Owning a home is part of the American dream for many. While homeownership isn’t quite the investment opportunity it used to be, many families still prefer it over renting because it gives them the freedom to make their house a home by customizing it to their personal taste and preferences.
Homeownership isn’t always for life, though. There are many situations that would necessitate selling your home, from a new job opportunity in a different state to a change in family dynamic that requires a larger or smaller home. Most homeowners will reach a stage where they need to sell their home and move to a new one.
Selling your home, even for a profit, can be an expensive process. There are all kinds of hidden fees involved with the sale of a house. You may know about some of them, but others may surprise you once it comes time to sign the paperwork. Do your research ahead of time to learn exactly what fees you’ll need to pay when you sell your home.
One of the best-known costs associated with selling a home is real estate commission. If, like the majority of American home-sellers, you hire a realtor to help sell your house, you can expect to pay around 6% in commission costs.
That 6% doesn’t sound like much, but if your house sells for a lot of money it can be a big chunk of your profit. For example, if you sell your home for $300,000, your real estate agent commission would be $18,000. A $600,000 home would mean $36,000 in commission. In a seller’s market where homes sell fast and there’s not a lot of inventory, you may be able to negotiate for a lower commission percentage with your realtor. But if you’re selling at a time when there are a lot of homes on the market, your chances for negotiation are lower because it’s more likely that your house will take longer to sell.
You can avoid paying real estate commission costs if you forgo a realtor and sell the house yourself. But given the amount of additional work that can take, most people decide that it’s worth the cost to use a professional realtor.
Closing is when you and the buyers sign the final paperwork transferring ownership of your home. Realtor.com estimates that sellers pay between 1% and 3% in closing costs. If you sell your home for $300,000, that would equal anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 in closing costs.
Closing costs cover fees paid to closing agents and attorneys, and various other fees associated with selling a home. Buyers pay closing costs as well, and in a buyer’s market they may ask the seller to pay their closing costs as part of the deal. Realtor.com estimates that closing costs for buyers range from 3-4% of the sale price.
If you still owe money on your mortgage, you will need to pay that off with the proceeds of your house sale.
If your home value has increased since you bought the house, or if you have owned it for a long time, you may not have to cut into the earnings from the sale as much. But sometimes, you might find yourself in a situation where you owe more on the house than it is worth. It’s always best to avoid selling if you find yourself in this situation, but it’s sometimes unavoidable. In this case, you may end up having to bring a check to the closing to cover the difference between the sale price and what you owe on the mortgage.
You also may be subject to a prepayment penalty. Check with your lender to see if this applies.
When you sell your house, there are a couple of different types of tax you might need to pay. Transfer taxes differ from state to state, with some not requiring this at all and others charging a flat fee or percentage.
If you sold the house at a profit (i.e. for more than you originally paid for it), you may also need to pay capital gains taxes. But it depends on how much more your house is worth now, and whether you have been using the house as a primary residence (as opposed to a vacation or rental home). The IRS states that homeowners may qualify for a tax break of up to $250,000 for single filers or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly as long as they have lived in the home as their primary residence for two out of the last five years, and have not used this tax break for the past two years.
Finally, you may need to pay any outstanding property tax if you have an escrow shortage when you close on the house. It’s more likely you will get a refund at closing if you pay real estate taxes in advance, as the buyer will reimburse you for any taxes you prepaid that will be applicable after you move.
You may end up owing nothing in taxes when you sell, but it’s something to keep in mind as a potential cost.
If you need to move out of your home before it is sold, you’ll need to continue paying for utilities so the house can be shown to prospective buyers. Even though it might be tempting to cut off the electricity if you’re not living there, that would make it much harder for a real estate agent to show your home.
Chances are that your home will need some sort of repairs before you can sell it. If you have lived there a while or if the home is older, you may choose to have a pre-sale inspection to find and fix potential issues before your house hits the market. If you have an issue with the roof, for example, you can address that before you list the house.
Even if you don’t opt for a pre-sale inspection, most lenders require buyers to have a home inspection before they will give the new owners a loan. The buyers’ home inspection may only find a few minor things in need of repair, or it might find more major repairs that cause them to get cold feet. You may end up having the buyers back out and having to relist the house and start from scratch.
Whether or not you are living in the house while it’s on the market, you may choose to pay a professional stager to make the house look more appealing to potential buyers.
This is especially important if you have already moved out. An empty home can be harder to show because the buyers can’t envision how the house might look with furniture. A stager can place furniture and decor strategically so that your home’s best features are on display and it’s flaws are minimized.
According to Fixr.com, the national average cost for a professional stager is $1,500, with the average range between $1,000 and $3,000. If you don’t have that much to spare, you can easily skip a stager and just try to stage the house yourself.
But if you can swing it, staging could help you score a higher selling price for your home. The Real Estate Staging Association reported that in 2020, 85% of staged homes sold for anywhere from 5-23% above the listing price. Staged homes also averaged just 23 days on the market before receiving an offer.
Many sellers offer a home warranty to the buyer to help sweeten the deal. The home warranty will cover things like large appliances, electrical systems, plumbing, and HVAC systems for a set period after the purchase (typically one year).
Realtor.com reports that home warranties usually cost $300-$600, so it’s not a huge investment on your part when it comes to selling your house. Some realtors will encourage the buyers to ask for a home warranty as part of the sale if none is provided.
Once you sell your house, you’ll need to move your stuff to your new place. If you’re moving to another house in the same area, you may be able to do it yourself with a rental truck and a few willing friends or family members. But if you’re moving long-distance, it might be better to pay for a professional moving company if you can afford it.
According to HomeAdvisor, it costs an average of $776-$2,079 to pay for professional movers. You can get a more realistic estimate using HomeAdvisor’s calculator, which looks at the average moving costs for your area.
Example selling costs
Using the example of a $300,000 selling price, let’s take a look at what you might need to pay in additional costs.
|2% closing costs||$6,000|
|Utilities for 3 months||$500|
|Moving costs (Average for Dayton, Ohio)||$1,178|
|Total costs (minus mortgage pay-off)||$35,778|
|Total profit (Sale price minus mortgage pay-off and closing costs)||$114,222|
In this example, you would pay more than $35,000 in combined selling costs, but you would still profit from the sale because your mortgage pay-off amount was half of the sale price.
Risks and Rewards
Selling your home can be an expensive process, but you can still end up ahead if your house is worth more than you owe on it. Don’t go into the process blind; educate yourself on the various types of costs involved with selling a house so you go into it with your eyes wide open.