Urban Living’s Seattle Home Selling Guide
Welcome to Urban Living’s 2020 home selling guide! Written by Matt Goyer, a real estate broker and publisher of Urban Living, this guide is based off of his 10 years of real estate experience and helping many first-time home sellers. We wrote it to give you an overview of what it takes to sell a home in the Seattle area. It will also give you a good sense of what it is like to work with us. Still have questions? Reach us at [email protected]
People sell their homes for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps you want a bigger home or a smaller one. Maybe you’re relocating for work. No matter the reason, almost everyone is curious about what their home is worth and how quickly it might sell if they decide to go for it.
The quickest way to figure that out is to search for your home on Redfin or Zillow, the two main real estate services that will give you an idea what your home is worth. On Redfin, you can check out your Redfin Estimate, and on Zillow, the Zestimate. Note that the Redfin Estimate’s median error rate in King County is 5.97% and the Zestimate median error rate in Seattle is 4.4%. So on a $1 million home, these estimates could be off by $44,000 to $60,000 depending on which one you’re looking at.
For a more personal and likely more accurate estimate, get in touch with a real estate agent (like us!). We’ll perform something called a comparative market analysis (CMA) for you. That means we will look at sales in your area of homes that are comparable to yours, and use those to come up with our best “guesstimate” of what your home might sell for. You can also look at recent home sales on a site like Redfin to do a CMA yourself.
-> You can reach us at [email protected] if you’d like us to do a CMA for you.
In terms of how long it takes to sell, homes were on the market for an average of 8 days in 2016. An agent will help you price your home correctly so it sells quickly at the right price! Keep in mind that getting your home ready to sell can take much longer, so get started by finding an agent as soon as you decide you want to sell!
Choosing an Agent
We recommend finding an agent as soon as you start thinking about selling. Your agent can come look at your home and help you decide what projects you may need to tackle to get your home ready to sell. There are a lot of agents to choose from, but this is an instance where you want to be picky! You may need to interview several agents before you find the right one.
Some questions to ask:
- Is this your full-time job? You want an agent who is doing real estate full-time.
How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood? You want an agent who knows your neighborhood.
- What do you pay for? You want an agent who picks up the bill for common items like professional photography and flyers.
- What do your marketing materials look like? Ask each agent to show you the marketing they did for past homes they sold. Does it look good? Was it effective? How quickly did they sell the home?
- How much do you charge? In Seattle, agents will typically charge a 3% listing fee to sell your home. You’ll also need to pay the buyer’s agent, which is typically another 3%, for a total of 6%.
- Who else will be working with me? Some agents are supported by teams. It is good to understand who else you might be working with throughout your transaction.
- Do you represent buyers and sellers on the same house? You want an agent who is only representing you, not you and the buyer. We don’t ever represent both parties on the same home. Your agent should be focused on YOUR best interests, and no one can do that if they are juggling both sides of a transaction.
- What sets you apart from other agents? You want an agent who isn’t just run of the mill but has the expertise to sell your home quickly and for top dollar.
- Can I see reviews of your past deals? You want an agent with whom other people have loved working. Zillow and Yelp are good places to look up agent reviews.
- What are a few examples of you going above and beyond for a client? You want an agent who will go the distance for you. If they’re good, they’ll have a few examples from past transactions.
- How will we work together? You want an agent who works the way you want them to. We’re happy to collaborate over text message, Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, you name it! Not all real estate agents are as tech savvy.
- What style of houses are you most passionate about? You want an agent passionate about what you’re selling. While we love urban living, we wouldn’t be the best fit if you were selling acreage in Eastern Washington. Though we do love ski cabins!
- How long is our listing agreement? When you sell your home, you’ll sign a listing agreement that commits you to working with your agent for a set amount of time. Most homes sell very quickly so the length of this agreement won’t matter much, but if your home doesn’t sell right away, it is good to know how long you’re committed to using your agent before you can switch agents.
When to Sell
Most people sell their homes during the height of the season, which is April, May and June. Those months are popular for single-family homes and townhomes, as people with children in school are usually looking to transition homes at the end of the school year. However, it can often be advantageous to sell your home before the spring rush. At that time, there are fewer homes on the market, so you have less competition.
Getting Your Home Ready
We’re in a seller’s market right now, so you might be surprised how little you need to do to get your home ready to sell. We’d suggest getting in touch with a real estate agent sooner rather than later to see what they’d prioritize and what they wouldn’t before you start to do work that doesn’t need to be done.
What we recommend:
- Getting your house cleaned
- Getting your yard tidied
- Cleaning your windows
- Re-painting the interior
- Re-placing very worn flooring
What we recommend against:
- Full kitchen or bathroom remodel
- Major infrastructure repairs
To really ensure your home is in tip-top shape, and to provide the highest level of disclosure to buyers, you should consider doing a home inspection prior to listing your home. This will cost between $300 and $500 and will give you yet another to-do list. In consultation with your agent, you’ll decide which items are worth fixing prior to listing, and which you’ll leave as is but disclose to any potential buyers. In addition to a home inspection, we recommend that if you’re selling a townhome or single-family home that you do a sewer inspection at a cost of $250 and make the report available to buyers.
Pricing to Sell
For the most part, home pricing is still an art rather than a science. Agents will attempt to determine the market price for your home by looking at what similar homes nearby sold for in the past couple months. This is easier said than done.
Once they’ve determined your market price, they’ll likely discuss with you three options for your list price:
- Underprice it: Start off with a low price in the hope of attracting a lot of attention and driving a bidding war.
- Price it at market: Ask for the price you think the home is worth. You’ll probably get fewer offers, but in the event you don’t get any, you can stay on the market at a price you’re reasonably confident in.
- Overprice it: Rarely do people deliberately overprice their home. What usually happens is that the seller, who ultimately decides the price, goes against the agent’s pricing recommendation because they believe their home is worth more than the agent does. Overpricing can be challenging since your home is going to get the most attention in its first week or so on the market. If your home doesn’t sell and weeks later you lower the price, it is going to be hard to get the same level of attention as you did that first week. Oftentimes, overpriced homes will sell for less than if they had started with a more reasonable price.
When you sell your home, the following fees are deducted from the sale price (recording fees are covered by the buyer):
- Commission to agents (buyer and seller): 4%-6%
- Excise tax: 1.28% state + .5% city
- Closing costs: your half of the escrow fee, which is about $1,250
- Title insurance: the seller pays for the buyer’s title insurance, about $2,000
The first paperwork you will need to sign is a two-page agreement between you and the listing agent giving the listing agent the exclusive right to sell your home.
Listing input sheet
This form is what your agent will use to enter your home into the MLS so it shows up on real estate sites like Redfin and Windermere. It will also be where you specify your list price and how long you intend for it to be on the market (should it not sell by the offer review date).
Form 17 – Seller disclosure
This is a six-page form where you disclose what you know about your home and property and any issues that you know about.
Form 22k – Identification of utilities
This form lists your utility accounts so that your accounts can be closed out and amounts pro-rated.
Form 35p – Pre-inspection agreement
This form enables prospective buyers to inspect your home prior to making an offer.
All offers must include the legal description of your property, so your agent will make this available to buyers ahead of time.
Preliminary title report
To enable buyers to review your title prior to making an offer, your listing agent will ask the title company to prepare a preliminary title report listing any exceptions or conditions associated with your title.
For condos, your listing agent will work with your homeowners association to order the resale certificate, which is a collection of documents, often 300-500 pages, detailing the health of your homeowners association and building.
Marketing Your Home
We highly recommend at least lightly staging your home. We’re happy to walk through your home with you, pointing out some simple ways you can declutter your home and make it look its best. For just a few hundred dollars you can get a consultation from a staging professional; for a few thousand, you can have them completely stage your home if you’ve already moved out. The cost of staging is typically borne by the seller, not the agent.
We highly recommend that you get professional photos taken of your home. We work with a real estate photography company that specializes in taking pictures of homes for sale. This ensures that your home looks its best online and in print. Given that the cost of this is a mere $250 to $500 and that your real estate agent typically foots the bill, professional photos are a must-have.
We also recommend that you get a 3D home tour made. Here’s an example for one of the homes we’ve sold. It gives folks who are looking at your home a great sense of what to expect if and when they come and see your home in person.
Optionally, in some cases we recommend getting drone photography taken. This makes the most sense for single-family homes and townhomes where you want to give buyers a sense of how the home sits on the lot or integrates into the neighborhood.
At a minimum, your agent should produce a one-page flyer with photos and details of your home that prospective buyers can grab as a takeaway. Agents who go above and beyond will produce a number of marketing materials for your home, at their expense:
- Brochure for higher end homes
- “Silent talkers,” which are labels throughout the home pointing out non-obvious features
- Home book with major receipts, seller disclosure and other documentation
- Yard sign (some condos disallow these, however)
Getting the word out online
The most important part of marketing your home is to get it in front of as many buyers as possible. To do this, your agent will post your home on the MLS, which is the central database of homes for sale. This will result in your home appearing on MLS-powered sites including Redfin, Windermere, John L Scott, Estately, etc. We also recommend that your agent post your home for sale on Zillow and Trulia. We do not think it is worth posting your home for sale on Craigslist or similar sites.
In most markets, your agent will hold an open house for you within the first week of your home being listed on the market. To be honest, there isn’t a lot of data that proves that open houses actually sell houses. However, your agent should be doing everything possible to help your home sell, which in most cases includes an open house. In Seattle, we find that interested buyers will come see your home whether or not there is an open house, but it is a good way to get a lot of foot traffic to your home at once. Talk to your agent about whether they think an open house is a good idea! We usually host two open houses within the first week of a home being listed.
While your home is on the market, buyers will tour your home with their agent. The way their agent gets access to your home is that your agent will leave a key in a lockbox that only real estate agents can open. Typically lockboxes only allow access from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (during daylight savings, the hours extend to 10 p.m.).
Since the average days on market of late is 8 days and you may have 20-100 people touring your home, we recommend to sellers that they go on vacation while their home is on the market, or at least take a long weekend getaway. That way buyers and agents can tour your home without setting up an appointment with you to see it.
Given the competitiveness of today’s market, we recommend that sellers set an offer deadline about a week after their home hits the market. This way, all interested parties are working toward a common deadline, and you can compare all of their offers at once. It will also result in in buyers submitting their best offer right away. When multiple buyers compete for your home, you’re likely to sell your home for more than you might have otherwise. More on this in the next section.
To put together a competitive offer, buyers will often waive their right to inspect your home. However, to ensure they know what they’re buying, they’ll instead order a pre-inspection of your home prior to the offer deadline. These pre-inspections will last several hours and will be attended by the buyer, their agent and their home inspector. Depending on the property, a buyer may possibly bring along a sewer inspector as well. By pre-inspecting your home, buyers can then write an offer that is not contingent upon an inspection; this gives you more certainty that the deal will go through to closing.
As we said above, your agent will likely set an offer review deadline, typically about a week after your home hits the market. This deadline encourages all interested parties to submit their offers at the same time and hopefully results in you getting the most possible money for your home by having the buyers compete against each other. Note that most buyers will submit offers that expire at 9 p.m. the same day they’re submitted to you so you’ll need to quickly decide which offer you’re going with.
Purchase and sale agreement
When a buyer makes an offer, their agent presents you with a purchase and sale agreement. It is the packet of documents consisting of a buyer’s offer to purchase a home. It will specify the terms they are offering you and any contingencies on their offer, if any. It is typically 10-25 pages and will be accompanied with a pre-approval letter if they are financing their purchase or proof of funds if they are paying cash.
What a strong offer looks like
A strong offer is one that meets or exceeds your list price and contains few contingencies.
Here’s what we look for in a strong offer:
- Offer price: It should meet or exceed your list price
- Earnest money: Earnest money is money deposited to escrow by a buyer to demonstrate that a buyer is serious about buying their home. A buyer should offer 3% or more with very strong offers releasing these funds to the seller prior to closing
- Closing date: An ideal date is typically 2-4 weeks from the date of the offer. But if you need more time, it should match when you want to move out
- No contingencies: The strongest offers won’t be contingent upon an inspection, title report, financing or the sale of the buyer’s home.
- Escalation clause: Many offers will contain an escalation addendum that will cause the buyer’s offer to escalate in price by certain intervals when there is a competing offer at a higher price. For instance, a buyer might offer $750,000 on a home, but include an escalation clause with $5,000 intervals up to a maximum of $850,000. So if you get an offer of $755,000; their offer would become $760,000 and they could beat it if the $755,000 offer didn’t also have an escalation clause.
Closing the Deal
Once you’ve accepted a buyer’s offer, this is known as mutual acceptance. But our work isn’t done! There are still a few more weeks before you hand over the keys and get your money. This is also where you and your agent will start working with the escrow company. Escrow finalizes the transaction, coordinating the exchange of the title and handles the collection and disbursement of funds. Escrow will also usually handle closing out your utility and tax account ensuring that if you’ve prepaid for either that the buyer is charged a pro-ration.
Earnest money: As we said before, this is the buyer letting you know they’re serious about their offer. Buyers need to deposit this money within two business days of mutual acceptance. If the buyer’s offer contains a financing, title or inspection contingency and the buyer exercises that contingency, they will get their earnest money back.
Within five days
Resale certificate reviews (condos only): If the buyer’s offer is contingent upon reviewing the resale certificate, we will order a copy from your condo’s management company and get it to the buyer. This lengthy document lets everyone know the health of the condo homeowners association.
Inspection contingency: If the buyer’s offer is contingent upon a home inspection, they’ll want to get it scheduled and conducted as quickly as possible so they have time to negotiate, if necessary, with you on any repairs or credits. Typically they’ll have 10 calendar days to do this.
Title contingency: If the buyer’s offer is contingent upon reviewing the preliminary title report, they’ll want to get their hands on it from the title company and review it. Typically they have five business days from the receipt of the title report to review it.
Loan application: If the buyer is financing their purchase, they’ll need to kick off the mortgage process with their lender by forwarding them the signed purchase and sale contract. Typically they’ll have five days from mutual acceptance to apply for their loan. If they need to change lenders, they’ll need to notify the seller and the seller’s agent. The most common reason to switch lenders is they found one offering a better rate.
A week before closing
Move out: if you haven’t already, you’ll want to move out and clean your home.
Utilities: You’ll want to call your utility providers and close out your accounts or transfer them to a new home.
Insurance: You’ll want to cancel your home insurance or transfer it to a new property if you are moving locally.
Final walkthrough: If the buyer inspected the home and requested repairs, several days prior to closing they will schedule a time to review the repairs and ensure the home is in the condition they expect.
Closing appointment: Several days before the closing date, escrow will have you sign the closing documents.
Day of closing
Key exchange: On the day of closing, the buyer needs to wait for King County to confirm that they are the new owner of the home. This typically happens mid- to late afternoon. Prior to all this, you’ll want to leave all your keys and any other relevant items (a garage clicker, for instance) in the house. Your agent will make arrangements with the buyer’s agent for the key exchange.
Broker: A licensed individual who helps people buy and sell homes. In the Seattle area, broker is the official title of what is commonly referred as a real estate agent or Realtor.
Buyer’s agent: A licensed individual who represents the party buying a home.
Closing agent: A neutral third party who handles the exchange of money, clearing title and signing of closing documents once mutual acceptance is reached. Also referred to as an “escrow agent.”
Closing costs: The costs due above and beyond the cost of the home in order to purchase it. This includes title and settlement services, title insurance, appraisal, lender fees, and other services carried out during closing. Closing costs are typically 2%–5% of the home’s price.
Comparables (Comps): Homes that are similar in size, style, and age to the home you are trying to sell. Your agent looks at these homes to help advise you on pricing your home.
Comparative market analysis (CMA): An analysis that looks at comparable homes to determine how much a home is worth.
Contingency: A clause in your purchase and sale contract that spells out under which circumstances a buyer will or won’t go through with purchasing the home. Typical contingencies are inspection, title and financing.
Down payment: When financing a home, this is the cash the buyer pays toward the home at closing. The difference between the sale price and the buyer’s down payment is the amount of money that they need to finance. A larger down payment usually signals a stronger buyer.
Earnest money: This is money paid to the seller by a buyer upfront to demonstrate that a buyer is serious about buying the home. If the buyer’s offer contains a financing, title or inspection contingency and the buyer exercises that contingency, they will get their earnest money back.
Escrow: A neutral third party who handles the exchange of money, clearing title and signing of closing documents once mutual acceptance is reached. Also referred to as a “closing agent.”
Form 17: A document prepared by the seller disclosing what they know about the condition of their home.
Homeowners Association (HOA): A group that manages a shared housing complex.
Listing agent: A licensed individual that represents the party selling a home.
Inspection: A close examination of a home. A home inspection is performed by a licensed home inspector. The cost and length of the inspection depends on the size and age of the house but it usually takes a few hours and costs between $300 and $500. Usually it is the buyer hiring a home inspector to inspect the home, but some sellers will proactively have their home inspected and make the report available to buyers.
Mutual acceptance: The point when the buyer and seller agree in writing on the terms of the deal by signing the purchase and sale agreement.
Multiple Listing Service (MLS): An organization of real estate agents who agree to work together to better assist their clients.
Pre-approval letter: A letter prepared by the buyer’s lender after they have reviewed the buyer’s finances letting the buyer and you, the seller, know how expensive of a home they are able to buy. Offers from buyers that are financed should be accompanied by a pre-approval letter. Often times listing agents will call the buyer’s lender to assure you that the buyer is qualified to buy your home.
Purchase and sale agreement (PSA): The packet of documents consisting of a buyer’s offer to purchase a home.
Selling agent: A licensed individual who represents the party buying a home. This term is commonly misunderstood to be the agent for the seller. Yes, it is a confusing choice of words.
Title report: A report that identifies all parties with a legal claim to the property, what items need to be cleared from title before a buyer can take possession, and if there are any easements or encroachments on the property.
Title insurance: An insurance policy protecting against loss should the condition of title to land be other than as insured. In the Seattle area, the seller pays for what is known as an ALTA policy (American Land Title Association) which is sufficient in almost all cases unless you’re buying an acreage, waterfront or if the buyer is a corporation.
Walkthrough: If a buyer performed an inspection and requested repairs, the walkthrough is their opportunity to review the repairs, and usually takes place within a few days of closing.