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OK, you’ve decided to sell your house. Now what? It’s dizzying to think about the many steps in the home sale journey. Don’t worry — feeling confused or disorganized is totally normal. If selling your home was as simple as selling a bicycle or a car, there wouldn’t be an entire industry of real estate agents and other professionals to help you through the process.
To stay on track, follow our comprehensive checklist detailing every major step from pre-listing preparations to signing the title to the new owner. We built our list with three years of insights from hundreds of top-selling real estate agents to break down the most essential steps of the sale.
1. Know where you stand on your mortgage
Estimated time to complete: 30 minutes
Before you list your home, check your equity to determine whether or not it’s a solid financial decision to sell. Ideally, you want at least enough equity to pay off your mortgage and cover closing costs with your home sale proceeds. Our recent study on national closing costs reveals that the average cost to sell a house is $31,308 — that includes taxes, fees, and agent commission.
Current market value of your home ($300,000)
Mortgage payoff amount (including principal and interest) ($100,000)
Home equity ($200,000)
If you’re still unsure if selling is the right move, consult with a financial advisor to review your finances in detail.
2. Research the best time to sell in your housing market
Estimated time: 5 minutes
If you plan your home sale timeline wisely, you can sell your home faster and for more money. Housing market trends reveal that homes sold during peak times of the year garner 3.82% higher prices than average. On the flip side, homes sold in less opportune times sell for 7.2% less than the annual average for similar homes.
Fortunately, it’s easy to figure out the best time to sell with HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell Calculator. Plug your city in for a detailed breakdown of the best (and worst) times of year to sell in your market.
3. Deep clean and declutter your entire home
Estimated time: 1 to 4 weeks
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare your home for the market. While not the most glamorous tasks, cleaning and decluttering are essential steps to increasing your home’s marketability and value. According to our Top Agent Insights Report, deep cleaning your home adds an average of $1,728 to the sale price, while decluttering adds another $2,584.
Declutter open areas: Declutter visible spaces, including all shelves, countertops, desks, tables, walls, and other surfaces. Tuck away personal items, family photographs, and knick-knacks.
Declutter storage areas: Expect buyers to open up cabinets, closets, and any other storage spaces during home showings. To enhance the appearance of storage spaces, pack up non-essentials into cardboard boxes and store the boxes in the garage or in a storage unit until your home sells. As a rule of thumb, we recommend decluttering closets until they are only half full.
Declutter your yard: If you’ve got things stored in your front or back yard, it’s time to sell them or put them in storage. Remove trampolines, boats, temporary above-ground pools, and other large items. While you’re at it, you might also want to see if you can clean up your neighbor’s yard if it’s an eyesore.
Deep clean before listing photos and in-person showings. Pay extra attention to your kitchen and bathrooms to brighten their appearance.
1. Tackle the kitchen.
Clean your countertops.
Scrub down and organize your appliances (use these interior design principles for the best possible organization).
Empty your refrigerator and wash it inside and out with soap and water.
Scour your stovetop and oven.
Scrub the dishwasher and clean the racks.
2. Move on to the bathroom.
Clean your toilet with a scrubber and toilet bowl cleanser. Leave the cleanser on for several minutes to dissolve tough stains.
Clean the sink and bathtub.
Wipe down mirrors and glass with a streak-free glass cleaner (glass cleaner can also give your faucets a pleasant shine).
3. Clean the rest of the house.
Scrub the walls to remove any discoloration or stains.
Dust everything with a microfiber cloth
Wipe down surfaces with a multi-surface cleaner (avoid using the cleaner on unsealed woods or glass).
Sweep the floors, including the areas under furniture.
Vacuum after sweeping to suck up any remaining particles.
Mop all hardwood floors.
Clean carpets with a carpet cleaner rental, or hire a professional carpet cleaning service.
4. Find a real estate agent
Estimated time: 1 to 5 days
Once you’ve completed the do-it-yourself prep work, it’s time to hire a real estate agent. Throughout the thick and thin of your home sale, your real estate agent will be by your side as a valuable resource and teammate. But don’t just hire any agent — our research reveals that the top 5% of real estate agents sell homes for up to 10% more than their peers.
HomeLight’s Agent Finder is a great way to find a real estate agent with a proven history of successful home sales. We’ll crunch transaction data to match you with the three best real estate agents for your home sale based on stats like their average list to sale ratio, days on market, and client reviews.
From there, we recommend that you interview the final candidates with a 15-minute phone call. You want an agent who is knowledgeable and experienced in your market and who you get along with on a personal level. You should feel personally comfortable regularly communicating with them over the coming months.
5. Tackle home repairs
Estimated time: 1 to 5 days
95% of home purchases include a home inspection contingency, meaning that your buyer can use the issues uncovered during the inspection as leverage to negotiate a lower price. A poor inspection report may even cause the buyer to walk away from the deal entirely. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that 17% of terminated contracts fall through because of home inspection issues.
To avoid running into issues later on, pay for a pre-listing home inspection and take care of necessary repairs right away. If it’s a big job like a roof repair, make sure you book it well ahead of time, so you aren’t stuck waiting for a repair to list your property.
According to Realtor Magazine, these are the most common home repairs sellers need to make:
- Faulty wiring
- Poor grading and draining
- Roof issues
- Foundation damage
- Poor upkeep
- Faulty plumbing
- HVAC problems
Amy Zeitz Bailey, a top-selling real estate agent in Louisville, KY, recommends that sellers update their front door lock. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken buyers around a muddy path to a gas meter to get a key that may or may not even work.” shares Zeitz Bailey.
“Making sure the door opens smoothly has a big impact on a buyers’ first impression.”
While we’re on the subject of repairs, it’s important to note that sellers must disclose known property issues with their buyers. So if you decide a foundation crack or malfunctioning water heater is not worth your time to fix, you’ll need to disclose the issue during the home sale.
6. Increase your home’s marketability with light remodeling
Estimated time: 1 to 4 weeks
A little light remodeling can go a long way to improve your home’s appearance and add value to your home. Ask your agent what the best upgrades are for your home, so you don’t overspend on low-impact projects.
Some common upgrades with strong returns include:
7. Boost your curb appeal
Estimated time: 1 to 3 days
The Wall Street Journal reports that curb appeal can increase a home’s value by 7% or more. The good news is, you don’t need to spend a fortune to make an impact. In our Top Agent Insight Report, 70% of agents recommend that sellers put less than $1,000 into curb appeal projects while more than a third say that you don’t need to shell out more than $500. Zeitz Bailey suggests that sellers start by planting colorful flowers in the front yard.
8. Stage your home and take listing photos
Estimated time: 1 to 2 days
Staging your home means dressing up the property to make it look as attractive as possible for buyers. NAR reports that 77% of buyers said they were more able to imagine themselves moving into a staged home than an unstaged home; 31% of buyers shared that they increased their offer because the property was staged.
Your real estate agent can help you rearrange furniture, adjust lighting, and change decor to bring out the best in your home. They can also refer you to a professional stager to bring in temporary furniture and decor.
After staging, hire a professional photographer to take photos for your home listing. Your agent can refer you to a stellar photographer in their network.
9. List your property
Estimated time: 1 day
After you’ve done everything necessary to prepare, it’s finally time to put your home up for sale. Your agent lists your home on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for maximum exposure. According to NAR, In 2019, 9 in 10 sellers listed their homes on the MLS, which was the number one source for sellers to list their homes.
10. Evaluate offers
As each offer rolls in, evaluate it by the following criteria to gauge if it’s a match for your selling goals:
- Buyer’s financial strength
- Move-out date
11. Accept an offer and go through the closing process
Estimated time: 30 to 45 days
You’ve finally received an offer you feel happy with, and it’s time to close the deal. The closing process starts with accepting the offer and ends with the final signature, signaling that you’ve officially sold your home. Ellie Mae, a major mortgage company, reported in June 2020 that the average processing time for a home purchase loan is 46 days.
During this time, you’ll go through:
Opening escrow: The buyer writes an earnest money check that is held by a third party until you negotiate a contract.
Home inspection: A home inspector comes to evaluate the condition of the property. If you’ve already done a pre-listing inspection, this step shouldn’t reveal any surprise issues.
Appraisal: If the buyer’s offer is mortgage-backed, the lender will have a third party conduct an appraisal to determine the property’s value. The lender will only issue a loan for the appraised value, so if it comes in low, your buyer will need to come up with the difference in cash, or you’ll need to lower the sale price.
Possible offer renegotiation: If there were issues during the home inspection or appraisal, your buyer may want to negotiate the price and terms of their offer.
Final walkthrough: Once both parties agree on the sale contract, it’s time to walk the buyer through the property one last time before signing the contract.
If everything goes smoothly, you’ll sign closing documents and be ready to move on to whatever life has in store for you next. Congratulations, you’ve successfully sold your home!
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