How to Sell Your House – The Complete Guide
Step #1 – Decide When To Sell Your House
If only there were an easy answer to the oft-asked question of: When should I sell my house? Important considerations include:
Time of year – Real estate in Toronto is seasonal, with December, January and August historically being the slowest months. We find that the best months to list a house for sale in Toronto are February, March, April and September when Buyers are motivated and the other Sellers are busy preparing to list their homes for sale in the “spring” or “fall” markets.
Current competition in your neighbourhood – At any given time, there are only so many Buyers looking for the kind of house you have. If those Buyers have a big selection of houses like yours to look at, you can expect to have fewer showings and fewer offers which will usually result in a lower price. Conversely, if you’re the only renovated three-bedroom house with a garage for sale in your neighbourhood, everyone will flock to your house.
Current competition in similar neighbourhoods – Most Buyers have two or three target neighbourhoods they want to live in, so it’s important to consider what’s for sale in neighbourhoods similar to yours too. Similar neighbourhoods aren’t just those that are physically close but include those similar in quality of the schools, proximity to parks, restaurants, services and transportation and similar in terms of the type of people who live there (singles, couples, families, retirees, etc.)
State of the real estate market – Interest rates and consumer confidence affect prices, and while the Toronto market has been on an upswing for a long time, like any other type of market, what goes up usually comes down. What’s going on in the market right now?
Your personal needs and goals – If you’re moving out of the city or have already bought a new house, then that timing will likely override everything else. Likewise, an upcoming baby, need for a live-in nanny, wedding or divorce might dictate your timing too.
Related: Are You Ready to Sell Your Home?
Related: Should You Buy or Sell First?
Step #2: Get Ready: Declutter, Stage and Clean
When preparing your house for sale, keep these 3 goals in mind:
Declutter to make the maximize the space you have and allow potential Buyers to imagine living in your home. Remove personal items, extra armoires and anything that could distract potential Buyers. Smaller furniture will make the rooms look bigger, so consider swapping out that King sized bed that takes up the whole bedroom for a smaller one, and replacing the L-shaped couch with a more compact version. Clear out closets, donate items you don’t use. Most of our house Sellers end up calling a junk removal company or storing some of their belongings offsite during the sale. We love 1-800-GOT-JUNK and Pods for storage).
Make sure every room is staged to its optimal use It’s OK if you’re using two of your three bedrooms as offices, but convert them back to bedrooms while the house is listed for sale. Buyers don’t often have great imaginations, so put a bed in the bedroom, a dining table in the dining room and a desk in the den. A good REALTOR will spend time identifying your house’s target Buyer and will guide you to stage your home to reflect how they would want to live in it.
Clean, clean and clean again! The cleaner your house is, the faster it will sell. Buyers won’t just look at surfaces – they’ll look inside your closets, your kitchen cupboards and your bathroom vanity. Make sure everything sparkles!
Special Considerations for Houses
Curb Appeal – More than once we’ve had Buyers pull up to the front of a house they were interested in and instantly decide to go home. How your home looks from the outside – the porch, door, walkway, gardens – will set the tone for how a Buyer feels about your home. Give it the attention it deserves.
Basement – Buyers love basements, so make sure to showcase yours to the fullest. Clear out the clutter and make sure that Buyers and home inspectors can easily reach the electrical panel and furnace. If your basement can be used as a second apartment, make sure that’s obvious to Buyers too.
The Big Mechanics – While Buyers are often swayed by granite counters, hardwood floors and fancy appliances, the mechanics of your house matter too. The furnace, A/C, hot water tank, electrical, plumbing, roof and insulation are all important: make sure your real estate agent knows every unsexy detail about your house.
The Small Repairs – We all have things in our house that we’ve ignored, and now is the time to take care of all that stuff. Hiring a handyman for a day can help show Buyers that your home was well maintained and keep them focused on the important things (instead of the leaky faucet in the kitchen).
Termites – If you live in a termite area (you’d be surprised at how many Toronto neighbourhoods have termites), consider getting a termite inspection. Dealing with any problems before listing your home for sale, or, being able to provide a clean termite report can add real value to your home. Contact Aetna Pest Control for an inspection,
Backyard – Many a home has been sold because of the outdoor space, so make the most of your backyard. Consider re-staining the deck, updating your gardens, fixing the fence and getting some stylish patio furniture. If you’re selling your home in the winter, provide summer photos of your yard to your agent – everybody loves to imagine hosting a BBQ when it’s -20 degrees!
Step #3: Get Set: More Prep Work
Get your documents together Your agent will be asking you for copies of your heating, electrical and utility and tax bills, so take the time to photocopy or scan them. Any current warranties and manuals should be gathered too.
Make a list of renovations and repairs Compile a list of all the renovations and repairs that have been completed since you have owned the house. Be prepared to discuss with your REALTOR any current issues with the house – it’s better to disclose any ongoing issues then get sued later.
Make an extra set of keys You’ll likely have a lockbox at your house so that real estate agents can show your home to their Buyers, so make an extra set of keys.
Get a pre-list home inspection – Completing a pre-listing home inspection before you put your house on the market will help you identify any issues with the home that might be objections for Buyers. For example: the home inspector may determine that your house needs a new roof. Armed with that information, you can choose to either a) fix the roof before putting the house up for sale, or b) factor it into your asking price. Either way, having accurate information puts you in control of how the deficiencies in your house will affect the price you get for the house. If you’re pricing your home for a bidding war, making the pre-listing home inspection available to Buyers will encourage them to make offers
Step #4: Staging
Professional home staging is a must for almost every house if your goal is to sell it for as much money as possible. It’s been proven that staged homes sell faster and for more money. We believe in staging so much that we actually own a staging company, UPstaging – exclusive to BREL clients – AND included in our commission.
Related: A Staging Q&A
Related: Staging Before & After Photos
Step #5: Pricing Your House for Sale
Pricing a house in Toronto is both a science and an art (and let’s be honest, sometimes, a complete crapshoot). Your REALTOR will discuss with you the pros and cons of pricing your home for a bidding war vs pricing high with the intent to negotiate vs pricing your home at market value.
In the end, Buyers will decide how much your home is worth by deciding how much they want to pay for it. Buyers will consider:
Recent sales on your street and in your neighbourhood
Recent sales of similar properties in nearby neighbourhoods
Properties currently on the market
Current market conditions
The size, finishes and condition of your home
Location – what’s happening in your neighbourhood and how people expect it to change in the short and medium terms
Other things that can be important to Toronto Buyers include:
Parking and/or a garage
The basement (whether or not it’s finished or can be used as a second apartment)
Closets and storage
Style (modern vs character, etc.)
Related: Pricing Strategies
Step #6: Marketing
One of your real estate agent’s most important jobs will be making sure potential Buyers see your house. A comprehensive marketing campaign for your house should include both traditional and digital marketing and aim to make people fall in love with your house. Real estate marketing should include:
Photography/Videography – Professional photography is a must! Most Buyers will see your home for the first time online, and if the photos don’t capture their attention, they’ll move on to the next house and be lost to you forever. We’ve also had tremendous success in producing lifestyle videos that show Buyers what their life could be like, if they lived in your house.
For Sale Signs – It’s not unusual for Buyers to cruise their target neighbourhoods in search of their perfect house, so a For Sale sign on the lawn is always recommended.
Open Houses – Weekend open housing is so popular in Toronto, that I often wonder if it’s our city’s #1 pastime. While curious neighbours will undoubtedly make an appearance, open houses are a great way to showcase your home to real potential Buyers. Depending on your neighbourhood and how well the open house has been promoted, you can expect anywhere from 5 to 100 or more people to attend. Great agents will be able to spot the serious and motivated Buyers and will make selling your home their only priority. Your agent may suggest hosting an open house on Saturday, Sunday or both days, so be prepared to leave your home for 2, 3 or 4 hours. We’ve had great success hosting wine and cheese open houses for the neighbours on Friday night too (which lets us focus on the real Buyers on the weekend).
Online Marketing – With 92% of Buyers starting their search on the web, being found online is critical! And….there’s a lot more to being found online than being listed on realtor.ca. Make sure you’re working with a real estate agent who has heavy Buyer traffic on their website and who knows how to use other websites to your and your house’s advantage.
Email Marketing/Social Media – Top REALTORS promote their listings to other agents via email and have a network of potential Buyers they can reach via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email. Don’t forget, you can help with the sale of your house by sharing the link to your listing too.
Print Marketing – Most agents will print feature sheets for your home so that the potential Buyers who see it will have a takeaway of information and photos. Depending on your REALTOR and your ideal Buyer, your home might also be promoted with postcards or in real estate magazines.
Your ideal Buyer is out there – they may be first time buyers, the parents of first-time buyers, an international investor, a recent divorcee, a newly married couple, seniors who’ve just sold their family home or a young couple with a baby on the way. Smart real estate agents will go to great lengths to profile your target Buyer and create a marketing campaign to reach them.
Related: How We Market a Home
Step #7: Showings
When Buyers make an appointment to see your house, keep the following in mind:
Leave your house! There’s nothing more distracting for a Buyer than having to walk around the owner.
Be flexible with showing times – Most Buyers look at properties in the evening or on the weekends.
Board the dogs! Not everyone will love your dog as much as you do. At a minimum, crate them during showings. Ideally, take them for a walk or board them.
Consider temporarily moving out of your home while it’s for sale – If your home is popular with Buyers, you may have 5 or 10 or more showings every day. Going on a weekend getaway or staying at a friends’ or parents’ house can make your life a lot more tolerable – especially if you have kids or pets.
Cleanliness matters! It isn’t enough to have a clean house on day 1. You’ll need to wash the dishes, make the beds, wash the floors and weed the garden every day while it’s listed for sale.
Related: 25 Tips for Selling with Kids
Related: Tips for Selling with Pets
Step #8: Offers
Sad but true: not every house Seller gets a bidding war. While your agent will take you through what to expect come offer time, if there is only one Buyer for your house, you can expect to see the following two conditions in an offer:
A financing condition, which allows the Buyer to confirm their mortgage qualifications with a lender
A home inspection condition, which allows the Buyer to bring in a home inspector of their choosing to go through the home. Home inspections generally last 2-3 hours.
Of course, there’s a lot more to negotiate than conditions: there’s price, closing date (the date the Buyer takes possession), inclusions (appliances, big screen TV’s, etc.) and deposit (usually 5% of the purchase price in Toronto, paid within 24 hours of the offer being accepted).
In the event of multiple offers (more commonly referred to as a bidding war), offers will generally be “firm”, meaning there are no conditions. There are many ways for a bidding war to proceed – your agent will suggest different strategies to help you get the highest price. If you want more information about bidding wars, check out our blog on the Anatomy of a Bidding War.
Step #9: Closing Day
As closing day (the day the new Buyer takes possession) approaches, you or your lawyer will need to make sure to:
Inform the utility companies of your impending move
Inform the city so that you don’t continue to pay property taxes
Cancel your home insurance (to take effect after you have confirmation that the sale has closed)
A day or two before closing day, you’ll need to visit your lawyer and sign a lot of paperwork. When the property is transferred to the new owner, you will get the money via your lawyer (less real estate commissions, legal fees and any adjustments).
How to Sell Your House – Some Final Tips
Be socially discreet.
Savvy Buyers (and their agents) are apt to creep Sellers online before putting in an offer. Don’t announce on Facebook that you bought a new house before your current house is sold. Don’t Instagram the leak in the basement. Don’t tweet about the poor sucker you sold your house to whose offer was 80K above everyone else’s. Don’t announce to the world that you are finding the selling process stressful, that you’re two weeks away from having a baby or that you’re getting divorced. Don’t in any way imply that you’re desperate to sell your home. Don’t think it happens? Those are all true stories.
While your home is on the market, pretend you don’t live there (or better yet, move out).
Yes, it’s a pain to make your bed everyday, wash the dishes, take out the garbage, put away your clean (and dirty) clothes, clean the litterbox and wash the floors every day, but keeping your house or condo in tip-top shape for showings is ESSENTIAL to getting top dollar.
Don’t Even Think of Smoking In Your Home
Never. If you smoke on your balcony or deck, hide the evidence. Put away your sex and drug paraphernalia. We won’t judge you, but I can’t say the same about potential Buyers.
Remember That Your REALTOR Is On Your Side
If you’ve chosen to work with an ethical agent, don’t lie to them. Tell them the real reason you are selling (even if it’s a divorce or you’ve gotten yourself into a financial mess). Disclose the good AND the bad about your home. Tell them what you really want – or need – both financially and from the selling experience. Your agent works for you, and their only job is to protect your interests. If you don’t trust your agent, fire them and hire someone else.
Don’t get greedy.
Your agent should be able to show you how much your property is worth and why. Overpricing is a dangerous game where the Seller almost always loses. Truth: every Seller thinks they live in the best condo or house on the block and thinks their property is worth more than everyone else’s. It’s a proven fact that properties that have been overpriced sit on the market longer and generally sell for less than they would have had they been priced accurately in the beginning. This is one of the hardest things to do, but at the end of the day, you’ll be the one that benefits most.
The agent you choose to hire matters.
With over 55,000 agents in the Greater Toronto area, there are all types of agents, with all types of experience and skillsets. Don’t put your biggest financial asset at risk by selling with the wrong agent. There are lots of talented and experienced agents out there – interview agents before hiring them, ask questions and ask for references.
There’s more to marketing your home than putting it on the MLS.
Exposing your home to more potential Buyers unequivocally brings in more money. Ask where your home is being marketed and ask for weekly updates of how well that’s working.
Be flexible with showing times.
Most Buyers house-shop after 5 pm and on weekends. Make it convenient for them to see your home. When you say ‘no’ to a showing, recognize that those Buyers rarely ever re-schedule, so you’re really saying ‘no’ to a potential Buyer buying your home.
Set realistic expectations and remember that only the exceptional stories make the news.
The average time to sell a property in Toronto is 21 days, so don’t panic if your home isn’t sold in the first week. And remember that not all houses sell over the asking price or get the bidding war the Sellers were hoping for.