Selling your home is possibly one of the biggest decisions you are ever likely to make. Once the decision to sell has been made, or you are considering the possibility, the following guidelines may assist you.
First of all, keep in mind that buyers don’t respond sympathetically to emotional appeals such as “the owner is moving” or “the owner needs to sell”. Value for money and, more specifically, price has become the pivot around which the market is turning. In a market that favours buyers, the message to sellers wishing to sell their property is clear:
If you are serious about selling, get your pricing right at the start of your marketing campaign.
Occasionally it may happen that a house is sold within a few days after being listed. In such instances, a seller is frequently placed in an awkward situation of not having had the opportunity of testing the market and really knowing the true value of his property. On many occasions, such early offers are turned down by sellers who eventually have to sell for several thousand dollar less because the original price cannot be matched.
While correctly priced properties attract significant interest, incorrectly priced or 'stale' properties (those that came on at the wrong price and stay on the market too long) receive little or no interest. If a property is over-priced it obviously won't sell and rather becomes "tainted" after being advertised for months on end. This may lead to the perception that there is something wrong with the property, other than its inappropriate price. Reality is that these homes stand to be sold for less than their actual market value. Keep in mind that desperation and over-exposure of a property, and a lot of stock competition make poor negotiating tools.
Agents will confirm that sellers who are confronted with unwelcome pricing advice tend to act somehow emotional. This is understandable when one considers the price growth that characterised the market of the last couple of years. In some areas, annual growth went as high as 20%, setting a precedent that sellers are now struggling to accept as unattainable. It's all the more devastating for those with little or no equity in their properties – usually people who bought less than three years ago.
Your best bet to arrive at a reasonable asking price is to listen to reputable agents and valuers and their price motivations. Substantiate their price recommendation with a comparative market analysis to show exactly what your property is competing with in the market. Make sure that these comparative prices take into consideration age, structure and condition, as well as locality. Then compare the price of your home with the actual selling prices of homes in the area (apples with apples) and get an estimate of how much similar properties have sold for. In fact, with that information at hand you should be able to correctly price your property yourself. If you look for adverts of other properties "on the market" in your area, keep in mind though these prices are the listing prices and may not necessarily be the actual selling prices. Remember that buyers purchase by comparison and you don’t want your property to be used as a springboard as it is common practice for agents to show prospective buyers overpriced non-mandated properties to make their properly priced mandated houses look more attractive.
Sellers should also be under no illusion that a “bank’s valuation” is necessarily a market related selling price for the property. Bank valuations are more for bond purposes, which is not necessarily an indication of the real value of the property, but rather an administrative act to ensure that there is sufficient security in the property for the bank. The same goes for replacement value which is rather a figure used for insurance purposes and means very little in the market place.
Besides the correct price, the sale of your property is governed by a number of things like question and demand, the manner in which you present your home and the agent you choose. The following General Tips should assist you further through the selling process:
- Be careful and avoid giving occupation to a buyer before his finance is in order. Even more so if the buyer intends to make any structural changes and renovations to the property.
- Be careful in general when signing a contract with suspended clause in favour of the buyer to obtain finance or where the buyer first has to sell his existing property. These clauses are escape routes for the buyer which can sometimes cost a seller a lot of money or time wasted on the wrong buyer. A specific time frame and amount should be stipulated. Sellers also need to be aware of any automatic extensions of time written into the agreement, which can cause even further delays and headaches.
- In practical terms; inform the agents that possible buyers must sort out their finance before you will sign the contract. Alternatively, opt for including an “outside offer” option in the agreement.
- Disclose known defects: You want to avoid post-sale disputes and lawsuits around defects and (non) disclosures thereof. Check for those defects and get expert advice on the cost of any repairs you may be concerned about and disclose to the buyer. Most common defects are leaking roofs and swimming pools, cracked walls and other structural problems or perhaps faulty plumbing or electricity systems.
- Do not be rushed into making decisions and make sure to read and understand the sales agreement (including important conditions) before signing. Don't leave any blank spaces. Either fill them in carefully or cross out everything that does not apply and then initial the changes.
- Always avoid clauses in which parties undertake to agree on issues at a later date. It is important to prevent loopholes that can be exploited later on.
- Appointing your own conveyancer: The right to nominate a conveyancer is vested in the party to whom the right is granted in terms of the contract. Where the contract is silent on this point, the right to nominate a conveyancer is governed by common law. The position at common law appears to be that the right is vested with the seller. Most contracts of sale also stipulate that the transfer of land to the purchaser will be attended by the seller’s conveyancer.
The following reasons show why the seller should nominate the conveyancer in most instances:
- The party more likely to delay the transfer or breach in terms of the agreement is the purchaser.
- It is easier for the seller's conveyancer to ensure that the purchase price of the property be properly secured.
- Until transfer, the property is the seller’s. Therefore, it is logical that his/her own conveyancer protect his/her interests.
- The argument might hold that since the purchaser pays the transfer duty, he/she should nominate the conveyancer, but this is not so when the seller pays VAT.
- In transfers from developments such as townships or sectional title schemes, the seller's conveyancer is in the best position to coordinate the sequence of transactions.
- In auction cases the conveyancer is also nominated by the seller.
It is however true that sometimes it is preferable for the purchaser's conveyancer to act. The seller and purchaser could therefore agree in the deed of sale that the purchaser has the right to appoint the transferring attorney. The conveyancer has a duty of care towards the seller and the purchaser at all times and will not neglect the one in favour of the other.
Some law firms have more than one conveyancer and it is good practice to include the name of the conveyancer together with the relevant firm name. This would make it easier to allocate instructions to the appropriate conveyancer and his/her secretary.
Use the following criteria when appointing your conveyancer:
- Capability of handling the specific instructions;
- up-to-date knowledge of Namibian conveyancing law and practice;
- good communication with clients and other stakeholders;
- organisation and administration skills; and
- the capability of balancing accuracy and speed.
- Selling a rented property: If a seller has entered into a lease agreement with a tenant, this must be disclosed to the potential purchaser and the best is to disclose this in the sales agreement also. Tenants will be protected by the “huur gaat voor koop” principle for the duration of their lease agreement.
- Cancellation/Settlement Figures on an existing Mortgage/Bond. Guard against fixing the price at a lower amount than the cancellation amount required by the bank to cancel your existing bond. It would be prudent to accept an offer which is lower than what is needed to cancel your bond. Make sure to get the necessary confirmation from your bondholder that the selling price would in fact be higher than the total cancellation amount. If it is not and you cannot pay the difference, you could be in breach to deliver the object of the contract.
Penalty interest: Many homeowners (mortgagers) are not aware of the fact that the average home loan agreement of most financial institutions and major banks contains a “penalty interest clause” for the early cancellation of the mortgage bond. This penalty for early cancellation, although rightfully there, can do more harm to the mortgager than anticipated if it is ignored. In terms of this clause, the mortgager is typically required to give the relevant bank at least three months’ notice prior to cancelling the bond.
In reality this means that anyone cancelling his/her bond will be liable for the penalty (depending on the amount of the loan) if the condition is not respected. In many cases this clause may give rise to difficult positions involving the practical reality of giving full notice. If prior notice is not given, the bank will take the notice period from the date they receive the request for cancellation figures from the conveyancer handling the transfer. Normally, if clients go back to the same bank they used initially within a prescribed time to re-apply for a new bond over a new property, these interest rate charges may be waived.
A seller will obviously not give a notice of cancellation until such time as he/she has concluded a deed of sale and, moreover, until all suspensive conditions of the sale have been met. From the date of sale, it typically takes four to six weeks before a transfer is registered and the bond simultaneously cancelled. The purchaser obviously cannot be expected to wait an additional six to eight weeks so that the seller can give sufficient notice to the bank.
Sellers are often not aware of this provision until they want to sell their property and then are faced with the penalty. Sellers are in general very annoyed by this unexpected “extra” cost of the transfer. Banks would in general be open to prevent and discuss this with clients and the situation can, in most cases, be prevented when the necessary communication occurs in reasonable time.
- Sellers are generally responsible to pay a pro rata share of the annual rates and taxes on the property. All amounts due to the local authority must be paid in advance before a clearance certificate will be issued. Without a clearance certificate, registration of transfer cannot take place. The new owner will be required to pay his/her share of the rates from the date of possession or date of transfer, depending on the terms of the Deed of Sale. In case of a Sectional Title unit, the seller may have to pay a pro rata share of levies. Until the levies are paid up to date, the transfer cannot proceed.
- The agent will need to show the house and your assistance to prepare it for marketing will not only help to sell quicker, but will also ensure a better price. Remember that first impressions of the house will most likely either convince the buyer or scare him away.
- Tidy up and tend to outside areas like storage rooms, the pool, garden and clean all pet waste and rubble. Attend to exterior like roof and walls and repair cracks and touch up chipped paint.
- Make sure the inside is always neat and ready for inspection. Clean and remove stickers from walls and cupboards and steam clean carpets, launder draperies and curtains.
- Clean and repair all windows and tiles and check for leaking taps & cisterns and cracked toilets. Replace globes & broken light fittings and make sure rooms look spacious and bright.
- Remove things like paintings and pictures that you may love, but which others may find offensive. Buyers will easily visualise themselves in a new place if they feel comfortable with the interior. People often buy a home based on their feelings about it. Regardless of your location and price, if something about your home "feels" wrong buyers will look elsewhere.
- Stand back and let the agent do his/her job:
It could easily jeopardise a potential sale when an anxious seller follows the agent and the potential buyer from room to room and tries to supplement the information that the agent is supplying. Although it is possible for agents to overlook important facts, it is much more important to successfully convey these positive issues to the agent beforehand. For example, what exactly made you buy the property in the first place? Also remember that a good agent should go through these selling points of the home with you before he/she arrives for the visit. When the owner is present the buyer may not feel free to voice his/her objections and queries for fear of offending him/her.
The sale process depends on establishing trustful and uninterrupted relationship between the buyer and the agent and presence of the owner may not only put off the inexperienced agent but can also damage the required relationship. It can easily happen that the buyer sounds enthusiastic about the property in front of the seller, only to mention to the agent afterwards that they disliked it. The unwanted presence of the seller can also give the impression that he/she is desperate to achieve a sale – which, of course, jeopardises the agent's bargaining ability.
The risks also exist that sellers will throw in comments which actually put the buyer off. For example, he/she might say that this is one of the few houses in the area that has never been burgled, unwittingly implying that the precinct is riddled with criminals. Or he/she might say that since former refurbishments no dry rot has been detected – implying that it might still be there.
Sellers may easily have a tendency to oversupply the client with data which simply annoys, deters and exhausts him/her. There is great value in informing the agent beforehand and let him/her then handle the inspection quietly and without pressure. The owner should rather be busy with some activity that indicates how much he/she enjoys living there – even if it is gardening or sitting on the veranda enjoying the view or perhaps watching television in the entertainment area. The owner should be available at the start of the inspection to answer questions, but should not interfere thereafter.
- Additions or alterations: Focus on exterior projects first as it seems like they are more likely to make a lasting impression. Renew outdoor entertainment areas like patios, and paint or recoat exterior walls. The only interior projects that may have similar results are minor kitchen revamps. The reality is that additions and alterations do not necessarily ad to the value of the property and are often worth more to the homeowner who intends on staying in the home than to prospective buyers. This could be because people investing in upgrades or alterations typically do so to fill their own specific taste, pocket and needs while prospective buyers with different needs simply don't see the value, regardless of the cost. Subsequently buyers might not place as much emphasis on those "personalised" aspects as you may. Always keep in mind that the last thing a potential buyer wants to hear is that the property has been “made up/fixed to sell”.
Private sales, Agents and Commission:
Savings in commission are an incentive to sell a home privately but the decision of whether or not to use an estate agent should be carefully considered. While commission savings are attractive, remember that this is an agent’s income and when you want to pay as little as possible for the service, changes are that you will not receive a full service. Agents are also likely to secure a better price as, amongst other benefits; they have access to an existing buyer database.
Private sellers often have little or no skill or experience in negotiation, marketing and financial or legal implications surrounding the sale of a house. One of these aspects is drawing up the purchase agreement and making sure everyone is protected and you will cover all the aspects of a valid sale for real estate. Also ask yourself the question whether you are really saving money and whether it is worth running the risk. One of the things that may certainly help is to appoint and seek for a consultation with your conveyancer even before you start the process. When making the decision to sell privately or not, also consider the demands on your time commitment, your knowledge of the real estate market and advertising costs.
Remember that selling privately requires far more effort and diligence from a seller than it may appear. Make sure you have the time, energy, know-how and technical assistance before going the private route. It is probably much wiser to mandate a reputable agent who does the advertising and other work for you. Establish from the agent how they will treat your sale if you give her the mandate and follow up on the process.