If you’ve never done it before, selling your home can seem like scaling a skyscraper. Daunting. Maybe even impossible. You know it’s the right choice for you, you’re just not sure where to start.
What you need is a checklist — a step by step guide for everything you need to sell your house. An easy to use to-do list of who to reach out to, what to do, what documents you’ll need — all in one spot so you can keep it on hand as you go through the home selling process.
Read through this and you’ll never have to ask “what do I need to sell my house?” ever again.
Who to talk to if you’re selling your house:
You need a team of professionals on your side — these are the people who can help make the process easier:
Your real estate agent.
Don’t think you need an agent? You should know that it’s pretty hard to sell a house on your own — you’ll have to do all of the work of preparing your home for sale, plus marketing your home, know the ins and outs of the housing market, and more. Attempting to sell your home on your own can result in lots time and money — a lot of money.
Look at the top rated agents in your area and dig into their statistics, including how fast they sell homes, whether they’re selling homes faster or slower than average in their area, and so on.
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An accountant, tax attorney, or financial planner.
For your average home sale, this probably isn’t necessary. But, if…
- Your home was an investment property
- After selling your home and buying a new one, you’ll have a lot of money left over that you want to invest well
- You aren’t a US citizen (yet)
- Or you have other unusual circumstances around your taxes or finances
…then you’ll want to talk to a financial professional. An accountant can help you navigate the taxes that come with selling an investment property, an attorney can advise you in how to navigate US taxes without having citizenship, or a financial planner can help you put your profits to good use in ways that will benefit you and your family for years to come.
As Richard Paz, a top seller’s agent in Miami Beach, puts it, “Your real estate agent isn’t a tax advisor or a tax attorney. If you have a tax question, they should refer you to a tax professional — but they might be able to give you examples that previous clients and the situations they encountered.”
What to do Next When You Sell Your House:
Working with a team of professionals will take a lot of the work off your plate, but there are still things you’ll need to do. Janet Weidmann, a real estate agent in Atlanta who ranks #14 out of over 4,000 agents in the region, has a pre-listing checklist of homework that she gives her clients.
It’s easy to think that you can skip some or all of these steps — but she finds that buyers who do everything on the list sell their homes faster, and for more money.
Another agent, John Mick (based in Austin, TX, and ranking #2 out of over 4,000 agents, agrees with the importance of being thorough in your pre-listing prep. He notes, “Sellers need to realize that buyers don’t buy rationally, they buy emotionally. I’ll have sellers who need to replace their carpet, for example, and they want to just give the buyer a few thousand dollars at closing to pay for the carpeting, but it doesn’t work. If the home looks bad when buyers go through it, that’s the image they’ll have in their mind when it comes time to make a decision about buying. They need to see themselves in your home, and they just can’t if it looks subpar.”
As you can see, preparing your home for listing and open houses is important — it can make or break a sale. With that in mind, here’s Janet’s prep checklist:
- Repaint any rooms that are bold or non-neutral colors to light, neutral colors — gray is a good color for 2016-2017 (she recommends Pediment by Sherwin Williams for walls, and Snowbound for trim)
- Remove most, if not all, personal photos and knick-knacks from around the house
- Remove any storage containers (replace with baskets if needed)
- Replace broken blinds and tattered curtains
- Replace all energy efficient light bulbs (they take a while to brighten up — you can lose a buyer to a dark room) with instant bright bulbs
- Clean all the rooms — pack away toys, clothes, and other belongings that you won’t need in the next 30-60 days
- Remove all the screens from your windows and store them in the basement or garage (this creates a much clearer, more vivid view out the windows)
- Wash all windows and glass surfaces
- Deep clean everything, including vacuuming dust from vents, dusting fan blades, and getting cobwebs out of corners in high ceilings
- Remove everything from the countertops
- After completely clearing off the counters, you can put one thing back (a bowl of fruit or favorite pottery piece)
- Remove all magnets and notes from the fridge
- Remove all the area rugs under the sink and in front of the fridge (this helps show the flooring off)
- Replace all colored/patterned towels with white towels
- Remove all throw rugs
- Remove all toiletries from the tub/shower area
- Roll up a few white towels and set at the corner of your tub with an (unopened) package of spa soaps or bubble bath
- Trim back bushes (they shouldn’t touch the exterior of your home or block the view out of windows)
- Limb up trees (they should frame a house, not block it from view)
- Add fresh pine straw or mulch to flower beds
- Remove any debris, hoses, yard art, or other items from the yard
- Add fresh seasonal flowers to any flowerbeds and a pot or two of flowers by the front door
- Make sure the front door hardware is in good shape and repaint the front door and trim if need be (first impressions are important!)
- Have your porch/driveway and exterior of the house washed/cleaned
By the way…did you know that curb appeal landscaping could add up to 12% to your property value?
If you have pets:
- Remove food/water bowls and any litter boxes
- Use an odor eliminator like DynoFresh to remove any pet odors
Directly before an open house:
- Make sure blinds/curtains are opened to let in natural light
- Set soft background music to play
Paperwork You’ll Need Selling Your House:
When deciding if you should sell your home, you should get all of the following from your real estate agent:
A Comparative Market Analysis (CMA): A report your agent should generate and give to you, which will contain information about other homes in your neighborhood similar to your home, showing which are currently for sale, which have sales pending, and which have sold recently. It averages all of the numbers to give you a general idea of what your house would be worth on the market — check out an example CMA spreadsheet here.
A Preliminary Title Report (Prelim): A document that shows who the owners are, taxes owed on the property, what type of liens are recorded on the property, and any covenants or conditions recorded on the property. This can give you an early heads up if anything is reported as negative or will need extra work before you begin the sales process.
A Seller’s Net Sheet: Another document that totals up the sum of money to be received at closing. This is just an estimate, but it should be reliable enough to give you a solid idea of how much money you can expect to receive at the end of the sales process.
A proposed marketing plan or outline, something you should receive from your agent, with a list of all the activities they’ll do to sell the house. It should give you an idea of how often they’ll be holding open houses or broker tours, have ideas for advertising, and cover all other marketing efforts.
Gather these documents as early as possible, so you don’t have to find them later:
(These can vary from state to state and county to county, check with your agent or lawyer or on local government websites to see which ones are must-haves for your location. Some of these might not be required but could be useful when navigating paperwork or preparing for the sale.)
- The original sales contract for your home
- Any documents related to title and ownership of your home (including property surveys, certificate of occupancy, certificates of compliance with any building or zoning codes)
- All mortgage and financing documents
- Any tax records related to the home
- The professional appraisal from when you purchased your home, and any documented changes to the appraisal
- Your homeowners’ insurance records
- Any professional inspection reports from before you put the home up for sale
- Any receipts or documentation of changes you’ve made to the home (remodeling the kitchen or adding a new bathroom, for example — if you’ve made major changes, it may affect the taxes from selling the home)
- Home repair/maintenance records
- Manuals or warranty information, if you’re including the major appliances in the sale
- Any documents related to your homeowner’s association, if you’re in one (your HOA may also have fees associated with selling your home, so this is a good time to review that)
Before and during listing the home, you’ll want to get:
(Again, these will vary depending on locality, so make sure to check your local rules! You can also take a look at example documents from the National Association of Realtors.)
A listing agreement, which covers all the terms of agreement between you and your agent. Typically, it’ll cover the price, commission, how and when the property will be shown, and sometimes other aspects of the marketing plan.
Mandatory disclosures. These aren’t required in all states, but in many states, all sellers are legally required to disclose any information that might be of interest to the buyer. One example is that if your home was built before 1978, you need to include a copy of the lead-based paint disclosure. Save a copy of all disclosures, signed by you and your agent. As you move forward with the sale, make sure to also save a record of the buyer’s acknowledgement that they received the disclosures.
Inspection reports, covering any and all inspections you’ve done on the home and property (home, pest, pool, etc.) and the results of said inspections.
Offer and counteroffer forms, which your agent should provide.
After closing the sale, you’ll need:
The closing statement, which shows how much money you made from the sale (what the buyer paid for the house, minus the costs of selling your home).
Check everything off the list and then, you’re done.
It’s a journey, no doubt, but it’s much easier when you know where you’re going and you have a guide you can trust. You can get started today by looking for the top seller’s agents in your area — and we can help with that.
Looking for more resources? Our list of the top 10 steps to take after you sell your house should answer any questions you have once all the paperwork is signed!