There’s never been a better time to put a home on the market in Lancaster County.
June was the busiest month ever for home sales in the county, with 697 sales, beating the previous record of 666 set in June 2004, according to the Lancaster County Association of Realtors. Three out of every four homes sold were on the market two months or less.
While the market for high-end homes hasn’t returned to its 2007 values, homes under $300,000 are flying off the shelves, says Anne Lusk of Lusk & Associates Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Properties that look good and are priced correctly are bringing top dollar,” Lusk says, sometimes even more.
Two reasons Lusk cites are interest rates that remain historically low and rental costs that have grown by leaps and bounds.
Interest rates are between 3.5 and 4.5 percent, depending on a buyer’s credit score. As for rental costs, Lusk points to one Lititz community where the cost to rent a new townhome has risen to $1,850 a month.
“You can buy a $250,000 to $300,000 home for that,” she says. “Why rent when I can buy?”
The county’s busy real estate market is also an indication that the American dream of homeownership is alive and well, Lusk says.
That increase in buyers searching for their dream home doesn’t mean homeowners can simply put out a “for sale” sign and wait for the offers to roll in. In fact, Lusk cautions, today’s competitive market is not without its own set of challenges for sellers, but there are steps they can take to increase their chances for a smooth and successful sale.
Once a seller puts their home on the market, they should be prepared to show it immediately, Lusk says, noting the best showings typically come in the first two weeks.
Style isn’t necessarily important to millennial buyers, but they are generally not interested in fixing or painting. Staging is also important, Lusk says. The home should look good and smell good, and be clean and clutter-free. “You live in a home differently than you sell a home.”
For the listing, sellers should always demand professional photos of the home, regardless of price range.
“You’re first showing is on the Internet,” Lusk says. “If it doesn’t shine on their phone, they’re not coming.”
For those who decide to come, ensure the process goes smoothly. Include in the remarks section of the listing if there are days or times that the home won’t be available for a showing. Also mention if there are pets in the home, in case a potential buyer has allergies, Lusk says.
And above all, she says, be honest about disclosing any issues regarding the home.
“Buyers respect sellers who are overly honest,” Lusk says. “I’ve had some sellers tell some pretty bad things about their homes (including tales of fire damage). When you give people the details, they feel better about it.”
Weigh your offers
Sellers who receive multiple offers on their home might think they are home-free, but there is still work to do, Lusk says, even if all offers come with pre-approval.
“Sellers see a pre-approval from a bank and think they’re all the same, but they’re not,” Lusk says.
Before accepting an offer, know whether the pre-approval was verbal only or in writing. Was the buyer’s credit history checked with the three major reporting agencies? Did they show the bank their W-2 forms? Are they a 1099 employee? Was any of their income based on a bonus? Is their lender reputable?
Sellers should also have their agent verify the highest interest rate at which the buyer is qualified to purchase their home, Lusk says. Waiting to sign an offer could kill the deal should rates increase beyond that limit in the meantime.
Pre-approval, however, is not the only consideration when choosing an offer. There are other factors that may make one offer more attractive than another. Sellers need to weigh them all carefully — and look beyond the dollar signs.
“Your highest offer is not always your best offer,” Lusk says.
Buyers offering more than full price tend to be pickier when it comes to inspections, she says, and may end up walking away from a deal and forcing the seller to put the home back on the market.
Sometimes it’s better to go with the buyer who has the largest down payment or the one waiving an inspection, although Lusk cautions buyers against the latter. While a home inspection may detect only minor deficiencies, it can also uncover something major, like a bad septic system that could cost an unwitting buyer tens of thousands to repair.
Be ready for an inspection
The home inspection is one of the final hurdles in the sale process. “Little things matter,” Lusk says. “Prepare to win your home inspection.”
Passing that inspection means paying attention to both small and large details. Make sure that all the windows open, close and lock correctly, and that everything from toilets and drains to light fixtures and smoke detectors are in working order. Put a clean filter in the heating system. Make sure downspouts are attached and gutters are clean. Ensure an inspector will have clear access to all spaces in your home. Gather home maintenance service records.
Don’t count your chickens
Even when sellers have done their homework, weighed their options and accepted the best offer, Lusk says she never puts a “sale pending” sign on a home. If the deal falls through, having to replace it with a “for sale” sign again can be “the kiss of death” for any future sales, she says.
When people see a pending sale fall through, they tend to assume there is a problem with the home, Lusk says, when in reality it is more likely an issue with the buyer, such as a sudden job loss or illness.
For that reason, Lusk recommends that sellers continue to take backup buyers, even when a pending sale is on the table.
“Things happen,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt to have a No. 2 on your list.”
The important thing in the end is that people on both sides of the transaction have successfully moved on to the next phase of their lives.
“Real estate should be a win-win transaction,” she says. “Everyone should walk away happy.”
For help in selling your home or finding your dream home, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 717-291-9101 or visit www.luskandassociates.com.