House in Order

Michael Flack

“I WOULD SAY TO the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering…. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs—victory in spite of all terror—victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

What Winston Churchill said to his House during Great Britain’s darkest hour, I would say about selling yours. Selling a house shouldn’t be easy. If you sold one and it was, you didn’t do it right. It’s likely the biggest financial transaction of your life, so I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you put in a little effort.

The non-comprehensive checklist below is based on a lifetime of experience. I haven’t always followed it, though when I didn’t, I paid for it.

  • Know your home’s value. When you meet with your agent, you need to have an idea of what your home is worth. If you don’t, how can you be sure the sales price your agent suggests is the correct one?
  • Find the right agent. Using the agent that sold you your home may be the easiest route, but it may not be the most profitable one. It may take a while, but you need to spend the time to find the best agent to sell your home. Remember, they all cost the same, so you might as well hire the right one. News flash: You need to interview more than one agent. And maybe, just maybe the best agent may be… you, via a “for sale by owner” or discount broker.
  • Listen to your agent. You spent some time and effort hiring her, so now listen to what she says. If she doesn’t dig the lime green paint in the living room, the 10-foot-by-10-foot bridal portrait over the fireplace or the trampoline room, then maybe some changes are in order. Don’t take her constructive criticism personally. In the words of the world’s greatest businessman, “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”
  • Stage the place and clean it so prospective buyers fall in love at first sight. Think curb and entry way appeal. The house I recently purchased has a stunning three-floor modern staircase that was highlighted with lights and artwork. When my wife first walked in the door, she wanted it—bad. It also needs to be clean, and I mean clean clean. Think Martha Stewart and Felix Unger had a love child clean. Decluttering can help, as it makes every home look bigger, better and cleaner. I realize you and your family still need to live there, but you need to make it appear as though no one actually does.

  • Spend some money. If, like most people, you delayed some work on your home due to frugality or procrastination, the time is now. Not too much, but enough to put a nice shine on the place.
  • You need good photographs for the MLS. Obviously.
  • Market it. Your agent is going to list your home on the MLS, which will then syndicate the listing to the far reaches of the internet. She may also use other routes like direct mail, print and blogs. But you can’t let that be the end of it. You also need to market the place yourself. You have lived in your neighborhood for some time, so you have a circle of friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances. You need to use them to get the word out: Facebook, LinkedIn, bulletin board at work, your sister’s friend who’s head of the PTA, and so on. When I sold my house in Houston, my personal marketing effort played a key role in getting the job done.
  • If the above steps fail to work, there’s one final step that may be tried. Bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in your backyard. It’s a well-known technique to enable a real estate miracle, as a subsequent “successful closing won’t be long in the offing.” The reason is obvious, as St. Joseph is the patron saint of house hunters. Don’t believe me, you heathens? Well, it’s well documented here. Not Catholic or Anglican? Uh-oh.

You are the captain of your real estate ship. As the former First Lord of the Admiralty may have once said, “Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance.”

Michael Flack blogs at He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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