The whole reason I took my real estate agent license a few years ago was because I had never really understood all of the paperwork we signed each time we have bought and sold homes.
Our real estate and title agents have always been great (except that one who blurted out, “I just have to ask you…. how old ARE you?” 20 years ago when she first met me after having already showed Alistair some homes…. for starters, you don’t “have” to ask anyone anything and next, take that horrified look off of your face). They have always explained each page of the stack of papers in front of us but I never completely understood the whole process.
Even the whole confusion around a Home Inspection versus an Appraisal is very real. I didn’t differentiate the two and a lot of my friends and clients are the same. So I thought I would walk you through the deets that go down when you decide you might want to list your house with a realtor!
These days, the real estate market is crazy. Depending where you live, inventory is low and buyers are on the hunt. Competitive offers come in on most “move-in-ready” homes for buyers who may not even see the listing in-person for a few days. Most buyers have all been burned at least once or lost out on a home because they moved too slowly or their offer wasn’t competitive enough. Sellers get burned, as well, when they accept an offer and their listing goes off the market until a home inspection digs up something unexpected that scares buyers off.
This is one reason I’m recommending pre-listing home inspections right now. This is the exact same inspection a buyer would purchase when they go under contract for your home. It is a great way to unearth any potential surprises like high radon levels or bathroom vents that don’t vent to the outside in your attic. Many inspection results can frighten buyers, especially if they are from another state and don’t understand radon in western Montana, for example. (Its there, its not a big deal, it can be mitigated, its an odorless, colorless gas, its not a difficult thing to test for.)
Wouldn’t it be great to know your house had elevated levels before you listed, though, so you can mitigate ahead of time? Boom- one less surprise on home inspection!
Fixing questionable things that come up on inspections before you list eliminates the potential for your home to disappear from the market when its under contract only to keep reappearing when buyers back out for whatever reason. When agents and buyers see this happen more than once we start to question, ‘what is wrong with that house?’
Not all home inspectors offer pre-listing inspections but talk with your real estate agent ahead of time. Most of us have about three inspectors we will recommend. We all have one we try to use the most but they might not always be available so we are happy to give our clients a few names to call on. I have had a lot of success with Ian Cooke of Pillar to Post out of Missoula.
When you do get around to actually listing your home, your agent will come over and take a bunch of photos of the inside and outside of your home as well as the surrounding area if you have some fun landscape or waterfront that we want to highlight.
Decluttering ahead of time is definitely something I recommend.
“What do you mean by decluttering?” one of my sellers asked after I mentioned it. That would be the 3 full storage units and 2 trips to goodwill plus over 20 trips to the dump they completed before we got new photos taken and their home under contract within 24 hours of re-listing.
Not everyone has that much furniture and artwork around their home but the main thing is that potential buyers want to walk around your house and imagine their furniture in the rooms and their photos on the walls. Ideally, address any staining or painting issues as well as landscaping hiccups before photos are taken.
Your realtor will have you sign some forms that I call Agency Forms. These establish everyone’s contact information, our duties in how we represent you (as a buyer or a seller or a potential dual agent) and how long we will all commit to working together. The actual Listing Agreement is a multi-page contract establishing your asking price as well as our commissions and what we offer to other agents representing any buyers. In Montana, buyers do not pay commissions to their agent. We agents all disclose on our mls member listings what we are going to pay a buyer’s agent out of our own earned commissions.
Your agent will also have you fill out and sign various disclosures as you list your home. Be honest about any known liens against your place or any knowledge of negative or adverse material facts- most of these things will show up after inspection of the home or your title anyhow and at that point you may risk losing the deal if you didn’t disclose them beforehand.
Once all of these are signed and we list your house, if its in decent shape and move-in-ready then most likely it will have showings within days, at least around Seeley Lake right now!
During showings plan for all humans and pets to be out of the house. It can be a drag to do this over and over so plan in advance where you can take your pets. Cats can often stay because, for the most part, they will likely hide someplace they feel safe but most dogs are too curious or friendly (or protective) to leave home during showings. And not all people love animals so it really is best to have everyone out of the house.
Once offers begin to come in your agent will advise you on what features of the offer make it more or less attractive than others. Buyers who are already pre-approved for the offer amount and ones who are putting a larger down payment down (or ones who are paying cash) are definitely more attractive and than ones who haven’t even begun looking for financing.
Some buyers are even waiving home inspections to be more competitive in this crazy market. I, personally, do not recommend skipping this important step to buyers I am representing.
Once you accept an offer you get to decide whether to continue showing your home for potential back up offers or if you want your listing to go Pending. Some sellers don’t want to keep packing the kids up and having a bunch of day-to-day things hidden in cupboards in case of potential showings so they go Pending. I sometimes recommend that if an offer is solid and buyers are pre-approved for the amount offered; it gives buyers some confidence that you are satisfied with their offer and won’t continue to show your home in order to get back-up offers.
The home inspection is usually scheduled soon after by the buyers. Inspectors don’t want sellers in the house for the inspection but if your pets aren’t going to attack them then they usually can stay, as long as they aren’t going to be crawling all over the inspector!
A buyer’s agent will submit any things they want fixed/replaced/removed to your agent and everyone can negotiate how they want to address this. Hopefully the buyer’s agent has educated their buyers that a home inspection is not a fix-it-list and that inspectors are hired to point out any and every adverse thing found, including light bulbs that don’t work and a lack of gutters, which may or may not be pertinent to where you live.
Assuming you all come to an agreement, the next most common thing to happen is for the buyer’s bank to schedule an appraisal (if they are financing their purchase.)
Again, this is different from the inspection and I can honestly say I have seen appraisals happen in very different ways. Some have been done completely on the outside of a home, where we were never contacted ahead of time. More commonly, though, the appraiser needs access to your house to complete a thorough appraisal. Appraisers aren’t going to care if you are home but please respect their need to get things done and don’t be chit chatty.
During this process the agreed-upon title company will work on getting all aspect’s of your property’s title put together and submitted to both parties in the transaction. Generally speaking, most titles are clean but sometimes an easement through your property or a long-lost cousin Vinny are discovered and may affect the sale moving forward. More negotiations could happen because of this but, again, this is not overly common.
Our office has successfully partnered with First American Title Company although there are others who are great to work with, too. FATCO, as we call them, has offices all over in a variety of states so we can usually handle transactions for buyers who aren’t in our immediate community.
At this point you are pretty much set to coast into your anticipated closing! While I learned right off the bat that “nothing is closed until its closed”, you tend to have a feel for transactions once you’ve got a few behind you.
Buyers can close in a different state and overnight paperwork to wherever you are closing. Your title company will be communicating with your bank and your real estate agent the entire transaction to make sure this all happens. The title company will pro-rate things like taxes, Home Owner Association dues, propane and other things and they will also handle everything you have negotiated regarding the home and title inspections. They will also arrange paying-off any outstanding mortgages or liens on the property you are selling.
When its time to close, bring a photo ID and a blank check or deposit slip for where the funds are to be deposited. Don’t plan on writing a check for a brand new truck after you leave the title company because it can take another day before funds are deposited. In fact, in most cases, the closing isn’t even complete until the title company records the deed that you just signed over.
So that’s listing and selling your home in a nutshell!
No two transactions are alike, however, and what is currently happening in your community may affect how you negotiated various things. For example, it is really challenging finding a builder right now in Seeley Lake so while you might be able to get electrical or plumbing issues sorted out post-inspection, you may have to offer funds back at closing for things a building contractor would fix.
As licensed real estate professionals, it is our job to explain these things to you and try to find the best solution for everyone. We want our sellers to be happy and we also want a buyer and their agent to be happy as well. It makes for warm fuzzies all-around and it also makes us more likely to want to work with another agent down the road if we have shared a good transaction that closed with all parties content.
I recommend using a licensed real estate agent when listing your home. Most of us won’t “just do the paperwork” on For Sale By Owner (FSBO) listings- it isn’t worth our license if something hinky goes down. We will generally steer you towards a lawyer who can handle everything for you if you want to list or purchase as a FSBO. Online sale sites do not have actual humans running some of the listings so there can be a lot of variance and not much accountability.
If you have questions about real estate, please ask! The market is hot if you’re a seller right now but make sure you have somewhere to move into ahead of time if you’re going to list a decent home in Seeley Lake!