The True Cost of Selling a Home
When you sell your house, some fees and expenses are unavoidable while others are optional. How much you can save depends in large part on how you decide to sell.
There are as many reasons to sell a home as there are sellers. But if you’ve had a change in life circumstances or a sudden financial hardship, selling as inexpensively as possible is a likely top priority. Read on for how to identify which costs you can avoid when selling your house, which you can’t.
What makes up the costs of selling a home?
If you sell your house using a traditional real estate agent, you’re likely to pay upwards of 10% of the sale price of your home on commissions, fees, and other preparation and closing costs. You can avoid a great deal of those by selling on your own or directly to a cash buyer. Keep in mind, though, that some costs cannot be avoided.
(Mostly) unavoidable costs of selling a home
Closing costs are the various fees and expenses associated with transferring ownership of a property from the seller to the buyer. These include items such as title insurance, deed recording fees, appraisals, home inspection fees and attorney’s fees. Not including any real estate agent commission, these fees can average around 2-5% of the home sale price.
As the seller, not all closing costs will fall to you, but some invariably will. When negotiating the sale of a home, buyers and sellers should read up on who typically pays for what when it comes to closing costs—and know that much of that can be negotiated.
One exception: A scenario where the buyer often picks up most or even all of the closing costs is in off-market sales. If you seek out a cash buyer directly, the buyer might offer to cover the closing costs as part of the deal. If you list your home via an as-is, cash marketplace like Sundae that connects you with trusted local investors, you will pay no extra fees.
When selling a home, the seller is usually responsible for paying any outstanding utility bills up until the closing date. Even if you’ve already vacated the home, maintaining electricity, gas, water/sewer, trash collection fees and other services until closing will be up to you.
If you’re selling a home with an existing mortgage, expect to pay off the balance before the sale can close. At the same time, if you have a home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC), or other lien against the property, those balances will also need to be paid. Keep in mind, though, you can apply the proceeds of the sale to satisfy these debts—so you won’t need to come up with the cash ahead of time.
In the event that you owe more on your home than it is currently worth (known as being “underwater”) your lender will expect you to come up with the difference when you sell. One way to mitigate this expense is to work with your lender to arrange a short sale.
Unless you have a truck and a group of eager, strong friends, moving costs—including truck rental, professional movers, boxes and supplies, fuel, and possibly storage—are an unavoidable budget item when selling your home. According to data from moving.com, the average local move costs $1,250, while the average move over more than 1000 miles is $4,890.
Note that there are some instances when moving costs can be deducted from your taxes. To find out if this applies to you, visit the IRS Tax Assistant’s moving calculator.
The only certain things in life, they say, are death and taxes. Here are the taxes you might face when selling your home:
- Property tax: These vary by state and local laws, and the costs will typically be split (pro-rated) between the seller and the buyer, based on closing date.
- Transfer tax: Sometimes called a title fee, this amount varies by state, and typically is the seller’s responsibility.
- Capital gains tax: If you’ve made a profit on the sale of your house, you could be subject to capital gains tax. However, IRS rules may exempt you from this tax if you have owned and lived in your house for two of the five years before the sale.
Optional costs when selling a house
Optional costs when selling a home can add up quickly. You’ll notice that many investments that are considered “musts” when listing with a traditional real estate agent can be avoided by selling off-market:
Home repairs and improvements
It can make sense to do minor home repairs or a DIY paint refresh, but if money is tight, beware big ticket upgrades.
Home improvements have gotten pricier since the pandemic, and while some fixes add value, it’s rare to recoup the full cost when selling. Upgrades like a mid-range kitchen remodel, new window and siding installation, and garage door replacement are among the top home improvements that added value in 2022, according to data from Remodeling magazine, but none add as much value as they cost. It’s important to crunch the numbers to decide how much to spend in order to increase the appeal of your home and help sell it faster.
If selling your home quickly with no upfront costs or repair work is more critical than getting a top selling price, consider selling your home as-is to a cash buyer. With Sundae’s marketplace, you can skip over the costs, time, and labor of making those pre-sale home improvements.
Traditional real estate agent commission
The traditional real estate agent commission is typically the biggest optional cost for a home seller. In most cases, the fees for both the buyer’s and seller’s agent are paid by the seller and total an average of 5%-6% of the purchase price. While a traditional agent can be a big help in negotiating the best sale price and handling paperwork, this is a steep fee. Some alternatives include:
- A for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) transaction. Though commission-free, this route comes with its own price. You’ll have to do the listing and all prep work and negotiations yourself, and you may end up with a significantly lower selling price.
- Selling your home off-market. Although as-is cash sales typically come at a lower sale price than traditionally listed ones, unlike FSBO listings they also come zero labor, repair, staging or other preparation costs for you.
Deep cleaning your home before selling can make all the difference when it comes to impressing potential buyers. If you want it done professionally, expect to pay between $100 and several hundred dollars, depending on the size and condition of your home and your location.
Pre-inspections are typically paid for by the seller and will help identify any potential issues before selling a home. According to the National Association of Realtors®, pre-inspections typically cost between $300-$500 depending on the size of the property and any additional services requested.
Like cleaning and repairs, landscaping can be a valuable way to increase buyer interest when selling your home. You can perform simple gardening tasks such as trimming trees and weeding flower beds, yourself, spend a few hundred dollars on mulch and new shrubs, or invest thousands in a professional landscaping overhaul.
By creating a warm and inviting atmosphere, staging can help buyers imagine themselves living in your home. This can result in a quicker sale. Home staging typically involves decluttering, and rearranging or adding furniture and decorations. Industry estimates for staging services range from $774 to $2855, depending on the size of the property and location.
Professional photographs can highlight all of the best features of a home and entice potential buyers to visit. Hiring a professional photographer costs an average of $100 per hour.
A seller’s home warranty provides coverage for major appliances and systems in a house, such as heating and cooling units and water heaters, for a limited time that typically ends at the closing of the sale. On average, a home warranty costs between $300-$600. It’s an optional purchase, but it can protect your budget against big surprises.
Reducing the total cost of selling a house
Selling a home doesn’t have to be expensive. While it is recommended to budget for 10% of the total sale price for closing costs, commissions, and other expenses associated with selling a home, there are ways to minimize this to get to a “true” cost that’s more reasonable for you. For example:
- DIY upgrades: If you have time but not much budget, deep-cleaning, landscaping upgrades, and decluttering can make a real difference in how appealing your house is to potential buyers.
- FSBO: Marketing your house for-sale-by-owner lets you avoid traditional real estate agent commissions. This may be offset by a lower ultimate purchase price, plus extra prep work and expenses for you.
- Selling off-market. Selling with Sundae is an as-is, cash transaction. This allows you to avoid traditional real estate agent commissions as well as home repair, preparation and staging costs. The trade-off can be a lower final purchase price, but if you’re looking to limited upfront expenses, a cash buyer might be the right match. Sundae also frees you up from fees and closing costs by building them into the buyer’s offer.
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