The Ultimate Real Estate FAQ Guide

Jessica Johansen's PhotoKristy Snyder's Photo
By Jessica Johansen & Kristy Snyder Updated April 11, 2024


Questions for sellers | Questions for buyers

Whether you’re planning to sell your house or buy a new one, the process can feel daunting. Real estate transactions are notoriously complicated, so it’s normal to have questions during every step of the selling or buying journey.

In this guide, we’ll answer 30 of the most common real estate questions to help you better understand the market and all of your potential options.

If you have other questions about the buying or selling process, we highly recommend connecting with a professional real estate agent. A realtor can answer questions based on your local market, giving you the confidence and knowledge you need to navigate the real estate process. Find an experienced real estate agent near you today!

The top 15 real estate questions to ask when selling a house

1. How do I prepare my home before I sell it?

When preparing to sell your home, the first thing to do is make it presentable. This means giving the entire house a thorough cleaning and making small repairs.

Mop the floors, scrub the bathrooms, and get rid of all the grime in the kitchen.

Little things like patching holes in the wall, changing burned-out lightbulbs, and repairing broken appliances can make your place stand out in a crowded market.

And don’t forget about paint — returning the walls to a neutral color can help your house sell quicker. White, creams, and grays can make rooms seem bigger and help potential buyers see themselves living there.

If you’re not moving out before listing your home, you’ll also need to depersonalize and declutter.

Put away your family photos, knick-knacks, and other personal items. You may need to rent a storage unit if you don’t have a place to put them all.

» READ: 18 Essential Tips Get Your House Ready to Sell in 2021

» LEARN: Best Paint Colors to Sell a House

2. How long will it take to sell my home?

On average, a house takes between 55 and 70 days to sell. That includes 25 days on the market and 30 to 45 days for closing.

The exact time it takes to sell a home depends on a few things, including:

  • The time of year you’re listing: Homes tend to sell faster in the spring and early fall.
  • Conditions in your local housing market: Homes sell faster in a seller’s market, when there is low inventory and high demand.
  • The condition of your home: Homes in great condition may sell faster than homes that need more work.
  • How the buyer is financing: If a buyer needs to take out a mortgage, this may slow down the process. Financing deals usually take an average of 42 days to close, whereas cash deals take only one to two weeks.

The longer your home is on the market, the more money you lose. You’ll still have to pay your mortgage, taxes, and utilities until the buyer officially closes.

To avoid this, there are some things you can do to help your home sell faster.

You can make impactful repairs, like adding new carpet or painting the interior. However, if it’s a seller’s market and homes are selling quickly, you might not need to make these repairs.

You can also set a competitive price with the help of a top real estate agent.

Clever Real Estate’s partner agents sell homes faster than the national average with lower commission fees.

» READ: How Long Does it Take to Sell a House? (An In-Depth Guide)

» LEARN: How to Sell Your House Fast (A Comprehensive Guide)

3. What should the list price of my home be?

The first step in deciding your home’s list price is to get a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a real estate agent.

To perform a CMA, your agent will find similar homes in your neighborhood that have the same square footage, number of bedrooms, and number of bathrooms.

They’ll see what these homes recently sold for or are listed for, and use this as a starting point for your own list price.

A great agent will be an expert in their local neighborhoods, so they’ll be able to price your home to sell without sacrificing your hard-earned equity. Get a free home valuation from a top local realtor today!

If you’re just curious and don't want to spark up a conversation with an agent, you can also use an online home value estimator to get an idea of what your home is worth.

💰 How much is your home worth?

Discover the true value of your home with our Home Value Estimator!

Find My Home's Value

4. Why is my home’s assessed value different from the market value?

Your home's assessed value and market value are each determined by different factors.

Buyers and sellers affect the market value of a home, while professional appraisers calculate the assessed value.

In a seller’s market, your home’s market value may be higher than its assessed value.

That’s because buyers are willing to pay more than the home is technically worth because of low inventory.

In a buyer’s market, you’ll be facing a lot of competition from other sellers, so buyers may put in an offer lower than the home’s assessed value.

» LEARN: Appraisal Value vs Market Value: What's the Difference?

5. Are real estate commissions negotiable?

You can definitely negotiate your realtor’s fees. They’re typically 6%, with 3% of that going to the buyer’s agent and 3% going to your agent.

Some agents may be willing to work for less, especially if you use a discount broker or agent-matching service like Clever.

You can also try to negotiate fees on your own, though the realtor may reduce the number of services they provide.

The same goes for using a discount broker. Some offer cheaper rates because they’re providing you with less help along the way.

They may even charge you with a fee-for-service structure. This can work in your favor if you have experience in selling, but need just a little help with the paperwork.

To get cheaper commissions without sacrificing service, an agent-matching service like Clever is ideal.

💰 Clever pre-negotiates low commission rates for you!

Try Clever's free agent matching service: compare top agents in your market, get built-in commission savings.

  • Choose from top local agents from major brands like Compass and RE/MAX
  • Get a pre-negotiated 1.5% listing fee (half the typical rate)
  • Clever's service is 100% free with no obligation
  • You only pay your agent's low listing fee when your house sells

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6. When is the best time to sell a home?

Early spring and summer, especially June, is a great time to sell a home.

Research shows that home sales in May, June, July, and August account for 40% of total annual sales volume.

Overall, home sales are still pretty good through early fall, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sell a home during this period, either.

However, home sales drop once winter hits. January is the worst time to sell a home, as market activity is much lower.

Take a look at the number of homes sold per month in 2018 to get a better idea of when to sell your home.

nifty graph

» READ: How Long Should You Live in a House Before Selling?

» SAVE: Sell with a top local realtor for just $3.5k or 1.5%

7. Should I buy a new home before selling my old one?

Whether or not you should buy a new home before selling your existing home is a personal choice.

Having a new home lined up gives you peace of mind when selling, and you can move out on your own time.

It also prevents you from lining up temporary housing (and having to move twice), which can be a pain.

That said, you may get stuck paying two mortgages at once. This can be a problem if your sale takes longer than expected.

You can also feel rushed into quickly finding a house instead of waiting for a better deal.

» LEARN: How to Buy a New House Contingent on Selling Your Current One

» CONSIDER: How to Build a House While Selling Yours: 5 Things to Know

8. How does my agent get paid when selling a house?

Total agent fees are usually 56%, with 3% of that going to the seller and 3% going to the buyer.

As the seller, you’ll be responsible for paying your agent through your sale profits. You’ll also pay the commission of the buyer’s agent.

You won’t need to write a bunch of big checks or bring wads of cash to the table. A closing agent will handle the distribution of funds when you close.

They’ll hold money from the buyer in escrow and use it to pay everyone, including your agent.

Escrow is a third-party account where the listing agent keeps money until it’s time to be distributed.

If you want to save on commission a little, you can use a service like Clever to reduce the seller commission to 1.5% or $3,500.

» UNDERSTAND: What Is Realtor Commission?

» LEARN: Average Real Estate Commission Rate

9. How much does a seller pay in closing costs?

Sellers usually pay about 810% of the total sale price in closing costs. Of that, 56% is realtor commission.

The rest is a collection of various other costs, including:

Title search $150–400
Title insurance $1,000–4,000
Escrow fee 0.5% of the final sale price
Transfer tax Varies by state
Prorated property taxes Varies based on your local rates and when you sell
Show more

If you decide to pay part of your buyer’s closing costs, you may end up paying a bit more. They can range anywhere from 2–5% of the sale price.

» READ: Who Pays Closing Costs?

» LEARN: When and How Do You Get Paid When You Sell a House?

10. How much of the sale price do I get?

How much you actually get when selling your home depends on a lot of factors, but in general, expect somewhere between 90–92% of the sale price.

That usually includes 5–6% in realtor commissions and 2–4% in taxes and fees.

If you still owe money on your old mortgage, you will get less.

You’ll also get less if you agreed to pay for any of the buyer’s closing costs.

Buyer’s closing costs can add on another 2–5% of the sale price.

On closing day, your closing agent will distribute the funds to all the necessary parties. They’ll pay out your profits via a check or wire transfer.

» DISCOVER: Seller Net Sheet Guide & PDF

11. How can I save money when selling a home?

The best way to save money when selling a home is to negotiate your realtor’s fees.

Sellers usually pay 6% in fees, with 3% going to the seller agent and 3% going to the buyer agent.

If you don’t want to test your negotiating skills, you can just use Clever to get your seller agent fees down to 1.5% or $3,500. Our large network of top-rated agents provide the same services you’d get with another agent, just cheaper.

You can also save money by trying to sell your home on your own to completely eliminate the seller commission.

But this isn’t recommended unless you have extensive experience and knowledge in the real estate industry.

That’s because selling a home involves a lot of complicated legal paperwork. An agent knows how to handle all of this so you don’t land in legal trouble.

One alternative is hiring a lawyer to take care of paperwork. However, they don't come cheap (budget about $1,000-1,500 for the service), and you’d still need to manage your listing and coordinate showings and negotiations.

Selling a home requires some marketing know-how. Agents regularly handle the hassles of advertising and showing your property to potential buyers. And they alone have access to the multiple listing service (MLS), a local database of homes for sale. This allows them to list your home on all of the major listing sites.

If you’re selling your home on your own, you can use a flat-fee MLS company to get your home in the database and even post your listing to all the top real estate websites.

💰 Compare low commission agents and save thousands

Try our free, no-obligation agent-matching service! Clever will get proposals from the top agents in your area — and negotiate discounted 1.5% listing fees.

12. Should I pay my buyer’s closing costs?

You may want to pay for your buyer’s closing costs if it allows them to make a better offer or helps the sale close faster.

Usually, paying for these costs comes in the form of a credit the buyer uses during closing. A buyer might put this credit toward:

Loan origination fees 1% of the loan value
Mortgage application fee $25–150
Appraisal fee $300–1,000
Points on mortgage Varies
Wire transfer fee $10–50
Flood certification fee $15–25
Private mortgage insurance application fee Varies
Lender-required home inspection fees $300–1,000
Credit report $30–50
Survey fee $85–600
Prepaid homeowner’s insurance, mortgage interest, and property taxes Varies
Lender title insurance Around 0.1% of the home sale price
Mortgage transfer taxes Varies
Show more

Buyers may be able to put in a higher offer if there’s less money for them to pay upfront.

Paying their closing costs can also reduce the amount they need to take out in a mortgage, making it more likely they’ll qualify for the loan and the sale will go through without a hitch.

Additionally, if your house has been on the market for a while, offering to pay for a buyer’s closing costs can attract more offers and speed up the closing process.

Finally, if the inspection reveals small issues the buyer might want to repair, offering to pay the buyer’s closing costs can make them feel more comfortable going through with the deal.

» READ: Can a Seller Refuse to Pay Closing Costs?

» READ: Who Pays Closing Costs?

13. Do I need a home inspection?

It’s the buyer’s responsibility to get a home inspection, so as the seller, you don’t need to get one. An inspection usually ranges from $300–500, so that’s money you can keep in your pocket.

That said, a pre-listing inspection does have some benefits:

  • You’ll have the chance to discover and take care of major problems before listing, which could increase the value of your home.
  • You’ll get to choose your own inspector instead of relying on the buyer’s choice.
  • You may be able to set a higher list price if your home is in great shape.
  • You can encourage the buyer to waive the inspection contingency, meaning there will be fewer chances for your deal to fall through.

» LEARN: Who Pays for a Home Inspection — the Seller or the Buyer?

» KNOW: How Long is a Home Inspection Good For? Tips for Sellers?

14. What are common bank-required repairs?

If the buyer is just taking out a conventional loan, you’ll probably only need to fix major structural issues that put the value of the house at risk, such as foundation cracks or a deteriorating roof.

For a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, you’ll need to make a lot more repairs.

These required repairs might include things like:

  • Patching up peeling paint
  • Concealing any exposed wiring
  • Fixing broken gutters
  • Installing missing handrails on stairs

This list is more extensive because an FHA loan is provided to low-income homebuyers who may not have extra money to cover repairs on their own.

States and banks can also set their own requirements, so always check your local regulations.

» UNDERSTAND: How to Sell a House that Needs Major Repairs

15. How can a real estate agent help me sell a home?

A real estate agent has an in-depth knowledge of the area and how your home compares to others on the market.

They’ll have a good idea of how much you can get for your home and ways you can improve its value.

When it’s time to list, they’ll make sure your home’s priced just right, helping to maximize your offers and sell your home faster. They’ll also take care of all the paperwork, market your home, and coordinate open houses.

Real estate agents aren’t just helpful during the listing process, though. They offer a network of professionals throughout the entire selling journey.

You’ll have connections for everyone you need, whether that’s a closing agent or quality listing photographer.

» LEARN: Top 3 Reasons You Need a Real Estate Agent

» READ: What Is a Listing Agent?

The top 15 real estate questions to ask when buying a home

1. What is the first step for buying a home?

Before you can purchase a home, you’ll need to check your credit score. Potential buyers with credit scores of 700 or higher reassure lenders that they can be trusted to repay the loan.

High scores reflect consistent on-time payments, long-term borrowing experience, and a good mix of credit types (student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc.).

Lenders look at these factors to determine if you qualify for certain kinds of mortgages, so be sure to review your credit history and correct any errors. This will give you a better chance at qualifying for loans with lower interest rates.

Shop around for different mortgage lenders to find out what kind of loans you prequalify for before beginning your home search. With this knowledge, you can easily create a budget and start looking for homes within that range.

2. How long will it take to buy a home?

In 2019, it took buyers an average of 4.5 months to choose a home and make an offer. The buying process itself, which begins when an offer is accepted, takes about 30-45 days to finalize.

However, several factors can affect the buying process, including the property’s location, buyer demand, economic trends, and other variables. Before closing, you’ll also need to::

  • Order a home inspection
  • Get an appraisal
  • Conduct a title search
  • Finalize mortgage details
  • Review closing documents

To speed up the home buying process, connect with a top real estate agent in your area. A knowledgeable agent can help you narrow down your options and negotiate with sellers on your behalf.

» LEARN: How Long Does It Take To Close On a House?

3. Can I back out of buying a house?

Yes, but you may lose earnest money (basically, a security deposit given to the seller upon signing a contract).

You can also face legal consequences if you back out of the agreement for a reason not outlined in the purchase agreement. This document outlines important details, such as repairs the seller is responsible for and contingencies of the real estate deal.

However, there are certain scenarios where breaking a purchase agreement is understandable. If you lose your job, can’t sell your current home, or can’t get approved for a mortgage, it’s best to wait until you reach financial stability before buying.

Other issues with the home, such as a failed home inspection, unrepaired problems, or difficulty with transferring the title, are also acceptable reasons to back out of an agreement.

» LEARN: When Can a Buyer Terminate a Contract in Real Estate?

4. Are real estate prices negotiable?

Yes! You just need a good understanding of the current market and the seller’s needs and motivations.

When the real estate market is a seller’s market, for instance, homes are in high demand and will likely receive multiple offers. Lowballing an offer in this case might cause you to lose your chance at your dream home.

During the first three months of 2021, the average cost of a home in the U.S. was $403,600. If this number discourages you, learning how to negotiate is key. Tactful negotiation with a seller can help you afford a home you love instead of settling for an option under budget.

Consulting a real estate agent is your best bet if you want to make sure your offer won’t be rejected or ignored. Their knowledge of the local market and buyer demand will help you and the seller negotiate a fairer price.

Whether or not you use an agent, wait until after the home inspection before you try to negotiate a lower price. If the inspector finds any issues, you can ask either for a reduced price or for the problems to be fixed prior to closing.

👋 Need a great agent on your side?

Connect with top local agents who can help you get a great deal on a new home. Eligible buyers also earn cash back after closing.

» READ: How to Negotiate When Buying a House — An In-Depth Guide

5. When is the best time to buy a home?

It depends whether you’re searching for the lowest prices or the greatest variety of options. According to a 2016 analysis, April is the most popular month for new listings, whereas November is the best time to find a good deal.

August seems to be a happy medium, offering both low prices and a wide selection of homes.

Since many sellers are eager to close deals before summer ends and school begins, buyers can expect to see plenty of price reductions in August. In 2016, for example, 15.1% of sellers reduced their listing prices before autumn. At the same time, 448,000 new homes were added to the market.

» READ: The Best Time to Buy a House in Minnesota

» READ: The Best Time to Buy a House in California

6. Should I sell my home before buying a new one?

It depends how far along you are in your home search process. If you sell your home before you’ve narrowed down your options, you might be forced to find a short-term rental or stay with friends or family. In either case, remember that this means you’ll be forced to move twice or pay for a storage unit.

On the other hand, selling your home first can give you a significant advantage over other potential buyers.

If you find a listing you really love, you can make a strong offer with the cash you made from the sale without worrying about going over your budget.

Furthermore, since you won’t feel rushed to accept an offer on your own home, you can wait until someone makes an offer you like.

» LEARN: How Do I Sell My House? Everything You Need to Know

7. How does my agent get paid when buying a house?

The agent’s commission is included in the sale price of the home, so they will be paid at closing. The standard commission rate is 6% of the sale price, which is split among the listing agent, listing broker, buyer agent, and buyer broker.

Typically, this means your agent will be paid about 1.5% of what you paid for the home.

If a home costs $200,000, for example, the total cost of commission would be $12,000.

Percentage Dollar amount
Total commission 6% $12,000
Listing broker cut 1.5% $3,000
Buyer's agent's broker cut 1.5% $3,000
Listing agent take-home pay 1.5% $3,000
Buyer's agent take-home pay 1.5% $3,000
Show more

» UNDERSTAND: What Is Realtor Commission?

8. How much does a buyer pay in closing costs?

Closing costs usually fall between 3–5% of the home’s sale price. In 2020, the national average for closing costs was $6,087, including taxes. This payment covers several necessary items for the buyer, including:

Loan origination fees 1% of loan value
Mortgage application fee $25–150
Appraisal fee $300–1,000
Points on mortgage Varies
Wire transfer fee $10–50
Private mortgage insurance application fee Varies
Lender-required home inspection fees $300–1,000
Credit report $30–50
Survey fee $85–600
Prepaid homeowner's insurance, mortgage interest, and property taxes Varies
Lender title insurance Around 0.1% of home sale price
Mortgage transfer taxes Varies
Show more

Depending on the location, closing costs might also include real estate attorney fees, pest inspections, or natural disaster certifications.

Buyers can negotiate with sellers about who should be responsible for covering the closing costs, but be aware of seller contribution maximums. These guidelines limit how much a seller can pay for closing costs based on your mortgage type.

» READ: Who Pays Closing Costs on a House?

9. How can I save money when buying a home?

You can check if you’re eligible for financial programs or loans available through the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) or the VA (U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs). If you’re a first-time buyer, for instance, you may qualify for an FHA loan or a home buying program.

If you meet the criteria for a VA-backed loan, you might not have to make a down payment on a home. You’ll also receive better terms and interest rates compared to most traditional bank loans.

For additional ways to save, financial experts recommend saving up for a 20% down payment on a home. Doing this will ensure that you won’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance, which can cost anywhere from .3% to 1.2% of a loan’s principal balance every month.

Lastly, home buyer rebates (also known as commission rebates) are currently available in 42 states and could potentially save buyers thousands. With a home buyer rebate, the real estate agent or broker shares a percentage of the payment they receive at closing with you, so you get some of your money back.

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Why leave extra money on the table? Clever can connect you with one of the top real estate agents in your area, plus put cash back in your pocket.

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10. What is earnest money/hand money?

Earnest money is often described as a "good-faith deposit" from an interested buyer. The amount is usually 1–3% of the home’s purchase price, and it shows the seller that the buyer is serious about closing the deal.

As the sale is pending, the earnest money is placed in escrow (an account held by a third party until the sale is finalized). At closing, the funds can go towards closing costs or a down payment on the home.

If the buyer has to back out of purchasing the home due to a contingency in the escrow agreement, they will get their earnest money back. However, if the buyer chooses to back out of the deal for any other reason, the money will go to the seller instead.

» LEARN: What Does Under Contract Mean?

» UNDERSTAND: Escrow Fees 101: Everything to Know About Escrow

11. What is title insurance?

Title insurance protects homeowners from claims against their home that happened before they purchased it, such as a prior owner’s failure to pay taxes or fairly compensate contractors.

If you have title insurance, you’ll be covered for legal fees or title disputes that may come up during your time as the homeowner.

There are actually two kinds of title insurance:

  • Lender title insurance is usually required when selling a home. This type protects the lender from any claims made on the house.
  • Owner title insurance is completely optional, but paying this one-time fee will protect you from unexpected issues with the home’s title for as long as you own the house.

Purchasing both insurance policies is usually a good idea, and the combined cost is only about 0.5% of the home’s purchase price.

» LEARN MORE: What is Title Insurance?

12. What should my down payment be on a house?

Making a down payment of 20% is ideal because you can avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), but more realistically, lenders usually require at least 3% for the sale to go through.

Depending on where you live and what kind of mortgage you’re eligible for, some lenders may require a minimum of 5%.

In some circumstances, you may not have to worry about a down payment at all. If you’re a first-time buyer, veteran, or rural resident, there are special programs available to help you afford a home.

» UNDERSTAND: Popular Loan Options for First-Time Home Buyers

13. How long can the seller take to respond to my offer?

Sellers generally have about 72 hours to respond to an offer, but this may vary by state. If a bank is selling a home, on the other hand, the response can take several days or weeks.

If you make an offer and the seller doesn’t respond at all, your offer was probably too low. To increase the likelihood that your offer will be accepted, a local realtor can help you strike the right balance between a reasonable cost for you and an appealing price for the seller.

14. Why do I need a mortgage before I buy a house?

If you can get pre-approved for a loan, it can help speed up the underwriting and buying processes, getting you into your new home sooner.

During the underwriting process, loan underwriters will review the "3 Cs:"

  • Your credit history
  • Your capability to repay the loan
  • Collateral

If you have a positive history of making payments on time, a good credit score, and a consistent income, the turnaround time can take just a few days.

Once a lender approves your loan application, you will be "clear to close." After this, your agent will have you sign closing documents, pay the down payment, and transfer the home’s title to you!

» READ: The Mortgage Underwriting Process: A Complete Guide

» UNDERSTAND: How Long Does It Take to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage?

15. How can a real estate agent help me buy a home?

A buyer’s agent can help you find homes within your budget, schedule visits to houses you like, and negotiate with sellers. Top real estate agents have in-depth knowledge about your area and can save you time and money by narrowing down your best possible options.

Real estate agents also have access to the multiple listing service (MLS) database, which can help you find homes in popular locations before other buyers. Since realtors are plugged into the local market, they might even hear about potential properties before they’re officially listed!

Buying a home can seem overwhelming and confusing, but an experienced real estate agent can put your mind at ease. Clever can connect you with some of the best local agents at reduced rates to help you find the perfect home without breaking the bank.

» READ: What Does a Real Estate Agent Do for a Buyer?

» LEARN: How to Interview a Realtor When Buying a Home: 6 Tips

Buy or sell your home with confidence

Now that you’ve gotten answers to some of the top real estate questions for sellers and buyers, you should feel more prepared to face the real estate market.

Being armed with this knowledge can help you negotiate a better price for your home and enjoy a smooth buying or selling experience.

👋 Next Steps: Talk to an expert

If you're weighing your options for buying or selling a house, Clever can help!

Our fully licensed concierge team can answer your questions and provide objective advice on getting the best outcome with your sale or purchase.

When you enter your info below, we'll ask you a few questions about your situation via a short form. Then our concierge team will be in touch shortly to help.

This service is free, and there’s never any obligation to move forward with us.

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