Here are the typical upfront expenses. Some are a matter of choice, yet may be important investments in making sure your house sells for the highest amount possible or sells at all.
- Photos are what initially draw buyers in. Always declutter to showcase your home.
- A new paint job is one of most cost-effective ways of freshening your house up, inside and out. If you’ve recently painted, this is less important — though if your color choices were bold or unique, you might want to tone them down with some crowd-pleasing neutrals. Your stager, if you hire one can help advise you on the best colors. You can save some money by doing some of the painting yourself — hiring someone will quickly run into the thousands of dollars.
- Window washing. When did you last wash them — especially on the outside panes of upper floors? Sparkling windows make a surprisingly large difference to buyer perceptions. Hiring someone will cost a few hundred dollars, depending on the size and height of your home.
- Which fixups are necessary (such as replacing cracked windows or stained carpeting) and which (such as major remodels) should be left for the buyer to handle is a separate discussion in itself. But there’s practically no house that couldn’t use some quick maintenance to make sure it looks well-cared for and leaves fewer items for a home inspector to comment on.
- Staging your home, or having a decorator help declutter, reorganize, and in some cases refurnish it after you’ve moved your stuff out, can help impress buyers in a big way. In fact, studies show that buyers pay more for staged homes. Expect to pay a professional stager a few thousand dollars for their services (a bit less if some of your own furniture is usable.
- Adding decorative or new items to your home (if you’re not hiring a stager). Even if you decide to save money by staging your own home, you’re almost guaranteed to have to buy things like a new doormat, new plush towels for the bathroom, flowers for the showings, and more, depending on what your house needs. Other likely possibilities include new couch cushions, area rugs, a nice table runner, and artwork to replace your wall of kids’ photos.
- Buyers are increasingly interested in the state of your garden. If it’s already fully planted, you’ll want to hire someone (or put in some sweat equity) to get it raked, pruned, and otherwise tidied up. If the area hasn’t already been landscaped, plan to add some new greenery and flowering plants. (By the way, if you plant in containers, you can take the containers with you when you move — unless they’re so big or incorporated into the property as to be considered “fixtures.”) Many sellers simply put in new sod — but do the buyers a favor and don’t leave the plastic mesh backing on it, in case the buyers want to replace it with something more interesting and environmentally friendly.
- Pre-inspection reports. Buyers expect to pay for their own inspectors, and in fact will probably want to hire ones they know and trust regardless of whether you’ve had the property inspected first. Yet there are situations where you might want to have the house inspected before letting buyers in — for example, if you’ve owned the property for many years and wonder whether any problems have arisen “below the hood” that you’re oblivious to, and would perhaps prefer to fix before buyers have a chance to get upset about them. Also, termite letters may be requested by lenders.
- Lights, a/c, and heat while the house sits empty. If you’ll be moving out before putting your house on the market, expect to pay double utilities for a while. You’ll want to leave the lights and heat on in the house for sale, or program them to stay on during any hours that potential buyers and their agents may be stopping by the place. No one likes to enter a cold, dark house and fumble around for the light switches. Check your current bills for approximately what to expect.
- Extra homeowners’ insurance for the vacancy period. Check with your homeowners’ carrier. Your insurance may not apply when the home is “vacant,” which term will be defined in your policy. You can ask for a rider to cover any period of vacancy.
At Closing: More Expenses to Expect
The good news is most of what you’ll be paying out at closing will come out of the sale proceeds.
- Real estate agent commissions. Often, the seller pays real estate commissions, to be split between the buyer’s agent and your agent.
- Other closing costs or credits to the buyer. You might have agreed — based on local tradition or buyer negotiation — to pay various of the standard costs associated with closing the deal. If your local real estate market is sluggish, buyers may also ask you to pay all or a hefty portion of the closing costs, which typically add up to 2% to 4% of the selling price.
- Home warranty for the buyer. Whether because the buyer requests it or to make the buyer feel secure about the home purchase, many sellers buy a home warranty on the buyer’s behalf. This is a service contract that covers repairs to appliances and certain systems within the house for the first year of ownership. It will cost about $500. (If renovations are 12 months or less, FHA requires a home warranty.
- Moving costs. Asking your friends with pickup trucks to help can save you some dough — but will take a lot more time. Sometimes it’s worth paying for the deluxe treatment, where the company packs your boxes for you, transports them to the new location, and unpacks at the other end.