So You Want To Sell Your Old House…

  |  June 4, 2015

Historic photo of the old home

I have lived in a 1740 center hall colonial in Columbia County for over 20 years. It’s difficult to sell a house you love, but I’m ready. Though I try not to be emotional about it, the house I’ve lived in for so long holds meaning. It’s not just walls and floors. It’s like a book, with the rooms acting like chapters. All of the quirkiness, the ballroom upstairs, the wide planked floors, the creaky stairs, are, to me, the best part of the story of my home. But the reality is that what I love about my 300 year old home might not be so attractive to the next person. Here’s what you should know before you list your old house for sale.

Interview your realtor like you’re hiring them for a job.
So when it comes time to hire a realtor to sell your house, you MUST do your homework, you must do your research, you must conduct a thorough interview. Let’s be serious. Your house is possibly one of your greatest assets. It would be unthinkable to entrust that much of your net worth with someone whom you don’t know, don’t like, or don’t trust. That said here are a few key questions to ask when you think you’ve found a realtor for your old home:

– Are you comfortable selling an older home?
– How many old houses have you already sold?
– What are your unique skills as a realtor?
– Why should I choose your firm over another realtor?
– Why do you feel enthusiastic about selling my old house?
– Do you have clients interested in this kind of home?
– Do you have time to search for such clients if they’re not already on your list?
– Is there anything prohibiting you from endorsing my house to other realtors?
– How do you plan to market my home?
– How can I help throughout the process?

That may seem like a lot of questions, but if any of these make your realtor squeamish, I say move on. You are indeed hiring them for the job. You are absolutely paying them well for their work (somewhere between 5-6% of the gross sale). You are totally within your rights to collect information that helps you feel confident that they are the right people to make the sale. Once you pick a realtor, you are not just getting an agent, you are getting into a relationship. Yep, that’s right. It’s not exactly like dating, marriage or living together, but it’s damn close. Here’s your next bit of advice.

How do you have a successful relationship with your realtor?

house porch

The house today

State your needs.
Like any relationship, you just have to put it out there and say what you want. This is something I have had trouble with in the past, but believe me, if you don’t spit it out at the beginning, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. If you want the house sold in six months, then say so and work out a price that makes that happen. If you’re willing to wait to get the bigger bucks, then say that at the start. Talk it out even if it seems obvious. Honesty is the best way to build trust in the relationship.

Create an open line of communication.
Ok, so what that really means is that talking is not a one way street. Some realtors (no names mentioned) only want to talk to you when they want to show your home to a prospective buyer. Don’t settle for that. You should be totally comfortable calling them for updates. You can even set up a weekly time that you meet by phone to learn how it’s going. Ask for their marketing plan and create actions steps and manage it in a way to assure that the sale is moving ahead.

Make showings stress free.
I found that being cooperative when a realtor needs to access your home makes the relationship run more smoothly. No, it’s never convenient to vacate your house on the weekend so that realtors can get in with a person or a couple who want to poke around and possibly reject your dream home, but if you’re going to sell your house, you need to open the door wide.

diningroom 2

Don’t take anything personally.
Though you may feel emotional about the sale, the realtor does not. It’s like a doctor conducting surgery. They do it every day. For them it’s just another day at the office. This is no time to start collecting personal injustices and becoming offended when someone leaves the toilet seat up. Quite the contrary; you’ll have to put up with dirty shoes tracking through your kitchen, and much more. Don’t give in to the impulse to complain about the small stuff. Develop a thick skin. There’s no crying in real estate.

Be Patient.
Remember, no one is perfect. Your realtor will fumble a few times and you’ll need to forgive these infractions. Yes, they may stage your house in a style that makes your skin crawl. Yes, they may say your house is 100 years younger than it is…oops. Simply correct their errors with kindness and keep the process going. See the end zone, go for the touchdown. Sell your house.

Sweat the small stuff.
Small cosmetic changes can have big payouts so don’t get stubborn if your realtor suggests that you fix the peeling wallpaper in your bedroom or re-stick the crumbling stucco on the side porch. It’s all for visual effect and ultimately might clinch the sale. Go the extra mile if you can.

Listen to excuses, but don’t buy the bull.
If a relator comes back to you week after week with a new excuse for why your house isn’t selling, consider this a red flag. I love the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You.” In essence the message is this, if they’re not interested, then they’re not going to continue to date you. If you get that vibe, don’t fight it…it’s time for the breakup.

It’s ok to walk away.
Though no one wants to admit defeat, sometimes no matter how careful you are in choosing a realtor you can end up with a bad match. So be it. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Make the ending as cordial as you can. There’s no reason to torch the bridge you just walked over. Get the contract voided, that’s important, because it gives you the option of signing on with another realtor or just marketing the house yourself.

front of house

Can you Market your house on your own?

The answer to that is sure you can. With the advent of social media, anyone can market nearly anything, any day of the week, any time of the day. The days are gone when marketing companies are absolutely needed to sell your product. We’re in the ultimate DIY age and the internet has made that totally possible. The question you should be asking yourself is do you want to market your own home?

In my case, I chose to hire someone. Even though I feel totally confident I have the skills, I’m not sure I have the time, so I put it in someone else’s camp.

As of today my 1740s colonial home in Malden Bridge in on the market. I still have mixed feelings about letting it go and making a fresh start. With any luck by the time this article appears it might be sold, but please check the listing and come visit the rambling place I call home.

About Allison Marchese

Allison is the Author of the recently published book, The Hidden History of Columbia County, NY. The book uncovers the hidden secrets buried in one of New York’s most popular counties for New York’s second home owners. Featured on the cover The Chatham Courier and The Register Star, The Hidden History of Columbia County, NY is selling out in book stores. Her blog: Columbia County Life has a large following. The author’s posts feature individuals and their contributions to enhancing life in Columbia County. Allison also writes for Main Street Magazine in Millerton, New York, and has contributed to The Chatham Press and numerous other specialty publications. She has a BA in communications from Fordham University and spent 15 years living and working in NYC as a PR professional. Allison now makes her home in Malden Bridge, NY. You can contact her by email at

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