At the present time I’m trying to sell my mother’s house, since she’s moved in with us. Even in a seller’s market, we seem to be having some difficulties getting a lot of attention for it. There are some things my wife and I have done that, in retrospect, might not have been the best things, while we’ve also “not” done some things that are perfectly legit.

It’s a scary proposition selling a home, even more than buying one. When you’re trying to buy a house, you don’t have any investment until you sign the papers. When you’re selling a house, you still have bills to pay regarding it, even if time isn’t of the essence. With that said, there are 5 specific things you shouldn’t do when trying to sell a house… in my opinion of course.

1. Don’t sign with a realtor you’re not comfortable with

The major problem we have in selling my mother’s house is that we don’t live in the area. Because of that, we didn’t know anyone to ask regarding finding a realtor to help us. We went through a service called Caring Transitions, which helps those who are moving their elderly family members out of their house with anything from figuring out what can be sold to donating to local charities. There are many of these throughout the country, but usually only one in a particular area.

In our case, the person who represents Caring Transitions in my mother’s area is also a realtor with the largest realty company in the city. Because she’s the only one we knew we signed the contract with her.

I’m not going to say it’s the worst decision we’ve ever made… I will say it’s an incomplete situation. We’re not even sure she believes in the property to market it properly. We don’t hear from her all that often, and most of the time it’s to send us links to other properties either selling or on the market in the area; we don’t care about any of that information, only our house.

In retrospect, I should have handled it like I do everything else, which is to call around and see if I could meet with someone to get a better personal feeling about them. The problem once again is not living in area, which means I had limited time. It turns out to be the most important thing we could and should have done; make sure you feel comfortable with the person you work with.

2. Don’t remodel the kitchen… just don’t…

The one message the realtor we’re using keeps giving us is that the few people who have come into the house are lamenting the “dated” kitchen. Nothing else has been addressed by her; this is irksome.

Yes, the kitchen is dated. When my parents had the house built in 1987, it was considered state of the art at the time. While Dad was alive, there were things my parents did to the house that many couples do in keeping the house “relevant”. Once dad passed away in 2002, Mom never had the energy to think about doing anything that didn’t have to be done… which includes updating the kitchen.

The kitchen is functional… other than the built-in microwave. The counter might be linoleum, but there are no marks on it and there’s a lot of counter space. We replaced the flooring throughout the house in a renovation phase, which means the floors are brand new. The cabinets are a dark wood color but there are lots of them and, really, will people turn down a house because the cabinets are dark? The only relatively new appliance in the kitchen is the refrigerator, but everything else works well, even if it’s not new.

Truth be told, kitchen renovations can be expensive. When I was writing for a real estate blog years ago, one of the recommendations was to renovate a kitchen only if you’re going to be living in it at least 5 years because you’ll never get back what you put into it otherwise. Thus, a good looking kitchen might help you sell the house, but it won’t increase the value any.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some articles which will add to what I’m saying:

When remodeling won’t help you sell your home

The Renovation Dilemma: What to Fix If You’re Selling

5 myths about selling your home

These 10 kitchen upgrades could ruin your home’s resale value

What to fix before putting a house up for sale

3. Don’t paint only part of the interior of the house

My parent’s family room had dark wood paneling. It made the room extremely dark, especially since there was no lighting other than lamps in there. Our suggestion was to paint the entire inside of the house so the colors would be uniform. The realtor suggested only painting the family room and the kitchen, since the spaces merged together.

We talked to a couple of contractors and realtors in our own area and every one of them agreed that painting the entire house made more sense, mainly because all the bedrooms upstairs were different colors. We were able to find a contractor in Mom’s area who ended up charging us the same amount of money to do the entire house that the realtor’s contractor was going to charge for just the downstairs. We didn’t save any money but maximized the effect.

4. Don’t let anyone negate something special you’ve added to the house

Half of the houses the realtor wanted to compare our house to had swimming pools, which she said increased the value of the house. My parent’s house doesn’t have a swimming pool; no one knows how to swim! What it does have is a sunroom, nicely renovated, and a space that can be used all year round as opposed to a swimming pool (we live in the northeast).

We asked the realtor if she could find other homes in the area that had a sunroom to compare to. She said none of the homes she knew of had one. We paid an appraiser to figure out the value of the house and he found 4 other homes that had sunrooms so he could make a good comparison of the worth of my parents house to. They weren’t homes on the market, which might be what she was looking for.

In his opinion, the sunroom added more value to the home than a swimming pool would have based on the home’s location. The realtor disagreed with his assessment, but he’s been doing assessment’s longer than she’s been selling houses. For my wife and I, it would be more valuable to us if we had one at our house than a pool anytime, especially knowing that people in our area could only use a pool possibly 4 months out of the year.

5. Don’t go with your gut even if your research seems solid… until you have to

I’ve lowered the price twice from where it started within a month of the initial listing. I did this because the research I did on my own suggested that the house was worth more, especially after the renovations I paid for.

Zillow suggested a price higher than I put the house on the market for. Other houses in the area had sold for more than what I put the house on the market for. Houses that sold just under what I put the house on the market for were smaller in square space, had smaller amounts of land, and didn’t have a sunroom… which I placed a lot of value on.

What I didn’t pay attention to was that most of the other houses that sold were newer than my parent’s house (it never occurred to me that a 30-year house would be considered old since my house is almost 60 years old), many of those homes had a lot of internal renovations, and there’s an intriguing bias against houses near what’s considered busy roads.

I listed the house for $17,000 more than the appraiser had suggested, mainly because his appraisal of the house was before we’d done anything and he said that was the price if we sold it “as is”. Since we ended up putting $17,000 into the house (the A/C – heating unit crashed while the contractors were there so we had to replace it), my thought was to go for the even swap… the one time the realtor disagreed with me where I should have at least partially listened.

The lucky thing for us is that we don’t have an immediate need to get the house sold, so we don’t have to think about lowering the cost of the house again for at least 5 months. The realtor (along with realtors I know in my own area) believes the market will pick up again after the new year, and we can easily wait that long.

Once again, what I should have done is asked a few more local realtors about pricing a home, even with all that I put into it. The house needed a lot of maintenance, which is why I replaced all the flooring, and I left areas like the kitchen alone because it didn’t need any maintenance.

Still, it’s hard figuring out exactly what to do because all homes and buyers are different. You can drive yourself crazy looking for the perfect thing to do. We might have fared better if we’d left the entire thing in the hands of the realtor… if we’d felt better about her to begin with (look at #1 again).

Research can only be so good, so in the end you still might have to go with your gut feelings, but at least you’ll feel better knowing you put the time in to try to get it right.

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