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You’ve decided to sell your house sometime in the near future. However, a lot must happen between now and that bittersweet moment when you hand over the keys. To keep your stress levels at a minimum, it’s essential to know how to sell a house.
Whether you’re a first-timer or simply need to brush up on home-selling 101, you may be looking for clarity on what to repair before selling and when to contact a Realtor. You must also learn how to set an asking price, how long it will take to get an offer, and when your buyers will move in.
You’ll find those answers and more here. Let’s review how to sell a house in 10 simple steps.
1. Pick a move-out date and work backward
According to Marc Austin Highfill, a real estate agent with 24 years of experience who has helped sell more than 2,000 properties in the Richmond, Virginia, area, sellers should decide when to close and set milestone goals between now and that endpoint.
“What I have found works best is to work a timeline backward,” he says. “We ask, ‘When do they want to move out of the house?’ That means looking at when they want to move. Then it’s when they need to be under contract, and then when we need to be actively listed.”
|Sell for cash
|Time on market
|Time to close
|1 to 3 weeks
|1 to 3 weeks
Review the rough estimates above to get a ballpark idea of how long it takes to sell a house. Then, consider your circumstances and decide how much preparation you’ll need. Work with your agent to lay out a plan from there.
The typical home sale often requires around two to three weeks of preparation, and two to four weeks listed on the market. However, those timelines can change based on the seller’s goals and personal situation, as well as your local housing market conditions.
National housing market trends (Q3 2023)
|7.63% (30-year fixed) (As of October 2023)
|$394,300 (nationwide median) (As of September 2023)
|3.3 months supply (As of September 2023)
|46% of agents say it’s a seller’s market, up from 30% in Q4
|Low inventory is giving sellers an advantage. But homes still must be in excellent condition and well-priced to sell quickly
“If you’re talking about a general timeline, I think it often depends on the person,” says Kathleen Alexander, a top real estate agent in Boston. “If somebody is downsizing, they might need a year because they need to clean things out and get ready. And for some people, it’s a much shorter time frame.”
Set your timeline
Let’s say you need to relocate by Aug. 15, and your house needs a little sprucing but is generally in good shape.
- To account for 45 days to close, you must be under contract by July 1.
- Buffer in three to four weeks to get an offer, and you should list by June 1.
- If today is April 15, you have a month and a half for listing preparation, such as cleaning, decluttering, painting, and repairs.
2. Interview multiple agents and hire the best fit
It’s never too early to connect with a real estate agent if you’re ready to sell your home. But a good rule is to try to bring in an agent at least three months before you want to be on the market so they can advise on preparations.
I suggest having your agent involved early so that they can advise on what should be done. I know in my case, we have many resources. So I have a whole list of vendors that work for me. Often, your agent can be a great resource for making sure that things get done and that people show up.
- Kathleen Alexander Real Estate AgentCloseKathleen Alexander Real Estate Agent at Keller Williams Realty Boston-Metro Currently accepting new clients
- Years of Experience 22
- Transactions 245
- Average Price Point $536k
- Single Family Homes 81
Get matched with a top agent online
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Agents recommended through HomeLight, for example, are known for selling homes at top dollar. We account for factors like whether the agent sells homes for more than the asking price and how their performance compares to others in the area.
Whenever you’re ready to get started, HomeLight can match you with two to three top-rated and highly reviewed agents near you. Our data shows that the top 5% of agents sell homes for as much as 10% more. On a house worth $300,000, that’s an extra $30,000.
What services do real estate agents provide?
By hiring a top real estate agent, you can expect to receive:
- Analysis of pricing trends and local price per square foot
- Professional photography and staging
- Automatic postings of your listing on major home search sites
- Exclusive previews for other real estate brokers
- At least two open houses
- (Bonus!) Virtual tours, drone footage, and listing videos
Selling your house without a Realtor
- Statistically, FSBO homes sell for 35% less*
- FSBO listings can take longer to sell
- Time-consuming for the seller
- Requires negotiation skills
- Difficult to view home objectively
3. Make necessary fixes to the house
The next crucial step to take when selling a house is deciding what to fix, what upgrades to make, and what updates aren’t necessary. Although every house and market is different, here are some issues that you may want to address to pass the home inspection:
- Plumbing problems
- Dated electrical
- HVAC issues
- Roof problems
- Foundation flaws
- Broken items (doors, windows, blinds, etc.)
- Lack of modern safety features such as GFCI outlets
Other areas buyers are likely to pay attention to include the kitchen, baths, and home exterior. Alexander says, however, that this is another stage where rushing in without expert input can set a seller back.
“I often find that people are doing repairs to the property that they actually may not need to have done for the sale,” says Alexander. “So, I think having your agent involved early so that they can advise on what should be done is important.”
Pro tip: Don’t go overboard on remodeling
A minor remodel of a 200-square-foot kitchen, including replacing cabinet fronts, countertops, and appliances, costs about $26,790 but recoups about $22,963 at resale, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2023 Cost vs. Value report. That’s about 85.7% ROI compared to recouping about 41.8% of expenses for a major kitchen overhaul.
Highfill says the best way to identify worthwhile fixes is to lean on a real estate agent’s expertise.
“The fact of the matter is most sellers do not have the time, energy, or money, or a combination of those to do everything necessary to get the best dollar for their house,” he says. “We have a responsibility as Realtors to prioritize those items in order to [help them decide] what they’re willing to do and not do.”
4. Calculate your asking price
Landing on the right asking price for your home is a delicate act. Set your asking price too high, and your house may sit on the market too long — or just not sell. Set it too low, and you could leave money on the table.
Highfill says sellers often don’t realize that there isn’t necessarily a magic number that pinpoints a home’s value.
“There is not an exact number for a house,” he says. “There’s typically a range of where a house should come in at now.”
He says the best way to set the right listing price is to partner with an agent who has experience with the appraisal process, and who knows how to calculate listing prices effectively.
“It’s frustrating for me,” he says. “Sometimes, I will visit potential sellers who have visited with another Realtor, and all the Realtor has done is take an average of all the homes in that subdivision or something. That’s just not a proper way to do it.”
Key factors that go into pricing a home
- Comps: The sale prices of comparable nearby homes similar in size, amenities, structure, and age to your own
- Unique characteristics: Dollar adjustments based on your home’s competitive differences to the comps selected
- Market conditions: Factors such as inventory, buyer demand, and days on market
5. Prepare your home for the sale
After you wrap up the repairs you identified, focus on the presentation. Preparing your home for open houses and on-site visits is critical. Help potential buyers envision themselves living in your home. Here are a few ways to prepare your home for your sale:
- Declutter your home: By decluttering, you make a home appear more spacious and organized, allowing buyers to focus on the features of the house itself. Donate, sell, or store items you don’t use regularly during the listing process.
- Depersonalize spaces: Create a blank canvas for buyers to picture their lives. Remove family photos, unique artwork, or any items distracting or polarizing to potential buyers.
- Stage the home: Work with your agent to select or modify decor and furnishings to evoke a feeling of newness, freshness, and appeal for potential buyers.
- Deep clean: Thoroughly clean each room, giving special attention to baseboards, grout, and fixtures. Address any odors at the root cause.
- Improve curb appeal: Give buyers that magic feeling as they walk up to the door and every reason to believe this home has been well cared for. Invest in landscaping, clean up the exterior, and add welcoming touches like a fresh coat of paint, a new mailbox, or potted plants.
- Clean your home’s exterior: A clean exterior can make a big difference in the overall appearance of your home. Pressure wash your siding, clean the windows, and remove cobwebs or debris from the entryway.
“The house just needs to look fresh,” Alexander says. “It needs to look pristine, and it needs to look move-in ready. We work very hard with our properties to make sure there’s professional pictures, a 3D virtual tour, and a video tour because we know that people aren’t necessarily going to even come see it if they don’t have that.”
What upgrades add home value in 2023?
|Added resale value*
|Improve your landscaping
|Add a home office
|Mid-range bathroom update
|Mid-range kitchen update
*Data source: HomeLight Top Agent Insights, dependent upon property location and condition
6. List your house on the market
Now you’re ready to broadcast your home to prospective buyers. To get your listing live, work with your agent to input your listing details on the multiple listing service (MLS).
Note that the specific items included in a property listing may vary depending on the market and the type of property being sold.
Polish your home’s image during this step and craft a listing with a description and photos that bring out the best in your house.“We’re setting up a story in a word picture so [homebuyers] picture how it would be living there,” Highfill explains. “Too many times, people become one-dimensional, only talking about bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage. So it’s important to get the story, and then sell that story.”
|Your listing should contain:
To give your property more visibility, your agent will ensure that the listing appears on all major real estate search websites and cross-promote it on places like social media and their network of fellow agents and brokers.
7. Market and show your home
Now that your home is up on the internet and ready for viewing, your agent will coordinate with you to schedule showings for interested buyers as they reach out. Be as flexible with scheduling as you reasonably can and make your home easily accessible to speed up the process.
You can expect to show your home 10-25 times before receiving an offer, but this can vary. Houses in high demand may sell after one or two showings, while others may sit on the market longer.
Your agent will be prepared to respond promptly and professionally if a potential buyer contacts you with questions or requests. If, after a few weeks of showing, traffic remains slow and you haven’t received any offers, talk to your agent about how long to wait before reducing your house price.
During this time, your agent will also be collecting feedback from buyer’s agents about the home after it’s shown. This information can be critical to form your next steps. For example, if buyers continually comment that the house needs too much work, it may prompt you to complete additional updates or lower your price.
8. Review offers and negotiate with buyers
When offers start streaming in, it’s easy to fixate on prices. But price won’t necessarily be the only factor to consider when weighing offers. For instance, you may want to consider everything from the proposed closing date or closing costs to possible seller contingencies, the buyer’s financing status, and other factors when it comes time to select an offer.
As you review offers:
- Look at timeline and terms: Make sure the offer falls into your timeline, gives you time to move out, and fits into your post-sale transition plan.
- Don’t focus only on price: Alexander says price is important, but it isn’t necessarily the only factor to consider when you’re weighing bids. For instance, a buyer may present a higher price because they have a lower down payment or need a contingency. Be sure to use your negotiations to secure the benefits that are most important to you.
- Bring financing concerns up with your agent: Alexander says that if you’re worried about your potential buyer’s financing options or unsure about their financial status, your real estate agent should be able to help gather additional information.
Once you receive an offer you’re happy with, work with your agent to sign the purchase agreement and begin the settlement process.
9. Complete the inspection and appraisal
After you accept an offer, the buyer will have the opportunity to investigate and verify the condition of a property before finalizing the purchase. The buyer may conduct inspections, review property disclosures, and perform any other necessary investigations to ensure that the property meets their needs and expectations.
Suppose the buyer discovers any issues or concerns during this period. In that case, they may have the opportunity to negotiate with the seller for repairs or credits or to back out of the sale altogether. As a seller, you should be prepared for a few steps, including:
Home inspection: About 78% of homebuyers opt to get the home inspected before closing. If issues are uncovered, work with your agent to determine the best course of action, whether that involves making repairs, negotiating a lower selling price, or providing credits to the buyer.
Home appraisal: The home appraisal is typically required by the buyer’s lender, and about 80% of buyers will include an appraisal contingency in their contract. Factors affecting your home’s appraised value include recent renovations, local market trends, and comparable sales in your area.
If the appraisal comes in lower than expected, options may be to dispute the appraisal, lower the selling price, or ask the buyer to cover the appraisal gap.
10. Close the sale
Finally, you’re ready to close the sale of your home. Once you clear the inspection and appraisal, you’ll receive a settlement statement containing an itemized list of fees and credits summarizing the finances of the entire transaction.
“Be clear about costs and proceeds,” Alexander recommends. “Make sure you’re getting what you expect at the end. Sometimes people are thrown off because there are costs they aren’t expecting. It’s good to check all those things and review them prior to closing.”
For reference, seller closing costs typically amount to about 9%-10% of the sale price and can include the real estate agent’s commission, transfer taxes, title fees, and escrow fees.
Some states require you to hire a real estate attorney for the final steps to close. In other cases, you may hire one to navigate a more complex sale.
Final walkthrough and move-out
About 24-48 hours before closing, your buyers will likely conduct a final walkthrough of the sold property to ensure they won’t encounter any surprises upon moving in. Typically, the buyer will take possession of the home on closing day. However, this can vary based on what you negotiated with the buyer in your contract.
Get started selling your house today
You should now have a good handle on how to sell a house from start to finish. However, the process will vary depending on your property location and condition. Other weighty factors include how fast you want to sell and how much money you plan to invest in preparations.
Whenever you’re ready to start, HomeLight would be happy to connect you with a top real estate agent who can provide a home-selling plan tailored to your individual house and needs, whether selling an inherited home or relocating for your next adventure in a new place.
Header Image Source: Francesca Tosolini / Unsplash