Selling a home is a stressful, emotional experience.
And the more you love the home you’re leaving, the more difficult the process can be.
In the spring of 2016, my wife and I sold our lovely 1928 ranch house, which was tucked into a quiet neighborhood of Glendale, California, and as luck would have it, that was a very good time to be selling a house in that area.
We held exactly one open house which lasted about three hours, and by the end of it we had more than half a dozen offers. Finding a buyer was the only easy part of the process, though I know how fortunate we were in that regard.
All the paperwork, the planning, the packing, and the roller coaster of feelings that came with the process were hardly made easier by the fact that the place sold quickly. In fact, the sudden finality of leaving made it almost impossible for me to appreciate the ease of the sale.
After the sale was completed, there was much more to do before we actually moved out. And there were many things I wish I’d known about the whole process before we even started it.
Here are the things I wish I had known before selling my house.
You’re not done spending money on the home until you walk away for the last time
Even after we had a signed contract with the buyers of our home, there were still many expenses we incurred beyond the basics like the electric and water bill.
We paid for a heavy cleaning after most of our packing was done, we had a pipe secured in the attic to meet local codes, and we made some repairs to flooring as well.
Frankly, I probably could have skipped these repairs and passed the buck on to the new owners, but it didn’t seem right to leave issues I, as the past owner and resident, knew were there awaiting attention. (Also, the thing in the attic was a contingency in the sale.)
If you have major repairs needed, factor that into your sale price, or at least be aware of the cash you’ll be spending on a home you will soon leave behind.
You can’t take it with you. None of it, unless you are very specific.
At first, I was upset by this revelation and wanted to specify a few furnishings that we’d keep. Ultimately, I realized that the fixtures in question either belonged in the home that chandelier was original to the 1920s; it’s only right that it stayed or probably wouldn’t work in our new home, anyway.
You will start to see the flaws in your home like never before
Every home has a hundred little issues the residents know about but don’t much mind.
There’s the chipped paint under the hand towel hook in the first-floor bathroom, the baseboard separating from the wall in the den, the high-hat out in the bedroom, and so on. We plan to get to these little projects at some point, and don’t really see them as flaws, just as facets of the home.
Then, when it comes time to sell, every little crack in the wall, dent in the floor, or chip on the counter becomes a massive eyesore you can hardly believe you tolerated for so long and that embarrasses you to no end to have others see. OK, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point.
Realtors are capable of making huge mistakes in listing prices
Our real estate agent had worked with home buyers and sellers in our region of Los Angeles County for decades, and I trusted her implicitly when it came to every aspect of the selling process.
She made things as easy as possible with bank, city, and county paperwork, planning the open house, recommending moving companies, and so on. But when it came to the price at which she advised we list, I just felt she was off.
Without going into specifics, I asked that we list for 13% higher than she recommended, which was substantial increase. We ended up selling for 22% more than her original number. If we had gone with her price, we would have been out the price of several fine automobiles.
I’ve gone to plenty of open houses, but only when my wife and I were actually looking to buy.
What we found is that many of our neighbors who had no intention of moving a few houses down the street came right on in as soon as our realtor opened the doors during our one open house. We weren’t home at the time, but several neighbors later told us how much they loved the interior, how they liked our furniture or art, and had various questions about the home they would never have previously asked.
It felt like an invasion of privacy and nothing but nosiness there was no reason for these non-buyers to be in the place. I’m not sure we would have staged the home differently or asked our realtor to try to regulate who came in and out, but it never occurred to me that people would essentially snoop around our house for fun, and I would at least liked to have known that ahead of time.
You will feel like a stranger in your own home after the sale is finalized
I loved my house in Glendale, California. It was the first property my wife and I owned, it’s the home to which we brought our firstborn child, it was filled with memories of friends and family, holidays and parties, first steps, first words, and so much more. I could walk through the rooms with my eyes closed, never bumping a wall or piece of furniture.
But after the house sold, for the 60 days we had left to live there, I felt uncomfortable in the place, this beloved home the was no longer truly ours. For us, the long post-sale period made sense, what with packing for a cross-country move and so many loose ends of life to tie up.
But if it makes sense logistically, I’d recommend you vacate much more quickly after the sale. Lingering in a home you’re leaving is a bittersweet experience at best.
The money goes fast
After the sale of our home, our bank account was briefly huge. We had paid off a good deal of the mortgage, and our home had appreciated fantastically in the half decade we lived there, so a massive sum was suddenly at our disposal. Except that we needed just about all of it to finish the construction of our new home on the other side of the country.
Having all that money in the bank made it hard to keep things in perspective as we finished the new home. “Sure, we were going to go with red oak for the floors, but maybe walnut would be better? Hey, it’s only $15 more per square foot .”
Fortunately, my wife is incredibly responsible with money, so the sale of the old home and the buying and building of the new property were almost a wash. But that false sense of being flush with cash might have led to foolish spending without her countenance.
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