This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband and I listed our family home on the real estate market – and successfully sold it. We had already been playing around with the idea of putting our house on the market before the pandemic, which is why – despite all the curve-balls 2020 has thrown at us, both personally and professionally – we were so motivated to sell this year. Regardless of the circumstances, we did it. We rolled up our sleeves for some hard work, came up with numerous activities to keep our kids occupied, budgeted money for final renos and learned so much along the way. Here are some of the lessons from selling our first home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Published Sep 26, 2020, Updated Feb 7, 2022
Our First Home
This house was the first home that both my husband and I owned, and it had been in our family for 13 years. My husband had made the wise decision to purchase the house back in 2007, when he was just 25 years old.
Getting Ready to Sell
When he first purchased the home, my husband knew that it needed a lot of tender love and care, and he had planned to renovate it throughout the years. However, life (i.e. meeting his spouse and having two kids) took over, and his initial renovation ideas quickly went to the wayside. So, while we did a major renovation back in 2011, we knew we still had work to do to make the house the turn-key home that we wanted to list on the current real estate market.
Fixing Things Up
To get our home ready to list, we changed the roof, re-paved the driveway, painted the house (in a neutral grey colour) and bought some new appliances. I’m sure houses are sold without taking any of these measures, but we wanted to make sure our house was in the best possible selling condition, and we had a price in mind that we wanted to sell for. The eventual buyers who now own the house love it, because all they need to do in move in and enjoy their new home.
Get an Inspection
To get ahead of any questions from potential buyers, we preemptively had a certified inspection done of our house that could be released with a conditional offer. Despite the fact that we had to pay for the inspection ourselves, this was a great decision. Our inspector pointed out potential red flags (like adding a rail to our backyard deck stairs, checking out one of our electrical plugs and blowing more insulation into our attic) that we easily resolved before anyone viewed our home. It’s always a good idea to understand your home’s strong and weak points, and address what you can yourself.
Purge and Store
Our real estate agent gave us some advice for staging our home to sell, telling us “less is more, and will give potential buyers the chance to see less of you and more of them living in this home.” Though we dreaded having to stow away many of our personal belongings (while working full-time jobs – from home – and have two kids to raise), we inevitably pulled out the storage boxes and packed away 13 years of materialized history. In this scenario, you can rent a storage unit for a short amount of time for about $300-$400 a month, or you can collect all your belongings in a garage or shed. We opted to store our boxes neatly in our garage. Though the boxes took up most of the garage space, it was not an eye-sore.
Choosing an Initial Listing Price
Because this was the first house we ever listed and sold, we really looked to our real estate agent’s recommendation for the listing price. We based our list price on what we knew other houses in our area had recently sold for.
Finding the Sale-Price Sweet Spot
After listing our home, two weeks passed with no offers coming in. We started getting nervous, but our agent reassured us that we were getting less traction due to summer being in fuller-swing than before and Ontario opening up into Phase 3. Still, I spoke with a friend who offered a wise insight: by slightly lowering our asking price, we could expand the pool of potential buyers by putting our property in more buyers’ price range. So, after another week passed, we revisited the listing price with our agent, taking another close look at the properties in our area, and considering what those houses were listed for versus what they sold for. In the end, we decided to lower the listing price. We lowered on a Wednesday, and our house sold on Friday for a price we were very happy with.
Changing Norms During a Pandemic
Selling our home during the COVID-19 pandemic made the experience a bit different in a few ways. One positive change during selling a home in the early days of the pandemic was that there were no open houses. This meant only serious buyers and real estate agents were reaching out. While listed, viewing our home was either by-appointment or via virtual viewings (where a real estate agent would walk through the house and have their client on a video conference call). We told agents that we required a four-hour notification period to ensure we had enough time to quickly tidy up our house, get the kids out the door and make alternate arrangements for our busy work days. While not everyone followed these conditions, the majority of potential buyers and agents were very respectful of this window of time. My advice? While pandemic norms may have changed since 2020 and in-person open houses are making a comeback, request the same 4-hour notification period. For sellers, try your best to keep calm if situations don’t go as planned. For buyers, respect that the home you are looking at is being lived in at the moment.
The Staging Dance
Something else to consider is that – once you’ve listed your house on the market – you’ve got to maintain that ultra-clean, model-home look that you’ve advertised in your listing. Being parents of two young kids, this was a real challenge, as kids have a way of leaving bits to Lego and candy wrappers in the best of places. We learned that potential buyers are very picky, and rightfully so. Buying a house is a serious and nerve-wracking investment, and when you are viewing it (with even more pressure of a pandemic), you want it to look picture-perfect. To help with this, we hired a cleaning service frequently during the days that our house was listed, which is not something we normally spend money on.
Personal Protective Equipment and Waivers
Because we were selling during a pandemic, we were concerned with protecting our family from potentially getting sick. To mitigate these concerns and feel better about the whole situation, we asked potential buyers to wear masks and gloves and to remove their shoes in our home. We also asked them to sign a waiver acknowledging they exhibited no coronavirus symptoms. Rizwan Malik from HGTV Canada’s new series Hot Market agrees that buyers were itching to get out and view real estate again. “Early spring 2020 we all sat around and wondered what was happening. No one wanted to be on the market with so much uncertainty. As time passed and we got accustomed to our new normal, people started to venture out with gloves, masks, and tons of hand sanitizer of course,” he reflects. Even though we’re now nearly two years past the initial pandemic scare, buyers like to see that the people owning the property they’re interested in are safe, healthy, responsible homeowners. Plus, everybody likes feeling safe because we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. So, be sure to place sanitizer bottles around the house and maybe even keep a pack of fresh masks at your front door for visitors!
Offers: The Good and the Bad
When it came to offers, the first couple that came in were disappointing. One offer presented $100K under our asking price, and also asked us to remove everything in our backyard to make it a bare space. Obviously, that was a no-go. The offer we did accept felt good for these reasons: the buyers presented a strong offer, and they were clearly serious as they let us know they had the deposit ready to give. They were also very swift and decisive in their communication with us. While it didn’t feel threatening, their tactic was aggressive, as they left us a three-hour window to sign back to them. In the end, their strategy worked and we felt great about selling our beloved house.
Be Fair With Buyers
If you know that something is not working, it is always best to be honest about the condition that item is in. It would be awful for anyone to move into a home and then discover an array of things not working.
Supply and Demand
If we look specifically at Toronto, the demand of housing still outweighs the supply being offered. Even considering a global pandemic, Toronto real estate is a hot market. Speaking with real estate agent Odeen Eccleston from HGTV Canada’s new series Hot Market, we learned that “the supply in Toronto can barely keep up with the demand – low inventory results in qualified buyers battling for bargains. The city’s global reputation is strong, which keeps our population growing and our real estate market robust.” Real estate agent Rizwan Malik from Hot Market also agrees that “the word here is absorption. Torontonians are welcoming the new inventory with open arms.” He also reflects that Toronto listing prices have gone “straight into our fall market and prices have started to soar. It’s as if Torontonians are making up for lost time.”
To learn more about Odeen and Rizwan, head over to HGTV.ca to watch more Hot Market videos.