How Smart a Home Seller Are You?


In most states, you must disclose any known defects of the house to potential buyers.

Correct! Wrong!

It's the law in most places to disclose knowledge of any material defects. You may be required to reveal known problems of your home's roof, walls, foundation, basement, plumbing, heating and electrical systems, as well as past pest problems and the presence of hazardous materials such as radon, lead paint and asbestos. Your state may require you to fill out a standard disclosure form. Honesty is the best policy to avoid being sued by the new owner for misrepresentation or omission in your disclosure.

For single taxpayers, how much profit from a home sale is tax-free if you've lived in the home at least two years before selling?

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If you own and live in a home for a total of 24 months within the five years prior to the date of sale, you won't owe taxes on up to $250,000 in home-sale profits if single, or $500,000 in profits if married filing jointly. That means the vast majority of homeowners won't pay a dime to Uncle Sam on their home-sale profits. For exceptions to this rule -- notably for divorced spouses, widows or widowers, and members of the uniformed services, foreign service, intelligence agencies or Peace Corps on qualified, extended duty -- see IRS Publication 523, "Selling Your Home". Under some circumstances, you may qualify for a partial exclusion of any gain.

Which home repairs produce the greatest return at sale?

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Agents surveyed by Home Gain reported that the cheapest improvement -- cleaning and decluttering a home -- produced the biggest return on investment, followed by home staging and "lightening and brightening."

If you sell your residence and lose money, you cannot write off those losses on your taxes.

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Sorry, you won't get any help from Uncle Sam if you lose money on the sale of your personal residence. If you lose money on an investment property, however, you may get some relief.

Setting a fair price and refusing to bargain is the best pricing strategy.

Correct! Wrong!

That might be true in a seller’s market, but in a buyer’s market, buyers simply won’t come to see your house. Your agent should provide a “comparative market analysis” of recently sold homes that are similar to yours (at least in terms of number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage and acreage of property) to show you what has sold, for how much compared with the original listing price, and how fast. Use that as a guide to setting your price.

When potential buyers and their agents come to see your house, it's best for you to:

Correct! Wrong!

Get out of there. You want the buyers to feel comfortable looking around your house. If they have any questions, their agent will call your agent. Besides, when you meet with buyers face to face, you might inadvertently reveal how motivated you are to sell and other clues that erode your negotiating power.

Once you commit to a real estate agent, you have to keep him or her until you sell.

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It's a good idea to commit to the shortest possible listing period -- say, three months -- and renew it then if you like. But that does not mean you're stuck with an agent who turns out to be a nightmare. Before you sign a listing agreement, make sure it outlines the agent's duties and includes clauses that allow you to terminate or opt out of the contractual relationship with the agent because your circumstances have changed (say, a job opportunity fell through or your spouse died) or because you believe the agent has failed to perform.

Your father bought his home in 1950 for $15,000. When he died, he left you the house, which is now worth $315,000. Do you have to pay taxes on the $300,000?

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If you sell the house, your gain or loss will be measured from the fair market value of the home when your dad died: $315,000. If you sell for more, the difference will be taxed as a long-term gain. If you move into the house and make it your home for more than two years, up to $250,000 of profit on the sale will be tax-free ($500,000 if you’re married and file a joint return).

Who typically pays a real estate agent's commission?

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Usually, the seller pays both agents' commissions, which typically each run 2.5% to 3% of the purchase price.

If you already own a home and are looking to move up, where can you get the money to cover a down payment and closing costs until your previous home sells?

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Bridge loans, a type of home-equity loan formerly used for this purpose, have all but disappeared. For more about borrowing from your retirement accounts to buy a home, see How Home Buyers Can Tap an IRA Penalty-Free and Ex-Workers Get More Time to Repay 401(k) Loans.

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