The prospect of selling and leaving your long-time home can seem overwhelming under the best of circumstances, but more so if you have lost your spouse, have health or cognitive issues, or need a quick sale so you can move to a better situation, such as assisted living. The challenge is greater if the homeis in poor condition, say, because of long-deferred maintenance.
Your home will fetch the highest price if it shows its best—it’s updated, in good repair, decluttered, cleaned and staged. But that requires time, money, energy and expertise that you—or loved ones who want to help you or will inherit your home—may lack. In that case, you still have options: You can sell the house for a price that reflects its “as-is” condition through a real estate agent or for a significant discount to a real-estate investor who can close quickly and for cash. You’ll take away less money in exchange for convenience.
Before you assume anything, talk with a real estate agent who specializes in helping seniors (search for a Senior Real Estate Specialist, or SRES, certified by the National Association of Realtors). The agent will visit and assess your home’s attractiveness to prospective buyers, review your situation and connect you with people who can help with your transition. If you hire the senior specialist to sell your home, you’ll pay a commission, typically 4% to 6% of the sale price. You also could spend a few hundred dollars for a professional home inspection, an unbiased assessment of its condition and any need for repairs or replacement.
Selling “As Is”
If your home could use a facelift, but is functional, you could sell it in “as is” condition, meaning you won’t pay for additional improvements or repairs requested by a buyer. Your real estate agent will list the home on the local multiple listing service and market it to buyers—fixer-uppers, flippers and landlords—who can envision it fixed up after they invest their own resources.
Buyers will expect a bargain, says Colleen Ketcham, a senior specialist with Lundgren Realty Group, in White Bear Lake, Minn. To set the price, your agent will look at recent sales in your area of comparable homes (style, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms) and adjust for your home’s condition. You must still pay an agent’s commission, and other seller closing costs. Cleaned out and spick-and-span is always best, and you’ll sell faster and for a higher price if you can afford to spend $5,000 to $10,000 to paint and put in new flooring or carpet, says Ketcham.
Buyers can add contingencies to their purchase offer for inspection and financing. If their inspection or an appraisal required for FHA or VA financing reveals problems you won’t pay to fix, buyers can bail out and you’re back to square one. Even if you sell “as is,” you must disclose to buyers any defects you know about.
Find an investor
If deferred maintenance has stacked up and you want the quickest-possible sale with the least hassle and expense, you can sell directly to a real estate investor. Investors buy houses that aren’t “retail-ready,” says David Hicks, co-president of HomeVestors of America, a.k.a., “We Buy Ugly Houses,” a franchisor of investors operating in 47 states and 170 cities in the U.S. Hicks says his investors mostly buy smaller homes built in 1980 or earlier that will appeal to entry-level buyers or renters. Homes built after 2000 generally are too large, nice and high-priced to interest investors. “The sellers who call us are thinking, ‘How will I ever get this house cleaned up for an agent to see it?’ We won’t judge them. We’ve seen it all,” says Hicks. After you’ve taken everything you want from the house, investors will dispose of the rest. You won’t even need to empty trash or sweep floors.
Before making an offer, reputable investors will come by to inspect the home and review your situation with you. They’ll base their offer on what they expect the house to sell for after it’s repaired, minus any remaining mortgage balance or other liens against it, the estimated cost of repairs and their profit. “Investors almost always start with a 25% discount to its ultimate [repaired] retail price, simply to get to a 10% profit after the dust settles,” says Dev Horn, vice president of marketing for We Buy Houses, which connects homeowners with its investor-licensees in 30 states and about 100 cities. Investors should share and explain their numbers willingly.
Investors usually allow 30 to 60 days for you to respond to their offer, after which they’ll want to re-inspect your property, says Hicks. If you accept an offer, the investor should make an earnest-money deposit of, say, $500. It should be held by the title company or real estate lawyer the investor hires to conduct a title search and conduct the closing. At closing, you’ll be paid with a cashier’s check or wire transfer.
To find an investor, ask for a referral from a local real estate agent, search by location at HomeVestors.com or WeBuyHouses.com, or respond to one of the “we want to buy your house” or “sell your house fast” solicitations you’ve probably received in the mail. Look for a well-established business identity—a referral from someone you trust, verifiable references, a rating from the Better Business Bureau or the backing of a well-established company.
Working with an investor was a boon for Bonajean McAneney, 53, formerly of Lowell, Mass. Prior to her mother’s death in early 2018, McAneney lived with and cared for her mother for four years and subsequently inherited the family home. Built in 1960, the house suffered from neglect and was filled with decades of belongings. “We didn’t have the money to keep it up and it was literally falling apart,” says McAneney. Plus, she was a year behind on property taxes.
Anxious to get out, McAneney called a local real-estate investor, WinWin Properties, a HomeVestors franchisee. She accepted its offer of $115,000 for the 1,385 square-foot, four-bedroom, one-bathroom home on two-thirds of an acre. Based on a neighbor’s recent sale, McAneney knew that in good condition, the home would have sold for almost three times as much. But selling to WinWin allowed her to take just the items she wanted, leave the rest, and start over in a home of her own near family in another state.
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