Q: Our parents bequeathed their home to their children, and after many years, we have all agreed to sell. We do not know how to determine the fair market value since the last home on our block was sold several years ago in a different housing market. One of us would like to make some improvements and retain the service of an agent. The third is ambivalent, but we are all open to reason. Would you please give us an idea as to the best way you think we should proceed, since we seem to be off to a flying stand still?
A: Clearly, you have made the first and hardest decision--namely to sell the house. Now you want to proceed to the business of actually finding a buyer.
You could not have picked a worst time to sell. However, if the price is right and if you are able (and willing) to participate in the financing--i.e., take back a first or second mortgage--you may find a receptive buyer fairly quickly.
The first step is to determine the market value of your property. Whether or not you use the services of a real estate agent, you want to be certain that the house is being marketed fairly, neither too high nor too low. I suggest that you contact a number of real estate agents, and ask them to evaluate your house. Tell them that you are considering giving a listing to a real estate broker, and want to know what they think the house is worth. You may also want to spend a few hundred dollars by obtaining the services of a professional appraiser who will give you a written report on the market value of your property.
While you are interviewing real estate agents you will get a feel of whether you want to try to sell the house yourself, or give a listing to an agent. Selling a house involves a lot of time, and a lot of details. It is possible to sell your house yourself, but it requires a commitment of time, which you may not want to give.
If any of you have the time--and the patience--I certainly recommend trying the "Do It Yourself" approach for a little while. As indicated earlier, if the price is right and if the financing is available, this will give you a good head start in today's real estate market.
Whether or not you engage a real estate company to assist you, inquire as to the status of your existing mortgage, if any. If there is a mortgage on the property, find out from the lender whether it is assumable, and if so, at what interest rate. Keep in mind that the older mortgages, generally entered into before 1968, did not contain any "due on sale" or "non-assumption" clauses, and the general rule of law is that in the absence of non-assumption language a mortgage is freely assumable at the old rate.
If you have no mortgage on the property, and if you are prepared to take back financing, you really should have no difficult selling the house, unless of course it is in bad condition. Many prospective purchasers would prefer to take a house in an "as is" condition, because they can get a considerable savings in the purchase price. Unless there are glaring deficiences in your house--such as housing code violations--it certainly makes sense to try to sell the house in its present condition. I have often found, for example, that when someone paints a room, thinking that it would be attractive to prospective purchasers, the color is not necessarily to the liking of the purchaser.
You did not tell whether there were tenants in the property. In certain jurisdictions in this area, tenants have rights of first refusal. In any event, if you have a tenant, you should offer the property to the tenant first, and if the terms are attractive enough, you may find that your tenant will be interested in buying your house.
Finally, we get to the issue of whether you should use a real estate agent. It is possible to sell your house yourself--even in today's crazy real estate market. However, if you decide to use the services of a real estate agent, shop around before you commit yourself. Don't necessarily go to the biggest real estate company in town, because size does not always equate with quality. You want a commitment from the real estate agent or broker whom you contact that they personally will be involved in the day-to-day marketing of your house. Too many real estate agents merely want to get a listing on your house, but once that listing is obtained, they sit back and don't spend the time necessary to sell a house.
Additionally, many real estate agents are now very reluctant to spend money advertising your house, because ads are expensive. Get a written commitment from the real estate agent as to how many open houses will be held and how often the ads will be placed.
In the final analysis, the decision on selling your house yourself is a very personal one. It can be done if you are so inclined.