The home you own may be the most significant financial asset you ever buy, and perhaps even your retirement nest egg. It will be your safe haven – the place you, your family, your pets and your friends feel most secure. With so much at stake, the question of who to turn to for guidance in buying and selling a home should be carefully considered.
Like any good advisor, your real estate agent is someone you can turn to again and again as your housing needs, and your life, evolves. You may have friends who are real estate agents, and it may seem natural to work with one of them. Whoever you consider, interview them as if you are hiring a person to treat your long term financial and personal well-being as their own.
Start by asking questions. Ask people whom you trust and respect, like family members, friends you value, professionals you use like bankers, lawyers, and accountants. Ask them who they have worked with, if they would use them again and if they would recommend them to you.
Make sure you interview a number of agents so that you know who you are most comfortable trusting to assist you in buying and selling real estate. You can use open houses as an interview tool, giving you an opportunity to talk face to face. Make sure you first consider what is important to you so that you can ask the right questions. And make sure you do your research to see if their reputation has stood the test of time.
The right agent for you is not necessarily the one who advertises the most, but is one who will place your success ahead of their own. Like good friends, they aren’t always common and you have to do a little work to find them. Buying and selling a home can be stressful, but don’t get discouraged. Finding the right agent will provide you with a level of satisfaction that is fundamental to your daily well being. Your home will come to represent so much more than the house you live in.
Selling a home is typically a function of two very important issues: cost and time. In fact, the two basic questions that come up for most serious home sellers are “How much will I get for my house?” and, “How long will it take to sell?” The two questions go hand in hand; typically the higher the asking price, the longer a home will take to sell. However, the market is never typical, and a real estate agent can help you understand what the current market is like.
Sometimes it’s a sellers market and sometimes it’s a buyers market. Often it’s somewhere in between, and leaning somewhat in favour of either buyers or sellers. Reliable information can make all the difference when it comes to getting the best price, and will provide you with a better idea of how long it will take to sell.
The Greater Vancouver real estate market has a history of volatility, and in the last twenty years has existed almost independently of real estate market forces that were experienced everywhere else in Canada and throughout North America. Trying to compare the Vancouver market to other parts of Canada or the US just doesn’t work. You need local experts. Armed with their expert opinions on the state of the market, they will provide your best chance to make a reasonable estimate as to how long it will take to sell your home.
Your best source of information is your local agent. And remember, this information is continually changing so you should be getting regular updates allowing you to adjust your marketing plans if and when required.
The simple answer is a measure of supply and demand. However, house prices are rarely static. They tend to go up over the years, but not steadily. They can drop, too – sometimes dramatically. Overall, supply and demand governs the ebb and flow of home prices.
Land, after all, is in limited supply. When you think of how many billions of people live on earth it is hard to think that prices will not continue upwards, especially when it seems most of us want to live in the same places and compete for the same available homes. This is especially true in BC’s Lower Mainland. The value attached to the land is typically a function its location and size.
Then there is the home itself. In Vancouver it is not unusual to see an absolute wreck of a home on a small lot with an asking price of over a million dollars. This is a clear example of the scarcity of desirable land in Vancouver compared to the number of people who would like to occupy that location.
In the Vancouver area we do not often get new single family lots, so it is not uncommon to tear down old homes and build new ones in desirable neighbourhoods. Most of the time that older home is actually still livable, and then the challenge is to put a value to it. A buyer always thinks a home is worth less than the seller is asking. This seems to change once they become the owner.
In the meantime both the buyer and the seller typically depend on their real estate agents to give them valuable insight and relevant information that will help them settle on a price. Both the buyer and seller need to know how comparable homes have been selling. It sounds simple, but because no two homes are ever exactly alike, the challenge lies in how you assess the variables, such as the size and location of the lot, square footage, condition and age of the home, condition of the neighbourhood, desirability of the location, and more.
On top of all the variables you have the fact that real estate is an ever changing landscape. Neighbourhoods change continually – sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. You need to get a handle on all the factors. There is still nothing better than a local, knowledgeable agent who can put all these factors into perspective so that when you sell, you do not undersell the property, and when you buy, you do not pay too much.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to maintain and improve your home while you live in it is so that when the time comes to sell it, you will be in a good position to maximize the value of your property. It is amazing to see how a well-decorated and maintained home can bring a quick sale and top dollar. After all, when all the furniture is taken away it looks like most of the other homes in the neighbourhood – so why would a buyer not realize this?
If you have ever seen a brand new condominium, you have probably seen the art of staging a home raised to a very high level. New home sales almost always use a showhome to capture a buyers interest, and it works well to attract higher selling prices.
Should you hire a home staging service? You should certainly consider it; just having a few home stagers come over for a proposal will give you an idea of what the professionals think of your home. This is a good starting place. They might suggest your home needs a complete makeover or they might just recommend a few steps you should consider. A lot of it will depend on how you have maintained your home over the years and how ‘showable’ your home is. Remember, just because you have spent a lot of money to make your home fit your needs, doesn’t mean it will appeal to the majority of buyers.
The majority of buyers want a spotlessly clean, modern, well-decorated home. If it’s an older home, buyers will most closely inspect the kitchen and bathrooms. And if they decide these areas need updating they will factor the costs very conservatively. They will consider not just the price, but all the work, the headaches and the surprises that come with a home renovation. The same if they have to consider new flooring and paint, which are two common basic home improvements.
Most people view their home as their own personal space and it’s hard for them to see it from the perspective of the buyers. This is why you need to seriously consider what the professionals have to say. The home stagers, along with your real estate agent, should be able to help you with a professional evaluation of the marketability of your home.
Sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and if your house is not in pristine shape, you may need to consider some updates to increase the potential selling price. Ideally you have been keeping your house clean and updated, and not only have you been able to maximize your enjoyment of the property over the years, but you are also in a good position to put your home on the market and realize a quicker sale and a better price than if you had not taken these steps.
One of the most challenging concepts a homeowner has to come to grips with is looking at their home as a house/condo. So what’s the difference? For most of us, our home is our ultimate comfort zone. It is our safe haven, where we feel the most secure. It is often like a comfortable pair of slippers that we continue to wear long after they should have been retired. They feel way better than they look. As homeowners we tend to not see the wear nor do we see the clutter.
A house/condo is different. It belongs to someone else and we tend to look at houses and condos with a far more critical eye. We see the deferred maintenance, we see that the faded, weathered walls could use a coat of paint. Or even if they are still in good shape we see that the colour is from another era. We can see at a glance when a house has been cared for and if it has been recently updated. When we see a house that needs updating we see dollar signs. As a potential buyer we see a money pit and as a prudent buyer we will round up our estimate of the work involved to thousands if not tens of thousands. And if you are the seller of such a house/condo, those thousands of dollars are going to come out of your pocket.
In an ideal world you would maintain and update your home on a continuous basis. That way you get to enjoy the enhanced pride of ownership knowing that when you are ready to sell, a major renovation will not be required. And, more importantly, you will have the satisfaction that you have done everything you can to get the maximum return on what may be your most significant personal asset.
So let’s assume you are one of those sellers who has been too busy with work and all the other demands we have to deal with to take care of your home like you should have. Where do you start? This is a good time to speak to a knowledgeable real estate agent, as they should be able to give you a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your home compared to other local housing, townhouses and condominiums. In other words how you stand with the competition.
Do you know if your house is at lot value? Again you need to talk to your real estate professional. For instance, in Vancouver and Richmond it is common to see very livable homes bulldozed to make way for new construction. However, even if it is lot value it still pays to get rid of the clutter and make the house look as livable as possible as many builders like it when they know the house is rentable should they not want to build right away.
If we are talking about your house and it is not lot value you should get some valuable suggestions from a real estate agent as to what your house needs to get top dollar. The same goes for a townhouses and condominiums. If you are reluctant to speak with an agent then perhaps you should reconsider the value versus the cost of talking to a real estate agent.
To begin with, it costs nothing to speak to a real estate agent. If you do not have a trusted agent then this is probably a good time to interview three. That way you should get a number of different perspectives on what you should do to prepare your home to sell and at the same time you will have a better idea of who you may want to hire when it comes time to sell your home. I strongly suggest you start talking to your real estate agent well before you are actually ready to sell as you want to be able to consider the advice as you work toward the actual day you place your home on the market.
Have you ever gone to see a model home or condominium development? Notice that the show home is professionally decorated? Remember these house/condo builders do not spend money they do not expect to get a return on. As a homeowner looking to sell, you need to think like they do if you want to get top dollar in the sale of your home.
So lets start with clutter. If you have lived in your home more than a few years your closets and drawers are probably full, if not stuffed to the ceilings. Start by pulling everything out and making two piles. In one pile place the items you really need and use. The rest you should box up. I would suggest two boxes. One box would be for recycling or donating and the other for offsite storage. It would be ideal if you have a garage or other storage area you can temporarily use until you get a better idea of how large a storage area you will need to rent. Keep in mind that you do not want to leave these boxes in the garage as you want to make sure to get rid of garage clutter too. You also need to be merciless in getting rid of clutter. The cost of storage is cheap compared to the value you will lose if you leave all that clutter in the house.
This is also a good time to store away all the family photos. Clear the walls and counter space of all personal photos. This goes for every room in the house. You want potential buyers to imagine themselves moving in and your personal photos will detract from this important first step in their minds.
As you go through all the rooms you should start to get a better idea of the condition of your house. A coat of paint and new flooring will provide an instant uplift to the marketability of your house, townhouse or condo resulting in a higher price as well as a quicker sale.
Other areas you should consider are the kitchen and the bathrooms. Kitchens especially can provide valuable payback if they are updated. New countertops, new cabinet doors, new fixtures… The odds are you will get every dollar of updating back along with a quicker sale. There is also a good chance you will get double or triple your money back on these improvements. However, you need to spend wisely and I encourage you to speak with a professional. A knowledgeable real estate agent, building contractor and/or a home decorator will be able to help you focus your renovation dollars in the right areas.
This amount of work is not easy but then you are probably used to working hard for your dollars. Your home is likely worth hundreds of thousand of dollars if not much more. To be able to sell this valuable asset for 5 or 10% more than you would otherwise get is significant. Whether it is a sellers or a buyers market doesn’t matter. Either way having your home look like a quality house/condo is time and money well spent.
ATT Attached (garage, in-law suite, studio)
DOM Days on Market
DET Detached (garage, in-law suite, studio)
DR Dining Room
DL District Lot
FAQ Frequently Asked Questions
FME Free Market Evaluation
FSBO For Sale By Owner
HW Hardwood flooring
HVAC Heating, ventilating, air conditioning
LR Living Room
MBR Master Bedroom
MLS Multiple Listing Service
PDS Property Disclosure Statement
PID Parcel Identifier Numbers
RECFA Recreation Facilities
SF Square Feet
S/S Stainless Steel
SL Strata Lot