You've heard stories about a homeowner who puts out a For Sale sign and sells a house the next day without a real estate agent. Then there are homeowners who think they'll sell their houses right away, yet months later their weather-beaten signs stand on the front lawns and the owners haven't had a nibble.

What's the difference? Did the quick sale result from good luck, location, sales techniques, condition and appearance of the home, season, the real estate market, or the asking price? The quick sale could have been the result of any or all of those reasons. And while very few homes sell in a day or a week, if a house has been on the market three months or more and hasn't sold or even had an offer, it's time to find out why.

Selling your house can be a profitable venture if you take the time to plan, prepare, and handle the sale like the business transaction it is. Otherwise, selling your house can be an expensive, time-consuming, frustrating ordeal.

These frequently asked questions--or, the responses--can help you as you prepare to sell your house.

How do I set the right price for my house?
Determining a fair market price for your house probably is the most important step you will take in selling your house. If you overprice the house for the neighborhood, you can block a sale from the start. Many buyers seeking a home in a specific location are well aware of what a house in the area should sell for. If you've done far more than your neighbors to improve your house, you may not be able to get a price that guarantees a return on your investment. If you set the price too low, you could lose several thousand dollars or cause prospects to wonder what's wrong with the house.

To establish a fair market price, do your own survey of homes for sale or those that have sold in your area recently. Drive around and make notes of addresses and telephone numbers of houses for sale. Call and ask for specific details, such as age of the house, square footage, number of rooms, and lot size. Also, does it have a pool and spa or hot tub, indoor utility or laundry room, fireplace, central heat and air conditioning, appliances, and fencing or any other details that correspond to the features and amenities of your house?

Further, to help you establish a price, check the public records at the county courthouse. Information, including the recorded price, is available on homes sold in your area. Once you collect your information, you'll have a good idea of a price for your house. If you're still in doubt, you can pay a reputable appraisal firm to appraise your home. Ask mortgage staff at your credit union to recommend an appraiser.

If you know someone in real estate willing to help you out—without insisting on a contract—he or she can help you establish the fair market value of your house.

What can I do to make sure my house makes a good first impression?
Stand at the street and look at your house. Does it have what realtors call the curb appeal to entice a prospect to come inside?

Do you see a lawn that needs mowing, toys and clutter strewn about the yard, shrubs that need trimming, flower beds that need weeding, fencing that needs repairing, or a house or windows and doors that need painting? The first impression must be inviting.

Inside, your house must be immaculate and smell clean. Expect prospects to open doors to cabinets, closets, and rooms. Rid closets of clutter so they appear to have ample room. Bathrooms must be clean and bright with all fixtures polished. Basement and garage should be well-organized, allowing room for one or two cars, depending on the size of the garage.

How can I make my home look more spacious?
Eliminate all the clutter. Rent a storage shed for a couple of months to store extra decorations, knickknacks, off-season clothing (consider using a consignment shop or making a donation to the needy), extra furniture, seasonal items, and anything else that can go into storage. A garage sale can dispose of a large portion of clutter and unwanted furniture.

What repairs are necessary before I put the house on the market?
All appliances as well as heating and cooling systems should be in good working condition. You must repair any damage and paint the outside, if it needs it, in a neutral shade, such as white, ivory, or light beige. If your house doesn't need painting, a good pressure washing to remove dirt and cobwebs may be the solution. Pressure wash the patio, driveway, sidewalks, and pool deck.

For the inside, washing fingerprints off walls and woodwork may suffice; however, if paint is flaking or walls are damaged, repair the walls, fill nail holes, and paint with white or pastels. If wallpaper is old, stained, or torn, remove it and paint the walls. Replace broken hinges on doors and kitchen cabinets. Ensure that all cabinet drawers slide easily and handles are secure. Replace broken light fixtures and burned-out bulbs. Take care of plumbing repairs, such as a leaking faucet or toilet.

Unless your carpet is badly worn, do not replace it. The new owner may prefer a different type or color. Often, professional steam cleaning can restore the appearance and feel of carpet. Wait until you've completed all repairs, painting, and cleaning before having the carpet cleaned.

Must I disclose any defects in the house?
You are legally liable to disclose any defects in the house, such as a leak in the roof or in the plumbing, or a nonworking appliance or air conditioner. If you've had problems in the past with flooding, you must disclose this problem.

Selling a house "as is" in some areas of the country is against the law unless you disclose all defects and everything needing repair. In others, an "as is" house encourages buyers to make a much lower offer.

What do I need to do if I've advertised an open house?
Ensure that everything is clean and ready. Have cookies baking so that the aroma permeates the house. Have scented candles burning in other areas of the house and containers of potpourri in the bathrooms. Hang fresh towels and place clean throw rugs on the bathroom floors. Ensure that toilets are clean and lids are down. Have lights on in every room and hallway. Make all beds, open drapes and blinds, and clean and vacuum floors. Clean ceiling fans and air conditioning and heating filters. Your house must be on company behavior.

Prepare a flier complete with a color photograph of the house. List the selling price, the square footage, number of rooms, appliances that remain with the house, pool, screen room, patio, and any special features, as well as lot size. Have these handouts ready to give to everyone who stops in. Your prospects may be looking at other houses too, but they will keep the information about yours.

How much do I need to know about financing
if I'm selling the house myself?

You will need to know whether your current mortgage is assumable and, if yes, how much the prospective buyer will have to put down (your equity in the house) to assume the current mortgage; what the current rates are for a new mortgage; and, if the prospect is new in the area, you may need to have a list of several mortgage companies or financial institutions.

Ask the mortgage loan officer at your credit union to supply you with information regarding its mortgage offerings, in case the prospective buyer is a credit union member or a potential member.

Should I sell the house myself to save the commission, or should I sign with a real estate agent?
The answer to this question depends on you. If you're willing to put the time and effort into selling your house, you can be successful. However, if you need to have a quick sale and do not have time to do all the research, advertising, and showings to sell your house, you may find that the real estate agent's commission is well worth the expense to give your house more exposure. You may be able to negotiate a lower commission. But even if you go with an agent, you'll still have to take some time and spend some money to spiff up your house to improve its salability.

Where can I find more information to help sell the house?
Local newspapers usually have a section that gives pointers on selling your house. Your local library and local bookstores will have reference materials that can help you. If you have a friend or relative in real estate, he or she may have access to excellent information about how to sell your house. On the Internet, Web sites that offer helpful information include,, or

©1999 Credit Union National Association Inc.