By Liza N. BurbySpecial for Newsday
Edy Nathan lived in his French colony in Port Washington for 30 years and had never sold a house before. When she decided to put the house on the market in July, she figured the newly remodeled bathroom and workout room in the basement were enough selling points to quickly move the four-bedroom home. Against the recommendation of her real estate agent, she kept her red dining room, bay window bathroom and coral bedroom ceiling.
“It surprised me how negatively people reacted to any kind of color,” says Nathan, a psychotherapist in private practice who is leaving the area. In July, two weeks after the house failed to receive an offer, it took it off the market to follow the advice its agent had given it in the first place: paint neutral. (Typical cost for a paint job is around $300 per piece).
Ines Ramirez-Heitner and John Heitner of Rockville Center bought their five-bedroom home in 2010 before the birth of their children, now ages 4 and 8. But because it’s in a very busy area, they decided to move. Last summer, Ramirez-Heitner tried to sell the house herself, using her experience as a digital marketing consultant and hoping to save the agent’s commission.
“But then I realized that, as familiar as I was with listing things on Facebook Marketplace, there was no way I could control everyone who came in to qualify,” she says. “We realized we had to trust the experts to list and help us manage the influx of people with questions about the house.”
Nathan and Ramirez-Heitner were both first-time home sellers, so they had no idea what to expect, how to prepare to put their homes up for sale, and more importantly, what potential buyers would be looking for. These days, buyers’ wish lists typically include updated kitchens, finished basements, and home offices. They ended up relying on their agents to guide them through the process.
First-time sellers made up 31% of all sellers nationwide in 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors.
For new sellers, agents advise following specific advice on what makes the process easier during the pre-listing phase, while your home is being presented and when you close a deal with a buyer.
Ideally, about six months to a year or more before you put the house on the market, have a real estate agent review and report affordable updates and any potential issues, says Kelly Forman, real estate consultant at the office of Daniel’s Long Beach. Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. This includes decluttering to make rooms more open.
“It’s also a good time to clean out the basement, the attic, all your little cubes,” says Joyce Roe, agent at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Farmingville. “Plus, these are all areas you’re going to have to clean up to move, so you’ve got a head start.”
And you might consider hiring a home stager, with costs starting at $250 for a consultation and running into the thousands for furniture and fixture rentals.
Another important preparation step is a pre-listing consultation with a home inspector, especially if you’ve been living in your home for a long time, Forman says. Typical fees for a 3,000 square foot home are around $550. “It’s not a full inspection, but they look at your utilities, roof, foundation, and electrical issues. They give you recommendations on things that will affect the engineer’s relationship with the buyer.”
One benefit is that it can flag issues that not only interfere with a buyer’s loan, but can also be a diversion, says Tanya Negron, a licensed associate broker at Marylou Swan Realty Corp. in East Patchogue. “It can make a buyer wonder what’s wrong with the house. The buyer needs to have the house inspected, so you’ll have to deal with it anyway.”
Taking these steps helped Ramirez-Heitner follow recommendations on what to bring up to code, such as adding a chimney cap. “We also decluttered and had a professional landscaper cover the bushes to make them look good for the pictures, things we weren’t aware of,” she says.
The couple listed their home in July and had a buyer in August for $799,000. They are waiting to close on a nearby house.
At her agent’s suggestion, Nathan also gave up her office to turn it into a living room and converted a four-car parking lot she had used for patients into 1,200 square feet of backyard. When she put the house back on the market in September, it sold in two weekends for just under its asking price of $1.259 million.
Nathan said the process was helpful. “It was actually disorienting. But then I realized it was a good thing because it gave me some distance, which I needed to let go of the house,” she says, adding that she was able to enjoy his new yard until moving day, a bonus.
The presentation scene
Have a plan of what to do during the open house, as well as during viewings, as it is recommended that you are not at home when potential buyers show up. Most agents will try to give 24 hours’ notice, although Negron says that in this hot market, buyers are sometimes keen to view a home with a few hours’ notice. Having a good relationship and open lines of communication with your agent helps relieve stress because they’ll fit into your schedule, she says. “Usually you’re moved for 15-20 minutes.”
Another stressor is making sure your kids and pets are out of the way and your lived-in home looks empty. You’ll want to stay on top to make sure the beds are made and the kitchen sink is clear. This is the time when you can’t really live your life in your house like you usually do, says Negron.
Nathan says it was an adjustment having to take his dog, Ziggy, out of the house for each exposure, as well as conducting sessions with patients from his car. “It’s kind of a move, but if you’re selling your house and you have someone who wants to see it, that’s not a choice.”
Ramirez-Heitner also found it difficult to care for two young children, a puppy and her home business during this time. “You get into a groove after those first two firsts,” she says. “Knowing it was a temporary situation helped us get through it.”
The contract stage
The good news? Negron says this period is usually short and should last around 10 days in today’s market. Once you’re under contract, you can stop making the bed.
But just because your house is shrinking fast doesn’t mean you’re going to move fast. Typically, you have 30 to 90 days before closing to wait for the buyer’s mortgage commitment letter from the bank.
Roe says this period of waiting for the closing date can be nerve-wracking. “Usually you would only know within a week when you were closing, and it’s really difficult for salespeople who have to coordinate the logistics of moving.”
Negron advises sellers to accept that delays are likely. “It may seem very painful and stressful,” she says, “but it will happen.”
And something that can help you overcome all the uncertainties? Start packing.
Setbacks to watch
Unexpected legal issues can slow the sale — or derail it altogether, says John J. Breslin Jr., a Huntington attorney and real estate appraiser. Before you even put the house on the market, try to gather all the paperwork you can, including the mortgage and original documents from the purchase, such as the survey, deed and title information, as well as COs (certificates of occupancy).
Here are common setbacks to watch out for:
- Look for COs for decks, finished basement, dormer or extra bathroom. This could mean anything from installing a new septic tank to converting a basement to its previous state that doesn’t have a legal outlet or proper ceiling height.
- Find out if there are old mortgages that have not been satisfied or do not have the associated documents.
- Check that the survey still represents what the property looks like and that there have been no changes to the perimeter, such as the addition of a fence.
- Find out about any easements or rights of way, such as a common driveway, and find the supporting documents.
—LIZA N. BURBY