For years, the rule of thumb has been that homeowners shouldn’t even think about moving out of a newly purchased home for at least five years. Just ask any realtor about this, and they will undoubtedly have an opinion, either pro or con.
But in reality, when it comes to deciding how long you should remain in a home, the question you should be asking yourself is not “if” you should sell, but “why.” How you answer that question could change the way you think about the de facto “five-year rule.”
On the move
According to a 2018 American Community Survey study published by the National Association of REALTORS®, the average duration of homeownership in the U.S. is 13 years. Historically, first-time buyers stay put in their homes for 11 years, about four years less than buyers who previously owned a home.
Typically, homeowners in cities move more often than homeowners in the rest of the country. But that’s all changed since the pandemic, especially since remote working has allowed people to move further away from physical job locations.
Looking for extra space
First-time homeowners tend to kick things off with a starter home or condo. That makes them much more likely to move earlier than those already “traded up” to a bigger house.
Starter homes often lack the attractive features and extra space that buyers trading up tend to seek out. Some wait until they have enough equity in the starter home to cover a larger downpayment, up to 20% on a conventional loan. But if you’ve paid down the mortgage principal enough, and your finances allow, there’s no reason not to trade up before five years — especially if you’re moving to a less expensive area where trading up might be cheaper than where you’re now.
Not all that long ago, house-flipping — that is, purchasing a house and flipping it for cash in a couple of years — was not unheard of. People tried to make careers out of it and TV show empires were born from the craze. House-flippers still exist, but with closing costs and seller’s fees to consider, it’s more likely that homeowners are waiting a few years and accumulating some equity before cashing in on an investment. In this scenario, the “five-year rule” makes much more sense.
Changes to your income or an uncertain economy can be a major factor in deciding how long you’ll want to stay in your home. Even if your family is growing and feeling the urge to buy something bigger — or in a different location — personal finances may keep you in a home longer than you initially anticipated, especially if you haven’t built much equity.
Look closely at your finances, as trading up could instead result in taking a few financial steps backward. It might be wiser to stay put, build up 20% or more equity in your home, and wait to move until you’re a bit more financially stable.
Prepping your home for a faster sale
Here’s a shortlist of 8 things to consider before listing your home.
- Inspect yourself
Nothing can kill a deal like a bad home inspection. So get ahead of any bad news by hiring one beforehand so you know what the problems are and can deal with them before putting the place on the market. It may be an unplanned expense, but it’s money well spent (and that you’d probably spent anyway in making repairs).
- Neutralize it
Want to appeal to more than a handful of buyers? The greatest common denominator is the basics. Our advice is to remove personal objects like family photos, pet supplies, bar carts and any trace that you still live there. Create a neutral environment as if you were creating a beautiful hotel room. If just about anyone would be comfortable moving in, you did a good job.
If everything looks and smells clean, potential buyers will feel that the entire home is well maintained. So scrub everything before putting your place on the market — grout, windows, banisters and railings, stoves, showers and bathtubs and inside the washer and dryer. Hire a professional cleaning crew to get all the nooks and crannies you hardly even notice anymore — because potential buyers will look and will notice!
- Pets? What pets?
Homeowners with pets get used to the smell of their furry family members and go nose-blind to pet odors over time. But a smelly home will cause a place to stay on the market longer than neighboring homes. Some people won’t even take a second glance at an online listing if they see a litter box or dog bed. Of course, keep the pets, but try to eliminate all evidence – odorous or otherwise – that they share the home.
- Kids? What kids?
The same is true for children. If their toys are strewn all over, and their bedroom is an homage to Frozen’s Elsa, prospective buyers are going to have a hard time envisioning themselves living there — even if they have kids themselves. Clean up the drawings on the wall, the artwork taped to the refrigerator door and the garage filled with bikes and sports equipment.
- The smell of fresh paint
If you walk on the wild side and have any rooms or accent walls painted in anything that is not a neutral color (oranges, yellows, purples, reds, etc.), you’ll want to get the paint cans out. You might love bright colors, but remember, you want to appeal to as many buyers as possible. Choose neutrals — no more than three — that are a shade lighter or darker to differentiate one room from another, if you like, but nothing drastic! Outside, focus on small paint jobs that help buyers think you’re out there all the time taking care of the home they are about to buy. Touch-up or repaint house siding and trim, mailboxes, storage sheds, garage doors, fences, etc.
Buyers love homes that appear move-in-ready. Empty homes always show better than homes sellers live in because they can be staged professionally, and buyers can visualize themselves living there so much easier. If you live in the home you’re thinking of selling, either purge like nobody’s business or rent a storage unit and de-clutter. Hire a professional organizer if you need to.
- Mulch, Mulch Baby
Curb appeal is the first impression your home will make. And maybe the most important. But if you haven’t lived in your home long enough to boast a beautiful front yard, try mulch and woodchips. It’s been said that mulch can cover up many imperfections in a yard, and it’s easy: spread a fresh layer throughout gardens, around trees and alongside walkways. Then plant some inexpensive flowering plants and small bushes and replace the garden hose to give buyers the impression that your love for the home extends outside too.
Staging a home — inside and out — can be fun and financially rewarding. But be prepared — you may not want to sell when you see how beautiful your home can be with a total makeover!