I have been known to say jokingly to my husband, “you know, Realtors® should buy and sell a home every eight years like most everyone else,, so we can remember what we put people through.” And then we laugh.
Well, we just bought a home. We’re laughing now, but we weren’t laughing all the time during the process. It was certainly a process. I’m writing this (Karen) as a home buyer and seller, not a real estate agent. I was experiencing things much more like a home buyer than an agent, while I think Chris was able to keep a Realtor’s perspective much better. He was much more stoic than I. That’s actually putting it mildly…I was a ball of stress by the end, lol.
We have advised people for years that you use both sides of your brain when you are buying and selling a home. No matter how analytical or unemotional you are in your day to day life, your emotions will show up sometime in the real estate process. They will appear in positive and negative ways, and you will probably have to find a way to keep them in check.
Buying and selling a home is stressful, and stress can play havoc with your emotions. As I write this, I’m getting in touch with all the emotions I felt and I’m going to share our story and be as transparent as I can.
Table of Contents
- Two Real Estate Agents Sell their Home
- 2. Do the Necessary Repairs
- Two Real Estate Agents Buy a Home…
- We found our Dream Home!
- The Contract to Close Journey
- It Can Be a Lengthy Process
- Take-Away from our Experience
- But Wait, There’s More…
- Find Out What Your Home May Be Worth (takes 15 seconds)
- Search for homes for sale in Central Maryland
- Need A Real Estate Agent in Your City? We Can Refer a Great Agent!
Two Real Estate Agents Sell their Home
Just getting our home on the market was a six-month process. Yes, it was exhausting, but not really an emotional roller-coaster. It’s a lot of work. It takes planning and it doesn’t happen in a moment…at least if you want to have success.
As real estate agents, we knew what it would take to get our home in the right condition to get it sold in the least amount of time and for top dollar. You may not follow our order of things, and you may have different issues to tackle. Here’s the breakdown of what we did to sell our home and the reasons why:
We had a lifetime of stuff to pare down, including lots of items our grown children left after their departure. Lots. Of. Stuff. That took most of the preparation time. You may not have a lot of stuff like we did after 30-some years of marriage and raising four kids, but if you do, I’ve got some great resources.
I Highly Recommend Giving it Away*
After three decades of homemaking we had a lot of furniture and items that really weren’t worth a lot, but were still serviceable, so selling things would have been a big headache to me. I could have had several yard sales, but I wasn’t interested in taking that much time. There were also lots of things that went to the dump, or went out in the weekly trash.
- Luckily, I stumbled upon Freecycle. Freecycle.org was a life-saver! The Freecycle Network™ is a grassroots non-profit movement made up of “5,323 groups with 9,168,546 members around the world” (at the time of this writing). Membership is free and you can give or get stuff for free in your own area, if a group exists. I got rid of so much stuff, and I met so many people who were in need but didn’t have the money to buy something. It was heart-warming and I’m glad I did it. And best of all for me, they came to my house and picked it up!
- Donations to the local non-profits helped me get rid of the small things. Many of my kids toys (that they didn’t claim), clothing, knick-knacks, dishes, and small furniture went to three groups: Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, and Purple Heart. Purple Heart will come and pick it up, a bonus. You may have other favorite local non-profits, but they are always happy to take your useful donations.
- The last week before we moved out of the home, we were exhausted! We had moved everything we wanted to the new home, or to a storage garage. I hired a couple to come and pick up the rest of the stuff. It took them two pick-up truck hauls. This was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done, lol.
*All of that said, if you have valuable things, it is certainly worth it to find ways to sell things you don’t want, or perhaps store them for a later sale. Read this: Four Tips for Downsizing.
There are a plethora of ideas to get decent money for your items:
- Have an auction
- Yard sale(s)
- Consignment shops
- eBay, Amazon, Bonanza, eBid, Letitgo
- Facebook Marketplace
- Sell to local antique stores
- I’m sure there are a lot more
2. Do the Necessary Repairs
We’ve been advising sellers for years about “necessary” repairs. There is no particular list that everyone advises or follows. It all depends on your home. The first thing you need to consider are the major systems of the home, items and appliances of your home, the HVAC, the roof, plumbing, electrical systems, major appliances and other most costly items.
Here’s how we explain it…
Every home is in a repair cycle. Every system in the home is somewhere in it’s repair or replacement cycle. If you have too many major things at the end of their life-cycle when you try to sell your home, home buyers will balk at the amount of work and money needed to get all those things fixed and updated.
If you want to avoid low-ball offers, you’ll need to examine which items and systems need to be addressed and which ones may not need attention. You’ll have to consider your budget and make the smartest choices.
- If your roof is 20 or more years old, buyers will consider that an item they will need to replace soon.
- If your HVAC system is approaching 20 years old, the same.
- Depending on what type of siding, if any, that you have, it will show its age.
- Wood trim, porches and decks have an age limit, depending on how well they’ve been maintained.
- Appliances all have an expected life-cycle. If all of your appliances are nearing the end, you’ll want to replace them. If your appliances are at various stages, you may want to replace the most dated ones.
Secondly, you’ll need to consider the typical maintenance items, like painting, landscaping, grout, cracked tile, and broken or outdated lighting, fixtures and items. Although each item is not expensive, if you have too many, they add up in a buyer’s mind. A long list of outdated items and repairs will turn most buyers away. Again, avoiding low-ball offers means you’ll have to address as many of these cosmetic and maintenance items as you can.
You see why there is no “master list” of things you should do.
How We Prepared Our Home for Sale
Our home was 20 years old. All of the major systems were that age. The carpets had been replaced 10 years prior, so they weren’t original, but they were still worn. The hardwoods were worn. Our appliances were all within half of their life expectancy, if not newer. We had done repairs and replacements during our 10 years there.
Here is how we proceeded with the major systems:
- We put architectural shingles over the existing roof, rather than replace it. Roofing companies advise that you only do this once in a roof’s lifespan. That saved us a little more than a replacement, so we could afford the extra cost of architectural shingles, which, in our opinion, look so much better.
- We did not replace the HVAC because of the expense of the roof. We just didn’t want to spend that much. Also, we’d had it serviced every year for 10 years, and the owners before us did the same. We had records to show the maintenance, so we felt we could leave that one aged item as is.
- The hardwood floors were refinished in a darker shade, which really brought the decor up-to-date.
- We replaced the carpets throughout, and the vinyl flooring in the laundry room.
- We painted throughout the home in the popular color “greige” (except the master bedroom…it was in great condition.)
- We painted the outside wood trim and doors.
Here are the small items we tackled:
- We replaced the vanity in the basement bathroom because it was in sad shape. Lots of teenage boys…nuff said.
- I re-grouted in all three bathrooms. What a p-i-a, lol. I also touched up the caulk.
- We had a landscaper come and touch up some neglected areas, which only cost us $1,500, but made a great first impression. Totally worth it.
- We replaced the hideous mailbox. Why we waited 10 years, I don’t know!
- We stained the deck.
- We painted the metal handrails.
- We power-washed the walkways and basement stairwell, and the vinyl siding. What a difference that makes! All it takes is elbow grease!
3. A Word About Deferred Maintenance
When you let things go too long, they will come back to bite you. We had one of those things. The water line to the icemaker in the refrigerator had been leaking for a while and we ignored it. When we moved the fridge out to paint behind it, we found floor damage as well as damage underneath the floor. We had to have a few beams replaced in the bedroom ceiling right below the kitchen. It wasn’t a big deal, but it could have been. We were lucky there was no mold!
Here’s what we DIDN’T have to do because we had been keeping up with things throughout the 10 years we had lived there:
- We had been replacing appliances as needed, keeping with the black finish. The gas stove was original, but those things last forever. Nothing was dated and it all looked like a cohesive package. I know that stainless-steel appliances are still popular, but I’m not a fan and I don’t think you absolutely have to have them to sell your home. #justmyopinion
- The kitchen tile was in good shape and even though it was approximately 18 years old, it was in a great neutral tone. I just scrubbed it and used a stain on the grout.
- We had replaced all the brass fixtures and lighting over the years with a brushed nickle/matte silver look. Everything was cohesive and current. We had a gas fireplace with brass trim, and turned out all I had to do was take some pliers and remove it.
- The kitchen counters were a timeless white Corian, and the cabinets were also a timeless white shaker style. I highly recommend both!
4. A Word About Home Staging
I’m a huge fan of staging a home for the market. Staging a home does several things: it increases your home’s appeal to a broader pool of buyers, it decreases the time on the market (statistics don’t lie!) and it sets the stage for the best possible photos for online marketing. <= A must!
Like I said, we de-cluttered for months. We packed up a lot of stuff (we’re going to move anyway, right?) and we did what we call “minimalist home staging“. It was a little inconvenient, but Chris and I, (and the dog) moved to the basement so the house would always look great.
And it did! It sold very quickly for the fall market. It got top dollar for that particular floor plan in our neighborhood.
Ahhhh, success!…we were halfway there…
Two Real Estate Agents Buy a Home…
…and for one of us, an emotional roller-coaster ride began! Sure, I’m laughing now. But I was sweating bullets a couple of times. Chris, bless him, was measured and even though I know he was stressed, kept it all buttoned up admirably.
The reason for the stress was primarily because we bought an old home. 64 years old. Even with all our experience, we had never owned a home that was more than 10 years old when we bought it. We had also never owned a home on well and septic. There were several other “firsts” that we experienced.
Here’s the sequence of events:
We found our Dream Home!
We had been casually looking for a while. As real estate agents, we see what comes on the market every day, almost the minute it hits the market. We knew we wanted single floor living (to give my old knees a break). But finding the right ranch home was not that easy.
Sometimes you have something in your mind, but when you go out to find it…it is rare, or even non-existent. Sometimes it has to do with the zoning, or the waves of home-building throughout the years in your area. I can’t count how many times a buyer wants to buy a new home on an acre…that’s just not possible these days, unless you custom build.
Once we started looking in earnest, going to tour homes, we found that most of the ranch homes were in the southern part of our county, where prices were higher. Most ranch homes in our area were built in the 70’s and 80’s and we really didn’t like them. We figured we’d have to spend another $50K to $100K opening up floor plans and doing renovations to get the open concept that we liked. If we saw a renovation already done, we didn’t want to spend that much. It was proving to be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Then it came up on our radar. We’d been seeing a particular ranch home online, but it hadn’t impressed us. Sometimes pictures don’t really do a home justice…you have to see it yourself. After the second price reduction we went to see it. It was a 64-year-old, all brick rancher on 9/10 an acre in a small neighborhood on the northwest side of town. Not exactly what we had imagined, but that’s often the case.
We entered the great room, walked through the kitchen and dining room, then out to the enclosed porch. We looked at each other and knew we’d found THE ONE. It was love at first sight!
Emotions, Enter Stage Right!
We inquired if there was any interest. There was none. I think it’s just not what people are looking for today. But we were! It fits in completely with our love of Mid-Century Modern!
So we wrote an offer for $10,000 over list price and asked for closing cost help. We felt pretty confident that it would appraise. Our offer was accepted and we were in business!
The Contract to Close Journey
First – the Home Inspection
We always advise home buyers to get a home inspection, even if they are buying a new construction home. Not only do you find anything that may be wrong with the home, you also get a guided tour of your home by a professional. This education is priceless.
Our home was 64 years old. Even more important to get a home inspection. We knew that the roof was new and the house was in overall great shape. The entire exterior was brick, a big plus. The landscaping was new. The wood floors were in amazing condition for being so old. The kitchen and bathrooms had been renovated some time in the early 2000’s, as far as we could see. The plumbing system was relatively new (no polybutylene or old copper pipes). We were pretty confident we could handle anything we found.
We still had several things to consider and weigh the future and present costs. Even though we have experience as real estate agents, owning it yourself is very different than helping someone else decide if they want to own it!
Home Inspection Revelations
We hired our friend and favorite home inspector, Dave Goldberg of Reliable Home Services. We’ve been recommending Dave for 26 years and think he’s absolutely the best. Here’s what we uncovered:
The major systems in the home were in good condition: new roof, newer bathrooms and kitchen. Newer air conditioner. All the appliances worked and the electrical system was fine. No radon, which tends to be a problem in our part of the country. No asbestos. All good news. However…
There were three major things that gave us pause:
The chimney lining was in sad shape. ($2,500 to $3,000 fix) The oil furnace was pretty old and there was the beginning of a crack inside the box. ($6,000 replacement, or possible new part for less) Thirdly, the foundation showed movement at some previous time. ($xxx,xxx??)
More Inspections Ensued
- We brought in a chimney inspector. He seemed to think that we could get some more life out of the chimney liner and wasn’t concerned. Remember, a general home inspector is not an expert in all things. Many times if the home inspector suspects a system or appliance is damaged or has outlived it’s lifespan you will still want to defer to an expert. So, we’re banking $3,000 for a future re-lining.
- We called the company who serviced the furnace and learned that the previous owners had purchased a service plan that lasted until July. They assured us they came out to inspect the furnace and wouldn’t have sold the homeowners that plan if they had detected anything wrong with it. We decided we would risk it and if anything happened, the plan would cover it. Otherwise, we will bank $6,000 for a future replacement.
- We hired a local engineer whom we have recommended before. The basement is unfinished so he was able to inspect the foundation. We discovered that yes, at a previous time the foundation had shifted. The good news was that the owners had done remediation. There were steel reinforcement rods in all four walls. The engineer assured us that most foundations shift over time. This house would be standing just fine in 75 years. Again, it’s great to have an expert opinion.
- At one time the basement had a water problem. This was disclosed in the listing. They had sealed the walls with dry-lock and installed a french drain all along the basement. They had installed two sump pumps, one to take over if one fails. We’re satisfied with that.
Another Round of Negotiations
Given that we were looking at about $10,000 worth of work that we would most likely have to tackle in the near future, we asked for another $10,000 off of our price. The sellers agreed.
Since the inspections revealed several problems, these were now “material facts” that must be disclosed to any future buyers. So, if the sellers didn’t want to lower the price, and we walked away from the purchase, they would have to disclose all of these problems to future buyers.
Plus, they have to decide if they want to put the house back on the market and do this all over again.
This is the part of the deal where we play poker. (And the stress levels increase.)
You have to ask yourself, “Will they call our bluff? How will we feel if they do? Will we back down or back out?”
Luckily for us, the sellers were reasonable and understanding. “Whew”!
Another Bump in the Road
Even though the last three inspections created a bit of a roller-coaster ride, as far as our expectations, (and caused me some nerve-wracking moments!) we were satisfied with the explanations and had expectations that we could live with. We were quite relieved that the sellers agreed to lower the price $10,000. That gave us some peace of mind that we were not overpaying.
Then came the well and septic inspections…
The septic had a broken clay outlet baffle. Not a difficult fix.
The well water failed the test. It had an abundance of nitrates and bacteria. Yikes!
The Last Negotiation
The well water condition is a serious problem. High levels of nitrates can do damage to your health, especially in the elderly and in children. No one wants that. Our contract called for the seller to pay up to $750 in repairs for the water quality, and up to $1,500 for septic repairs. The repair for the septic was covered…but the water solution was complicated.
There were three possible solutions for the water problem. We negotiated with the seller to get the best long-term solution, rather than do the minimum and have to come back and redo it in the future. The sellers paid the above figures, as spelled out in the contract and we reduced our closing cost help by $1,770 to cover the remainder. We have a whole house water treatment system and will never have to worry about babies or elderly folks (like ourselves!)
It Can Be a Lengthy Process
We contracted on this home right before Thanksgiving. We anticipated a longer-than-usual process because we had three major holidays coming up…holidays when people often take lots of time off. Thanksgiving is often a four-day holiday. Christmas and/or New Year’s is often a full week off for a lot of people.
So we built in a 60-day settlement. The seller’s pushed it back to 45 days, and we ended up extending it later and it took the full 60 days after all. That was a long two months for us!
When there are a lot of moving parts, i.e. inspections, you need to build time into the process, regardless of the time of year.
Take-Away from our Experience
I hope that this is informative, not frightening, lol. There are many steps in the home buying process. Sometimes a home purchase has more steps than others, as in our case. That’s why you want to make sure that you’re prepared with proper expectations, as much as possible. Having an experienced Realtor® by your side is so important.
If You’re a Rookie, Buy a Newer House!
I think it is worth saying, if you are new to home ownership you might not want to buy an old home…unless you have experience having lived in an older home. You might not be so keen on well and septic either. It can be daunting to grapple with so many possible issues at once. At least, before you commit to an older home, take all these things into consideration. When you buy a new or newer home, you generally don’t have to be concerned about as many issues.
And, in my opinion, you want to be in love! Even though emotions are scary, don’t buy a house that you don’t absolutely love. You want to love it when you write that mortgage check every month!
After settling in and living here for a few months…we are still truly in love with this house. It has it’s quirks, like the gurgling sound of the oil heated radiator…but we enjoy oil heat so much, we like the gurgling. We love the oversized bedrooms, because that’s what they built in 1956. The vaulted ceilings with wood beams in the great room are beautiful, and the wood fireplace is getting a lot of use. We like the single-floor living with the laundry room right off the hallway, something unusual for this vintage home. We love the three-season enclosed porch on the back of the home. The breezeway is the perfect place for our family crab feasts!
Most of all, we’re super fans of everything Mid-Century Modern. All of our furniture and decor is right at home, just like we are. Stay tuned for my new blog, My Mid-Century Modern Home!
But Wait, There’s More…
Stories and advice from some experienced real estate pros.
Here is a thorough list of things to consider when buying an older home. Paul Sian, Cincinnati Realtor®, shares some very helpful tips about items to watch out for, like lead paint, something Chris and I didn’t have to deal with. One other consideration is energy efficiency. Many older homes can be drafty, or lack insulation. Building codes were different in different times.
Speaking of different building codes, some homes built in the 60’s and 70’s were built with aluminum wiring. Evidently it was cheaper. The problem, according to this helpful article from Eric Jeanette, at Dream Home Financing, is that it expands when it gets hot and then shrinks again when it cools off. This expansion and contraction can make wires loose. When they get loose, they can create a spark or an arc and then a fire can start. Yikes! Should you buy a home with aluminum wiring? Better give this a read before you do.
While our home is not historic, it is old. We have a lot of historic homes in Frederick and in several other areas of Maryland. Is buying a historic home right for you? Anita Clark, Warner Robbins real estate agent, gives several pros and cons of buying a historic home. Older homes and historic homes can turn out to be a labor of love. I think I’m sensing a them here…