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A Seller’s Guide to Real Estate

With home prices skyrocketing, sellers need to protect themselves

It’s no secret that the housing market in Northern Virginia is booming, with homes staying on the market for short periods of time and buyers trying to out bid each other on the scarce supply of home available for purchase.

The easy assumption would be that sellers are having a joyride handing over the keys to their house to the highest bidder.

The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) has recently published a guide for first-time sellers, available in five languages, that lists some things sellers should keep in mind when negotiating the sale of their home.

“In this market where sellers are getting so many contracts on their homes, they need to know they have the right to review all contracts,” said Amy Ritsko-Warren, communications director for NVAR. “Obviously, the sellers are the ones making the final decision on who purchases their home. Most sellers, don’t realize that they can continue to look at contracts once an offer has been accepted."

Sellers need to keep a number of things in mind when going through the process of finding a buyer for their home.

“You still need to maintain a decent price range,” which may be difficult to do when homes are selling for record prices, said Pat Kline, an associate broker with Avery Hess Realtors in Springfield.

If a price is too high, a house will languish on the market, frustrating the seller and pushing buyers away to different properties, she said. “It’s a good position to be in, selling a home today, but you need someone to analyze the pros and cons of each offer on a house."

In that respect, finding a Realtor may be a seller’s top priority.

“I’ve seen people who sell their homes themselves that could probably have gotten a lot more for their home if they’d had some help,” she said.

ONE WAY that Realtors can help clients is by checking contracts for “terms applicable to their situation,” Kline said, such as the price, settlement date and how the purchase will be financed.

If a buyer wants to move into the house prior to when the seller’s new home will be ready, the seller needs to take that into consideration, she said.

“Sometimes you can find a contract that will allow you to live in your house a little longer to pack things up and clear out before moving into a new house,” Kline said.

Her advice to sellers, other than finding a Realtor, is to dress a home up and get rid of some “clutter that might distract” a potential buyer from a property.

“You also need to find a place to live once your house sells,” Kline said. “Unless a seller already has a place lined up, they have to have a plan. It’s important to write a contract on a new home that is not contingent on the sale of your current home,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges for Lesa Grimes, a Realtor with Samson Realty in Chantilly, is helping her clients determine the best time to put their home on the market.

“The longer you wait to put your house up for sale, the more it’ll be worth,” she said. “People usually have a time frame in which they want to move into their new home and try to figure out when the best time to put their home onto the market and that effects the price.”

Sellers should also consider the sale price of other similar homes in their area during the past 90 days, not just the past month, as it gives a better indication of what could be considered a fair asking price, she said.

“Sometimes people get an inflated vision of how much their house should sell for and it just sits on the market,” Grimes said. “Everyone wants to get the most they can for their home.”

Additionally, sellers need to be flexible in the process of choosing a buyer, especially the way the home is decorated.

“It’s the most personal thing you’ll ever sell, but just because you love the way your house looks doesn’t mean everyone else will,” Grimes said.

When looking at a contract, sellers need to check the financing plan for the buyer.

“It’s important to look for a strong lender,” Grimes said. “We do see a lot of brokers that will put a contract in without listing a lender or a pre-approval letter, which can turn the whole thing into a horrible process.”

Sellers should find a broker they’d be comfortable with and Grimes recommends using one agent for both selling their current home and purchasing their new home.

“It’s easier that way. I feel a strong connection with my clients when I cover both sides of the transaction because they know everything will be taken care of and will happen more smoothly,” she said.

FROM A Realtor’s perspective, “the key is looking at this as a business of helping clients and taking care of their needs,” Grimes said.

And keeping real estate transactions as business deals makes the process go along faster, said Joyce Bush, from Long and Foster’s Leesburg office.

“This is a business. It’s not emotional,” she said.

Contributing to that detached feeling is the fact that it’s rare to find a seller in this area who has lived in the current home for more than three or four years, she said.

“We don’t have a lot of people in this area who have lived in their homes for 10 years or more,” she said. “That makes sellers a little bit more able to make this a business decision.”

Dealing with a buyer who has a contract with a well-known lender can eliminate some of the stress of the transaction, she said.

“I don’t recommend a client look for a specific lender on a contract, but it’s always better to go with a company that’s well-known and well-established,” Bush said. “If one contract is from Countrywide, another is from Bank of America and the third is from a smaller, lesser-known lender, I’ll advise my client to go for one of the bigger ones,” she said.

“I interview the lender as much as I examine the contract itself,” she said.

At the end of the transaction, it’s a win-win situation for the buyer and seller alike.

“The seller is happy, they might be getting more for their home than they’d expected. The buyer is getting a dream home and they’re moving ahead in life. There’s no downside,” Bush said.