Even if you’re listing your home without a Realtor’s® help, you’ll still need to gather the necessary paperwork for the sale and fill it out correctly.
Without further ado, we’ve done the research to round up the key documents needed to sell a house and run them by two top real estate agents and a real estate attorney who’ve seen these forms countless times. We hope it helps illuminate this tricky part of the sale, while giving you an honest idea of just how complex real estate transactions can be!
So grab your lucky pen, stretch those hand muscles, and do some mental flossing to make space in your brain for fun stuff like “mandatory disclosures.” Read on to learn more about the main documents* you’ll need for an airtight, legally sound home closing, as well as the bonus resources you’ll get if you do decide to work with an agent after all.
After you’ve digested this mountain of information, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’d like a Realtor’s® help in coordinating your paperwork or if sale-by-owner is still your preferred avenue.
- Original sale contract
- Mortgage statement (payoff amount)
- Homeowners insurance records
- Homeowners association (HOA) documents
- Home repair and maintenance records
- Receipts for capital improvements
- Manuals and warranties
- Past utility bills
- Comparative market analysis
- Listing agreement
- Proposed marketing plan
- Seller’s net sheet
- Preliminary title report or “prelim”
- Mandatory disclosures
- Pre-listing inspection report
- Purchase offer and counteroffer forms
- Purchase and sale agreement
- Contingency removal form (CA-specific)
- Home inspection report
- Home appraisal report
- Property tax statement
- Settlement statement
- Affidavit of Title
- 1099-S tax form
*Please note! The paperwork required for your home sale varies by state and county, so check with a real estate agent, attorney, or on local government websites to see which ones are must-haves for your location. Some of these listed below might not be required but could be useful when navigating paperwork or preparing for the sale.
Before you list
Original Sales Contract
It’s the circle of life… at one point in time, you bought the house that you’re now selling! And there should be a record of it.
The original sales contract is the agreement you made with the previous owner of your home when you bought it. This contract outlines the terms of the purchase and maps out the “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, and “why” of the transaction.
This way, the buyer makes no mistake about who has previously owned the house, and the terms and conditions under which it was transferred to a new owner. The sales contract notes the price at which the house was sold, and elaborates on any disclosures about the property that were made before the sale.
Note, however, that you don’t need to have this document to sell your house. Since many buyers will ask to see it, it’s a good idea to have it on hand anyway.
“It’s not a legal requirement in most states,” says Ryan Jones, an attorney and owner of Jones Property Law, a boutique law firm devoted to helping clients navigate the legal side of real estate and commercial investing, ownership, sales and more. “A new contract can be signed without the old contract, and the new buyer will conduct new inspections and obtain a new title insurance policy.”
Mortgage statement (payoff amount)
If you’re selling your home before you pay off your current mortgage in full, contact your lender or servicer and request a statement showing your payoff amount. The payoff amount is the total you’ll have to pay to satisfy the terms of your mortgage loan, including any interest you owe until the day you plan to pay your loan in full.
The payoff amount is not the same as your current balance, which will appear on your most recent account statement and may not include interest. Your lender is required to provide your payoff amount to you, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so don’t be shy about asking. With that information, you’ll be able to calculate your estimated home sale proceeds.
“It never hurts to get ahead of the game and request a payoff statement before listing the property,” Jones confirms. “Keep in mind, though, that the seller or title company would have to obtain a new payoff statement right before closing, because the payoff amount must be current as of the closing date.”
Homeowners insurance records
Providing a buyer with proof of your homeowners insurance information as well as a list of all the claims on your home since the time of purchase will give them a rough idea of how much their homeowners insurance will cost when they move in.
Note, however, that what you actually need to disclose differs by state. “Transparency is certainly important and recommended,” Jones notes. “In many states, however, the seller does not have an obligation to voluntarily offer negative information about the property.”
Whatever the laws in your state, it’s advisable to procure a copy of your homeowners insurance records. If a buyer’s mortgage lender requires a copy of the homeowners insurance, you’ll typically need to provide it for the loan to be approved.
Homeowners Association (HOA) documents
If you want to sell property that is part of a development, odds are you’re already part of a Homeowners Association (HOA) that runs the whole thing.
The HOA — which sometimes ruins the fun, and other times takes care of all your yard work — has certain guidelines about the appearance of your home, what you pay for assessments of your property, and if you can rent your home to other parties.
Jones notes that it’s ultimately the obligation of the buyer to search and discover the covenants (which are public records) of the HOA as part of their own title work.
“You can provide them to the buyer to make the process smoother,” Jones says. “The mortgage lender might require a copy to finance the sale, so it would be good to have copies available just in case.”
A buyer will likely want to see the following governing HOA documents:
- Articles of incorporation
- Rules and regulations
- Homeowners dues amount statement
- Copies of the minutes from the Association’s meetings of the past two years
- The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
Home repair and maintenance records
Home repair and maintenance records are hard evidence of all that work you’ve done to your home while you’ve proudly owned it. While not a legal requirement, these records also let the buyers know what needs immediate attention when they move in. Your home repair and maintenance records should contain the following:
- Maintenance receipts such as roof repairs, chimney cleanings, appliance warranty plans, etc.
- Dated records of your most recent painting, gutter cleanings, window washings
- Utility maps for your electric and gas systems
Receipts for capital improvements
Capital improvements are any upgrades which add value to your home and prolong its life — projects like kitchen and bath remodels, or big additions like a swimming pool or new roof. These projects can mitigate the capital gains taxes you owe on your home sale by adding to your adjusted cost basis.
Figuring in capital improvements come tax time will be much easier if you’ve kept a record of improvements you made over the course of ownership of the house, so make sure you always hang onto those receipts. Don’t forget that capital improvements do not include any basic upkeep items necessary for the maintenance and repair of your home — only those improvements that have added to or increased your home’s value.
Reach out to a tax advisor if you’re needing to report capital gains after the sale for further assistance.
Manuals and warranties
Like the home repair and maintenance records, appliance manuals and warranties let the buyer know what shape they’re inheriting these items in when they move into their new home.
While not legally required to complete a sale, these records come in handy if you want to sell your home for more money. You’ll want to provide the buyers with manuals and warranties for things like:
Past utility bills
Buyers will be curious to know how the electricity, gas, water, and sewer bills for your house shake out each month so they can budget accordingly. You’re not required to provide this information, but it’s likely to be a key piece of information for someone making a buying decision. Consider offering them a copy of whatever records you’ve got handy, whether it be hard or digital copies.
It’s common for buyers to request a 12-month average of utility costs. Sometimes they will ask for two years to get an even stronger idea of what utilities are going to cost them.
Documents needed to launch your home sale
Ready to list your home? Now’s the time for solidifying your selling goals, researching your local real estate market, and devising a flawless marketing strategy.
Some things to check off the list now: deep clean and declutter, write a gorgeous real estate listing description, stage your home to sell quickly, and hire a photographer to make it shine on the web.
Or, hire a top real real estate agent with the know-how to tell you what to do to attract competitive bids ASAP.
Comparative market analysis
Not sure how much your house could go for on the current real estate market? A comparative market analysis is a detailed compilation of information about home sales in your immediate area including homes that are currently for sale, homes midway through transactions, and homes that sold recently.
All of this data is then scrutinized to determine a strategic price for your home. This information is often imperative before you put your home on the market, as a bad pricing strategy can spell doom for your sale.
Great real estate agents can perform a comparative market analysis in their sleep. For the rest of us? It’s quite a lot of data to parse, and requires a degree of expertise for accuracy. You’ll need to research comparable properties or “comps” in your hyperlocal real estate market, taking into consideration lots of variables like location, era, construction and materials, condition and more.
As a starting point to understanding your home’s worth, HomeLight also offers a Home Value Estimator that crunches numbers from multiple sources to generate a real-time home value estimate based on the current market in your neighborhood if you’re looking for a quick price check.
If you’re working with a real estate agent, a listing agreement makes the arrangement between you and your agent official and gives your agent the exclusive rights to sell your home within a given time frame.
The contract lays out the terms of how the real estate agent can promote your home. You will also grant the agent the rights to use the listing content which includes photos, graphics, videos, drawings, virtual tours, written descriptions, and any other copyrightable elements relating to the property, according to the National Association of Realtors.
The terms involved in the agreement serve as the foundation of your entire real estate transaction, so read each line carefully.
Proposed marketing plan
This is another document you can ask for if you work with a real estate agent. Much like the listing agreement, the proposed marketing plan lays out how your agent will go about marketing and selling your home. The marketing plan offers a game plan for home showings, open houses, social media marketing, and promoting your home across the top real estate websites to capture buyers’ attention.
Seller’s net sheet
A seller’s net sheet is an organizational worksheet that will show you how much you’ll pocket from your home sale after factoring in expenses like taxes, your real estate agent’s commission (if you work with one), your remaining mortgage, and escrow fees.
Typically, a home’s listing agent prepares the seller’s net sheet. It can also be done by you, the seller — if you’re number-savvy and comfortable navigating Excel. Check out HomeLight’s example of a real seller’s net sheet complete with all the figures that go into accurately calculating your projected net gain.
Not so confident crunching numbers? An accountant, attorney, lender or title company can also create a seller’s net sheet. Since you’ll probably want to hire a licensed accountant to help you navigate tax season after you sell, now’s the perfect time to make an introduction.
While your home is on the market
All sales are different, but the average time a house was on the market as of mid-2021 was a mere 17 days, according to existing-home sales data from the National Association of Realtors. With home sales moving so quickly, be sure you have the following documents handy.
Preliminary title report or ‘prelim’
A preliminary title report, or “prelim,” is a financial and legal summary document that tells you, the seller, if there’s anything outstanding on your property before you put your house on the market. In other words, it’s a precautionary report.
According to Jones, while not a legal requirement, a “prelim” will put you on track to a smoother closing.
“It can often be obtained for less than $150,” he points out, “and it might put you on advance notice of any possible title issues that might otherwise blow up a closing at the last minute.”
A “prelim” shows you what taxes are owed on the property, what kinds of conditions and restrictions are recorded on your property, etc. A “prelim” also preps you for disclosing these restrictions and information to your agent and your potential buyers. You can get a title report using the one of the four biggest title companies for a couple hundred dollars:
You are required to follow “mandatory disclosure” laws and make known to the buyer any hazards affecting the property before the sale is official.
If you work with a real estate agent, they’ll be aware of what you need to disclose, provide the correct forms, and handle these obligations for you.
“When you list ‘for sale by owner,’ you open yourself up to liability because there are a handful of disclosures required by law in some states,” cautions Jena Bebleh, a top real estate agent at Oldham Group, whose team of agents is in HomeLight’s top 1% and sells 70% more single family homes in San Jose, California. “Working with an agent ensures you’ll have access to the proper disclosures and prevents future legal issues.”
If you’re selling without an agent, you’ve got some state-specific legal research to do. Luckily, we’ve made it easier for you — find your state’s unique real estate disclosure form here — we’ve compiled all 50 sets of requirements into a handy list. (Note that our forms are updated to the time of publication; please confirm if your state has issued any updated documentation with your local real estate commission.)
“Disclosure forms help bring structure and clarity to the information-gathering process,” Jones says. “Once the obligations and forms have been identified, complying with the disclosure requirements should be fairly straightforward. Just follow the forms!”
“In California, there are three disclosures you absolutely need to close a deal,” Bebleh says. These include:
- The Transfer Disclosure Statement is the state of California’s mandatory written disclosure form, which walks the seller through sharing material facts like any history of flooding, drainage, the presence and condition of washing machines, gazebos, sump pumps, and smoke detector function, among other items.
- The Natural Hazard Disclosure Report discloses which (if any) hazards your home has, such as being directly on a fault line, in a special flood hazard area, wildland fire risk, or being in an airport influence area.
- The Seller Property Questionnaire requires the seller to disclose all known material facts about the property, even about things that occurred prior to the seller owning the home.
Some other common examples of mandatory disclosures include:
- Lead-based paint
- Environmental hazards such as oil, gas, or toxic chemicals
- Water damage
- Defects/malfunctions of major appliances or systems
- Neighborhood nuisances
- Past disputes over things like property lines or fencing
Some Caveat Emptor (aka “buyer beware”) states don’t have required disclosures, but real estate experts will usually recommend that you err on the side of transparency out of good faith and to avoid any legal issues down the line.
Selling an old home? If it was built before 1978, you’re legally obligated to comply with the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule (Section 1018 of Title X), which states sellers must:
- Disclose any known information concerning potential lead-based paint hazards and available records
- Provide buyers with a lead hazard information pamphlet and include specific language in the contract related to lead.
- Give buyers time to conduct a lead inspection.
Pre-listing inspection report
You have the option to hire a home inspector for a pre-inspection to get ahead on any material defects that might come up later. But proceed with caution.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Jones says. “Most buyers will obtain their own inspection and will not trust the seller’s prior inspection report, so a preemptive report could be duplicative.”
Since it’s the buyer’s obligation to finance the inspection and most states don’t require one pre-listing, you can choose to just forgo it. However, if you’re selling an older home, a pre-listing inspection can save you from any big surprises down the line.
Once a buyer makes an offer
Hopefully, your marketing efforts have paid off in the form of competitive offers from motivated buyers. Whether an agent is guiding you or you’re on your own through the exciting negotiations that come next, buckle up.
Purchase offer and counteroffers
A purchase offer is a document you’ll receive from the buyer which officially tells you: “I want to buy your home!” Any back and forth negotiations on the purchase offer can be documented in writing with counteroffers. While keeping counteroffers in writing is helpful, Jones says it isn’t necessary legally, and that less formal initial conversations are acceptable during the negotiation process, as long as the final terms are in writing.
“You don’t necessarily have to follow the exact process a real estate agent would when selling without one,” Jones explains. “From a legal perspective, it doesn’t matter how the seller and buyer exchange offer information, as long as they reach a mutual agreement somehow and sign a purchase contract — then the property is ‘under contract’ from a legal perspective.’”
Purchase and sale agreement
Once signed, the purchase offer becomes a purchase agreement (or contract) that may be subject to amendments once the transaction moves into the latter stages. The purchase contract elaborates on details of a purchase such as the identification and specification of the property as well as the price the buyer has offered to the seller for the house.
In addition, this agreement will outline the terms of the purchase, the earnest money amount, the closing date (that’s a big one, as you’ll need to be 100% moved out by that date unless otherwise negotiated!) and any contingencies. Both the buyer and the seller need to agree to the terms and sign the document before they can move forward with the sale of the house.
Contingency removal form (CA-specific)
A contingency is a clause in your real estate contract that needs to be met before the deal closes or the contract becomes “binding.” The most common contingencies will be for the home inspection, home appraisal, and your buyer’s financing. While real estate deals across the U.S. can include contingencies, California is the only state where you need to complete a contingency removal form in order to lift the contingency restraints so that the sale can move forward and close.
With most states, contingencies are automatically removed after the set time period passes or the contingency is met. Not so in California.
“The contingency removal form is absolutely imperative to be included as part of the deal if you’re selling using the California Association of Realtors purchase contract,” Bebleh says. Consult our guide to the CA contingency removal form to learn more.
Between contract and close
Ideal buyer found? Check. Mutually agreeable offer locked in? Check. You’re ready to commit! But it’s not over until the dotted line is signed.
How much can possibly happen between contract and handing over the keys? Quite a bit. This stage takes an average of 51 days while the buyer, their agent, and their lender will conduct their own due diligence.
Home inspection report
You can count on your buyer putting a home inspection contingency in the contract, which means they’ll arrange for an inspector to come through and evaluate the house before the deal can close.
A typical home inspection takes a few hours for a regular house, then the report takes about 3-4 days to complete. The home inspector goes through the interior and exterior of the house to record any broken, defective, or hazardous issues with the house and surrounding area.
Then, the inspector drafts up a home inspection report that spans about 30-50 pages in length (with pictures). The document details the state of your home’s structure, the electrical system, plumbing, heating, fireplaces, and more. Separate inspections and inspection reports like pool and pest inspections should also be included in the paperwork if your home requires them.
Keep in mind, however, that sellers will not automatically get a copy of the full inspection report. Only the person who paid for the report (in this case, the buyer — who will review the report with their agent) gets a copy.
The buyer will likely provide sellers with evidence of any defects that an inspector discovers if those defects need to be repaired before closing. But if you want a copy of the inspection report, your buyer will need to provide approval to share it. And it is within the buyer’s right to refuse your request.
Home appraisal report
An appraisal is a professional opinion of the fair market value of your home provided by a licensed and certified home appraiser. If your buyer is financing their home with a mortgage, the lender will require an appraisal to ensure that buyer’s purchase price doesn’t exceed the market value of the home. After the appraiser evaluates your home, the appraisal report should come back in less than a week.
As the seller, you won’t automatically get a copy of the appraisal report, but you can request one and the lender will have to provide it to you in 30 days time. If the appraisal came in under the contract value, your real estate agent will be able to fill you in on the details right away. Without an agent, negotiating with a buyer after an appraisal comes in low can be tricky. But your main options are to lower the purchase price to the appraised value, have the buyer bring funds to the table to cover the gap, or meet somewhere in the middle.
The report, which is typically about 10 pages or less (though some can stretch to 100 pages), will likely contain local comparable properties with photos and details of each property including the home being appraised, the appraised value, how the appraiser determined the value, and what factors the appraiser took into consideration.
Note: If you sell your home to a cash buyer, the transaction won’t require a lender-ordered appraisal, though the buyer may still opt to have one performed.
Closing the deal
The final stretch of the selling process is here! But before you break out the champagne and (finally) switch your phone to “do not disturb,” prepare to summit Mount Paperwork. Here are some of the forms you’ll be signing or receiving on closing day.
Property tax statement
You must provide property tax receipts to calculate any outstanding property taxes you owe on your house so the buyers can estimate the cost of taxes on their new property at the time of closing. This information will likely be requested by the closing company, and should also be publicly available on the tax assessor’s website in most states.
Whether you (or the buyers) will have to pay property taxes at the time of your home sale depends on your municipality’s real estate tax schedule. In some instances, cities and towns will collect taxes for the upcoming year, meaning that the sale of your home midway through the calendar could result in a refund.
In other states, homeowners pay property taxes “in arrears,” meaning you’re paying taxes for the time period leading up to the billing cycle. That could leave you with unpaid property taxes, and you are responsible for paying property taxes on your home up to (but not including) the day you close.
Seller’s settlement statement
Near the end of your transaction, a seller’s settlement statement shows you how much money you’ll receive after accounting for closing costs, taxes, and other transaction fees on your home sale. The closing agent or title company will generate the closing statement and provide it after the final terms of the sale have been determined.
“Such a large volume of paperwork is generated by a closing that sellers may not know what to read and what to skip,” Jones remarks. He cautions all sellers to carefully review the closing statement.
Typically signed at closing, the deed (not to be confused with the title), is a legal document that officially transfers ownership of a house from the seller to the buyer. The deed includes the identification of both parties as well as a thorough description of the property itself.
While you may be able to pre-sign the deed, it’s typically done at closing.
Affidavit of title
Most states require an affidavit of title that explicitly states that you are the current owner of the property and that there are no liens, unpaid taxes, delinquent accounts, or other legal issues involving the home.
“It’s a sworn statement regarding ownership of the property,” Jones explains. “The exact legal definition may differ state to state, but essentially they’re flexible legal tools used to help provide certainty about chain-of-title.”
Affidavits of title protect buyers from inheriting the legal issues of the home’s current owner. They can’t, however, fix all title issues, Jones points out. “More significant issues, like a missing deceased owner or an unreleased lien, might require a probate or a quiet title lawsuit.”
1099-S Tax Form
If you don’t qualify for the capital gains tax exclusion (which covers up to $250,000 of the net profit on your home sale, or up to $500,000 if filing jointly), then you will have to fill out a 1099-S form to report taxes owed to the IRS on the sale of your home come tax season.
Congratulations! You’ve got the paperwork you need to sell a house
Phew! We never said selling your home would be easy, but we did say it would be worth it (just ask your bank account). The documents needed to sell a house are extensive and complicated.
To make things easier, you’ll want an experienced real estate agent — and in some cases, a trusted real estate attorney — who’s decoding the jargon throughout the process. That way, all you have to do is ask questions to clear up anything you’re confused about, and then “sign here.”
“Selling a home can be stressful, but we alleviate the larger stressors by removing the guesswork from the selling process and shouldering the burden of home prep,” Bebleh says. “We stage your home. We schedule every showing. We also have document signing programs in place that make the process as simple as filling out a questionnaire.”
If you aren’t working with an agent, breathe. Being prepared to offer all the documents a buyer needs will ensure smooth sailing and prevent delays, but you won’t necessarily be on the hook for providing every document yourself.
“The only documents truly required to sell the home — the deed and the mortgage — are already public record, and accessible to the closing company,” Jones points out. “The seller simply needs to provide whatever is requested, fill out any required disclosure forms under stage law, and cooperate with the title company as necessary.”
Jones says that, ultimately, the onus is on the buyer to conduct thorough inspection and obtain title assurances prior to purchasing the property. The seller is simply obligated to cooperate with whatever inspection and title review period is allowed by the contract.
Check with your state
Lastly, don’t forget that every state has different home sale paperwork requirements, so working with an agent who has that local expertise will be a godsend. (For example, in areas where many of the homes are on septic tanks, an agent can help you navigate any septic inspection requirements and provide a sketch to let the buyer know exactly where the septic tank is located on the property.)
We couldn’t possibly account for every piece of paper specific to selling your home, so when in doubt: Get the right professionals to do the heavy lifting, and let them do the hard stuff on your behalf. If you need help finding a great real estate agent to work with, HomeLight would be happy to introduce you to a few top candidates in your area.
Header Image Source: (smolaw/ Shutterstock)
- "Essential Guide to Real Estate Contracts," SFGATE (2022)
- "What is a payoff amount? Is my payoff amount the same as my current balance?," Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (September 2020)
- "The Report You Should Ask For Before Buying A House," Forbes (December 2014)
- "What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell My House?," SFGATE (July 2017)