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Webinar: Selling a Home: Fact vs. Fiction

by Lizann Lightfoot - March 28th, 2022

Webinar: Selling a Home: Fact vs. Fiction

Our Guest: Rena Stephens, Military spouse of 18 years, veteran myself, we’ve moved 13 times. We have three kids and several pets. I’ve been doing real estate for four years now, and love helping military families find homes. 

Rena was a previous webinar guest, and you can watch her earlier interview about the 2022 Housing Market here.

Fact or Fiction: It’s a seller’s market, and I don’t need to stage my home.

Fact, sometimes you do not need to stage your home. The current market is extremely competitive, and there are more buyers than sellers, so homes are going quickly--even without staging. If it is a clear and functional layout, you may not need furniture. But sometimes there is an awkward layout or wall, and it will bring more buyers if it is staged. But if there’s a clear flow, it is less necessary. With a large home and an open floor plan, it’s helpful to do some staging. If you can’t stage, then at least take pictures with furniture in the home to help the buyers visualize themselves there.

What does staging a home mean?

Think of walking into a nice, comfortable AirBnB. You want it to be clean and without a lot of clutter. Don’t have photos of your own family everywhere. Place some rugs to define the space, but don’t cover up too much of the floor, because people will wonder if you are trying to hide something. It should feel neutral and inviting. 

There are more details about staging a home for sale in our article here.

Zillow says my home is worth a certain amount. Is this fact or fiction?

Typically it’s fiction. I’m not a big fan of sites like that, because they get a lot of things wrong. They don’t take into account the current state of the home, or comparable properties within your market over the last six months to give a value per square foot. I met with a client who said Zillow listed their home for $149,000 but I knew we could put it on the market for $215,000 and still get offers above asking price. When you work with a licensed real estate agent, it is our job to run the numbers, to know the comps in the area, and to anticipate what offers you can get from the four different major offers types: cash, conventional, FHA, or VA. Zillow sometimes lists the number of bedrooms inaccurately, or lists the HOA price per month when it’s really per year. so it’s preferable to go through a real estate agent instead. I feel like is a little more accurate and reliable than Zillow or other similar sites. 

How much does it cost to stage, and is it worth the cost?

I would have to see your home and how much staging you actually need. Sometimes it is beneficial to leave some specific furniture in the home while it is on the market, then pick it up later using PODS or a similar storage solution. Or you can buy used pieces of furniture on the local Marketplace to stage the space, which won’t be part of your PCS shipment. So the cost depends on where you are and how much staging you need to do.

Fact or fiction: My agent will make recommendations about photos and maintenance.

Yes, they should. We do an initial walkthrough that takes 1-2 hours, and we usually go through room by room and tell them exactly what they need to do to prepare for listing. Then I will either hire a professional photographer, or I will take the photos myself by moving things around and clearing out the space, then putting things back so they can continue to live there. It really depends on whether there is an Open House, do they need professional photos, etc. A lot of my families have children, and they just need to clean up once for the photos, and then again if we do an Open House, but they can continue to live a normal life while it is on the market. 

Outdoor maintenance is a big deal. Your grass needs to be cut, the house and sidewalk and driveways should all be pressure-washed. Learn more about the outdoor maintenance essentials and the value of curb appeal here.

Photos are so important. You need someone who will edit and pay attention to things like a toilet seat being up, a reflection in the mirror, etc. So make sure you have someone who will take the time to get quality photos. 

Fact or Fiction: I should do a financial contingency as a seller.

Financial contingency runs on the period of time that your buyers have to secure their loan. It doesn’t have to do with things that are dated or need to be repaired. That comes under the due diligence clause. When you go under contract, the buyer has a time set for due diligence. And during that time, some of the earnest money can be given back to the buyer to address maintenance concerns. If a defect is discovered during that third-party inspection, there is something called an amendment to address concerns, which is a chance for the buyer to negotiate for the seller to fix specific concerns. 

An example is that one of my clients had a crack that ran in a straight line down the house. We didn’t know if it was structural or a joint seam. So during that due diligence period, we called out a structural engineer who assessed that it wasn’t structural, it was just a seam, and that was fine. So we were able to move past that period without any negotiating. 

So if you are selling, you want a shorter due diligence period, because it locks you into the contract to move forward. If you are a buyer, you want a little bit more time to pick apart the house and negotiate for repairs. This is a little more difficult in the current seller’s market. The average across the country is between five and 12 days. This is the time when you can either request repairs, accept the house as-is, or you can walk and get your earnest deposit back, and the house goes right back on the market. 

Homes can under-appraise in this market. Fact or Fiction?

Definitely fact. This is where the terms of the purchase agreement are essential. Sometimes you can give an offer above any other offer. Or you can write an appraisal gap to cover anything above the home appraisal value. We still have low inventory, so many sellers are looking for that appraisal gap. If the house is priced at $250,000 and you offer $275,000 so if the appraisal falls short, you can either adjust your price, or you can walk. The VA is giving comparables for what they can provide. Look at appraisal gaps and escalation clauses because these will influence whether a seller accepts your contract. 

I can always do a “Tidewater,” which will be a counter offer using comparable homes in the area. It may not bring the appraisal up all the way, but it will be a re-evaluation of the offer. 

I would not recommend waiving a home inspection, but I would use the due diligence to buy the home as-is. When you get the inspection, at least you know what the issues are. You can accept the property as-is after the inspection, but at least you won’t get into a money pit that way. We are seeing some people pass on home inspections right now because they are saving all their money for the seller’s closing costs, but I do advise against waiving the inspection because you need to know your home. 

Fact or Fiction: Military families selling their home through the preferred real estate program can get cash back rewards.

Fact! Through PCSgrades and their Real Estate Rewards Program, you get paired with a military-friendly real estate agent in your area who knows the homes and understands your military lifestyle and all the challenges of a PCS move. Once you either buy or sell a home, I always see them getting their check on the other end, with cash back based on the total value of the home. So it’s a great program!

Fact or Fiction: It’s better to hold onto a home and rent it out.

It’s going to depend on your market and what you can rent it out for. If you start going higher in your mortgage, you are limiting who can rent your home. In the market currently around Fort Stewart, we don’t have many rentals available. So research what your market rates and rentals are currently, and compare that to the money you would earn from selling. 

If you use a Property Management company, do your research, because they typically charge 10% of the monthly rent, so if they aren’t doing paperwork, repairs, and regular inspections for you, then you will just be throwing away your money on them. 

If you choose to rent it out, make sure you set aside some of the payments each month to cover repairs, new appliances, etc. Things will break, and you need to be able to absorb the cost if the home isn’t rented out for two months. Also, as a home ages, you will have large, expensive repairs like the roof, air conditioning, water heater, and furnace. So factor the home age and those costs into your budget. So the answer will be different for different families, and you need to make a spreadsheet of your own expected costs--including taxes--and decide if there is any profit margin there. 

There are more details about the pros and cons of selling vs. renting out your home in this article.

Fact or Fiction: It’s important to have a military-friendly real estate agent. 

100% yes. You need an agent who is going to understand you and your military life. I’m in a massive network of veterans, military spouses, active duty. You want someone who understands the acronyms and knows what goes into a door-to-door move to hopefully make it a seamless transaction to help you buy or sell a home on your timeline. 

Your agent needs to be a good fit. Interview your agent. It’s okay to fire your agent and go with someone else who will work on your behalf. Look for communication, knowledge, and transparency. You want them to have your back and work for you. If you can’t get ahold of your agent, then you need another one. 

How is the current market affecting rentals?

In my area, I have found that a lot of our investors that had rentals sold them. So now we have a reduced amount of rentals, because people were cashing in on those high pay-outs. I think the market has really affected affordable rentals, because now the prices have gone up, and often it is over BAH. Rental prices have skyrocketed, and BAH rates are barely keeping up.

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot, the "Seasoned Spouse" is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, her family has been through 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves. Lizann has raised 5 children and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is "Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses" published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann's articles and resources at