You will have done your homework at this point and know where relative value sits. Don’t dig your toes in over $5,000… The vendor AND the buyer have got to walk away satisfied or the process doesn’t work. $5,000 extra on the mortgage will be pennies a day, but it might pay off the marketing package for the vendor which could allow them to move ahead. Its none of your business how much “they” are making on the transaction! If they are making a massive profit or making sixpence, that’s their business. (You wouldn’t pay extra if they were making a loss, would you!) Hopefully you get an amazing house for an amazing price – but don’t hang your hopes on that scenario.

Back to due diligence.

Do make sure you organise a pest and building report to make sure the property is structurally sound, or a strata report to make sure there is enough funds in the kitty and that there are no scary issues with the building. This is usually done in the cooling-off period once the offer has been accepted. Again, be reasonable. If you are buying a 28 year old house, have some expectation that it won’t be a brand new property. You want it to be ‘as expected’ for a property of that vintage. Talk to the inspector too. Sometimes their written reports cover their butts so extensively that it looks terrifying. Verbally they may be more human.

Happy with the reports?

Once you are satisfied, and with consultation with your solicitor, you then pay the balance of the deposit (typically 10% but sometimes you can negotiate to 5% of the sale price). This generally occurs after the cooling-off period has expired, and you are ready to proceed. This is when the sale becomes an ‘unconditional sale’ and the settlement process begins. Remember, whatever deposit you pay at this point, you will still owe 10% if you default between now and settlement. The deposit is held in trust by the real estate company and handed to the seller once settlement has occurred. In New South Wales, typical settlement is 42 days, but anything can be negotiated between the buyer and the seller – BEFORE you sign contracts. If you want more time after contracts have been signed, the vendor might say yes – but they might say no too, and you have no leverage.

Key points to remember:

  • Sort your finances out and save save save!
  • Know what your borrowing capacity is before you start looking, shop around, but also find a good broker that will do the work for you
  • Do your research on the area, agent, current market, everything!
  • Utilise the agents in the area, they (should!) know the area like the back of their hand
  • Remember to take into account extra costs eg stamp duty, conveyancing fees, etc
  • Don’t skip on your due diligence, this may bite you in the behind!
  • Organise a pre-settlement inspection with your agent

Buying a house is daunting – but its the best feeling once you receive the keys to your first home.  Good luck!

Buying My First Home Part One

I’ve recently spent time with my 20- something nieces and nephews and realised they know little about how to go about buying their first house. So, if you are 20-something (or 30-something or even 40-something!) and have a vague idea about stepping on the property ladder, here are a couple of directional arrows.

Start off by sorting out your credit history.

If you have accumulated a massive credit card debt or owe some unresolved student debt and are getting snarky letters, you will have to smooth some of that out. I’m not talking about legit HECS debt, but rather the mean emails that make you cringe. Just stop getting lattes and UBER eats, and pay your bills down. Or preferably, pay them off. And make saving a lifelong habit.

Talk to a financial person about your loan.

This might be changing imminently but in Australia, every sensible person goes to a mortgage broker. You don’t pay them anything (the bank does) and you should be able to find a better loan than you would on your own. They might also have an alternate loan source that you wouldn’t necessarily have explored. And don’t go to six different banks trying to see if you can beat them – every time your credit is checked there is a flag left on your credit history. If a bank sees you have tried to get a loan with five different financial institutions and are now trying theirs, you might find this reflects poorly for you. A mortgage broker will also be up to date with any governmental rebates or first home buyers grants available to you. This could save you tens of thousands of dollars.

Once you have a clue about how much you can borrow start to do some online research.

Don’t be precious about what suburb just yet, just spend some computer time and learn where you can and can’t afford. There is simply no point in setting your heart on the suburb your parents live in, if they have been climbing the property ladder for 45 years and have a mansion on the beach. Be flexible, be reasonable and think a bit about resale and future growth too. You don’t have to be a property guru to know this. If you are the only person in the world who would be okay living next to the city dump, you will probably find this doesn’t bode well for your future capital growth (or profit on the value of the property).

Search the ”sold” portion of the website you are using.

The For Sale section is really a ‘wish price’ for the seller.  The Sold section is actual achieved prices. Not always the same thing and make sure you toggle to put the sales into recent date order. You want to see what sold two months ago, not in 2011.

When you have worked out what sort of area you are interested in, start to hit a LOT of open houses.

Real estate agents don’t care. If they have bothered to open the front door, you are welcome there. Just mention that you are early in your process, not yet qualified and doing some research. Real estate agents – despite the press – are generally helpful and useful sources for you.

Get into as many available properties as possible.

You must stand in the living room, check out the natural light, the location, the outside of the building if you are buying a strata or body corporate home (unit or townhouse). There are some things you CAN change (the grotty lino in the bathroom, the green paint in the hallway) and some things you simply cannot change (the big hill blocking all the sun through the winter, the roar of cars from the freeway). Start to get a feel for what is your non- negotiable, and what could be your compromise items. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your handsome prince.

Be a bit flexible at this point.

Yes you may have to put in a new kitchen eventually, or redo the carpets but could you suck it up and live there to start with? And when you bring along your mother/best friend/ auntie to ask for their opinion, be mindful that they have not slogged through all the rotten apples so have nothing to compare it to. They think there are there to ‘be the voice of reason’ and I can’t tell you how many excited first-time home buyers get discouraged when their well-meaning cousin points out a hairline crack in the stucco outside and disparages the whole property. You will get a property inspector to tell you about the structure and any faults. You don’t need Aunt Hildas input.

Click here to head to Part Two!

Bad Bathrooms and other You-Have-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me Real Estate Photos

Sometimes the competition makes me look amazing because they are so bad.

Its no surprise that good photographs are the first step to attracting quality buyers to a property.Get the light right.  Move the furniture around a little.  Get rid of the clutter.  Frame the image well.  This all helps to attract a prospective purchaser. 

.I have even been known to take my own lamps, throws and cushions to enhance a property, and if you scroll through the photos of a few homes I have sold, you might see the same coffee table re-occur, and that’s mine.  And yes, that pillow turns up a lot. Not every family can afford to bring in a full professional styling crew, so I will help where I can. See my blog about hiring a professional stylist.  Always worth the cost.

I use a professional photography company I trust implicitly to shoot great images for me, and then to balance with colour and light for the finished article.   No photo shop but careful editing.

 So here’s my question..  Do you think THESE agents put terribly much thought into their photos. (yep, these are real photos taken from real estate web sites)  

Firstly.  The Feature Toilet.

I mean, sure its hard to take an elegant photo of a loo, but really!  Would you bother (and if you did bother, please take away the cleaning products. And trash can.

Pay no attention to the man behind the flash.

Apparently they’ve got a few spare items in this bathroom, not least an amateur photographer.

Shower curtain and towel, not included

Not sure about the flowery bit on the side either

Mirrors make everything look bigger

The toilet roll next to the bath is handy too.

Be wary of damp clothes after your shower

I suppose the wardrobes must be lacking in this home?

Have a chat

When you really, really can’t wait to talk to each other

DO not enter with a hangover

Nothing worse than stumbling into this with a headache.

Another agent who doesn’t know how mirrors work

Really my friend?  Really?

No.  Just No.

Too creepy for words. (and they don’t belong in the bedroom either)

Teenagers may have been here earlier

But Muuuuuuuummmmm.  I’ll clean it later.

So many choices. So little time.

Described as a Family home, I suppose?..

No, don’t worry. There will be plenty of pink pai….

Could you at least move the bleach?

I am sure these homes saved some cash by DIY-ing everything, including the photography.  And No, I am sure it didn’t cost them a penny!  But you know what they say –  pay peanuts, get monkeys. (although that may be an improvement)

Stories from the Trenches: Real Estate is not for the Faint Hearted

I totally understand that real estate agents have a bad reputation historically all over the world, not just in Terrigal or North Avoca.  I’m not so sure I understand it but certainly there has been room for improvement over the years.

Hopefully the industry has pulled its collective socks up and real estate is now heavily legislated and all the shonks and scoundrels have changed professions (into local government perhaps?…!)  Hopefully now, every buyer and seller is well treated and every client is made to feel special. Especially by real estate agents in North Avoca.

But you know there is another side to the coin… How the Agent is treated?

My very first listing appointment in real estate I rocked up to the apartment building, ready to conquer the world and to appraise the property of an older gentleman who I had met at an open house.  It was a good quality apartment building – high end price bracket and just across the road from the beach.  I thought this was going to be the launch of my stellar real estate career.

Little clip-board in hand (well, yes, this was a few years ago now…) I rang the doorbell and went up to the fifth floor. The unit door opened and I was greeted by his excessively hairy gray chest peeking over the top of his shortie robe… ugh.   He lounged suggestively on the couch while I commented on the view.  For those following along and not gagging, I kept my eyes on his eyes, signed the paperwork and listed and sold my first property. Not in Terrigal but in Santa Monica, but I am sure this same vendor exists on the Central Coast.

You would think that would be my first and last experience of vendor in a state of dis-robe – but yet, no, sadly it has happened more than once.

When I arrived for an open house in Terrigal (nicely 6 minutes early admittedly) for my gorgeous but slightly eccentric 75 year old lady, she shouted through the closed door that she wasn’t quite ready.  She threw open the door, then toddled off completely nuddy leaving me at the front door watching her retreating rear.  Starkers, I tell you.  What is that old joke about “I don’t know what she is wearing but it needs ironing?”…  I called her from the driveway from then on.  And yes, sold that one too.

I’ve been abused by tenants, unhappy that THEIR home is being sold.  That’s tricky because it turns out the home OWNER has some say in this matter.  Tricky.  I know its not the tenants property but it is their home so the piggy in the middle agent has to tread a fine line.

I have had a North Avoca tenant refuse to let me in for scheduled open houses, and one who deliberately left dirty dishes and dirty clothes, including grundy undies, everywhere to put off buyers.  This backfired horribly by the way, because the investor who ultimately purchased the property wanted these slobs out of his new property.

One tenant with a very large, barky dog tell me to let myself in… “if I dared” (I didn’t dare) and another who just sat there watching really loud television with his two room-mates for the duration of every open house.

I have had prospective clients insist on meeting me on National Holidays – then just not show up when I have left family BBQs to get to the office in time.  Buyers furious they didn’t secure the property because they weren’t the highest bidder.  (Which offer do you think the vendor wanted to accept?)

Mostly I think my career is a matter of Do Unto Others –  treat others as you would like to be treated. Not that hard really. Especially in North Avoca and Terrigal.  We are all decent folk.

So a synopsis:  put your clothes on.  Pick your knickers up if you know strangers will be walking through your house.  Take your snarly dog out for a walk on North Avoca beach or Terrigal dog park.  If you arrange to meet me,  show up or reschedule.  Make your best offer if you don’t want to lose out.  And if you are renting and the person who owns the house wants to sell, be gracious and allow them to sell THEIR home.

Do Unto Others.  Simple.

7 Minimums of Standard You should expect from your Real Estate Agent

What is fair and reasonable when you are weighing up expectations for your real estate agent?

I mean we all make assumptions of our phone company ( Get good reception… Not have to wait on hold for twenty minutes) and of our schools (Nurture and protect our children, help with socialisation. Educate, right?) but what are our expectations of a real estate agent?

Mostly I think it’s the Do Unto Others policy.

Just treat others as you wish to be treated.

  1. It’s reasonable to expect they will give you good advice regarding the presentation of your home.

We agents have seen hundreds of houses, probably many many more than you have, and we should have a good idea of what is, and what isn’t, desirable to a buyer. And more importantly, what is not acceptable to a buyer, which is a completely different thing.

Obviously this depends on the home. A buyer seeking a luxurious home in a multi-million dollar price bracket will have different expectations than a first-time home owner at the lower end of the price spectrum.

Expect your agent – or a good agent – to help guide you. Generally neutral colours are desirable.  Holes in walls, bad smells and dangerous structures are not. And for the love of Moses, get rid of those bad smells!

  1. It’s fair to expect they will hire a professional to take photos of your house. Gone are the days of happy snaps on an iPhone.  If all of your competition -that’s what all the other properties on the market are to your house-  if all the competition hires a professional photographer and your agent clicks a quick shot of the bedroom on his phone, which photo do you think the buyer will gravitate to on the internet?

Even subconsciously they will choose the well balanced, light adjusted professional shot. And videos are now a compelling and cost-effective way to showcase a desirable house.  Expect this to should be an option available to you. And not just a series of still photos spliced together with music. That’s not a video.  That’s a series of still photos spliced together. (With music.)

  1. It’s fair to expect they will expose your property to the greatest possible market, within the confines of your budget.

If you are able to pay for a sky writer to spell out the address and inspection times, great!  But the vast majority of clients simply want their house exposed on the internet, in print ads, some people want sign boards outside, a video, some flyers distributed, an active data base contacted in a timely manner.

 Pretty much, where they themselves look for property when they are searching.  A knowledgeable agent should guide you here.  It’s not the same for every home and you should expect your agent to tailor the marketing to your house and budget.

  1. It’s reasonable to expect your agent will protect your asset (and all the little assets lying around).

When welcoming others into your home, its fair that you should have an expectation of due diligence and that the potential buyer is not walking around with a spray can and marking all the walls.  Similarly, that the same stranger is not riffling through your drawers or pilfering your jewellery box.

You would rightly assume that your agent is paying attention to who comes through the house, taking names and contact details and is monitoring their behaviour.    I mean, obviously don’t leave $50 notes on the counter top or your diamond earrings on the bathroom bench.

Let’s be smart about this. Your agent should ask someone to finish their dripping ice cream before they go in, and to rein in those four running and screaming rambunctious pre-schoolers. (Honestly, who goes house shopping with four kids under the age of five? Find a babysitter for three hours!  And if you have four under five and find a baby sitter, you might choose a nap or a pint or two of wine instead of an open house.)

  1. When the agent receives an enquiry, it’s fair to expect they will contact those enquiries within a reasonable amount of time and accelerate that interest.

It would not be fair to expect your agent to go to the house at six o’clock on a Sunday morning or 10:30pm at night to accommodate a buyer who can’t be bothered to give up their lunchtime to view the property. But emails and phone calls?  Its fair to assume your agent will contact those buyers in a timely manner- say within a couple of hours. (We do sometimes have other business to attend to.)

And inspections? Sure, sometimes it’s possible to accommodate after hours inspections but most agents also have lives outside of their career.  It’s true I have responded to an online enquiry at 1:05am but frankly that was more to do with a movie marathon ending at that time, than a regular enquiry check-up.

  1. I think it’s fair to expect that if you interview and hire “X agent” then THAT is who you are hiring.

Sure, all successful agents have people on staff to help manage paperwork or assist with back end admin work.  But to meet all buyers, attend all open houses, negotiate all offers? – that’s your agents job!

Not to sign you up under false pretenses, then fob you off to all the minions while they rush off and sign up the next one.  Even writing the description… How can someone who has never stepped into your house, adequately describe the benefits of your particular property.

So for me, I think it’s fair to expect that your hired agent is the face of your property.  (This is a contentious issue with the bigger agents –  they will suggest that when you have a medical problem the surgeon is the one who does the actual surgery and a big team does all the rest.  But this is not brain surgery.  And one poor comment made by an assistant, or a badly run, sloppy open house, can cost you thousands.  Or the right buyer.Make sure you get the person you hired.

  1. The greatest asset your agent brings to you is their ability to negotiate, it is fair to expect they will negotiate like Mandela on your behalf!

True, we are not trying to stop war or free people, but a good agent should be able to negotiate to achieve an extra little bit of gravy on top of the meat and veg.  $1,000, $22,000 or $63,000 – this push to extract the last few dollars is what separates a good agent from a sign stuck in your front garden saying ‘For Sale by Owner’.

And don’t be fooled but the budget companies that have sprung up. Many charge a flat fee and could care less if you get $50,000 lower than market value. And how would you ever know?

I once sold a house for $1,617,250.   The extra $17,250 made little difference to the buyer once it was added to his home loan, but made a lot of difference to the seller who was retiring and moving to his last home.  The buyer should walk away feeling like they got a good property, not a great deal.

Your property is most likely your biggest asset  (besides your children of course).  Your service expectations should be met, possibly exceeded.  A good agent cannot change the market to get you a fabulous price – but they should be able to effectively manage the process to get you a fabulous result.

Why settle for anything less?