by Tirza S. Wahrman, Realtor, Gloria Nilson & Co., Princeton Junction
We all know this to be true: your home is your most valuable asset.
In today’s slowly recovering economy, with home values finally rebounding, many homeowners who read this article may be sitting on investments where they can realize substantial gains. Interest rates are beginning to inch up, but still, they remain historically low; housing inventory in the Princeton-West Windsor-Plainsboro-Montgomery communities is low. And buyers who may have sat on the sidelines are entering the market. Will home prices continue to rise? No one can predict the top of the market; but with supply low, in the immediate and near term, as 2014 begins, conditions favor sellers.
Here is a handy checklist as you begin the process:
1. Plan early — It is never too early to start winnowing out the things you store in your garages, basements and closets. If your daughter’s old report cards are in a box in her room, put them in storage or send them to your daughter if she is no longer living under your roof. Or create a scrapbook that you can put away.
2. Assemble the documents you will need — Do you have a copy of your deed? If not, you can search for it online at http://records.mercercounty.org if you live in Mercer County. County staff are helpful and generally responsive. Do you have product instructions and/or warranties for your appliances? Put them in a folder so they are readily available.
3. Select a realtor you are comfortable with — Selling a home can be an emotional process. Sellers are sometimes unrealistic about their homes. Recently, I was at an open house where it looked like every family photo ever taken was on the walls, everywhere. The realtor apologized to me on behalf of the sellers. The home was lovely; but the large number of photos and family mementos was so overwhelming; it obscured the wonderful features of the home.
Select a realtor who will go to bat for you and level with you every step of the way. In the end, such a relationship will help you maximize the return on your home. You get what you pay for. Commission rates are negotiable and vary from transaction to transaction. Don’t get caught up getting the best rate on a transaction worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; select the realtor that will give you the best service.
4. Find a lawyer who specializes in real estate transactions — As someone who has practiced law for many years, it is distressing to see lawyers handling transactions in which they do not have expertise. Do not hire your cousin because she is a lawyer in town. Often your realtor can provide the names of lawyers who specialize in residential estate transactions.
As a try out for a lawyer who you are considering for your transaction, see how quickly your phone calls are returned. A good lawyer will have her office get back to you within 24 hours. If the office assistant tells you your lawyer is in a meeting or out of the office, ask when is the best time to reach them. Good lawyers respect persistence.
5. Do a home assessment before you list your home — Shakespeare told us: “To thine own self be true.” New Jersey has strict requirements that apply to sellers and a sellers’ disclosure must be completed when you put your house on the market. Does your basement become wet in severe rainstorms? Has your home been treated for termites?
Sellers are expected to disclose known defects when they complete a sellers’ disclosure form. This should be prepared and reviewed carefully well in advance of your listing your home. If you have set aside a rainy day fund to address such problems, you should use it if you can. In these times of tight inventory, you will in all likelihood get the money you spend back in a higher sales price.
6. How do I price my home? The most valuable service that a realtor will provide at the outset will be to help you assess what the value of your home is. A realtor has excellent tools, based on recent home sales, to help you price your home. Markets are dynamic and ever-changing.
What if your realtor runs a comparative market analysis, comparing your home to similar homes that have sold over the past six months, and you list your home, and no offers come in? A good realtor will be willing to reassess how your home was priced. We don’t always get it right; and when we don’t, we can adjust the price, if we have to, to get the sale.
7. Home inspections have grown more rigorous — Once you are under contract, the buyer has a right to conduct an inspection of your home. This can be a challenging process. By some estimates, 50 percent of contracts of sale do not proceed to closing. Why? It is often because of issues that arise unexpectedly during a home inspection.
Common problems that arise: a standard contract of sale will contain a warranty that all appliances are in working order. Is your washing machine not working? If it isn’t, a diligent home inspector is likely to find out: he or she will run the washing machine during a typical home inspection. You have the option of selling your home with appliances in “as is” condition; but, studies have shown that your home may be more discounted in value with this condition, then if you were to sell your home with “working order” appliances.
With Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene still present in our collective memories, one recent example of an undisclosed problem comes to mind. I was on a home inspection with my buyer, and as the inspector surveyed the basement, my buyer opened a storage cupboard that was flush to the floor. When it was opened, the carpeting that had been hidden by the closed cupboard was wet to the touch. Did the seller know of this problem? He claimed not to; and perhaps he didn’t. The home had been vacant for several months. What did the parties do? After a long series of negotiations, the seller agreed to hire a professional waterproofer; this was a prudent decision at a time when our state is increasingly wet and subject to severe weather events.
Typically, the seller is expected to either provide a credit for repairs or undertake repairs before the closing on the home. What if the time required to complete the repairs is longer than the time left before the scheduled closing? The parties can arrange a credit to go directly to the selected vendor who is undertaking repairs; and your lawyer should make certain that a repair must be accompanied by all required permits, which include payment of permit fees.
Township staff are available to help you through this process; and alerting them in advance to repairs that are part of the negotiation process is a prudent move and likely to help you in the prompt processing of the paperwork that must accompany a permit.
8. Remove yourself and your pets (other than goldfish) from your home when it is being shown — Recently, I took prospective buyers to a home where two caged dogs were in a mud room, continually yelping for attention. Nothing can be more distracting to a buyer. Yes, it is an added expense to board your pets or take them out when your home is being shown. But, remember you are selling your home without your beloved pets; don’t let them get in the middle of this important transaction.
Best of luck, and if I can be of assistance, please contact me.
Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate, 826 Alexander Road, Princeton (our Princeton Junction office). Cell phone 973-222-8394; office 609-750-2020; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate: Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate, owned by Dick Schlott, has serviced the most discerning buyers and sellers of residential real estate in New Jersey for more than 35 years with 20 offices and more than 700 sales associates throughout the State. Their expanded family of services, including residential, commercial real estate, mortgage, title and national relocation, provides clients with valuable, customizable full-service support when buying and selling property. The company’s unwavering commitment exemplifies their core mission of providing superior customer service and real estate experience. For more information, or to contact an office near you, please visit www.glorianilson.com.