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Are You READY to Sell?

By Mary Anne Walser, Realtor & Attorney, 404-277-3527, maryannesellshomes@gmail.com

How do you know when it is time to sell and move to your next home? For some of my clients, it is easy. They are outgrowing their current home and have more children than bedrooms. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, the children have left and the home is much too big without them. Other clients just like to move every five to seven years or so. And sometimes it is a major life event – a marriage, a job change, a death – that creates the need to sell. But one of my first steps as a Realtor is to gauge your motivation to move. (Or, if you are an investor wanting to sell property, to gauge your motivations in selling so that we can target your goals.)

One client, Martine, seemed eager to put her home on the market. We staged, photographed, listed, marketed, and soon she got a full list price offer on her home – but then would not sign it. She panicked – all of a sudden, she decided that moving might not be the best idea after all. She was not finding a home to purchase that she liked better (within her price range) and she was second guessing whether she wanted to move at all.  She asked me if she HAD to sell just because she received an offer at list price for her property.

If she refuses to sell, is Martine in breach of contract? Stated another way, if a buyer offers exactly what the seller asks for the property, is the seller legally obligated to sell? The answer is NO.

When we put your home in the multiple listing service and offer it for sale to the general public, in legal parlance the listing is not an “offer” – it’s an “invitation to offer.” This means that even if a buyer offers your exact list price and doesn’t ask you to pay any of their closing costs, you are not obligated to accept the offer. And this is because the listing itself does not contain all of the elements necessary to create a binding contract. For instance, the listing doesn’t state exactly when the deal will close, where it will close, how the deal must be financed, or any of the conditions of sale.

So as a seller, you can refuse even an offer that is above list price. You aren’t required to sell just because you listed your home. Of course, it’s advisable not to list your home unless you are certain you want to sell your home. And depending upon the listing agreement, you may be responsible for paying a commission if you receive a full price offer but refuse to sell. But thinking through things before it gets to that point can save a lot of heartache.

What I recommend for clients who are not entirely sure about a move is that we test their motivation by going out to see just a few properties currently on the market that they might wish to purchase. If we find properties that they can live with and live in, it makes it easier for them to agree to a sale when an offer comes in. Sometimes the “water testing” can take place entirely online; the seller does not feel as if they need to go look at properties in person in order to determine that the right property for them is out there. But one way or another, having a plan and knowing the purpose of the move makes for a smoother transaction all around – and no frustrated buyers threatening to sue.

There are also sometimes alternatives to selling that make more sense. If what you need is more space, you may want to add on or renovate your existing home. One thing that makes that very attractive is the deductibility of home mortgage interest.  If you take out a normal consumer loan – to buy a car, say, or to pay for a wedding – the interest is not tax deductible. But for a loan that is secured by your primary residence, all interest IS tax deductible (at least currently. Things could change as national fiscal policy changes). This is a bigger deal than most people realize.

The best time to meet with a Realtor is early in the process. We can help you evaluate your options and determine whether selling your home and moving or staying and renovating is best.

So KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. Know why you are moving and have a plan for where you are going to move; and keep your purpose in mind as you move forward. Knowing what you want is the only way to get what you want, so let’s figure that out before you put your home on the market.


Mary Anne Walser is a licensed attorney and full-time REALTOR, serving buyers and sellers in all areas of Metro Atlanta. Her knowledge of residential & commercial real estate and her legal expertise allow her to offer great value to her clients. Mary Anne is a member of the Atlanta Board of Realtors, the Georgia Association of Realtors, the State Bar of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers. Contact Mary Anne at 404-277-3527, or via email: maryannesellshomes@gmail.com.