Countdown to Closing: How Long Does it Typically Take to Sell a House?

Once you make the decision to sell your home, the clock starts ticking. The overarching question, as you make your way down your pre-sale checklist, is likely something along the lines of: “How long is this going to take?”

According to stats from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), as of June 2020, the typical U.S. home was on the market for an average of 24 days, with Ellie May estimating an average of 46 days to close on a purchase loan. That’s 70 days — or a little over two months — from listing to closing.

A calendar used to sell a house
Source: (Sarah Shaffer / Unsplash)

Your sale could be different

Every house, every market, and every individual sale will vary in terms of days on market and closing timelines. In fact, 24 days from list to offer is pretty swift, historically speaking. For comparison’s sake, NAR reported average days on market in July 2011 was 98 days, and in 2012, it was 68, which at the time seemed fast coming off the heels of the housing crisis.

What’s more, external influencers can create closing delays. In the current pandemic climate, some closings have dragged on more like 60 days. With so many unpredictable factors influencing the number of days on market (DOM) and total time to close, it may seem like the timeline is one of the least controllable aspects of a home sale.

Using input from a top agent and some experienced real estate investors, we’ve put together this in-depth guide to help you understand the process, pinpoint the biggest time-wasters, and learn what actions you can take to get from listing to closing as quickly as possible.

Prepping the house for sale (1-3 months)

When you’ve made the decision to sell, the countdown begins long before your house actually hits the market. There is almost always some degree of work that must be done before the sign goes into the yard.

Pennie Carroll, a top agent in Des Moines, Iowa, says the amount of prep time will vary based on how much work and maintenance the homeowner has done in the past, but she estimates an average of about a month to get the house ready.

“The process usually starts with the agent coming to the house and providing guidance on what needs to be done — and, more importantly, what doesn’t need to be done,” she says.

“Sometimes sellers can waste time on things that aren’t necessary or won’t do anything to help speed up the sale.”

Clive Shapiro, loans and mortgage editor for Rate Raiders who also holds a degree in economics and a license in real estate, estimates that it takes an average of two to three months to get a house ready to go on the market.

Preparing to leave a home you’ve been in for quite some time can not only be physically exhausting, but also emotionally draining,” he says. “Give yourself a couple of months or more to prepare your house for listing. Even if you plan to use professional stagers, it’s a good idea to take the time to make a list of all the things that need to get done.”

Below are just some of the typical pre-listing preparations that Shapiro calls out as essential:

  • Reduce clutter.
    Consider using a service such as 1–800-JUNK–USA or Junk King to get rid of unwanted items and recyclables. If you have a lot of items you’re not ready to part with, consider renting a storage unit so you can clear them out of your home for showings.
  • Make small, low-cost repairs.
    In the weeks leading up to listing, try to knock out as many of the easier, less expensive repairs and improvements as possible — like replacing outdated or mismatched cabinet pulls, touching up scuffed paint, or fixing leaking faucets. If you have a long list, hire a handyman who can knock them all out in one day.
  • Crank up the curb appeal.
    A well-maintained, welcoming entryway is key to a positive first impression. Take some time to mow, add fresh mulch, and clean up the landscaping. Consider adding some flowerpots to add brightness to the entryway.
A room used to sell a house.
Source: (Israa Hilles / Unsplash)

What factors impact the selling timeline?

Once a house is listed, there are a number of factors that can impact how long it will take to capture that coveted contract:

State of the market

Caleb Liu, a property investor and owner of House Simply Sold, explains that market forces and supply and demand play a big part in how quickly your home will sell — and it’s also one of the dynamics that you can’t control.

An experienced real estate agent can help set your expectations based on the estimated days on market and how many months of inventory are currently available in your area.

Condition of the home

If your home is overdue for some repairs or renovations that you opted to skip, that could deter buyers who are looking for something that’s move-in-ready. “Uncovering previously unknown defects with the home will also trigger price negotiations and concessions,” Liu adds.

Pricing

An overpriced house will likely sit on the market for a longer time period, which could lead to a lack of offers or, ultimately, price reductions that dip below market value.

And if you do manage to get a contract at the higher price, you could run into issues when it comes time for the appraisal.

“If the accepted offer is significantly above the appraised value, the bank will not approve the loan,” warns Liu. “This will require either a higher down payment from the buyer or the seller to lower their price, or risk having the deal fall apart and the listing going back on the market.”

Carroll also points out that the price point can directly impact the selling timeframe. In her Midwestern market, homes priced under $200,000 typically sell in 30 days or less when priced, staged and marketed correctly, but homes at higher price points generally stay on the market longer.

Buyer’s financial situation

Cash offers are great, but they’re not the norm. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 88% of homebuyers financed their home purchases. Even if everything else goes smoothly, there’s always the chance of the buyer’s loan getting delayed or falling through.

An experienced agent (or lack thereof)

Carroll points out that having a full-time agent with experience successfully marketing and selling homes like yours is the best way to shrink the time gap between listing and closing.

Flowers in springs, the best time to sell a house.
Source: (Masaaki Komori / Unsplash)

When is the best time to sell a home?

Real estate is a year-round business, but certain times of year tend to see more activity than others, particularly in areas that see periods of inclement or extreme weather.

For example, says Shapiro, listing a home in Michigan in December or January most likely won’t yield desirable results — spring, summer or early fall would make more sense.

Conversely, if you were to list a house on the market in San Diego during the summer peak, this could result in a similar scenario as Michigan in December.

“The Southern heat makes things uncomfortable and objectionable costs rise with the air conditioning running non-stop just to keep the home at a comfortable temperature,” he explains.

You also might not see much activity if listing just after the holidays, as buyers tend to be a bit more limited on cash flow. With this in mind, Shapiro recommends waiting until early spring, when buyers have recouped a bit of their savings.

“Spring is typically a good time to start getting serious about listing your home, as the weather nationwide is milder, not too hot nor too cold,” he says. “Also, curb appeal tends to increase in the spring, when the snow has melted and the grass has begun growing. Generally speaking, bidding wars do increase coast to coast in the spring, allowing the seller greater control as offers creep up above the listed price.”

Liu agrees that the spring timeframe is usually the most fortuitous in terms of attracting more active buyers and netting the best price.

“There is consistent evidence that timing the closed sale of your home toward the end of June will get you the highest price,” he says. “Most families want to have their children stay put until the end of the school year, so they try to time the sale after the kids get out for summer vacation.”

It takes planning to hit this target date. Work backwards and subtract your market’s median days on market and days to close, the estimated time to complete any repairs or remodeling projects, and an added buffer to be safe.

“For this reason, the March through May period has traditionally experienced the highest number of new listings coming onto the market,” Liu explains.

Find out the best time to sell in your city

Still not sure when to list? Enter your city and state into HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell calculator to find out the best and worst months to sell your home quickly and for the most amount of money, based on the latest real estate data.

Below is a sampling of the best and worst times to sell in 10 cities across the U.S. The following chart is based on closing dates. So to identify the best time to list your home and give it time to attract offers, plan to list approximately two to three months before the month listed here:

Best month to sell fast Worst month to sell fast Best month to sell financially Worst month to sell financially
Chicago, IL June January June February
Boston, MA June February June February
Los Angeles, CA May January June January
Tampa, FL August February June February
Cincinnati, OH August October November January
New York, NY September February June December
Philadelphia, PA August February June February
Atlanta, GA May January June February
Las Vegas, NV June February October February
Phoenix, AZ October January November January

Source: HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell Calculator 

An agent helping a couple sell a house.
Source: (goodluz / Shutterstock)

Tips for speeding up the sale

While you might not be able to control things like the weather, a buyer’s financial situation or the state of the market, there are some actions you can take to help accelerate the sale.

Find a good agent with a track record for fast sales.

Carroll says this is the most effective tool you can have in your selling arsenal: an agent who knows the local market and can help you sidestep the common obstacles that can slow down the process. Be sure to check a prospective agent’s average DOM and compare it to local averages to gauge their track record for successful sales.

Resist the urge to do major renovations.

Spending time and money on major upgrades has been shown to not yield a higher return on the final sale price. In fact, it could even wipe out any equity you might stand to gain. Examples of major projects to avoid include those that are more cosmetic than functional, such as renovating a kitchen or bathroom, adding a three-season room, or putting in a master suite addition.

Enlist any contractors early.

“If any repairs or upgrades are needed, line up any necessary contractors as soon as you decide to sell, because they are very busy right now and will have long lead times,” says Bill Samuel, a real estate investor with Blue Ladder Development.

Make sure the baseboards are showing.

Carroll shares this tip with sellers as a means of ensuring that clutter is cleared out and that there’s not too much furniture crammed into homes. Buyers like open, spacious rooms that are easy to navigate.

Get a pre-listing inspection.

This provides the opportunity to identify any potential issues early on, so you can get a head-start on any necessary fixes prior to the buyer’s inspection.

“You will have to pay for this out of pocket, but an early inspection allows you to address any issues rather than waiting until just prior to closing,” says Liu. “If there are no material defects found, you can state that on the listing and require that all offers waive the usual inspection contingency.”

Get the price right.

This is perhaps the biggest determining factor in the speed of a home sale. “Setting a good price takes know-how, but an experienced real estate agent can help with this,” says Shapiro. “Setting a price that’s within fair market value and comparable to similar homes in the area can reduce the number of negotiations between the seller and the buyer before agreeing on a final price.”

Explore using a cash buyer.

An investor sale can close within just a couple of weeks, while also removing many of the hassles and hiccups typically associated with a traditional sale.

Need to sell your home fast?

Find out what cash buyers are willing to pay for your house right now.

Be flexible with scheduling.

If you want to sell fast, it’s best to accommodate any requests for open houses, showings, inspections, and appraisals to keep the momentum going and prevent buyers’ interests from wandering elsewhere, says Carroll.

Selling a house can often feel like a race against a very unpredictable clock—but by knowing what to expect and having an experienced agent working on your behalf, you could save yourself days or even weeks of waiting.

Header Image Source: (Trinity Nguyen / Unsplash)

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