Follow These 10 Tips If You Are Selling A House In California By Owner
Table of Contents
- 1. Scope Out the Competition (Be A Nosey Neighbor)
- 2. Give California Buyers What They Want
- 3. Analyze California’s Real Estate Market Data for a Correct Listing Price
- 4. Make Sure Your Real Estate Photographs Don’t Suck
- 5. Your Secret Weapon (California Flat Fee MLS Listing Companies)
- 6. Don’t Get Yourself Sued or Fined
- 7. Attract Offers from Local California Buyers
- 8. Be a Shrewd Negotiator
- 9. Don’t Let the Deal Fall Through in Escrow
- 10. Turn Over the Keys at Closing
When you are a California homeowner, you’re in a unique position when it comes to selling your property.
You’ve lived in your home. You’re privy to the property’s perks and unique details that a real estate agent might miss. Even with all the right tools, a Realtor lacks that special connection with your house.
Take advantage of this first-hand perspective. Use that personal touch whenever you can. It will help you connect with potential buyers and stand out from the competition—people like and remember personal details.
Here are ten tips you need to master in order to sell your house in California without a Realtor and sell it like a total professional so you can get the best return on your investment.
1. Scope Out the Competition (Be A Nosey Neighbor)
You know what they say about knowing your enemy. That applies even more so in a field as competitive as the California real estate market!
If you want to be able to sell your property, you need to do the legwork to gather all the market intelligence you can. Luckily for you, nowadays, information is abundant and readily available. Use all the tools at your disposal—you’ll need them.
An easy but essential part of your research is attending open houses. Find out which homes are showing in your area and visit them as a potential buyer. On top of getting an idea of what your house is up against, this exercise will also show you a few things:
- How to position and stage your property so that it appeals to potential buyers – Not all buyers are the same, and professional Realtors have experience in staging that you can learn from. Look for themes in the homes’ decor, especially with furniture and color coordination.
- How to behave like a pro and show buyers around your house like it’s your job – Note the kinds of features Realtors highlight during your tours. They know what to showcase to bring the perceived value of a property up. Pay close attention to what they avoid mentioning, too.
Searching for homes for sale in California online is another form of valuable research you can do to gather data. This step will give you insights into things like:
- How many properties are on sale currently and which ones have sold recently
- How to gauge direct competition and manage your expectations
- Analyze sold California listings to learn what they did well and apply it to your listing for maximum impact
- Look at listings that are more than 120 days old for examples of what not to do, and make sure you’re not making any of their mistakes. If they’ve been on the market that long, they’re doing something wrong.
Study the descriptions, photography, and language used to describe the properties that have sold for the highest prices, and apply what you learn when you create your home’s listing. Do the same later when you talk to interested buyers or host your own open house.
2. Give California Buyers What They Want
Whenever you’re selling anything, it’s crucial to understand the perspective of those you’re trying to reach. You’re asking them to part with a lot of money, after all. You must be familiar with current trends, and any features potential buyers consider must-haves or deal-breakers.
This sounds more complicated than it is. You can get a glimpse of selling features by looking at home décor blogs and magazines and comparing what you see with the listings you’re researching (especially the ones that sold). Pinterest searches are great for spotting current and up-and-coming trends!
More often than not, if you haven’t recently remodeled your home, you’ll have to do a few updates to your house to command top dollar from buyers. Choose wisely where you spend your money and invest in upgrades with an impact that will pay for themselves when you start receiving offers.
Some simple things that will make your house go from “meh” to “wow!” include:
A fresh coat of paint
Stay away from taste-specific shades that people either love or hate, but don’t rely too heavily on boring neutrals either. Instead, bring all you have learned to the table and apply a fresh coat of trendy paint in strategic places. You’d be surprised how much difference a brightly colored accent wall can make!
Give your flooring some love
If you have an old carpet, get rid of it ASAP. If your hardwood floors need refinishing, staining, or anything of the sort, get to work or hire someone who’ll leave them looking their best.
If you have no other option than replacing the floors, consider affordable laminated floors that won’t be as expensive as actual wood. When chosen well, laminate flooring will make your house look like a million bucks and drive the value up.
Update your kitchen cabinets
Most real estate agents call the kitchen “the heart of the home.” Never underestimate its importance of when you’re putting your home on the market.
If your kitchen is still in good shape but could use a little bit of love, an easy and cheap way to give it a fresh look is to paint the cabinet doors and replace the old, worn-out handles with some new and stylish hardware. Look at what updated kitchens look like on the current market and model yours after them.
3. Analyze California’s Real Estate Market Data for a Correct Listing Price
Many factors dictate a property’s value, but the owner’s personal opinion isn’t one of them. Most homeowners in California have an emotional attachment to their houses, and that can cloud their judgment when it comes to pricing. This is when it becomes particularly important to consult outside sources.
Buyers don’t care about all the fond memories you have of that living room, so it’s essential to maintain an appropriate distance and a professional outlook when pricing your home.
Use websites like Zillow and Redfin to get an idea of what low, high, and average prices per square feet in your neighborhood look like. You can also consult public records in local municipalities in California and ask for advice from local Realtors who work with the same type of properties.
4. Make Sure Your Real Estate Photographs Don’t Suck
It’s hard to believe how, despite living in an Instagram world, some people still think images aren’t that important for their listing. They think any photo off their phone will do. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Would you rather buy a pretty pastry at a restaurant or one equally tasty, but that looks like someone burned the top and then sat on it? You’d pick the pretty one with the fancy icing and flaky layers, right? Potential homebuyers are the same way.
Don’t skimp on this step because it will determine how many people actually show up to your open house and how many offers you get after they leave. If the pictures don’t catch the buyer’s eye, they’ll keep scrolling and move onto the next listing page, and you will have lost an opportunity.
They type of camera and the lenses used both influence the quality of your house photos. Phones might be great nowadays, but unless you have a brand new, top of the line smartphone, you’re better off using a professional camera that’s compatible with wide-angle lenses. Wide-angle lenses are the best at capturing details and making each room look ample and airy—and the bigger your home looks, the better.
If you know how to take decent photos and decide to go the DIY route, don’t forget to edit them before posting. Too often, people shy away from making small edits. You have to think like a professional, and professionals edit their photos so they pop. As long as you’re only enhancing the lighting and contrast, you’re not misleading potential buyers. It’s ok to edit out that pair of shoes you forgot to pick up before taking the picture.
If you’re on a tight budget and know someone skilled with a camera, consider giving them a call—but only if they truly know what they’re doing. Remember, photos are the first glimpse people have at your property, and they will use them to judge. Make them fall in love at first sight!
Lastly, if you can afford it, consider hiring a professional real estate photographer who specializes in California real estate photos. It’s even better if they work with a stager because, as a team, they can stage your home and make your listing shine. You want those photos to set it apart from all the other homes on the market!
The beautiful photos you see in magazines don’t happen by accident, and this is not an area where you can afford to be stingy.
5. Your Secret Weapon (California Flat Fee MLS Listing Companies)
If you have decided to sell your house on your own, you should seriously consider going with a California flat fee MLS listing company instead of going 100% FSBO. The choice between the two is all about how much exposure to real and active buyers you want.
You will have to list your house with a California state licensed flat fee MLS real estate broker and offer a buyers agent commission but you still retain the right to sell FSBO.
Flat fee MLS listings are for hands-on sellers that aren’t afraid of learning and getting involved with all aspects of the sale of their homes. It’s also a good option for those who are interested in saving some money (even if that translates into more work and time) if you do it right.
What exactly is the MLS?
A Multiple Listing Service or Multiple Listing System (both names are used and they mean the same thing) is a database that lists all the properties that are available for sale at any given moment. Local California real estate agents can access this database on behalf of their clients. Listing on the MLS is how your property gets discovered and (hopefully) bought.
It also acts as the centralized data hub that will feed your house listing to the major real estate portals such as Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, Redfin, etc. This way your data listing will stay consistent on all these different websites.
Advantages of the California MLS
There are multiple MLS’s in California, each one is specific to your local area by county or a grouping of counties that share the same MLS platform.
One of the main benefits of using the MLS is that it exposes your house to local buyer who are working with Realtors to find a house. 90% of active buyers who are looking for homes for sale in California still use a buyers agents services. If you don’t list your house on the MLS then you run a huge risk of not marketing your home to these buyers who are working with the California agents.
Additionally, it can save you a lot of money in the selling process if you list with flat fee MLS. Since you’re paying a small listing fee instead of listing agent commission, your closing costs won’t include a high commission for a Realtor on your listing side of the transaction.
You’re also much more in control of the whole process. You can decide to terminate your relationship with the California flat fee MLS company at any point. If you’re not satisfied with their work and the support they have or haven’t been providing, you’re allowed to stop the service.
You’re fully responsible for any negotiations you have with potential buyers and their agents. You decide everything, every step of the way. It’s stressful, but this way, you’re in as much control as you can be.
What is Flat Fee MLS?
A flat fee MLS is like its name suggests, a flat fee service you pay to have your house listed in the databases that Realtors use to find properties for their clients. It’s a flat fee because you pay the company a specific amount you agree to and no more. However, this doesn’t mean that all companies that offer flat-fee MLS offer the same things. The offering can vary as much as the fees.
When you’re hiring any kind of service company, make sure you understand what’s included and what’s not, as well as how their offerings apply to your particular needs. Flat Fee MLS might sound like they’re pretty much all the same, but their offerings aren’t one size fits all.
It’s also best to find out which flat fee MLS is used most frequently in your area. Some regions have one primary service, while the others are rarely used.
Disadvantages of California Flat Fee MLS Listing
Fixed fees usually mean lower overall costs at the end of the whole process. On the flip side, you’ll have to pay the fee in advance when you hire a company that will do the listing for you from the start.
Instead of only paying a commission once the property is sold, in this case, you’ll pay for the listing whether the property sells or not.
This arrangement makes it even more important to make your listing as attractive as possible. You can do that by following our guidelines, and by choosing the right company to work with. Find out which ones have helped other homeowners succeed in selling their listings.
Offer a competitive buyer’s agent commission
It is in your best interest to offer market standard or above when it comes to the buyer’s agent commission. Think about it. Why would a buyer’s agent be motivated to show your property to a potential buyer if they don’t believe they’ll be fairly compensated?
Remember, this is the agent’s business, and they’ll act accordingly. Don’t try to skimp or save money here because it could negatively impact—or completely sabotage—your selling efforts even if you do everything else correctly.
Things to be wary of
If you see a company that offers to list your house for very cheap or even free, resist the urge to go with the cheapest (i.e., free) option. Like grandma used to say, if it looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And yes, in these cases, it’s almost always too good to be true.
Companies that don’t charge for this type of service usually don’t offer any real support or customer service, so you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your potential sale. With things like this, you do get what you pay for—or what you don’t pay for.
Another reason they might advertise their services as free is to hide various service fees. Make sure you read and understand all the terms you’re agreeing to before signing anything or hiring anyone. It’s easy to be fooled in real estate, and you don’t want to be caught with your metaphorical pants down.
Bottom line if you choose to work with a company that charges these low or even free rates, you will end up spending much more money in the long run. They have to make their money somehow!
Want To Learn More About Flat Fee MLS Listings?
If you want to save at least 50% of the Realtor commissions, check out our article about 9 Things FSBO’s Need To Know About Flat Fee MLS Listings
6. Don’t Get Yourself Sued or Fined
Since this is not your profession or area of expertise, inform yourself of all the rules and California state laws you need to follow when selling your home. When we said this was hands-on, we meant it.
Your California flat fee MLS company needs to keep your listing updated and update the MLS with any changes right away. This is one of the factors involved in choosing the right MLS company in the first place. If you fail to update them promptly, this will result in fines that you’ll have to pay out of pocket.
Other California regulations you need to keep in mind when selling include:
Follow California Property Disclosures Requirements
As with many regulations, the requirements can and will vary state by state, so read up on what is required to be disclosed in California. Then follow those requirements. Closely.
At a minimum, you’re usually required to disclose any imperfections your house might have, like if lead paint is present anywhere inside. You could get stuck with a lawsuit if you fail to mention things like electrical or plumbing systems that aren’t built to code. The same goes for additions to the square footage of the property that were made without the proper city permissions.
Don’t Discriminate by Following Fair Housing Laws
Be mindful of the language used in your listing contract and other materials. The law prohibits you from discriminating against any protected class of citizens, so you need to make sure you treat all potential clients equally.
7. Attract Offers from Local California Buyers
Local buyers shopping for houses for sale in California are the most likely to be interested in seeing and potentially buying your property, so don’t dismiss word of mouth promotion. Tell everyone you know who might be interested that you’re selling your place.
Tell everyone in your circle even if you don’t think they’d be interested because they might very well know someone who is. If you have the budget or access, you could even mention your intention to sell your home in local bulletins of businesses frequented by potential buyers.
Market Your Home
Marketing is everything nowadays. Gone are the days of “build it and they’ll come.” With so many homes competing for attention, you need to give it your all to distinguish yourself and get people to give you their time.
Selling your home is like owning your own business. If you don’t advertise and market, you don’t make money.
Go Viral on Social Media (Posting, Sharing & Facebook Neighborhood Groups)
Share your photos on all the social networks you’re a part of. Don’t underestimate how many people can see a quality picture on Instagram, or the vast reach a post in a neighborhood group can have on Facebook.
If you don’t believe us, ask around. You’ll find plenty of people (especially in the younger generations) who have found their current homes via a shared post in a group for a specific neighborhood. If you have the budget, you could also invest in some paid targeted ads through Facebook, Instagram, or even Google.
Good Ol’ Fashioned Email
It might feel archaic, but the best way to reach the people you know and don’t talk to very often might be through email. Businesses have email lists, and most people check their emails daily. Even though it’s not used so much between friends anymore, email messaging is still effective.
Send a blast to all your contacts (but please, use BCC) telling them about your listing. If you’re part of a community center or are friends with a business owner with an active email marketing list, try to get a mention from them. Email messages could be what sells your home.
Word of Mouth Through Your Neighbors
While you’re telling everyone you know that you’re selling your house, invite them over to check the place out! Your neighbors would love nothing more than to finally get a look inside.
Open houses are the most obvious way to showcase your place. You’ll get people you know and complete strangers who may or may not bring their Realtors. You should always make sure that your home is ready to give the best impression, so clean up your kid’s toys and make your bed before guests arrive.
Show Your Home
You must be available to show your home within your schedule, even if you’re not officially hosting an open house. If a potential buyer contacts you and you’re free, invite them over for a tour!
If you want to get creative, you could even host a tea party or some other food-centered gathering (who wouldn’t show up for free food?). Use the opportunity to show your neighbors your home. You never know who they know and will tell about your property if they leave with a positive impression.
8. Be a Shrewd Negotiator
After you’ve done all the aesthetic improvements and all the promotion to get your property the attention it deserves, it’s time to focus on the real heart of the game—negotiations.
Read up on what constitutes successful negotiations, different methods of negotiating with different people. Learn from the attitudes of the business people around you. Learn to think like a seller and understand the mind of a buyer.
After you put your house on the market and host at least one open house, you should start receiving offers if you’ve done everything right. Make sure people submit their offers in writing to ensure you’re dealing with serious buyers.
If you see a lot of interest in your property, try holding all offers until a set day to instigate a bidding war. This tactic doesn’t guarantee you’ll get more offers, but it does serve as an incentive for buyers and their agents to submit better offers since they could only get one shot. Show them your home is in demand, and they’ll start to sweat.
You might also want to consult with a California real estate attorney once this type of paperwork is submitted and legal contracts start to be agreed upon. This will ensure everything is in order for all parties involved.
You’ve come this far all on your own, so hopefully, you’re also a stellar negotiator! Remember that a good deal is not one where you get everything you want, but one where all parties walk away satisfied with the agreement they’ve made.
Try to keep your tone amicable and your communications cordial, so there’s a better chance to get to an agreement that makes everyone happy (or close to). If there are issues that pull each side in different directions, try to find a middle ground and see if a compromise is possible.
Objectively analyze everything buyers ask as requests rather than demands and consider whether these requests are reasonable by trying to put yourself in their shoes. Would you ask the same if you were buying? If the answer is yes, then you may want to give it to them.
Have you and the buyer agreed to a price, closing terms, and all the bits and bobs? Wonderful! It’s time to draft and sign a California purchase agreement. Since this is a legal document, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney that specialized in real estate to check that everything is in order.
9. Don’t Let the Deal Fall Through in Escrow
Even after you get to an agreement that satisfies everyone, there are still many details to finalize. Pay close attention to every step of this process to keep your sale on track.
If your buyer is getting a loan, in most cases, the bank will have to do an appraisal of the property to see if the purchase price is at a fair market price. This might be annoying, but it’s how the bank guarantees their loans.
If the bank for any reason comes back with an appraisal that is lower than the agreed sale price, the buyer will have to pay the difference in the amounts or risk losing the property. The bank will not approve a loan higher than the appraisal determines the property to be worth.
Most buyers will demand an inspection be made before the agreed-upon contract becomes enforceable. You can understand why. They need to protect their interests in case an expert finds that expensive repairs are required on the property.
If you disclosed all issues and have maintained your house properly, you shouldn’t be afraid of any of this, as it will most likely not affect your deal. However, you need to be prepared because if a California home inspector uncovers any issues, especially serious ones, this could change the whole game.
The inspection report came back, and something expensive needs to be repaired or replaced. Now what? If the buyer really wants the property, they’ll ask their Realtor to send you a modified offer. They will probably want you to deduct the price of the repairs from the buying price of the home that you previously agreed to.
Remember that you’d make the same request if you were in their place. Be fair in your negotiations and maintain a good relationship with the buyer.
That said, you can agree to their terms or try to negotiate, for example, to split the repairs. Think twice before you send any counteroffer regarding the results of the inspection, as the buyer is free to walk away over a previously undisclosed issue at this point.
10. Turn Over the Keys at Closing
Congratulations! You sold your California house without a real estate agent! Now that the deal is closed, all the legal documents have been reviewed and signed. All the terms have been met, and it’s time to give the new owners the keys to their new place. Selling your own home has been a wild ride, but look how much you’ve learned!
P.S. Remember what we said about personal details at the beginning?
If you want to make this moment extra special, consider leaving a thoughtful note or putting the keys on a personalized keychain. It’s not required, but it will be an unforgettable gesture for the new owners!
About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com and the broker of Get LISTED Realty. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.