Moving 101: Selling Your House

To say that you are "moving" does not really begin to capture the scope of work involved in actually MOVING.  It is such a little word, and such a huge, massive undertaking.  There are so many time-sensitive tasks, so many little to-do's, it is more than a full-time job (on top of the full-time job of packing, and the full-time job of, oh, raising kids...).  To help get you started (in case any of you have a cross-country move in your future), I have compiled a bare-bones action list for selling your home. There are much more complete lists to be found online, and I will list some resources at the end, including my friends at Home Depot Canada.

Selling Your House

So this is kind of a biggie all on its own.  I am actually grateful that I was so overwhelmed with tasks that selling my beloved house was less traumatic than I had feared.  Not that it wasn't emotional - I talked a little bit about it in this post.  But here are the basic steps and a few notes:

-> Find a realtor 

Good heavens the thought of selling our own house on top of it all gives me panic attacks.  Leave all the listing info, photos, showing, etc. to a professional, for your own sanity.  Yes, the commission is a chunk of moola, but did you know that the cost of the commission is tax deductable under moving expenses?  It's all about the silver linings...

In our case, we went with one of the "celebrity" realtors for our neighbourhood.  We figured she had been doing it forever, no doubt had all the right contacts and could get people to come out and see the house.  We were also house hunting in Calgary at the same time, and so we had to depend as much as was prudent on her experienced estimate of what our house would sell for to get a budget for our new place.  Plus, we needed a really quick and painless sale, and thought this would be our best shot at that.

We interviewed her at our house, and had we more time, we would have interviewed at least one or two more.  She came armed with research on comparables - what similar houses in our neighbourhood had sold for, what houses on our street had sold for in the last five years, what else was currently listed, etc.  Our realtor also included a chart showing sales by month, which lit a fire under our butts to get the house ready NOW: houses sell much better in February and March.  All of this provided context for pricing the house.  We had to be realistic - our house had a great main floor and basement, but the original upstairs bathroom and no parking, so we couldn't get what the house down the street with parking got (we ended up getting the same).

A Word On Commissions...  Some will negotiate on commission, others will not.  Our realtor pointed out that their commission includes 2.5% that goes to the buyer's realtor (the seller pays all the realtor costs of the transaction).  If someone offers too low a commission, they may be skimping on the buyer's commission, which may dissuade a buyer's realtor from showing their clients your property.

If they are taking a bite out of their side of the commission, they may be spending less on the advertising required to sell your home.  Our realtor hired an excellent photographer to do the 360 tour, a drafter to measure and do the house plans, and a home inspector to do a thorough home inspection available to anyone interested.  Many will also hire a stager and rent furniture or props.  Our realtor had ads in the local paper as well as the Toronto Star, and of course took care of the mls listing.  Now I feel a bit conflicted about this, because it still seemed like an awful lot of money, and I am not sure an ad in the Star does any good, but who knows what combination of marketing brought about our sale.  In the end, our house sold in less than a week for the asking price, so we got what we needed and it is pointless to spend time second guessing.

One more note: we were a little stunned and overwhelmed during this process so perhaps the obvious escaped us.  However, we were quite surprised to find out from our lawyer when looking at the final figures that we also pay GST on the realtor's fees.  That cash would have been a really nice sofa.  Like, REALLY nice.

-> Find a storage locker

This is where the packing fun begins.  Pack up all the extra clutter in your house and get it right out of the way.  In our case, this meant a storage locker at Public Storage, but if you know someone with a big garage or extra room in their basement, that would be handy.  We were lucky that PS had a promotion on the first month - 1$.  Since we only needed it for 1 month, we only paid tax on the regular rate, about 18$.  Score!

Make sure the storage place is as close as possible to your house.  There will be many trips - in our case lugging everything there and then lugging it all back.  Having a second pick-up for the moving company would have added a substantial cost - we checked.

If you can add a blizzard to your move, it makes it way more interesting.  This is the path I had to shovel to get to the door of the storage unit.  The elevator behind these doors was not working.  So I put everything back in the car and went to the next door, where I shovelled a new path and brought everything in.The dolly tipped over twice throwing all the boxes into the snow.  There were tears and some NSFW language.

-> Declutter

I found it helpful to take a picture of each room to get an idea of how much stuff there was that needed to be packed away.  Otherwise, I found it challenging to get a perspective on what exactly was "clutter".  I had to remind myself that I wasn't styling for a shelter mag (I wish!), I was paring down for a listing.  For me, this meant packing (or hiding) everything from any surface area.  The maximum I would allow myself was one item to be out, but usually it was zero.  

It also meant putting some of the little tables, random chairs, and other furniture in storage as well. Although I thought my place looked quite nice, I realized when looking at other listing photos (which I was doing a lot of for Calgary) that it came across as overstuffed with furniture.

Believe it or not, this is the uncluttered 'after'.
Oh HI backsplash!  Long time no see!
The 'uncluttered' shelves - pathetic I know.  No wonder we were 13,000+ pounds...

As you can see, I did not end up removing every personal item, which my realtor was OK with.  I think it worked in the end, because the buyers were a young couple looking to start a family, and I think our place definitely had a family feel.  But your realtor might be more stubborn on presenting a blank canvas.  Don't be insulted - they know what they are doing.

Be sure you budget enough time for filling holes in the wall, painting walls, cleaning high traffic areas, polishing grout, etc.  We hired someone to help with all of this, as there was some crumbling plaster, missing grout, etc. that we just didn't have the time to address ourselves.  Think of it like a hotel room - you don't want to walk in to your hotel room and find ANY evidence that someone has stayed there before you.  Your home doesn't have to be quite as sterile, but it's the same general principle.  People want to buy a nice home, they don't want to buy your nice home, know what I mean?

Be aware that during showings and the open house, people are going to open every cupboard and closet to check out storage.  If you try to hide things by ramming them into that space under the stairs, it is going to look like your house doesn't have enough storage.  So take this time to go through all of those spaces as well and pack away the things you don't use or haven't looked at in ages.  And if you don't want to pack them, sell them or give them away!

-> Get to know Craig's List and Kijiji / PURGE

If you have the time, start putting up things you don't need or won't bring with you for sale.  I found Kijiji MUCH more active - everything I sold was through Kijiji.  Be ruthless, because you are going to be really ruthless later as the moving date approaches, and the earlier you can start selling stuff the better.  It's another full-time job!  If you have several things up at once, you will be fielding lots of emails, and scheduling people to come look at your stuff, which can get a little complicated as some show up and others don't.  But the extra cash is nice and there will be a point when you will feel huge relief with every piece that is carted away from your home.

A garage sale is also an awesome option, again if you have time.  March was not the best month for an outdoor gale (see blizzard above) so I ended up displaying everything in our basement during our big "We're Leaving Town" party, and it was nice to see pieces I loved but never used leave with friends and family.

I also had great luck with Facebook.  I put up photos of things I wanted to get rid of in an album entitled Things I Am Not Taking To Calgary.  Most were free; some had a small price.  I got rid of lots of stuff this way, and got to see some old friends in the process!

And of course, have several garbage bags ready for all the stuff you are taking to Goodwill.  We had a big pile going in the basement and that made it easy to toss stuff in the bags and not dither about whether to keep it or not.

My advice, by the way, is WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT! (and by throw it out I mean give it away somehow to someone who will find it useful).  Do you really want to unpack it?  Will you just put it in storage at the new house?  Keep in mind William Morris's wonderful dictum: 

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful 

or believe to be beautiful.

Amen Will.

-> A Few Notes

- Don't get too many boxes at this point, because you are just going to have to store them somewhere.  We went on a huge shop at Home Depot, and ended up storing a ton of boxes in our storage locker.

- Don't fill up on groceries.  You are going to be eating out a lot while your house sells as people come for viewings, photos, 360 degree videos, home inspections, etc.  Plus you don't want to fill the house with the smell of garlic.

- Label, label, label.  These are the first things you pack up and I guarantee you will forget what is in them.  Label not only the contents but which room it should go in in the new house.  For these boxes, we put Basement, since they didn't have anything we would need right away.  Many of them remain un-opened below me as I type... I probably should have sold them. :)

- Attack one room at a time, so that you don't end up with boxes with some kitchen stuff, some living room stuff, etc.  It will probably take more than one go-around to get it truly decluttered, so leave a box or two near each room.  That being said, the exception is pillows and bedding, which are wondering soft packing materials for electronics and keepsakes, and help offset a really heavy box.  Down-filled coats and snow pants are also great!

Keep your car handy.  Not everything that was 'clutter' could be stored 10 -15 minutes away.  So our toaster oven, for example, big ugly behemoth that is was, went into the trunk of our car every morning with the coffee maker and winter coats.  I wonder what buyers thought as they walked by a car stuffed to the gills with boxes and tchotchkes.  I tried to park down the street.

- Have a toy box.  Our poor kids had pretty much everything packed up in this initial declutter.  However, their beloved toy cars, along with markers and a few other games, were left to entertain them.  I had one box specifically for dumping all the toys in, and bringing out to the trunk.

- Your House Will Not Stay Clean.  Sadly, your beautiful pristine, photo-ready house will stay that way for about 5 minutes, if that.  Prepare to spend at least 20 minutes every time you leave the house for a showing cleaning counters, putting clothes away, wiping down the shower, folding laundry and fluffing pillows.  Once it sells, the clutter bomb will explode with such force it is frightening.

-> Get a Lawyer

Once your house has sold (yippee!) you will need to find a lawyer to draw up all the necessary papers. Even before finding your lawyer, make sure you pay careful attention and follow along while your realtor reviews the Offer Of Purchase document signed by the buyer and seller - it is legally binding.  If you don't have a lawyer, your realtor should be able to give you a few names (I think they have to provide at least three to avoid conflict of interest), and you can ask family and friends for recommendations.

Your lawyer will look after things like title searches (making sure no one else has claims on your house), liens, etc.  They will prepare the title of ownership documents and the transfer of money to the sellers from the buyers, and, in our case, to our sellers through our Calgary lawyer for our new house.  They will help coordinate with your bank the closure of your mortgage on this house and/or transfer of your mortgage to your new house.  And they will take your keys and give them to the new owners through their lawyer.  Don't forget to budget for lawyers fees. :)

-> Finishing Steps

By all means crack open that bottle of Veuve your agent brought you (you won't want to pack it anyway).  Take a night to relax and enjoy your success before waking up to peer over the cliff at the landscape of Work To Be Done, stretching out in all direction as far as the eye can see.  Just a few little things to do:

- Change Your Address.  Head to your closest post office to get the required Change of Address forms.  For a fee, Canada Post will forward your mail to a new address for as long as you like - the longer the service runs the more money it will cost.  So have your dates ready, and of course the new address.  Eventually you will have to contact and change your address with all of your magazines, banks, insurance companies, PayPal, credit cards, Amazon, Indigo, Etsy, Ebay, etc.

- Change Your Email.  If you already have gmail or yahoo (does hotmail still exist?) you will be fine.  I, however, had my email through Rogers, who was our internet supplier and it got cut off with the internet when we moved.  I had set up a gmail account but neglected to send out a massive change of address email before getting shut down.  So if you tried to contact me - SORRY! :(  I wish I had had the time to go through my folders and not only contact people about the change but save or forward pertinent and important emails.  Lesson: don't be me.

- Cancel Your Utilities, or arrange to transfer them to the buyers.  Sometimes your lawyer can help with this process, but you should contact all utilities to make sure that you won't be billed after a certain date.  The lawyers will usually help in calculating how much you have prepaid for utilities and working it into the final financial numbers of the sale.  Have a contingency for the lack of internet!

- Contact Your Insurance Company.  They will need to know that you are no longer at the home they are insuring for you.  When you know your new address, have them transfer their coverage - there will be a fee for this, of course.

- Confirm or Hire your Moving Company.  Make sure you know what date they are coming, and their estimate for delivery.  Arrange a date for them to come if they are packing for you (DO IT) with enough time for an extra day when they see how much sh*t you have.

- Get Your Stuff Back from storage.  You don't want to be paying an extra month!

- Contact The City about returning any parking passes you have (you can be reimbursed for the months you won't be there if you prepaid).  Also make sure you pay any outstanding fines and return all your books to the library!

- Contact the Province about returning your license plates once you have your new ones - again you can get money back for those pretty stickers you bought.

- Contact Your School to let them know your kids are moving.  The sooner the better for the school, who will use the information to help organize class sizes, and in our case, let someone take Cam's place in Senior French Immersion Kindergarten (*sob*). If there are any records they can give you, ask for them so you have them for their new school (I needed copies of their report cards).  And let the teachers know as soon as you can so they can help your kid and their class with the transition of leaving.  One of our teachers had the class write letters and draw pictures for Will, and made him a farewell book that he was given at his going-away party.  I think this really helped him process the idea that he was leaving. 


Yeah, there's that wee step... so here's some tips:

- Label everything as well as possible.  You never know what you are going to be hunting for (probably something small but imperative) in an endless sea of boxes in your new place. (The ugly laugh/cry will come in handy here too.)

- Label the sides so that when boxes are piled to the ceiling you don't have to move every single blessed box to see the contents written on the top.  Again, don't be me.

- Don't cheap out on tape.  Cheap packing tape will never come off your stuff.  Fine for boxes, bad for lights, beds, storage containers, chairs, etc.  It will split into those tiny strips that you have to spend 30 minutes peeling one by one with your fingernail.  Is $0.15 a roll worth this?  No.  No it is not.   

Dollar store duct tape will leave the sticky part behind on everything, requiring gallons of Goo-Be-Gone and what's left of your fingernails.  

Just go to Home Depot already, and tell them I sent you. Please?

- Boxes too.   Home Depot my friends - although the liquor store boxes are still the best for books, because those suckers are HEAVY.  I also got some mirror/art boxes from Public Storage, and some extra large mirror/art boxes from GM Packaging in Mississauga.  The rest was all from Home Depot (and full disclosure they approached me about sponsoring a post AFTER I had bought everything.  Yeah. Not bitter at all. :p )

- Hire a piano mover to move your piano.  Or risk this:
I don't wanna talk about it.
Those photos make me ill.  The claim has been filed with the moving company and we are waiting to hear back. Insert ugly laugh/cry on moving day.

-> Resources

Here are a few more online resources that probably do a better job at explaining the nitty gritty of selling, buying, and moving:

- Home Depot Canada Moving Guide  (Home Depot Canada generously sponsored this post)

And here endeth the longest and most boring post ever.  If you made it down here I hereby award you a gold star.