Selling your home for the 1st time? What to know from costs to staging

This article is part of Global News’ Home School series, which provides Canadians the basics they need to know about the housing market that were not taught in school.

Hope for interest rate cuts on the horizon has some real estate forecasters predicting a busier spring housing market as Canadians prepare to either buy or sell a home.

While buying a home in Canada can come with a wave of emotions and costs that can overwhelm first-time buyers, the same goes for sellers.

Beyond just setting a price and negotiating with buyers, Global News spoke to real estate agents in Canada to get their best tips for first-time sellers to navigate the process as smoothly as possible.

The first question Ottawa-based real estate agent Nick Kyte asks his clients when they approach him about selling is whether it’s a planned move or an unplanned one.

If it’s the former, he recommends starting the selling process as early as possible, which “eases the pressure” on the buyer.

Kyte then recommends getting a budget in order.

That should include reaching out to your lender to inquire about the costs involved to break your mortgage, if necessary. These costs can vary depending on whether you’re on a variable or fixed-rate mortgage, and whether interest rates have risen or fallen since you last renewed your term.

Another variable cost to consider is the price of moving, and of storage if you’re not moving directly into a new home.

Corinne Lyall, owner of Royal LePage Benchmark in Alberta, tells Global News that costs here can rack up into the thousands of dollars depending on the size of the home and should be budgeted for upfront.

“If you don’t want to be paying your friends with pizza and beer, you need to be able to invest in the cost of a moving company,” she says.

As with buying, there are closing costs to consider such as lawyer fees and other disbursements that can range into the thousands of dollars depending on the value of your property.

Typically in Canada, the seller also pays out fees to Realtors on both sides of the transaction. Lyall notes that in Alberta, these payouts can be assigned to the buyer’s brokerage in the event that it’s not included in the seller’s agreement.

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Some sellers will also have to pay hundreds of dollars to update the Real Property Report for the home, she notes, adding to the incremental costs that come with facilitating the legal nitty gritty of selling a home. An up-to-date Real Property Report is typically required before selling a property, as it clarifies exact boundaries for public and private lands including any additions made to a home.

Lyall says it can also be worth putting down some extra cash to get a staging consultant to come through your home before selling to tell you what needs to go and what should be updated.

While most homeowners accumulate a lot of “stuff” like knickknacks over the course of living in a home, Lyall says it’s best practice to remove some bulky furniture and anything that’s crowding up a space. These things can get in the way of a buyer’s ability to imagine themselves in your home.

While some agents would advocate for removing all family photos from a home that’s on the market, Lyall says keeping a few personal touches around can actually serve the seller.

“You want to show some warmth, that this is a family home and that people love living here,” she says. “That makes somebody feel good about the home.”

Lyall also says her team doesn’t often recommend large-scale renovations before listing a home. Recouping investment on these projects can be difficult, she notes, unless you’re putting in the “sweat equity” yourself.

But Kyte also cautions would-be renovators against taking on a transformative project on their own. If someone isn’t already handy by trade, he says a sub-par renovation will usually show and could turn off buyers.

When sellers ask him how best to spend a few thousand dollars to get their home ready for showing, Kyte also doesn’t typically recommend renovations first, which can pushback a timeline for listing the home and be hit and miss depending on the market.

“Sometimes, unfortunately, there just isn’t time or the resources to do so. So it’s really what is going to be the best bang for the dollar.” he says.

Both Lyall and Kyte say that the first order of business should be fixing anything that’s broken: chipping paint, holes in the wall, dead lightbulbs and anything else that tells a buyer the home needs work.

Instead of wide-scale changes, Kyte recommends drilling down on the small details that will make a bigger impression in a home. A fresh coat of paint and new, matching light fixtures or hardware in the kitchen or bathroom can bring a sense of “cohesion” to a home, he says.

“Just having a little change in the certain handles and whatnot can make a drastic difference and not break the bank.”

Once a home has been staged and a photographer has been in to shoot photos or video, a seller should do their utmost to keep their living space as close to the condition in the listing as possible to avoid visual whiplash for buyers scheduling a tour, Kyte says.

“The reason why home builders have model homes that look perfect is because it works,” he says. “The first change is the mindset of, you’re going from living in your home to selling your home. That mindset is drastically different.”

It can be challenging to keep a home pristine while also living in it, Lyall says.

Typically, that means waking up in the morning and doing a quick tidy – vacuuming, gathering toys left out and generally decluttering – so that if a prospective buyer were to come through your home midday, it’s presentable.

If you have a home with pets, it’s ideal to plan for where furry family members go when it’s time for showings, Lyall says. That can be a sitter coming by to take a dog out of the house, or even getting pets out of the home for the entirety of the sale process.

That strategy doesn’t have to be limited to pets, either, Lyall says. If it’s within your capacity to move out of the house and stay with family or rent a room for a few weeks, that can save the “headache” of having to restage your home every day over the course of the selling process.

“If you are in a fast market and you anticipate that your home is going to sell quickly, it might be worth the expense,” Lyall says.

Both Lyall and Kyte say the way to facilitate a quick sale is to make it as easy as possible for buyers to fall in love with your house.

Kyte says that being available at all hours of the day isn’t realistic, but taking showings between 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. is usually reasonable to get a good flow of buyers.

He acknowledges that that can be “stressful,” particularly for families who have young kids and have to find ways to keep them entertained and out of the house for a few hours multiple times a week.

But he says that if a buyer wants to visit your home and can’t be accommodated, they’ll usually go somewhere else instead.

“I always say a missed showing is a missed opportunity. And the goal is to sell,” he says. “That potential showing could be the people that decide to (put an) offer on your home.”


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