When we let it stack up (literally), the paperwork accumulated over the course of our lives gets out of control. And who can blame us when the average American alone gets 41 pounds of junk mail per year? A stash of mail in a basket here, a pile of old bills in the corner there—and soon enough, your kitchen or dining room table becomes a catch-all for random papers.
Selling a house compounds the chaos with the use of approximately 180 sheets of paper in every transaction. So we’ll help you through the most difficult challenges in organizing paperwork for your home sale with expert advice on what to keep versus toss and how to best keep your home sale documents stored. That way, if you ever need to refer to a document in a pinch, you’ll be able to access the record you’re looking for easily and avoid a midday mental meltdown.
First, gather up and organize the necessary documents for selling the house
When you set out to put your house on the market, start gathering up documents related to the house and projects that you’ve completed on the property over the years—the sooner you do this, the better so as to avoid any delays during the home sale process. This will be easier if you’ve kept good records throughout the course of ownership. Make sure to locate the following documents and gather them in a single drawer or filing cabinet:
- Home maintenance receipts and warranties
Receipts and warranties are evidence of the work and upkeep you’ve done while owning your home. These papers will include summaries of work, receipts, manuals, warranty agreements, and dated records of last service. You should also include electric and gas system utility maps in this bundle. Proof of recent work home maintenance and upgrades can serve as support for your asking price to potential buyers. Warranties will provide peace of mind to a potential buyer. They will transfer to the new owner in the event of a sale. Utility maps give buyers a bigger picture when it comes to the home and your property.You should have these records collected as the maintenance takes place.If you’ve misplaced them, reach out to the repair companies or individuals to double check their records. If you’re looking for an appliance warranty or manual, they can typically be found on company websites.You don’t need to have these papers displayed in a stack on your kitchen table during an open house, but you should anticipate serious buyers asking for this information at some point during the sale.
- Property survey
A property survey is a legal document showing the boundary lines of your property, including fences, driveways and other features. It’s important to have a survey for buyers, because it paints the big picture of your property, including easements, right-of-ways, and property lines. A survey will also include research into your deed and title, verifying that the property is legally yours to sell. Property surveys have to be ordered from a professional property surveyor. A buyer can ask that your property is surveyed before the sale, so it’ll be up to the buyer and yourself to negotiate on who pays for it—HomeAdvisor has a list of all 50 states showing where it’s customary for the buyer versus the seller to cover the costs of the property survey.
- Latest round of utility bills
Potential buyers will likely want to know how much it costs to heat, cool, or power your home in any given month, and it wouldn’t be surprising for them to ask for a year’s worth of bills to get an idea of average.12 months of utility bills is a lot to print out and lug around. Access the online portals of your utility companies and save your monthly statements as digital copies.
- Latest property tax bill
Similar to your utility bills, it doesn’t hurt to let a buyer know how much you’ve typically paid property taxes. This can give a buyer a bigger picture on their monthly mortgage payment. Your latest property tax bill probably came in the mail in the past few months. If you’re still in escrow, you can also find this through your mortgage provider.
- Real estate disclosures
In most states, a seller is required to disclose any known issues about the house in writing that could impact the buyer’s health or safety. This can be daunting for any home seller, explains Sandra Rathe, a top-selling Miramar, Florida agent with over 700 transactions under her belt. “[In Florida] it’s a five-page document full of questions about the house and some of the questions your average person does not know.” This might include the presence of lead paint, skylights, the condition of the HVAC system, and more. That’s why it’s best to obtain your state’s disclosure form early and have it prepared for when buyers start coming through the house. In some states, your real estate agent is not legally allowed to assist you with this paperwork. In those cases, consulting with a real estate lawyer is recommended. Disclosures can be tedious but need to be completed upfront, so take the time to fill it out accurately. Check out your individual state’s real estate disclosure requirements to learn more specifics.
- Property title abstract
The property title abstract is a thick bound book-like document that contains home’s history of ownership and proves that you legally own the property you’re selling. If you have an abstract in your possession, you’d have picked it up from the title company when you sold the house or received it in the mail shortly after the purchase. An abstract isn’t always necessary but can save a real estate attorney time during your home’s title search and should be returned to the title company/conveyed to the buyer at the time of closing.
Can’t find a particular document? Try not to sweat it. While tracking it down isn’t always the easiest task, you can find new copies of the above documentation. Don’t forget to use your real estate agent as an asset in this process—while they can’t tell you where you stashed your old utility bills in your office desk drawer, they can help you get a new title or survey.
You sold the house and now you have a stack of documents from it. Which ones should you save?
The last thing most people what to do after the sale of their home is to sift through all the paperwork that came with it. However, keeping the original documentation from a home sale is valuable if you run into any errors in the paperwork down the road.
A simple typing error could lead to an incorrect lot and block number on the selling papers. In that case, having original documentation that shows the error can be very helpful, explains Jim Bulger, Sales Manager at Keystone Closing Services. “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed, of course, it’s just knowing exactly where the mistake was made that allows the fix to happen easier.”
You might have the urge to throw all your closing papers in the air in celebration, but resist that instinct and keep track of these key documents:
- Listing agreement
When you decide to put your home on the market, you’ll sign a listing agreement with your agent. It protects both the seller and the agent, mandating that the seller keep the agent for a certain amount of time, as well as releasing the seller from the contract if the agent doesn’t uphold certain standards. Keeping this record makes sure that both the seller and the agent are upholding their side of the agreement in the sales process. You should keep this form after the sale closes in the event of a discrepancy in or after the closing process involving commission or the sales.
- Seller’s closing statement
The closing statement is basically an itemized receipt of both credits and fees the seller will receive. Different states require different closing statements. Keeping this for your records ensures that you can call up any discrepancies in your payments or charges as the sale goes through and when tax season rolls around. You’ll work with your agent or a real estate attorney to read through and sign this document during the closing process.
- 1099s tax form
The 1099s is issued by the lending company or title company and reports the capital gains you have made on the sale of your home. At the end of the year, you’ll need to report the sale of your home as income with this form. You’ll get this form at closing. You’ll need to file the 1099s if you have capital gains on the sale. If you’re single, you don’t have to pay capital gains tax on the first $250,000 of the sale. Couples are exempt from the first $500,000 of the sale. However, there are some restrictions to this rule.
- Purchase offer
The purchase offer is the initial drafted contract between a buyer and seller and includes the nitty gritty of the sale of your home, including details on closing, contingencies, down payment, and more. Because of the details in this document, it’s best to keep a copy of this handy if discrepancies come up.
This might not be an exhaustive list of what you’ll get at closing, it varies state by state, but keep an eye out for these documents in particular. When in doubt, save the document with your other files about the sale of your home.
If this all intimidates you, remember it’s not so often about meticulous sorting of this paperwork, but instead about it all living in the same place, reasons Bulger. “It’s in one place; even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, it helps. When in doubt you can meet with a real estate professional and can kind of hand them everything. They’ll take what they need.”
3 ideas to organize the paperwork from your home sale
Peace of mind can come from well-sorted pieces of paper. During and after the sale of your home, knowing you have a system to keep your paperwork organized can reduce stress and lead to an easier closing. Let’s go through 3 different avenues you can go for keeping your home sale documentation in order—then you can select one or use a combination of all three moving forward.
1. One file to rule them all.
During the selling process, you’re likely to receive a bunch of different documents at different times. It would be tempting to drop a stack of papers on the kitchen table when you get back from the realty office and deal with them later.
But the key to staying organized with your home sale paperwork is to designate a single place for all the documents to go. If you’re going to keep paper files, Bulger recommends a waterproof and fireproof file box. Looking for something less utilitarian? Clear document cases, file boxes, or project cases can be more pleasing to the eye.
2. Go digital with your home sale paperwork.
So much of the home selling process now relies on e-sign and digital documentation, so why not let your paperwork live on the cloud? Rathe recommends using online storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive to keep documentation all in one place.
“My best advice is to keep everything electronically and that way you have it long term as well,” says Rathe. “Then you don’t have to worry about if somebody spills a glass of water on it or something.”
Saving things digitally also means you won’t have to worry about how long you have to keep a document.
Nowadays, you don’t even need an expensive scanner to go digital. Apps like Evernote Scannable and CamScanner make it easier than ever to scan documents from your phone and upload them to your digital archives. Once you have the files digitally, you can organize them in folders by property, date, or topic.
3. Don’t be afraid to archive.
Is organization is your thing, don’t shy away from archiving your closing paperwork once a year or two has passed. It’s important to keep these documents, but if you’re planning to purchase another home, the last thing you’ll need is double the paperwork in your system. Consider investing in a filing cabinet (like this pick approved by The Wirecutter), hanging folders, and a good label maker.
When your closing documents are more than a year old, move them from your current homeowner file to an archive labeled with the property sale, and the year of the documents. They might serve as a good reference someday, but they no longer need to be front of mind.
Keep paperwork organized for peace of mind
Paperwork tends to stack up no matter which way you slice it, but having it well sorted and filed away brings peace of mind when it comes to the sale of your home.
Having all the information you need, sorted in a way you understand will no doubt make it easier to close a home sale with confidence and trust that even if questions after-the-fact come up, you’ll be able to locate and cite the necessary paperwork you need.