Woman pondering with thought bubble of sold home
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Woulda, coulda, shoulda… the most common regrets of first-time sellers 

A Zillow survey found that incorrect pricing topped the list of seller regrets — underscoring the need for agents to help set clear expectations.

March 1, 2023
5 minutes

Key points:

  • Most commonly, respondents said they should have listed their home for more; the danger in today’s slower market, however, is pricing it too high.
  • Listing quality, the timing of the sale, and lack of curb appeal and repairs were among other top regrets.
  • Agents are critical to helping clients understand their selling options and tradeoffs.

When it comes to one of the biggest transactions in their life, most home sellers don't think they got everything right the first time around.

A new survey conducted by Zillow found that 84% of Americans who sold their first home in the past two years had at least one regret about the process — even though it was a strong sellers market and home values were skyrocketing, giving them plenty of leverage.

According to the survey, the top regrets among first-time sellers were around pricing, listing quality, curb appeal and repairs, and timing of the sale.

Regret: Not pricing their home right

When asked about pricing, survey respondents most often said they should have priced their home higher. In today's market, there's a different danger when it comes to pricing.

"This spring's sellers are more likely to regret pricing their home too high," said Zillow senior economist Nicole Bachaud.

"The price their neighbor commanded a year ago may no longer be realistic. They need to adjust their expectations if they want to avoid having their home linger on the market. It's more important than ever for sellers to rely on the advice of a great local agent who understands their neighborhood and has a winning pricing strategy," said Bachaud.   

With inventory remaining low in many markets, underpricing can be an effective strategy for enticing buyers. It's a strategy that's worked in the San Francisco market, said Tim Gullicksen of The Gullicksen Group, which is a part of Corcoran Icon Properties. 

Even with prices falling and the expectation of inventory building, "I would say it is still more of a sellers market," Gullicksen said about the San Francisco market, adding that pricing correctly is crucial, or else a property will just sit.

What agents can do: Understand goals and set expectations

Understanding a seller's goals is a key consideration when helping a seller set their list price, said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow's home trends expert.

"Are they looking to sell quickly to move on to their next home or do they have time and money to invest in improvements that could get them a higher sale price? A great agent can work within a seller's unique situation to determine the best pricing strategy," Pendleton said.

Agents should also set expectations for the seller and have a plan, Pendleton said. That's particularly important with the industry coming off a hot market, as the seller may still be thinking about last year's prices. 

"Agents can and should talk early on about when's the time to cut the list price, when to offer a seller-paid rate buydown, when to cover the buyer's closing costs, and other ways to sweeten the deal and help entice potential buyers facing today's affordability challenges," Pendleton said.

Other top regrets: Listing quality, poor timing and lack of improvements

With so many buyers shopping for homes online, the second most common regret of sellers was not uploading better photos. Nearly 40% thought better listing photos could have boosted the sale price, while 25% believed a virtual tour could have helped sell their home for more.

Life events can make it difficult to sell a home at the perfect time, and the timing of their sale was another common regret among the sellers surveyed. Zillow's research has shown that nationwide, the second half of April is the best time to list a home for sale.

Not getting repairs and other improvements rounded out the list of top regrets, with 25% of first-time sellers saying they could have fetched a higher sale price if they had done more to spruce up their home.

Some projects continue to have more bang for the buck than others, so sellers need to think strategically, said Pendleton. Landscaping, interior painting and carpet cleaning continue to be the most commonly completed projects by sellers.

"They boost online curb appeal and send a powerful signal to a buyer that a home is well-maintained," Pendleton said.

What agents can do: Help sellers weigh benefits and tradeoffs

If sellers have to choose between listing their home in the spring without repairs, or listing in the summer after completing repairs, Pendleton said it's crucial to have a good agent to determine what's best.

"Sellers should work with a local agent to determine the tradeoffs they may be making in waiting to get repairs done and listing later, versus listing in the spring," Pendleton said. "Every neighborhood will be different depending on market conditions. The stronger the buyers market, the more work sellers will likely want to do to make their home stand out."

The survey found 66% of first-time sellers took on at least two home improvement projects before listing the home for sale, with 78% believing that those projects helped their home sell. 

Agents can help sellers maximize their renovation ROI by sharing data and recommendations on repairs or upgrades, and reviewing the condition of neighborhood comps for insight into what buyers are looking for.

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