Navigating the process of selling a home

Starts at 60 retirement guide

Navigating the process of selling a home

The process of selling your home requires you to think about specific aspects, such as downsizing, real estate agents, and reduced expenses–all to help you increase your property’s sale price. 

Selling your home is common among older adults looking to downsize or move into a retirement village. Read on to learn more about selling your home and explore the options you can choose.

Things you need to know

What to consider before selling

The pros and cons of selling

The best way to sell

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Navigating the process of selling your home checklist

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Navigating the process of selling a home

Do you need to downsize?

Many over-60s find they need to downsize in retirement. Whether it’s because your children have moved out or because your property (and garden) is too big to maintain, downsizing gives you the opportunity to purchase a home that’ll better suit your needs in your next phase of life.

Do you need to reduce expenses? 

Running and maintaining a large home can be costly and, ultimately, detrimental if you’re spending money faster than you’d planned. Look closely at your retirement plan and how much you can afford to spend each week – knowing that you’ll likely have extra healthcare costs to account for and a smaller pool of money to draw down from as you age. Reducing your expenses now by moving into a more affordable home could save you in the long run.

What kind of lifestyle do you want? 

One of the key parts of retirement planning is deciding how you want to enjoy your golden years. Having a clear idea of where you want to live, what kind of house or apartment you want to live in and what facilities you need close by should guide your decision making. If you are seeking a more social atmosphere and an active lifestyle, moving into a lifestyle community or retirement village can be a great option.

Do you need a mobility-friendly home?

If, like most older Australians, you plan on staying in your home for as long as possible, purchasing a mobility-friendly home that will adapt with your physical needs as you age is vital. This means an apartment with a lift or a low-set house with a separate shower and bath (so you don’t need to step up into the bath to shower) and easy-to-use hardware, such as lever-style taps. One of the benefits of moving into a lifestyle community or retirement village is that the houses/apartments within them are typically mobility friendly, with additional safety features (such as emergency buttons). 

What are three simple ways to increase your property’s sale price?

  1. A new coat of paint is one of the easiest and most economical ways to refresh the look of your home and boost its value. Decide whether you want to redo the whole house – inside and out – or just focus on a couple of rooms. Ivory is said to be the one colour that’ll add value to your home.
  2. Clear away clutter and extraneous furniture and clean up. Shelves, kitchen benches and coffee tables should display a minimal number of your most stylish decorative items. Your potential buyer needs to be able to visualise their belongings in your place and know they can fit them. This may mean you need to pop a load of things into storage for a short period. It’s then a good idea to hire a professional cleaner to do a deep clean of things such as windows, blinds, curtains, carpets, bathrooms and the oven, so it all looks as shiny and new as possible. 
  3. An inviting outdoor entertaining space will increase the desirability of your home. While shelter and seating are essential, fire pits have also become a popular modern addition to many backyards. As with inside the home, it’s important to clear out clutter and do a clean up outside. So, prune back trees/bushes, mow the lawn, pressure-clean paths and the driveway and paint any fences or posts that need it.

The pros and cons of selling

Going to auction

An auction involves potential buyers bidding on your property in front of other interested parties. At the end of the auction, the highest bidder becomes the successful buyer of your property, if the highest bid matches or exceeds your reserve price, which is set by you (with the help of your real estate agent). If the bidding does not meet your reserve, the property is ‘passed in’, meaning it won’t sell at that auction. You may then choose to offer your property via private sale, or sell at a later date.

Pros: Auctions give you three opportunities to sell your property: prior to the auction, auction day, or through private negotiation (if the property is passed in). You choose the reserve price, so the property cannot be sold unless bidding reaches that figure. And, you get to choose a settlement date that suits you – but it’s usually 30 days after the auction date

What’s more, there is no cooling-off period for buying at auction. The successful bidder has to settle the contract, even if the house doesn’t pass inspections or the person changes their mind/can’t afford it.

Cons: Auctions can be expensive, as they require an advertising campaign and an auctioneer. The seller is responsible for these costs, regardless of whether the property sells or not. Furthermore, if your property is passed in, you may lose prospective buyers because it may indicate your price expectations are too high. The public, high-pressure nature of an auction may also turn off some buyers, even if they like your property. As the seller, you also need to be emotionally ready for the auction, as you may be asked to make a very big decision on the spot by the agent/auctioneer if bidding stalls or it looks like you may not meet your reserve on auction day.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether to sell via auction or privately, look at how most homes are sold in your local area. Ask your agent for case studies of both auction and private sale, so you have some facts to support the decision you make. Make sure you’re fully aware of your financial outlay and discuss potential risks with your agent.

Going private

Also known as ‘asking price’ or ‘private treaty’, a private sale is a less confrontational way to sell than an auction. The seller usually engages the services of a licensed real estate agent, who markets the property and acts on behalf of (and in the best interests of) the seller. The agent is contacted by potential buyers and manages negotiations between them and the seller. Sometimes, the seller may advise their agent to adjust their asking price. Contracts are then drawn up by the agent if a price offered is acceptable to the seller. 

Pros: Buyers generally prefer purchasing via private sale, as many like to keep their business low-key, so this gives you a broader audience. With no auction deadline, you can take your time to think about offers that come in. This means less pressure to accept low offers. People who express interest are typically genuine buyers, who know their financial limit and can commit to their offer. Private sales can give you greater flexibility with contract clauses during a negotiation. A private sale may also be less expensive than conducting an auction, as you will not be paying for an auctioneer.

Cons: Sometimes, private sellers cannot set the home inspection times (due to the agent’s schedule). This means you may need to make your home available at times that are inconvenient for you or for potential buyers. If you choose a price that’s too low, you may sell your property for less than market value. If you choose a price that’s too high, your property may not sell for weeks or months. A three-day ‘cooling off’ period is usually included in the contract, which gives the buyer the option to change their mind.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether to sell via auction or privately, look at how most homes are sold in your local area. Ask your agent for case studies of both auction and private sale, so you have some facts to support the decision you make. Make sure you are fully aware of your financial outlay and discuss potential risks with your agent.

How to choose the right real estate agent

  1. Research different agents. 
  2. Keep it local. Local knowledge is best.  
  3. Check them out in action. See how they engage with prospective buyers by going to other open homes they are running.
  4. Ask plenty of questions and ask for case studies of similar homes sold in the area.
  5. Set benchmarks and objectives to be achieved throughout your marketing campaign.
  6. Go with your gut! If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s probably not a good fit.

How can I reduce costs and avoid paying a (high) commission rate when selling my home?

  1. Ask around: Check in with neighbours and a few different local real estate agents to find out what a reasonable commission rate is for your area and property.
  2. Negotiate: If you like a particular agent, don’t be afraid to ask whether they will reduce their commission if a competing agent is offering a lower rate.
  3. Consider a tiered commission rate: This means you only pay a higher percentage if your property reaches a certain sale price.
  4. Choose a fixed-fee agent: The best way to sell your property on a budget and avoid a commission altogether is to choose an agent who charges a flat fee. This amount includes all the services you need to sell your home, including property appraisal, photography, copywriting and floorplan, a large photo signboard, flyers and drop cards, advertising on etc, online sale progress and customer service, agent-managed viewings and open homes, buyer call-backs and negotiation. A fixed-fee agent will take the same amount whether your house sells for $300,000 or $600,000. If the property market is hot and you don’t think anyone needs to try too hard to sell your home, a fixed-fee agent may be a smart move.

A 10-step guide to selling your home

  1. Prep your home: Assess your house and see what things need to be done to get it ready for sale. This might be as simple as a deep clean and declutter, or it might be as involved as applying a new coat of paint inside and out, engaging the help of a property stylist or other renovations. 
  2. Find a real estate agent: This will depend on research, recommendations and their fee. (See how to choose the right real estate agent, below.)
  3. Choose a sales method: Auction or private sale? It’s a good idea to ask for advice from your real estate on this and then you need to go with what you feel comfortable with, as auctions can be quite a high-pressure process.
  4. Set a selling price: Again, advice from your real estate is crucial here. It’s important to take emotion out of this process (as much as possible) and price correctly, as the property market can be unforgiving of overpriced listings, or you may have regrets if you price it too low.
  5. Review the agency agreement: Read the agency agreement being offered by the agent. If you want to amend a clause, ask before signing. Typically, the main points of discussion related to whether the agreement is exclusive or non-exclusive, the length of the agreement, how the agreement will be terminated, the selling fee and any other fees, such as marketing or admin. The agreement also specifies the agent’s estimated selling price.
  6. Prepare the Vendor’s Statement (section 32) for your property: This is prepared by a legal practitioner or conveyancer. It explains to buyers the crucial things they should know before buying the property. 
  7. Market your property: It’s important to advertise in a number of areas – including traditional print and digital – but the internet is king. You need striking photos, strong copywriting and great presentation. A good campaign considers a property’s target audience, which may be local, national, or even international, depending on the type of property. The marketing should aim to reach all possible interested parties within a couple of weeks.
  8. Sell your property: Once on the market, some sellers choose to move out. If you have small children, it can be difficult to keep a house presented well for a three-to-four-week marketing period, so some move out completely. Not everyone has that luxury though, and it’s up to the seller.
  9. Go under contract: If the reserve price is met at auction, the highest bidder is the buyer of the property, unconditionally. With a private sale, the buyer has a three-day cooling-off period. You will need to prepare the contract of sale through your solicitor or conveyance.
  10. Settle: Settlement is the final step. The buyer completes the payment to the seller and takes legal possession of the property (with keys etc handed over).

What are some common downsizing mistakes to avoid?


1. Overestimating what your current home is worth. It’s easy to fantasise about the high price your house will fetch, especially if you’ve been out of the market for some time. Get a valuation by a real estate agent - and look around online at what similar houses in your area sold for. This will give you more realistic expectations. 2. Underestimating what a new home will cost. Everyone wants and likes to think they might score a bargain but these are extremely few and far between, especially in Australia’s housing market in recent times, so don’t bet on it. 3. Ignoring the pension or tax implications. There are implications to banking the proceeds of your home sale, and they can mean losing your Age Pension, so it’s important to know the rules around that and the tax implications. 4. Forgetting about the costs involved in selling a property. There are all sorts of fees for agents, auctioneers, marketing, conveyancing and lender’s fees. Get across these before you set about downsizing.

Should I invest in home staging?


Staging (aka dressing) a home for sale to appeal to a wider range of tastes has been rising in popularity in the past 10 years, with some experts estimating that it can add an extra 5 to 10 per cent to a property's sale price. You can choose to either partially stage (i.e. declutter and add a few cosmetic touches) or fully stage (bring in all furniture - usually for empty houses). In most Australian states, staging services can cost anything up to $6,000, so employing staging assistance really depends on your budget and whether you really need it. If the state/condition of your furniture and decor is quite shabby and dated or is perhaps of a unique taste that may not appeal to a broad audience, it is worth considering.

Do I have to tell Centrelink if I sell my house?


If you are receiving pension payments, you have 14 days from the time the sale proceeds hit your bank account to notify Centrelink as to what you are doing with them. If you are planning to buy another house, you can apply for a 12-month exemption from Centrelink, so the money from the sale that’s in your bank account isn’t included in the assets test for the pension.