Best practices & considerations for selling your home during a PCS move.
Maybe you decided renting isn’t for you right now, or maybe you’re still curious and want to know more about the selling side before choosing what to do. It’s no small decision, so I’m glad you’re continuing your research and reading these blogs to figure out what’s best for you and your family. Selling your home is a pretty attractive option right now – housing demand is high & supply is low. But, as a real estate agent (incentivized to convince you to sell your house), I’m actually going to challenge the current narrative that selling is easier than it’s ever been and definitely the best option for everyone. Let’s take an honest look at what it would look like to sell your house in this market and the best practices to get the most out of your situation.
Housing inventory is as low as it’s ever been. This is a strong sellers market, so the house should sell itself, right? Not quite. While it is easier to find a buyer, it is still as important as ever to put your best foot forward as a seller. The truth is that there are a few easy things we can do to extract every dollar of equity possible out of the sale of the home and do it as painlessly as possible. So, what are the steps to selling a home once you come down on PCS orders?
First, we recommend that you call a trusted agent as soon as possible after receiving your orders, or even just when you are reasonably sure you will be coming down on orders soon. If you don’t have a trusted agent, ask your friends for referrals and interview at least 2 to 3 agents. Make sure they return your calls, write and speak well, and have experience in the market. Take a look at a couple of their past listings to make sure they look good aesthetically and check that they actually sold!
You’ll want to consult with an agent as soon as possible because they can recommend home improvement projects that will make sense to do. There are a lot of easy things that can be done in your free time over the months leading up to your PCS move that can make a huge difference. Even things as basic as spreading new mulch in the flower beds, replacing beat up door knobs, fixing the dent in the drywall from that time you tripped bringing the new bed up the stairs, and other easy fixes can make a big difference.
There may also be bigger projects that would make sense to get done. Maybe it’s been a few years since the home has had a fresh coat of paint, or maybe some flooring needs to be replaced, etc. If you don’t want to do it yourself, then your agent should be able to recommend a few different contractors for you to call. Your agent should also be able to give you a ballpark estimate for what these projects will cost and how much added value they should bring to the home.
Most importantly, your agent will know what projects NOT to do. Some projects will not add as much value to the home as you think. For example, if you live in a low-price-point home, it might not make any sense to put in marble countertops – buyers will be plenty happy with laminate or butcher block. I also promise that no buyers will consider paying $10k more than the house is worth because you put in real hardwood floors – I only really notice a difference in pricing with hardwood vs click-and-lock vinyl flooring (LVP) in price points above $400k or occasionally old homes where a buyer might expect to see old hardwood anyway. It won’t make a difference in your 2018 built home in the suburbs that sells for $285k – those buyers will be expecting LVP. (This is something to keep in mind any time you want to do a big home project, not just when you’re getting ready to sell. Talk to an agent about your project so they can recommend which materials & ideas are or aren’t worth your time & money according to the projected home value.)
Now that you have recommendations on house projects, you can spend a few months leisurely knocking out those tasks. When do you actually want to put the home on the market? Again – it depends! The main consideration should be whether you need to sell the home BEFORE going under contract to buy a home at your next duty station.
To find the answer to this question, you need to have a conversation with a good lender about whether your debt-to-income ratio can support you covering a second mortgage for a short period of time. If the answer to this question is yes, then I find it best, from a money perspective, to list the home after you are out of the house. Why? All the clutter will be gone, there won’t be moving boxes everywhere, you can have it professionally cleaned, and buyers can tour the house at any time without having to coordinate the showings through you and your agent. AKA, your home will be more presentable leading to more and/or better offers.
And what about staging? Is it really necessary? Sometimes. Again, ask your agent for their opinion. I flip houses and am always selling my own houses, and sometimes I don’t stage them. If they’re a cookie cutter house with a simple floor plan, I typically don’t. If they’re unique or have a floor plan where a buyer can’t immediately envision where they might place their living room setup, then it really makes sense to stage because you want the buyer to be able to imagine them living in that space. Staging is also good to get a buyer’s eyes off imperfections in the house. It might also be good to stage if you’re living on goodwill furniture like I was as a cheap young Lieutenant! Also keep in mind that you don’t need to stage everything – sometimes even adding a couple nice decorations on the walls, kitchen, and baths can go a long way and is very cost effective. Last note on this – it’s almost never necessary to stage bedrooms unless you have a small or awkward space.
If you are willing and able to list after moving out, your timeline will likely look like this:
- Move out day (let’s assume this will be June 1st)
- Professional cleaning (or DIY): June 2nd-3rd
- Move in staging furniture (not always necessary): June 4th
- Professional photography (coordinated by your agent): June 5th
- Listing goes live on the market (June 7th)
- Accepted offer (June 10th)
- Typically move-in ready homes will go under contact in a weekend in the Savannah market unless priced too high
- Buyer conducts inspection (June 15th)
- Buyer ends due diligence (June 17th)
- Appraisal (June 25th)
- Buyer closes on home (July 10th)
This timeline assumes that the first buyer does not back out after their inspection – this does happen sometimes, so you’ll need to prepare for it. Sometimes appraisals come back bad as well, but not as frequently, and in today’s strong seller’s market we are sometimes able to get the buyers to agree to cover an appraisal shortfall when they first go under contract to mitigate this risk. Occasionally, a contract will fall through at the last minute because of the buyer’s lender not approving the loan, though a good agent will recommend strategies to mitigate this risk as well.
For many people, this isn’t possible and that’s okay. You’ll just want to take extra care to spend the week or two leading up to the listing date cleaning the house top to bottom, trying to keep your moving boxes out of the way in a garage or spare bedroom, and taking down as many personal effects as possible so that the buyer can more easily imagine their own photos and trinkets up on the wall. It might be worth the money to hire a professional cleaner to come just before listing – if you’re like me and hate cleaning, it’ll be a few hundred dollars very well spent. Once you actually list the home for sale, the rest of the timeline will be very similar to the one above.
Another important thing to consider, for those of us who need to sell a home before buying the next one, is that there are things we can ask buyers for to make our transition easier. The best thing to ask for is a seller rent-back after closing. This means you can sell your house and continue to live in it for a couple of weeks while you prepare to execute your PCS move to the next duty station. This is important to those of us who cannot qualify for a second mortgage or don’t want to have two mortgages at the same time, because you can start making offers on homes in the next duty station after selling (but still living in) the first. The reason you might want to get the first home off your books before trying to buy the next is because this strong seller’s market exists across the country and it is VERY difficult right now to find a seller who will accept an offer that is contingent on the sale of property elsewhere. Imagine if you’re selling your home here at Fort Stewart and a buyer says “I’ll pay you asking price, but I want to be able to back out if I can’t sell my house at Fort Hood first.” Would you be inclined to accept that offer if you had another offer that didn’t have this contingency? Probably not.
The big takeaway to selling a home when PCSing is that there are a lot of moving pieces and everyone’s situation is different. You’ll make your life so much easier if you hire dedicated professionals to help guide you along the way. It’s also very important to make sure that the agent who is helping you sell your current home is connected with both the agent who will help you to buy the next one and the lender who will help you borrow the money. Everyone needs to be talking, because the market conditions in the market you are moving to may influence the decisions you need to make as you sell. If you don’t know any lenders or agents in the area you’re PCSing to, ask the agent who will help you sell if they have any recommendations. At Trophy Point Realty Group, we have relationships with agents in most military markets because we work with so many military buyers and sellers. We would love nothing more than to connect you to someone that we trust and work well with, so that all of us can coordinate your efforts to make the PCS move easy and lucrative! More on buying a home remotely in the next blog of this series.
Written by: Pat Wilver, Co-Owner of Trophy Point Realty Group