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Sell a Home FAQs

Homebuyers are so wrapped up in dealing with the process of maintenance, upkeep, and dealing with wear and tear, it can be hard to know when is the right time to sell your house. You may need to move to a different city, get more room for a family, or downsize after the kids are out of the house. Here are some frequently asked questions about selling a home.

When Should I Sell My House?

It's best to sell a home when there are more buyers than houses available, known as a seller's market. This encourages bidding wars on houses, and can substantially increase the selling price for your home. Some of the best indicators of a good time to sell a home include:

  • When the economy is doing well and people's outlook for the future is positive
  • When interest rates are low - this allows people to borrow money more cheaply
  • When people are more likely to move - traditionally many more houses are sold during the spring than during the winter
  • When your community is considered especially attractive - a common example of this is to sell your home during the period when schools in your area are enrolling new students

Should I Do Anything to My House Before I Sell It?

Absolutely. Before you sell a home, you should probably hire a professional home inspector because eventual buyers certainly will, and it pays to know what they will find first. A professional home inspection can:

  • Allow you to address problems and complete repairs before you sell a home
  • Help you set the price of your home
  • Ensure that the sale process won't be held up by unseen issues
  • Boost your credibility and trustworthiness
  • Reduce your liability by relying on professional documentation in your disclosure statement

How Do I Determine How Much to Sell My House For?

The easiest way to determine the value of your house is to get a professional appraisal. A professional appraisal will compare your house to similar houses in your area (called a "comp") and give you a good idea of how much you should sell your house for. When evaluating a "comp", it is important not only to find similar houses in the area but also to look at how recently those homes were sold. Sales closer in time are a more accurate guideline when setting the price on your home.

Real estate agents will have local sales figures and can give you a good estimate of your house's worth. Be aware, however, that many real estate agents may overvalue your house slightly in the hope that you will list your house with them. If you have a real estate agent determine a value for your home, ask to see the data on similar houses and see for yourself whether or not it makes sense.

Finally, many internet sites will allow you to see what houses in your neighborhood have sold for lately. This can help you determine a value on your own, but you should be careful when looking at this data since it doesn't take into account any special features of your home, such as a unique location or recent remodeling efforts.

Be careful in setting your price. If you overprice your house, most buyers will simply ignore you and your house could sit on the market for a very long time. The longer a house sits on the market, the more likely other buyers are to think there's something wrong with the house and avoid it.

What Are the Tax Consequences of Selling My House?

The sale of your house generates "capital gains" as defined by the IRS which is normally taxable. However, since the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, individuals can exclude up to $250,000 in capital gains for individuals, and married couples can exclude up to $500,000 in capital gains.

To see how this works in practice, imagine you bought your house for $100,000, and then sold it for $300,000. That sale would generate $200,000 in capital gains, all of which could be excluded since individuals can exclude up to $250,000 and married couples could exclude up to $500,000. Accordingly, you wouldn't owe any taxes on the capital gains from the sale of your home.

For more information, see FindLaw's article on the tax exemption for the sale of your home.

Can I Do It Myself, or Do I Need a Real Estate Agent?

Only a few states require you to hire a real estate agent or attorney, but it may often be worth it. Selling a house, even with an agent, is an exhausting process. If you are the one stuck doing all of the paperwork and showing the house, it can be like taking on a second job. Alternatively, you may consider hiring a real estate agent to only help with portions of the process and take on other portions of the process yourself.

What Are Some Alternative Ways to Finance the Sale of a House?

There are two common ways outside of a common mortgage scenario to finance the sale of a house. The first method is to loan money to the buyer and take back a mortgage on the home when you sell it. The buyer would sign a promissory note (to repay the loan) and either a mortgage or a deed of trust (both of which would allow you to foreclose on the house if the buyer failed to pay). In return, the seller would sign a deed transferring title of the house to the buyer (which allows the buyer to sell or refinance the house).

The second method is to create what is commonly referred to as a "contract for deed," "contract of sale," "land sale contract," or "installment sales contract." This document will allow the seller to keep the title to the property until the buyer pays off the loan. Unlike this first method, this means that the buyer is unable to sell or refinance the house. Once all payments have been made, the seller would sign a deed transferring title to the buyer.

Where Can I Find a Lawyer for Help Selling My Home?

Your real estate broker may not be able to handle all your questions about selling a home. A real estate attorney can help you deal with the legal questions you may have when it's time to sell. Speak with an experienced real estate attorney in your area.

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