Your Money > Five Tips
Smart ways to sell your house
5 Tips: Selling your house
April 5, 2004: 3:47 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Thinking of cashing in your home in this red-hot real estate market?

Who can blame you? After all, prices are expected to rise 7 percent this year after climbing more than 9 percent last year. Or maybe you're selling because you're changing jobs, downsizing, leaving the fast lane.

Whatever the reason for putting your abode on the auction block, you'll want to figure out the smartest way of doing it. Here are today's five tips.

1. Roll up your shirtsleeves.

Before you even think of calling up a real estate agent, take a reality check. Most people live in their homes for seven years before selling. That means prices have changed dramatically while you've been going on with your life, buying braces for the kids and climbing the corporate ladder.

To get a sense of the market -- and the competition your house will face, go to, the country's biggest online site and check out the homes in your town that go for the price you expect to be asking.

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on selling your house.

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Are there many homes you'll be competing with? How do the homes on the market now compare with yours in terms of square footage? Number of baths? What about extras like decks, fireplaces and swimming pools?

Next, take a look around your neighborhood. Are you the only one who hasn't upgraded? Is your house the only one with a carport while everyone else has a finished garage? If you find a big gap between the amenities of your house and those of your neighbors, your expectations for a selling price may be way out of line.

2. Go out on your own.

If you have the interest, the time, and the patience, you may want to consider selling on your own. This is particularly attractive to people who live in markets where appreciation rates have been relatively slow. Remember that selling on your own means paying no fat broker commission of six percent.

Yet taking the "for sale by owner" (sometimes called fizbo) route, can be intimidating. Let's face it, if we had to rely only on putting up a sign in our front yard to sell a house, the results could be tragic.

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Fortunately, that's not the way it is anymore. In fact, the flush real estate industry has attracted loads of entrepreneurs eager to cash in. Fizbo magazines exist in many towns where you can advertise your castle at low cost.

Web sites, too, can provide help. By logging onto, you can get your home onto the National Association of Realtors' multiple listing service. The MLS is a detailed electronic data base that agents use as their primary selling tool.

Worried about getting the details right? Every real estate transaction has a number of professionals involved beyond the agent; the attorney, the banker, the mortgage broker. Together, they can make sure that you've got all the T's crossed and I's dotted.

Of course, selling on your own isn't for everyone. If you're pressed for time already or you feel uncomfortable taking strangers on tours of your home, consider getting professional help.

3. Fix it up.

Before you hold your first open house, consider how your abode will look to a complete stranger.

You may have grown accustomed to the orange shag carpeting and harvest gold appliances, but young families may have different tastes. Cut the clutter and depersonalize the space so that potential buyers can picture their own belongings in your house.

If your home is truly dated, consider some inexpensive but effective pick-me-ups. You can buy a kitchen island and install it yourself for under $1,000. Islands are popular and have lots of consumer appeal.

Bathrooms, too, are key. Consider buying updated fixtures, such as lights and perhaps even mirrors. By spending less than $500 on those elements, plus a quick paint job and new shower curtain, you can quickly make a tired bathroom seem fresher.

4. Set the right offering price.

Okay, imagine this nightmare scenario, you do all the hard work to get ready to sell you home, schedule the open house --- and nobody comes.

That's exactly what could happen to you if you don't set the right offer price. If you're putting your house on the market at a time that prices are rising, some experts suggest putting your home on the market with a price a little below the going rate. Why? A bidding war may erupt that nets you a better price than you ever dreamed.

But if the market is weak, pricing a home below market is a recipe for disaster. Anemic real estate markets are not the time for games; set your listing price right in line with recent sales of similar properties.

Another strategy you might consider in tough markets: Offer seller financing. The way this works is pretty straightforward, you collect a down payment up front from the buyer, that is slightly higher than payments on a conventional mortgage (because you are assuming the bank's risk). Few buyers walk away from their down payment.

5. Get ready for the closing.

Selling a house is expensive -- expect to pay 7 to 10 percent of the house's sales price in various commissions and fees and possibly any repairs you agree to make to seal the deal.

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Watch out for transfer taxes levied by your local town or county. And, of course, you also have to pay any real estate taxes due to bring you up to date, or prorated taxes.

You'll also need to figure out how much money you'll need to pay off your mortgage. Subtract the amount of monthly mortgage payments you'll be making between now and your closing from the amount you still owe on your house. Add back mortgage prepayment penalties.

Gerri Willis is the personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's The FlipSide, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to  Top of page

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