As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I have decided to sell our Boston condo ourselves. We have a little bit of experience (and a lot of luck) doing this with one other property, and depending on how this sale goes, we're about to think we're pretty amazing -- or pretty dumb.
We have worked on getting our house ready since January 2nd. Mostly, this is because we have a one year old boy who doesn't sit still and likes to empty boxes once we've filled them. So, we limited our work to the two hours every Saturday and Sunday when he takes a nap. It's been a long two months but our first open house is this Saturday. Here is what we've done to prepare:
1. Start Packing: The general idea is that people spend less than 5 minutes in your house and you need to make the best first impression. Lived in, but spacious is key, and the trick to create more space is to pack up your excess belongings. "Stagers" do this for a living. But the general idea is to make your house look like a Pottery Barn catalog. This means:
Clean off all bookshelves: Yes, we packed all our books and cookbooks, and now have a framed map on one shelf and a plant on another. That's it. Clean and spacious. Our goal is to leave very little time for people to imagine our place with their things in it. Our clutter just delays that process.
Clear out pantries, cabinets and drawers: If you're like me, you're a little bit of a hoarder when it comes to pantry items. This is the time to purge. People will look in your cabinets and pantries and if it's crowded, they come away thinking you don't have enough space. Pack up the things you can live without for the next few months.
Pack half your clothes: It's time to clear out your closets. Get out the suitcases and put away all the clothes and coats you won't need for the next few months. Give the things you haven't worn in a year to charity. And hopefully you'll be left with the illusion of a larger closet.
2. Find Storage: For us this meant renting space. We called a lot of places to get quotes and found that one of those pods was our best option. This is the service that drops an ugly box in front of your house and then picks it up when you're done packing. Once you've moved they deliver it to your new house.
3. Make Appointments: We needed our rugs cleaned, our couch steamed, our apartment scrubbed, and our paint touched up. We booked the appointments a month in advance to be sure we'd have everything as clean as possible the week of our first open house.
4. Do Market Research: Search online for what houses in your area are listing -- and selling at. Good sites for this are Redfin.com, Zillow.com and your local newspaper's website, like Boston.com. Get a price in mind and move to the next step.
5. Call in Reserves: Invite at least three real estate agents over to your house for an interview. Without telling them that you're strongly considering FSBO, there are two main goals at this meeting: 1. Find someone you'll use if selling yourself doesn't work out. 2. Let them tell you what they think your house is worth.
6. Hire a Lawyer: You'll want someone who has handled FSBO sales before since they will be handling the Purchase and Sale agreements and a lot of the negotiations. It's a little more work for them, so I suggest settling on a flat-fee from the start.
7. Take Pictures: Stage your house as if it's your open house. Position flowers, clear countertops of toasters and coffee makers, and start snapping. Be sure to capture your house in prime daylight with all your blinds open.
8. Make Show Sheets: Use your pictures to create fliers or pamphlets to pass out at the open house. You'll also want to write up your house description and highlights. Make 50-100 color copies to pass out, so keep them short. This is something agents do as part of their service and one of the few extra things you'll be paying for as FSBO (since you'd probably be cleaning and staging yourself anyway).
9. Design a Sign: I'm not the hugest fan of For Sale by Owner signs. The red might be eye-catching, but I think it loudly says "I'm Cheap!" I would rather state my frugality with a classy sign, so I designed my own at BuildaSign.com. I used a navy and green motif. Be sure to list an email address, phone number or website where people can get more information.
10. Buy Ads: Figure out which websites you want to be featured on and how much each costs. FSBO does not end up in MLS (which goes everywhere), so hopefully you have a local city website with a great R/E section. We chose Boston.com ($150 for 8 weeks), a local real estate only newspaper ($350), Zillow.com ($10) and Craigslist.org (free). We also created a "Postlet," for $10 but I'm still unsure what that does. Be sure to list your Open House info and an email address or phone number where people can call you for viewings.
11. Set up for the Open House: At this point, you've done everything you can. Now it's time to sit and wait for people to come to you. Good luck! Be warned: Agents will ask you if you're open to working with Buyer's Agents. This is up to you, but often means you will be giving the agent 2.5% of your sale price. What we're planning to say is that we're open to all offers and will be accepting the best one. Sometimes a broker ends up as part of the equation. But hopefully the buyer pays over asking price and handles this commission themselves. We can dream.