How to Sell a Home in California: 10 Simple Steps

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If you’ve decided to sell your home in California, the process can be both exciting and daunting. From pricing and preparing your property to setting the perfect move-out date, there’s a lot that needs to happen to close the deal.

In this post, we’ll provide expert insights and tips on what to repair before selling and when to contact a Realtor. We’ll also provide guidance on how to set your home’s asking price, how long it will take to get an offer, and help make sense of California’s complex disclosure requirements.

Here’s a 10-step guide on how to confidently navigate selling your home in California, ensuring you’re well-prepared for every twist and turn along the way.

Step One: Talk to a California Real Estate Expert

Connect with a top-performing agent in your California market to get an expert opinion on how much your house will sell for and what to fix before listing.

1. Pick a move-out date and work backward

If you’re gearing up to sell your home in California, timing can play a key role, for you and potential buyers, says Suneet Agarwal, a top Sacramento real estate agent who works with over 70% more single-family homes than average agents in his market.

“The seller is expected to know what’s going on in the market,” he explains. “Seasonality comes into play. More people move in the summer, less people move when it’s raining. So those are the kinds of things that impact the sale.”

To help time your sale, see HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell Calculator.

One strategy that can be helpful is to create a backward timeline. This means asking, “When do I want to move out of my house?” Decide when you want to close, and then set benchmark goals between now and that endpoint. For example, your next guide questions going backward might be, “When do I need to be under contract,” and then “When do I need to be actively listed,” and so on.

Bear in mind, a typical home sale in California requires about two to three weeks of preparation, followed by two to four weeks on the market. However, these timelines can fluctuate based on individual circumstances and local market conditions. Planning backward can help you pinpoint the best moment to make your move.

General home prep and selling timelines

Typical timeline Downsizing Sell for cash
Listing prep 2-3 weeks 6-12 months None
Time on market 2-4 weeks 2-4 weeks None
Time to close 5-6 weeks 5-6 weeks 1 to 3 weeks
Total time 2.5-3.5 months 8-15 months 1 to 3 weeks

The number of days on market (DOM) — the time from listing to having a signed contract — can fluctuate depending on the location, price, and condition of your California home. The current statewide medians range between 18 and 41 days. Sellers must also take into account the typical 43 additional days a buyer needs to close on a purchase loan.

2. Interview at least 3 agents and hire the best match

Having the right agent by your side can make all the difference in your selling experience, move timeline, and your final proceeds, says Oriana Shea, a Long Beach area real estate agent who has been helping sellers for more than 26 years.

For example, “There are a lot of components to the listing contract these days that have been added in over the last several years,” Shea says. A top agent can also help you avoid common California pitfalls that can cause delays or even cancel a deal.

It’s a good practice to bring an agent on board at least three months before you plan to list. This timeline allows them to provide valuable insights on preparations and positioning your home in the best light. It’s also wise to interview multiple agents.

Get matched with a top California agent

There’s no need to ask your family and friends for referrals or sift through endless lists of agents. Now, thanks to online agent-matching services, finding a trusted real estate expert is simpler than ever — and it’s free.

Modern real estate solution companies like HomeLight can connect you with top local agents known for fetching top dollar for homes they represent. Our data-driven approach examines crucial factors, such as how quickly they sell and whether they consistently secure more than the asking price for sellers.

In fact, our records highlight that agents in the top 5% can net sellers up to 10% more. On an $800,000 property, that’s a potential $80,000 gain.

What services do real estate agents provide?

Once you secure a partnership with a premier California agent, you’ll unlock a myriad of benefits designed to elevate your home-selling experience:

  • In-depth analysis of local pricing trends and price-per-square-foot metrics
  • Expertly captured photography and professional staging guidance
  • Seamless listing integration on prominent home search platforms
  • Exclusive sneak peeks for a network of real estate brokers
  • Hosting of at least two open houses to showcase your property
  • Bonus services, such as immersive virtual tours, high-definition drone footage, and captivating listing videos.

With the right agent, you’re not only leveraging their expertise but also availing a suite of services that spotlight your home in the competitive Californian market.

Selling 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

*Source: NAR Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers

3. Make necessary repairs to the house

Every home has its quirks, from that creaky floorboard in the hallway to the tap that drips just a bit. But when you’re preparing to sell, those minor issues can quickly become stumbling blocks to securing an offer. Prospective buyers, especially in California’s competitive market, are looking for homes that are move-in ready.

Take a walk through your home with a critical eye, as if you were a buyer seeing it for the first time. Jot down any noticeable issues or areas that could use a touch-up. This might range from aesthetic fixes, like a fresh coat of paint in a faded room, to more significant repairs, such as a leaky roof or outdated electrical system.

“Buyers typically are aware that they’re not buying a new home, so there are going to be things that have happened,” Shea says, but she reminds clients that this stage of fixes is also important when it comes to passing the home inspection.

Although every house and market is different, here are some issues that you may want to address to pass the home inspection:

  • Plumbing problems
  • Outdated or failing electrical
  • HVAC issues
  • Roof problems
  • Foundation flaws
  • Broken items (doors, windows, blinds, etc.)
  • Lack of modern safety features such as GFCI outlets

Other areas that buyers are likely to pay attention to include the kitchen, baths, and home exterior.

However, top agents like Agarwal and Shea will also know what not to fix or what not to upgrade. Rushing in without expert insights can be costly, and you may inadvertently make a change that harms your sale. The best way to identify worthwhile fixes is to lean on the expertise of a top California real estate agent.

4. Set your asking price

Setting your home’s asking price can be akin to walking a tightrope. There’s a fine balance to strike: aim too high, and you risk alienating potential buyers, leading your property to gather dust on the listings. But undervalue your home, and you might be short-changing yourself out of thousands of dollars.

As Agarwal aptly points out, “Sellers are always going to try and get the most money for their home, as they should, right?” However, he reminds sellers that a home’s true value doesn’t hinge on a singular magical figure, but rather falls within a strategic price range.

Key factors that go into pricing a home

The task of setting the perfect asking price requires a deep dive into multiple data points:

  • Comps: Often the bedrock of real estate pricing, comps, or comparable sales, refer to the recent sale prices of homes in your vicinity. These homes should mirror yours in terms of size, amenities, architecture, and age. They offer a window into what the market is willing to pay for properties like yours.
  • Unique characteristics: Every home has its individual quirks and features. Maybe you’ve got a newly renovated kitchen, or perhaps your property boasts an unobstructed sea view. These distinctions can add or subtract value, and adjusting your asking price based on these competitive differences is crucial.
  • Market conditions: Beyond the bricks and mortar of your property, larger economic forces play a pivotal role in pricing. Factors such as the current inventory of available homes, the intensity of buyer demand, and average days on the market can all influence the optimal asking price.

The truth is, setting the right price isn’t a solo endeavor. Partnering with an adept real estate agent, particularly one well-versed in the appraisal process, can make all the difference. Their seasoned perspective and deep understanding of local market dynamics can guide you toward an asking price that positions your home for both rapid sale and maximum profit.

What's Your California Home Worth?

Get a near-instant real estate house price estimate from HomeLight for free. Our tool analyzes the records of recently sold homes near you, your home’s last sale price, and other market trends to provide a preliminary range of value in under two minutes.

5. Prepare your home for the sale

In the Golden State, where outdoor living and sunshine reign supreme, prepping your home for sale requires attention to both interior charm and exterior allure.

After ticking off your repair checklist, it’s essential to zero in on presentation. In a market as competitive as California, evoking that immediate ‘feel-at-home’ emotion in potential buyers can be a game-changer. Here are some tailored steps to ensure your home stands out to Californian house-hunters:

  • Declutter the spaces: Open up every room to its fullest potential by decluttering. An organized and spacious setting enables buyers to focus on the home’s features and architectural beauty. Keep only essentials and consider storing, donating, or selling items you don’t regularly use.
  • Depersonalize the interiors: Let buyers visualize their own story within the walls. Pack away personal memorabilia like family portraits, quirky souvenirs, and other personal knick-knacks. Make the home feel like a welcoming, neutral space where anyone could fit in.
  • Embrace staging: Collaborate with your agent to stage your home in a manner that resonates with California’s vibrant lifestyle. Think airy spaces, bright accents, and elements that play up the indoor-outdoor living appeal.
  • Deep clean everything: A spotless home speaks of meticulous care. From pristine baseboards to gleaming fixtures, ensure every nook and cranny shines. Additionally, address any odors, ensuring your home feels as fresh as a Californian breeze.
  • Boost the curb appeal: First impressions last. In a state known for its landscapes and open spaces, ensure your home’s exterior mirrors California’s natural beauty. Refresh the garden, invest in fresh plants, touch up paint, or add a modern, chic mailbox to elevate the entrance charm.
  • Spruce up the home’s exterior: Given the emphasis on outdoor living, a clean exterior is vital. Pressure wash patios and sidings, polish those windows to a gleam, and ensure the entrance is free from any dust or spider webs. Let your home exude a fresh, welcoming vibe right from the onset.

What upgrades add value to homes?

Project Added resale value*
Improve your landscaping $7,300
Add a home office $10,500
Mid-range bathroom update $11,000
Mid-range kitchen update $22,100

*Data source: HomeLight Top Agent Insights, dependent upon property location and condition

6. List and market your house

Stepping into the spotlight, it’s time to showcase your California home to eager buyers. To ensure your listing stands out in the crowded marketplace, collaborate closely with your real estate agent. They’ll get your property details listed on the multiple listing service (MLS), making sure it radiates the quintessential California charm.

Crafting an impactful listing goes beyond dry details. You’re setting up a story so buyers can envision what it would be like to live in the home. Don’t just list; narrate. Bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage are basics. Dive into the soul of your home.

“We want to take professional photos, videos, great descriptions, run social media ads, put them on all the portals, and really get as much visibility as possible,” Agarwal says.

Your standout listing should include:

  • Property specifics: Type (single-family, condo, townhouse), bedroom and bathroom count, square footage, lot size, and year built.
  • The California dream: Highlight proximity to beaches, schools, hiking trails, or other Golden State perks.
  • Unique attributes: Spotlight features like fireplaces, hardwood floors, or sun-soaked patios.
  • Essentials: Include appliances, parking arrangements, and any HOA fees.
  • Visual allure: Add professional photographs and virtual tours, emphasizing California’s ethereal light and ambiance.

To cast a wide net, your agent will magnify your property’s presence across key real estate platforms, harnessing the power of social media and their professional network.

As inquiries pour in, brace yourself for a flurry of showings, even 10-25 appointments. Flexibility is key; more accessibility can lead to a quicker sale. Remember, some homes might spark a bidding war after a single showing, while others might bask a bit longer in the limelight.

Feedback is gold. Your agent will gather insights from visiting buyers. If the consensus points to certain tweaks – be it a decor change or a price adjustment – heed the market’s pulse. After all, in the world of real estate, adaptability can make all the difference.

Climate concerns

When it comes to marketing a home in some regions of California, Agarwal points out that: “The higher risk climate areas are definitely a concern for many people. Insurance [providers] are having challenges getting insurance to those places. So I think marketing the home when it’s a higher risk area compared to not, the marketing needs to be the same…and just expect to have a really unique buyer who wants the home regardless of insurance costs.”

7. Review offers and negotiate with buyers

As offers are presented, you might instinctively zoom in on the dollar signs. But remember, the best deals aren’t always about the highest bid. When you’re nestled between the Pacific coastline and the Sierra Nevada, property values can indeed vary, but it’s the finer details that can seal a deal worth its weight in gold.

Here are some things to consider as you review offers:

  • Align with timelines: Confirm the offer aligns with your timeline. As you ride the Californian sunset, you want to ensure the proposed closing gives you ample space to move out and comfortably transition to your next dreamy destination.
  • Look beyond the price tag: Californian real estate can fetch hefty prices, but dig deeper. A seemingly attractive offer might have strings attached, such as lower down payments or added contingencies. Harness the art of negotiation to highlight the perks that resonate with your priorities.
  • Financial clarity is key: Unsure about a buyer’s financial standing? Whisper your concerns to your agent. Their expertise will illuminate the financial landscape, ensuring your sail is smooth and clear of icebergs.

Agarwal notes: “The sellers need to be really educated — and I’m sure that they are from living in the area — but the sellers need to be educated on the challenges that buyers are having.” This understanding can be especially helpful when it comes time to negotiate the offer price.

Once a golden offer strikes the right chord, collaborate with your agent to finalize the purchase agreement, setting you on the path of fruitful settlement.

8. Complete the inspection and appraisal

Once you accept an offer on your home, the buyer will have the opportunity to investigate and verify the condition of your property before finalizing the deal.

The buyer will typically conduct inspections and perform other necessary research to ensure that the property meets their needs and expectations. Part of this process will involve reviewing your property disclosures, which we’ll address in step #9 shortly.

If the buyer discovers any issues or concerns during this period, they have the opportunity to negotiate with you 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: With approximately 78% of buyers opting for an inspection before sealing the deal, anticipate a detailed look into your home. If issues emerge, lean on your agent. Whether you opt for repairs, discuss price adjustments, or credit the buyer, ensure the path forward benefits both parties.
  • Home Appraisal: About 80% of buyers will set an appraisal contingency, a crucial step for their lender’s peace of mind. Factors that can sway your home’s appraisal include fresh renovations, local Californian market vibes, and sales of nearby comparable homes. If your appraisal comes in low, stay calm. Options include challenging the appraisal, adjusting the asking price, or having a chat with the buyer about covering the difference.
  • Californian specificities: Some California cities and neighborhoods have specific municipal inspections required before a property sale. Long Beach, for instance, has mapped out a “parking impacted area.” Homeowners selling single-family homes in that area must schedule an appointment with a city parking inspector “to come out and sign off that there is ample parking at the property,” Shea says.

9. Provide all required disclosures

When planning the sale of a Californian home, it’s vital to understand that the state has uniquely intricate requirements regarding seller disclosures. While you might find yourself amidst inspections and appraisals, sellers also have to face the formidable task of disclosures.

The California Association of Realtors Residential Purchase Agreement emphasizes that all necessary disclosures be provided within seven days following the acceptance of the purchase agreement.

This timeline for seller disclosures fortifies a buyer’s protection, ushering in the termination clause. Essentially, this real estate clause gives the buyer the prerogative to pull the plug on the deal after receiving the California disclosure documents. Generally, the buyer retains this right for about three to five days post-disclosure.

Key aspects of California’s complex disclosure mandates

Given the intricacies of the California disclosure form, sellers might feel a pinch of anxiety, fearing potential heavy expenses arising from listed disclosure elements. This is where a seasoned California real estate agent can be invaluable.

“We educate our sellers by sitting down and walking through [the disclosures] line by line, making sure that they have a great understanding,” Agarwal says. “We read it with them and explain, ‘Do you understand these kind of things need to be done to protect the sellers?’”

To paint a clearer picture, here’s an overview of some of the California home seller disclosures:

  • Natural Hazards: Your area’s risk of natural hazards, such as a flood hazard zone, seismic hazard zone, or high fire hazard severity zone.
  • Proximity to Operations: Whether there is an airport, farm, ranch, abandoned well, gas pipeline, or mining operation nearby.
  • Health and Safety Concerns: Any material facts or defects that could pose a risk to buyers’ health or safety or negatively impact the home’s value.
  • Past Incidents: Report of any deaths on the property within the past three years.
  • Legal Complexities: Any legal, zoning, annexations, or use compliance issues with the property.

Furthermore, California sellers face a barrage of other disclosure forms and required statements, everything from the presence of window security bars and mold to the location of nearby sex offenders.

There’s even a disclosure requirement imposed on your real estate agent. “We have to disclose that we’re working with more than one buyer or seller — it’s on both the purchase contract and the listing contract,” Shea explains. “I kind of chuckle when I go over it with [clients], and I end it with, ‘I certainly hope that I am, if I want to stay in business.’”

Be educated and transparent about disclosures

Agarwal underscores the magnitude of California’s disclosures. “I think that sellers should be completely educated on the entire purchase agreement. The portions about disclosures are important. Like you have to disclose the material facts that you know, the portions about arbitration and mediation, so they know the different chances that could happen.”

He stresses: “We tell sellers, ‘Look, disclose, disclose, disclose.’ You want to paint a full picture of every material they may know about the property and make sure that they’re aware of what can happen if they don’t.”

»Learn more: For a closer look at the state’s seller disclosure requirements, see our story: What Must Be Disclosed When Selling a House in California?

While California’s seller disclosure requirements might appear daunting, with the right guidance, sellers can navigate this process with clarity and confidence.

10. Close the sale

Closing the sale of your home is the culmination of all your hard work, preparations, and negotiations. It represents the official transfer of ownership, but before you get there, it’s essential to understand the intricacies of the final processes to avoid unexpected bumps along the way.

Wrapping up the financial details

Upon passing the inspection and appraisal hurdles and completing disclosures, you will be presented with a settlement statement. This document provides an itemized list, detailing all the financial elements of the transaction – from fees to credits. With potentially significant amounts in play, it’s paramount to be well-acquainted with every line item.

Working hand in hand with your real estate agent is crucial at this juncture. This collaboration ensures clarity about selling costs and your final proceeds. Unanticipated costs can throw off many sellers, often leading to last-minute chaos. To avoid such pitfalls, make it a point to discuss all potential closing costs and fees with your agent well in advance.

For a clearer picture, consider this: seller closing costs in California typically hover around 9%-10% of the sale price. This could encompass various expenses like the real estate agent’s commission, transfer taxes, title fees, and escrow fees.

While California does not mandate the involvement of a real estate attorney during closing, certain selling situations might warrant a legal review of your purchase agreement. In such cases, your agent might recommend consulting an attorney.

Final walkthrough and move out

The final walkthrough is the buyer’s last opportunity to ensure everything is as they expect. Typically scheduled 24-48 hours before closing, this step ensures that there are no last-minute surprises or oversights when they take possession.

Remember, in most cases, buyers assume possession on the day of closing. But this isn’t a strict rule. The exact timeline for handing over the keys could be a product of negotiations you’ve had with the buyer earlier in the process. Always refer back to your contract to confirm any specific agreements.

In essence, while closing the sale might seem like the finish line, paying attention to these details can ensure a smooth end to your home-selling journey in California.

Get started with selling your California house today

Embarking on the journey of selling a house is no small feat, but with the right roadmap, the process becomes significantly smoother.

While this guide gives you a foundational understanding of the home-selling process, remember that the nuances of selling vary based on your property’s specific location and its current condition within California. The urgency of the sale and the budget for preparations are other pivotal factors that shape the experience.

Whenever you’re ready to get started, HomeLight can connect you with a top real estate agent in your California market. We’ll help you find the best agent equipped with the expertise to create a selling strategy perfectly tailored to your unique home and aspirations, whether you’re selling an inherited home or relocating for your next adventure in a new place.

Your Californian dream sale is just around the corner. Let’s make it a reality together

Writer Valerie Kalfrin contributed to this story.

Header Image Source: (Sterling Davis / Unsplash)