Read This Before Selling a House in Georgia (FSBO or with a Realtor)

14 September 2019Home Selling

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Your home is your castle. A place of refuge after a long day’s work and where you’ve made countless memories with friends and family. But there comes a time in many of our lives when selling our Georgia home is necessary.

Perhaps the kids have moved out and it’s time to downsize, or you’ve outgrown your first starter home and are looking to expand your family. No matter the reasons, selling a house in Georgia is a complicated process with numerous legal and other considerations to contend with.

For most Georgia residents, their home is the largest financial asset they have. Not to mention it often holds a certain amount of sentimentality, from pleasant memories to the hard work you put into remodeling the kitchen.

Because of this, selling a house in Georgia isn’t a simple transaction, and it’s ok to be hyper-cautious about making sure it’s done right, and in a way that benefits you and your family the most.

While the process of selling a house in Georgia is similar to that in other states, Georgia does have its own unique local practices and real estate laws to contend with. Making yourself familiar with this process early on in the stages of selling your home can help you avoid major headaches and problems down the line.

This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of selling a house in Georgia, making sure you don’t get hit with any major surprises along the way. From working with a listing agent to legally required disclosures, we’ve got you covered.

picture of the Best Time of Year to Sell a Georgia Home

Best Time of Year to Sell a Georgia Home

 
 

When it comes to selling a house in Georgia, timing matters. But it’s not just the month or season you need to take into consideration. Certain property types sell better at differing times of the year, and homes (on average) may sell faster or slower, or even at a higher closing rate during particular months.

Best Time of the Year to Sell in GA

Georgia has a very clearly defined real estate cycle, with property prices both rising and falling like clockwork. Using actual real estate transaction data we can clearly chart the best time to sell your property in Georgia based on your goals. This makes planning to sell a home in Georgia an easier task.

In general, the market reaches the lower end of the value spectrum at the beginning of the new year, rising steadily during the summer months, before dropping in September and October. November and December also see a substantial increase in the percentage of homes sold at above average prices.

Best Time of the Year to Sell for a Profit

Months Homes Sold at Above Average Prices (in order of highest to lowest):

  • June
  • July
  • November
  • May
  • December
  • August

Months Homes Sold at Below Average Prices (in order of lowest to highest):

  • February
  • January
  • September
  • October
  • March
  • April

Best Time of the Year to Sell FAST

Money isn’t everything. Life circumstances often dictate that you need to sell your home fast. Looking at actual data we can uncover which months are the best months to sell your home quickly in GA.

Selling your home fast is especially important for many Georgia home sellers. Job transfers, a death in the family, changing needs and other major life events may require you to move quickly. But oftentimes the one thing holding you back is the sale of your existing home (likely so you can purchase another).

Months Homes Sold Faster Than Average (in order of fastest to slowest):

  • June
  • May
  • August
  • July
  • April
  • September

Months Homes Sold Slower Than Average (in order of slowest to fastest):

  • January
  • February
  • December
  • November
  • March
  • October

Buyer / Property Type Matters

Single-family homes are an ideal candidate for those with children. Buyers for these homes generally start looking in the spring, with an ideal “move in” date early June when the school year ends.

If, however, you are selling a condo (especially one near the beach), winter months are often a great time to sell, with Northerners highly motivated to make the move.

picture of the Cost of Selling a Georgia Home

Cost of Selling a Georgia Home

 
 

Selling a home comes with costs. Let’s take a look at what you can expect.

  1. Title Insurance –  By custom, in Georgia, the seller generally pays the state transfer tax and the buyer pays the intangible tax, also known as the mortgage tax. As it relates to GA, the state is a “file and use” state, meaning that each title insurer files its title insurance rates with the Georgia Insurance Commissioner. These rates will vary per provider but cannot deviate from the rates submitted to the Insurance Commissioner.
     
    There are two types of title insurance policies in Georgia, each of which are paid at the time of closing, usually by the buyer of the home.
    1. Lenders Title Insurance – ensures the lender has a 1st line position on the property
    2. Owners Title Insurance – protects the buyer by ensuring the buyer has a marketable title.
  2. Costs Associated with Remedying Title or Survey Issues –  In the event that issues surrounding the title or survey emerge, contacting a local real estate attorney is the advised route to obtain counsel on your options and cost of resolution.
  3. Local Government / Municipal Costs –  Generally, there are localized costs associated with the sale of a Georgia house. These may include local stamp taxes, recording fees, or other fees imposed by the county, city or town.
  4. Administrative, Filing and Other Fees –  Other fees may include those for municipal lien searches, title searches, or community association estoppel fees.
  5. Seller Attorney Fees –  As a seller it is often advisable to have a real estate attorney review contracts and for various other real estate related activities and advice. For example, title defects or numerous changes needed to a contract may require legal assistance.

    It is important to note that in the state of Georgia it is required that a licensed attorney in the state close all real estate transaction taking place within its borders. This is contrary to many other state in the US in which title companies are allowed to handle escrow and closing matters. Most attorneys charge by the hour, however, you may be able to find Georgia attorneys offering “flat fee” real estate closing services.
  6. Real Estate Agent Commission –  While there are other ways to sell your home than going with the traditional real estate agent listing, if you do hire an agent they are paid based on a commission rate calculated against the sale price of your home. We’ll cover the costs associated with hiring a real estate agent later in this guide.

    For now, understand that real estate commissions in Georgia are defined as a percentage of the sale price of a home and that while standard rates do exist, they are negotiable.

 

picture of Legal Requirements and Considerations

Legal Requirements and Considerations

 
 

Do You Need a Lawyer? (YES and for good reasons)

Georgia, unlike some states, DOES mandate that an attorney be used for the process of selling a home. Specifically, an attorney is required for all closing matters.

However, having a lawyer in your corner is also never a bad idea for contract review or to assist in negotiations. Real estate attorneys may also be useful for assisting with unconventional circumstances such as with a lease-to-own or owner-financed deal.

Georgia Real Estate Disclosure Requirements

Georgia, like most states, requires that sellers disclose certain information regarding known material defects about the condition of the home to prospective buyers. The exception to this rule is that you don’t need to “point out” obvious things that would otherwise be easily identifiable by sight or inspection. For example, a collapsed porch roof.

Unlike some states, Georgia does not require a seller to fill out an actual “disclosure form”. They must, however, honestly answer any buyer’s questions about the property, repairs that have been done or need doing, dealings or interactions with the neighbors, and more. Any attempt to hide or not disclose such aspects of the home may lead to future lawsuits.

Things that you as a Seller do NOT Need to Disclose

Georgia’s home seller disclosure statutes have some exceptions. These exceptions generally relate to things that happened in the home, not its condition.

For example, under (Georgia Official Code Annotated §44-1-16(a)(1)) a Georgia home seller does not need to disclose:

  • Homicides
  • Felonies
  • Suicides
  • Or any other deaths having occurred in the home

Further, it is the responsibility of the prospective home buyer to research information they find relevant about the neighborhood where the home is located. Another example is Georgia Official Code Annotated §44-1-16 (b) which does not require a seller to inform a buyer of any sex offenders in the area.

However, while you may not need to be proactively disclosing such items, if your buyer asks you directly about them, and you have prior knowledge, you are required by law to answer truthfully.

The only exception to this is if the question you are asked is related to information that is protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, or by Georgia’s own fair housing laws.

Disclosure Categories Under Georgia State Law Include but are not Limited to:

  • The existence of any proceedings, claims or complaints that may affect the property such as deed restrictions, tax liens and more
  • Any applicable homeowner or condo association rules
  • Disputes regarding property lines or boundaries
  • Past or present hazards on the property (such as sinkholes)
  • Presence of any environmental hazards such as mold, asbestos or Chinese drywall
  • The occurrence of past or present damage or infestations from termites, carpenter ants or other pests
  • Any major or essential problems with the home’s structure or utilities such as those involving the roofing, HVAC system, wiring, plumbing, foundation and more.

Required to Disclosure Only What you Know or Should Have Known About

Despite disclosure laws, a home seller isn’t expected to know every minuscule detail regarding their home’s condition.

In order for a buyer to hold a seller liable for defects which were not disclosed, a buyer must demonstrate the following:

  • That the seller know about the defect
  • The defect in question substantially impacts the value of the property
  • That the buyer did not know about the defect prior to purchase
  • That the defect would not have been easy for the buyer to identify
  • That the seller did not disclose the defect

Seller’s Federal Disclosure Requirements

In addition to the aforementioned disclosure requirements set forth by Georgia statute, sellers must also abide by federal disclosure requirements.

  1. If the home you are selling was built prior to 1978 you must disclose any lead-based paint hazards in the property
  2. You must provide any inspection reports relating to lead-based hazards in the home
  3. Provide an EPA-approved informational pamphlet to buyers
  4. Allow buyers to conduct their own lead-based assessment
  5. Include specific warning language relating to lead-based hazards in the sale agreement

picture of georgia couple considering their home selling options

Options for Selling a House in Georgia

 
 

Selling With a Real Estate Agent

When most Georgia residents think about selling their home they think of listing with a real estate agent. In the state of Georgia, you may also see seller real estate agents being referred to as listing agents.

Not only does a real estate agent handle the listing and marketing of your property, but they also aid in helping you through every step of the process from showings and staging to contract negotiation and closing.

Listing agents will provide you with a comparative market analysis (referred to as comps), and provide pricing recommendations and strategies tailored towards your specific goals.

High Real Estate Commissions in Georgia

Commission paid out to a seller’s agent is generally calculated as a percentage of the final sale price of the home. The percentage of commission can vary, with lower levels of service usually corresponding to less robust services.

Full-service agents handle the listing, marketing, showing, staging, negotiation and closing of your home. Marketing expenses are handled by the agent out of their own pockets. These agents on average charge between 5-8% in Georgia. This commission rate is split with any agent that may be representing the buyer’s agent. Commission rates with your seller agent may be negotiable.

The commission is paid out as part of the sale price upon closing and is not required upfront.

Georgia’s Multiple Listing Service

Developed by REALTORS®, the multiple listing service, also known as the MLS, is a multimillion-dollar real estate technology. The fundamental principle behind listing on the MLS is that it helps brokers and real estate agents share information on the properties they represent for sale through a singular network.

Sellers benefit by exponentially increased exposure for listed properties, while buyers benefit do to the ability to quickly identify ideal properties on the market for their clients to purchase.

This system facilitates cooperation between competing agencies, brokers and agents, leveling the playing field and providing value for every party involved.

As a consumer, you can access MLS listings published on brokers’ and agents’ websites, but the MLS itself is a private database created and maintained by licensed real estate professionals.

Listing Agreement

After interviewing and selecting a real estate or listing agent of your choosing, you will sign what is known as a “listing agreement”. This agreement grants the agent the legal right to market and coordinate the sale of your home on your behalf.

Listing Agreements Generally Cover the Following Terms:
  1. Commission Rate – The rate of commission you agree to pay as a seller (usually ranges from 6-7% in Georgia). This fee, as mentioned earlier, gets split between the buyer’s agent and your agent at closing.
  2. The Type of Listing – Listings can either be “exclusive” or “non-exclusive”. Exclusive listings are the most common type and require you to pay a commission to the selling agent no matter who or where the buyer comes from. With open or “non-exclusive” listings, on the other hand, you pay whichever agent brings the seller the commission.
  3. Listing Duration – Each listing agreement will cover a specific time-frame, after which the contract expires and you are free to hire another agent to do the job, handle the sale yourself, or extend the existing contract.
  4. Listing Price – Your agent should provide you with an in-depth market analysis and a detailed breakdown of comparable sales in your locale. Based on the data, their experience as an agent and your goals, the listing agent will provide you with advice on pricing strategy. The agreed-upon price will be included as part of the listing agreement.
  5. Any Items NOT Included as Part of the Sale – In some cases, there may be instances where certain items are not part of the home’s sale. For example, perhaps you plan to take the refrigerator with you when you leave, or an heirloom chandelier. Any such items you wish to take with you must be included in the listing agreement.
  6. Detailing of the Obligations and Duties of Both the Seller and Listing Agent – Each listing agreement should (in detail) spell out the obligations you have as a seller to the agent and the obligations the agent has to you as the real estate agent representing your property. For example, the listing agreement will specify the ways in which your agent will market your property, the type of insurance that must be maintained on the home, and the disclosures you are required to make.

Selling Without a Real Estate Agent or By Owner

Although most Georgia residents opt to sell with the help of an agent, non-traditional options offer a range of benefits of their own, with a growing number of sellers GA flocking to these opportunities in lieu of paying out high commission rates to an agent.

DIY or For Sale By Owner

Selling your home going the DIY or For Sale By Owner route has its challenges, and is certainly more work, but the payoff can make it more than worthwhile if you do your homework and put in the effort.

In fact, on a $250,000 home with a 6% commission fee, you can save $15,000. Further, according to the National Association of Realtors’ 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, homes sold by their owners also often sell more quickly, sometimes in as little as two weeks.

But before you decide to dive off the deep end and handle your home’s sale on your own, bear in mind that the process isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Apart from marketing, staging and negotiating the sale, you’ll also be responsible for both the financial and legal paperwork associated with the transaction, something you’ll no doubt want to hire an attorney to help with.

Tips for Selling the DIY Way:
  1. Prep your home for the market. This means professional cleaning, removing any clutter, and staging the property both inside and out for viewing.
  2. Competitively price your property. With real estate platforms and data readily available online from sites such as Zillow and Redfin, you can do your own market research to find comparable properties and price your home similarly to those that best represent your home and sold within a timeframe that you are comfortable with.
  3. Invest in a Georgia flat fee MLS listing service in order to exponentially expand your reach to prospective buyers both in the area and nationwide (more on this below).
  4. Get a marketing plan together. Consider listing your site online, in classified ads and platforms, your local newspapers, social media, and even starting a website where you can digitally showcase pictures, videos of the property and more.
  5. Know your home’s best selling points and put a “pitch” together to “sell” them both in person and in print or online.

Georgia Flat Fee MLS Listings

As previously mentioned, MLS is short for “Multiple Listing Service”. The MLS consists of a network of over 900 individual MLSs nationwide in the USA. Each MLS is separate from each other, meaning that a real estate agent in Chicago, IL cannot view listings in San Diego, CA. This makes it critical to ensure you are listed in the proper MLS.

Why is Paying for a Flat Fee MLS Listing Worthwhile?
  • The MLS essentially represents the entire “real estate market”
  • In the US, over 90% of all sold properties are the result (at least in part) of MLS listing exposure
  • Listing in the MLS means that all local Realtors®, agents and brokers will be able to find and promote your listing to their clients
  • Potential buyers can find your home listed on hundreds to thousands of public MLS websites
  • Those properties listed on MLS tend to sell faster and at a higher price
  • You can avoid Georgia’s high real estate agent commission rage (on average 6%)
  • You retain the right to sell your house yourself
  • You have full control over your listing
  • Qualified buyers will call you direct
  • You set the terms of the contract offer and negotiate conditions directly
  • Your MLS listing can be canceled at any time if your situation changes

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

 

picture of a georgia purchase and sale agreement being signed

Georgia Purchase and Sale Agreements

 
 

In simple terms, a home purchase agreement, also called a sale agreement or purchase contract, is a contract that details the conditions of the sale to which both the buyer and seller agree to. This agreement is legally binding, and it is advised that the agreement be both drafted and reviewed by an attorney you trust.

NOTE: The majority of clauses within the purchase agreement are designed to protect the buyer.

The agreement will cover such aspects of the sale such as 

  1. Sale Price – This will include both the actual sale price of the home as well as how much the buyer agrees to put down at the contract signing date, what amount will be financed and any balances due at closing.
  2. Financing Contingency – Financing contingencies are a common rider included in many purchase agreements. Generally, they define a timeline during which the buyer must qualify for adequate financing in order to purchase the home.
     
    Similarly, a rider may be included to protect the buyer, stating that the purchase is contingent upon them obtaining financing at favorable terms (such as within a specified interest rate rage).

    Other Financing Clauses may Include:

    • Dates by which the buyer must have applied for a mortgage
    • Dates by which the buyer must have obtained pre-qualification, pre-approval and/or final approval by the lender
  3. Inspection & Repairs – Under the agreement, an inspection clause dictates that the buyer has the right under the terms of the contract to inspect the property by hiring one or more contractors or licensed inspectors to look at the property. The contract will need to specify which, if any, repairs the seller agrees to make as a result of the inspection prior to closing.
  4. Title and Survey – The agreement will outline which party is responsible for title insurance and the duration of time the buyer has to review and/or object to the results. In the event that you, as a seller, provided a survey or the buyer ordered one themselves, the agreement will specify how long the buyer has to identify any issues.

    In the event that a resolution to a problem is required, a timeline for this solution will need to be established and incorporated into the contract. If you cannot or do not want to resolve the problem (due to finances or other considerations), incorporating a clause that states you have the right to cancel the agreement and return the deposit should be included.
  5. Personal Property / Excluded or Included Items – Just because you are selling your home does not mean you have to sell everything in it. From furniture, to appliances, and even light fixtures, you get to decide. But, you must specify in the agreement which items are staying behind and which are not part of the deal. Both you and the buyer should make a list of property they expect to sell/purchase. From there you can both negotiate a deal.
  6. Closing and Move in/out Dates – Dates are very important with regards to the process of selling a home. Generally, the closing date for Georgia properties lands around 30-45 days. However, this date is largely dependent upon the lender and may require an extension.
  7. Other Riders – Georgia Realtor forms also have a range of optional riders that cover such circumstances as those that involve:
    • Owner financing
    • Homeowners’ associations
    • Condominiums
    • And more…

picture of georgia home sellers negotiating

Negotiation Process – Offers, Counteroffers & Acceptance

 

Real estate deals are an evolving process with lots of moving parts, contingencies and more. All of which means that a lot can change between the point at which an initial offer is made and closing day.

Rarely is selling a home as simple as getting paid your list price without some form of concession and negotiation. These negotiations can go on for weeks until both parties reach (or don’t reach) an amicable deal.

Counteroffer

A counteroffer is the medium in which this negotiation is dealt with. Counteroffers are generally handled by either your real estate agent or attorney (unless you are selling DIY). Think of selling as a process vs a transaction.

Counteroffers arise when the terms of the initial offer are not agreeable. The counter-offer provides you with the opportunity to take a hard look at what items you are willing to compromise on and which are potential “deal breakers”.

picture of the escrow process in georgia

Escrow Process in Georgia

 
 

When a buyer decides on a property they are interested in buying, they first make a purchase offer. As part of this purchase offer they most often provide “earnest money”. This earnest money is a deposit made as a consideration to be held in escrow by an escrow agent.

The role of an escrow agent is to ensure the transaction closes on time and without a hitch. It is the duty of the escrow holder to validate that all conditions and terms of the buyer’s and seller’s agreement are met prior to finalization of the deal.

This means that all funds, required forms, documents are accounted for and that any loans or liens have been paid off as part of the transaction. This process ensures that the new buyer will have a clean title prior to purchase of the property.

Escrow Agents May Collect the Following:

  • Tax statements
  • Insurance and fire policies
  • Loan documentation
  • Title insurance policies
  • Terms and conditions of the sale
  • Any requests for payment of services to be covered by the escrow funds

picture of home sellers closing on their house in georgia

Closing Process in Georgia

 
 

The closing is the time at which you formally transfer ownership of your home to the buyer. This process can take place anywhere both parties agree to. In Georgia, when the lender notifies that everything is ready, the closing attorney will coordinate with all involved parties and their respective agents to schedule the “closing ceremony”.

Generally, within three business days of closing the lender will provide the buyer with what is known as a “closing disclosure” that outlines and details the terms of the loan, and subsequently provides the funds the buyer needs at closing in order to make the purchase.

The closing ceremony itself takes around an hour or less. During the ceremony, the closing attorney will explain to each party what the closing documents mean and answer any questions either party may have. Presuming everything is agreeable, the attorney will collect an distribute funds from their trust account.

Once closing has come to an end, the attorney will record the deeds. One deed covers conveying the property and the other the lender’s security deed. In GA it takes approximately one month for the original deed to be returned to the buyer.

The Closing Process in Detail:

  1. Title search is run just prior to the closing ceremony in order to uncover any assessments or liens on the title. If the title comes back as “clean” the closing can proceed unhindered.
  2. Attorney prepares paperwork for the transfer of the title/deed and will file the application for title insurance presuming the lender requires such.
  3. A final closing date will be scheduled that is amenable by both parties.
  4. Calculation of the total amount (in the form of a cashier’s check) that the buyer needs to bring to the closing.
  5. Final walkthrough, usually performed the day of or the day before the closing ceremony.
  6. Buyer and seller, at closing (settlement table) sign all requisite closing documents and any final loan documents.
  7. Buyer remits remaining funds in their down payment to the attorney via cashier’s check.
  8. Attorney records the transaction and deed with the local municipality.
  9. Buyer receives keys and legally takes possession of the property.

picture of woman thinking about selling her Georgia house

Final Thoughts

 
 

We hope that you have found this guide informational and beneficial. Selling a home can be an emotional and exciting time in one’s life. But it can also be a stressful one as well. Knowing what to expect and how to best prepare for the process can help you remain calm and in control throughout.

 

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