Selling a home can be a massive endeavor, with multiple parties involved and many boxes to check to ensure a proper sale. Homeowners should expect to spend some money upfront; several costs are incurred when selling real estate, and by industry standard they add up to about 10% of the sale price overall.
Buyer's agents generally include any costs they want the seller to pay in the purchase contract, so sellers are forewarned. However, not all costs are customary and many are discretionary, so sellers should clarify with their own agents which fees they should pay, which they should pass to the buyer, and whether any can be skipped altogether. Selling a home is not always intuitive either—you won't pay for the new buyer's insurance, title registration, or taxes when selling a car, for instance, but selling a home is vastly different.
How much it costs to sell a house can depend on local custom, government requirements, and the current real estate market. Is it a buyer's market, a seller's market, or a fairly balanced marketplace?
In a seller's market, you might be able to demand that a buyer pick up more of the closing costs simply because you have multiple offers on your home. The opposite is true in a buyer's market—a seller might offer to pay some of the buyer's closing costs to make a home more attractive.
Swings in the market can have great bearing on sales costs.
The costs of sale in the purchase contract are negotiable, but it might turn a buyer away if most sellers in your town are willing to pay for transfer taxes and you don't want to.
Other factors are more personal and unique to your own situation, such as the condition of your home and how eager you are to sell.
Real Estate Commissions
The most significant fee you'll pay as a seller will probably be the real estate commission, ranging anywhere from 5% to 7% of the sale price, with 6% being common. Half typically goes to the seller's agent and half goes to the buyer's agent. This is where some homeowners will try to scrimp and consider selling the property themselves, but there are risks involved in not using an agent—setting a fair market price, advertising, and legal processes all require some degree of expertise.
Agents are sometimes willing to negotiate their commissions, such as when the market is particularly strong or the sale price is significant.
Preparing the Home
Yes, your agent can stick a for-sale sign on your lawn and you're open for business. However, it can take anywhere from days to years to sell a house, and you don't want to be in the business of selling your home—you want it sold. This requires a cash investment.
At the very least, taking care of minor repairs and cosmetic issues will improve your home's aesthetic appeal. If you suspect any more serious issues, such as plumbing, roofing, or structural damage, you might want to address these early on, as they will certainly be revealed in an eventual home inspection.
You'll probably have to pay for any home inspection repairs one way or another, whether it's coming down on purchase price or offering a credit to the buyer. Being proactive in the process will likely help your sales efforts, even if simply through good faith.
Many realtors will recommend staging, which costs very little relative to the payoff. Staging is like a professional makeover for your home—imagine your house revamped with furniture, art, plants, and other elements to present it in the best light possible for showings. Staging can be done at scale easily, for a few hundred dollars or many thousands. Keep in mind that staged homes sell faster and for more money than non-staged homes.
The documentary transfer tax, also known as stamp tax or real estate transfer tax, occurs at the point of sale to make a change of ownership official. The tax varies from state to state, and is usually a percentage of the sale price. For example, it's calculated at 55 cents per $500 of the sales price in California, or approximately $330 for a $300,000 home.
It might not seem like a lot, but little things like this can add up for a buyer. Although the buyer is normally responsible for the tax, it's often paid for by the seller as a courtesy because the buyer has already paid a good portion of the closing costs to obtain a loan.
Other Customary Fees
Buyers are normally responsible for paying most other closing costs. Not every home sale is identical, but common costs include:
- City transfer taxes or title fee
- Delivery or courier costs
- Document preparation
- Escrow fees
- HOA fees
- Home warranties
- Loan tie-ins
- Loan payoffs and beneficiary demands
- Property taxes
- Recording fees
- Title insurance for the owner's policy
- Pest inspections and pest completions
- Wire fees
- Attorney fees
A title insurance policy can cost up to $4,000 or so. Escrow fees can reach $2,000. As for attorney fees, many states require that you must have a lawyer to close on a real estate transaction, or if not mandated, you may want to hire one just to make sure all the paperwork is in good order. Each of these items is variable, but overall, these fees can run from 2% to 4% of the sale price. Sellers often make concessions and agree to pay for some of them to ensure that the transaction goes through.
Mortgage lenders have some control over seller concessions, or the level of "interested party contributions" (IPCs), since they can influence a sale. Fannie Mae allows for concessions of up to 9% of the sale price, depending on the buyer's down payment.
Government-Mandated Costs to Sell a House
Types of government-mandated costs to sell a house will vary from state to state, from county to county, and from city to city.
All states require home disclosures by the seller, but there is plenty of gray area as to what must be disclosed to potential buyers.
For example, the California Civil Code doesn't state that a seller must pay for a Natural Hazard Disclosure, but it does require a seller to disclose natural hazards to the buyer. The best way to satisfy this particular requirement is to buy a natural hazard disclosure for $100 to $200.
Some cities require that sellers pay for and submit to buyers a city inspection report. Sellers might be required to install safety devices such as smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors, or even water diversion devices that prevent backups at a garden hose. Ask your local real estate agent about these potential mandates and fees.