5 big lessons I learned from selling my house

By Craig Gibson

Never sold a property before? No worries, we all have to start somewhere!

At the end of the day, the best advice I have is to educate yourself as much as possible about the process. It's the best way of avoiding any nasty surprises - like an expense you haven't budgeted for. 

Based on my experience of selling property, these are the 5 big lessons I learned from selling our house. 

Lesson 1: Understand the process

how to sell a house

I had no idea of the process of selling a house, which can, unsurprisingly, be quite complex. This is why you need to take the time to get your head around all the steps and process so you know what to expect. Major decisions you will need to make include: 

  • Choosing professionals - specifically a real estate agent and conveyancer/solicitor to handle the sale. They will not only handle the paperwork for you but also engage with potential buyers and negotiate on your behalf. 

  • Setting a sale price and method, which involves knowing how much your home is worth and deciding if you want to opt for an auction or private sale.

  • If you need to do pre-sale repairs and renovations, and how much these could cost.

  • Planning the timing of the sale with your move, and/or buying a new property - which has a totally different process. 

Knowing all the costs upfront is also really important, so be prepared to open a spreadsheet.

Lesson 2: Do your sums

Are you aware of all the costs involved in selling a house? There are more than you imagine, which is why it is crucial that you factor all these into your planning so you can calculate what profit you are going to walk away with. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise when the bills come rolling in. A few outgoings to budget for include:

  • Estate agent’s commission

  • Marketing costs

  • Pre-sale renovations

  • Conveyancer/solicitor fees

  • Moving costs

These can all add up to as much as $16,000 or more - by no means small change to most of us. You can start by working out some costs, like what commission you could be paying your agent where you live. These can vary quite widely, especially when the market is slowing. 

Lesson 3: Home staging can make a big difference

home selling tips
Source: Bowerbird Interiors

Not sold - excuse the pun - on the idea of home staging or property styling? I wasn’t either until I got the first set of photographs back from the real estate photographer. She had done her best but there was no getting away from the fact that our place looked cluttered and a bit shabby. So we bit the bullet and started researching property stylists, and ended up hiring one.

One look at our home and the stylist had pointed out to us the importance of decluttering, depersonalising and cleaning! This meant getting rid of anything personal, like family photographs as well as items like books and knick-knacks.

"Not sold on the idea or property styling? I wasn't either until I got the first set of photographs back from the real estate photographer."

The idea is to give sellers a blank canvas and enable them to imagine living in your property during an open house inspection. Stylists will do as little or as much as you want them to, and charge you accordingly. This could be anything from rearranging existing furniture to maximise space and improve the flow of rooms to arranging for cleaning, repairs and maintenance to be done.

The main areas they will focus on are your entranceway, kitchen, lounge and entertainment areas, as well as the master bedroom. 

In terms of ROI from home staging, studies suggest that on average you can expect to see a 7.5% to 12.5% increase on your final sale price - depending on the location and the price bracket that your property sits within.

If you're unsure if home styling is right for you, it's best to speak to a local real estate agent. While home styling may make sense for a 3 bedroom home near the city, it might not make sense for a studio in a holiday resort on the Sunshine Coast.

In terms of the cost of stylists or stagers, these vary depending on the size of your property, and the number of days you hire furnishings and accessories for. A simple styling consult can cost as little as $200, but you will pay from $1,000 for a full staged service range (basic package styling a one bedroom unit) to $10,000+ (larger 4+ bedroom houses with high-end furniture hire). 

Lesson 4: Pre-sale renovations may be unavoidable

If you have lived in your home for any amount of time - we had for 6 years - the property will inevitably have wear and tear that you'll need to fix. Throw some young children into the mix and you get the picture - lots of grimy walls at about toddler height which miraculously climb the wall as they get older and taller (but not any cleaner). So we decided to do some painting ourselves - which didn't cost too much and is a great cosmetic makeover. 

The reality is that buyers are likely to pay more for a property that looks well maintained and ready to move into. Here you need to prioritise any touch ups or repairs that ensure you make the right impression on prospective buyers. If you are doing pre-sale renovations, the key to avoiding budget blowout is to have a plan and always be on the lookout for ways to save at every stage of your project.

You should also be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. If you are selling an investment property that has been tenanted the same applies, and even more so - not all tenants are going to to respect your property, so some TLC is very likely. 

The reality is that buyers are likely to pay more for a property that looks well maintained and ready to move into

Lesson 5: Choose your agent wisely

things to consider when selling a house

Last but not least, you need an agent who is going to look after your interests. This may seem obvious but not all agents are created equal, or have the same level of professionalism.

We actually got burned the first time around. The agent - who shall remain unnamed - was very slick when he came around for the first chat, and basically charmed us to sign up with him.

Turns out he was not true to his word, with hardly any potential buyers coming to our viewings. He was also a poor communicator and we struggled to get in touch with him for updates. After failing to sell, and with our property unsold after a 3 month listing, needless to say we didn't renew our contract with him.

"After failing to sell, and with our property unsold after a 3 month listing, needless to say we didn't renew our contract with him."

Cue a search for a new agent - and thankfully we found her. What a breath of fresh air, she was supremely organised, had a fair commission, always with a smile and was very clear with what she was doing to sell our property. She also managed to get a fair price for our home in a slowing market. So my advice is to screen agents by asking them: 

  • How much local knowledge they have

  • To share positive feedback from other clients

  • What their marketing strategy will be

  • To share their sales record with you

  • What their commision structure is

You can learn more about selling your home by using the resources on this site, like the Smart Seller Guide, which is jam packed with useful tips to help you sell your home with minimal hassle. I just wish I had read it before selling. 

Good luck!


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