We sought out some of the most talented real estate agents in America and asked them to tell us everything they know about what helps sell a house. We took all of their advice, we synthesized it, we analyzed it, and we validated it against actual home sales, and we’ve boiled it down to 26 core principles.
This is what helps sell a house, the definitive list. These 26 tips cover everything from listing, prep work, showing, and closing and they’re coming to you from the top minds in real estate.
Here’s What Helps Sell a House When You’re About to List It
A listing is a home’s first impression. It has to be accurate while also capturing attention. These tips are the distillation of insight from some of the greatest real estate minds working today. They, above all, know how to draw people from the comfort of their house through your front door.
Price a Home Right
“The worst thing you could do is overprice a home,” says agent Todd Jones from Rodeo Realty in Los Angeles. Study the comparables and be brutally honest on not what you wish you could get for a house but what the house is worth. Online home valuations can be skewed, because many are based on user input instead of vetted data. HomeLight, however, has a new home value estimator product that can help you bring a price range to bring to your agent.
Maryland real estate agent Bonnie Fleishman agrees. “I think the problem [pricing a home] is people tend to listen to family, friends, and neighbors, instead of analyzing the data.”
An inappropriately high price has drastic effects on various parts of the home-selling process. Sellers will hit a brick wall if buyers’ financing is cut based on the bank’s lower appraisal value—and 86% of buyers finance their home purchase with a mortgage.
That’s assuming buyers even enter the home. An overpriced home can scare off buyers, not show up in search parameters, and be warned against by buyers’ agents.
The first few open houses and showings can let sellers know if a home is overpriced. If you’re not seeing offers, reevaluate with your agent. Remember, most potential buyers have access to the same comparable listings you do, and their agents will be savvy to notice an overpriced home.
Get a Realtor—Immediately
Want easy access to that data to accurately price a home? Hire a realtor. That’s just the beginning of the help a realtor can offer—they can get you listed in the MLS, which blasts a listing out to dozens upon dozens of online sites and personal networks to ensure more foot traffic at showings and appointments.
Leverage the Internet
In 2014, 43% of buyers looked online first when home searching, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Real Estate in a Digital Age. Don’t handicap yourself by not having top-notch listings all across the web. What should that listing look like? Keep reading.
Hire a Professional Photographer
“The most important thing absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt are great photographs,” Jones says. “I’ve seen listing agents list a property and for whatever reason, they don’t put one photo in. And that’s just a crime. That’s doing a horrible disservice to the seller.”
Don’t list a home online without having a portfolio of high quality images ready to post. No buyer is going to remember to check back in for updates on a home when you’re finally ready to put up photos.
As for the photos themselves, use a professional. They’ll know the best angles, how to reduce glare, and other techniques. A good realtor should have one in his or her network and will offer the service for free.
When taking the photos, ensure it’s daytime and the lights are on so photos are bright, and remove all clutter.
“Clutter is number one with me,” Fleishman says. “Cluttered homes do not show well in photographs.”
Remember to Include a Virtual Tour
According to the 2015 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, a whopping 77% of homebuyers find virtual tours to be “very useful” or “somewhat useful.” Don’t sell a house short by not including one.
Don’t Leave a Listing Stagnant
“A nice little trick is to upload new or updated photographs whenever you can,
Jones says. “If somebody rearranges the furniture, go ahead and snap a new photo and put that in because that will help trigger a new search in the MLS.”
“Somebody may have seen it before, but it might now catch their attention in a different way,” he adds.
Updating and refocusing a home listing based on potential buyer remarks at showings, or just general retooling to not get buried in the MLS is significant. A listing should be alive and malleable through the process—and not just in terms of price.
John Wake studied the real estate market in his area of Phoenix, Arizona and found a nearly direct correlation between longer time on market and lower sale price. Homes that sold in week one almost always sold for full asking price. As the weeks went on, however, sale price dropped. Week 12 saw a 2.5% drop and month 12 saw a nearly 4% drop.
Offer an Incentive—But Tread Carefully
“Most people don’t offer a broker bonus, and that can really help sell your home,” says Janice Overbeck, one of the most successful agents in the metro-Atlanta market. Overbeck ranks in the top 1% for homes sold out of 4,085 agents in Kennesaw, Georgia.
A broker bonus can be a cash bonus or an increase in commission for a buyer’s broker who purchases the home. Be careful, however, and stay mindful of state laws for offering incentives, as they can vary. In addition, a broker bonus may turn off buyers themselves, who then may believe their agent is only showing the home because of the bonus and not because it’s a great fit.
Particularly in a buyers’ market, though, it can bring increased attention to a listing. Weigh carefully whether it’s the right time and the right property to include a bonus.
Sell a Home’s Lifestyle
Sure, the specs are crucial—three bedroom, two bathroom, two-car garage, natural gas heating—but buying a home is an emotional process, so never forget to appeal to that aspect in a home listing.
“I did a lifestyle video for a waterfront property,” Fleishman explains. “It’s not just pictures of the home, I talked about the whole lifestyle of living near the Chesapeake Bay, pointing out the features of living in a more relaxed atmosphere because everyone feels like they’re on vacation when they go to the Bay.”
“I created a Whiteboard lifestyle video showing crabs, boating, and other personal, local touches that bring more attention to the property,” she says.
Here’s What Helps Sell a House When You’re Preparing to Show It
Houses shouldn’t immediately go to market when homeowners decide to sell.
“I’ve had people take two months to get their home ready to go on the market because they just have so much to do to be competitive out there,” says Fleishman.
The best real estate agents in the U.S. have this advice on how to prep a home to get great offers quickly once a home hits the market.
Check Out Your Competition
Visit open houses in the area. If your home doesn’t look as well presented as others in the neighborhood in the same price range, it’s time to work harder. Search local real estate company websites for dates and times of open houses, or ask your agent to recommend comparable listings to visit, and when.
Staging the Home Is Vital
“You have to have a home staged and be a 10 out of 10 for showings to look better than the competition and get that emotional connection to your home from someone,” Overbeck says. “I highly recommend getting a professional stager in, and good real estate agents will do that free of charge.”
Even if an agent can’t offer home staging for free, the median dollar value to stage a home is only around $675, and its impact has shown to be much, much higher by NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Staging. Sixteen percent of buyers’ agents believe staging increases the dollar value buyers are willing to offer by 6 to 10%; 32% believe it increases by 1 to 5%. For a $300,000 home, that could be up to $30,000 extra.
Moreover, 28% of buyers are more willing to overlook other property faults if the home is staged. The most important rooms to tackle, in order, are living room, kitchen, master bedroom, dining room, bathroom, children’s bedroom, and guest bedroom.
“If they have funky colors that I think won’t be popular with the mass population, I’m going to recommend that they neutralize the house some,” Fleishman says. “Not stark white though, I don’t like the stark white look.”
Paint rooms simple, neutral tones. Keep kitchen floors and backsplashes toned down to appeal to the masses. Pack away knickknacks. Remove family photos if they adorn every wall—though Jones says a photo or two of the family and dog over the fireplace can’t hurt, it can sometimes boost the homey feeling of the house.
Don’t Show an Empty House
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a home seems larger when there’s furniture in it. So, don’t pack away everything just yet.
“You do need furniture, because the room will look bigger when it has furniture,” Overbeck says. “A bedroom will look better with a bed in there.”
Understand The Community Needs
Metro Atlanta buyers, Overbeck explains, have favored traditional styled homes versus contemporary. However, in communities nearby, the sleek, European look is a hit. Visiting open houses to search for trends can help you keep up with the preferences in the area, and work to stage, paint, and design your home toward those wants and needs.
That also plays a role in how a seller should renovate or remodel. What works in one community and price range would be different in another.
“I went on a listing appointment, and it was a very nice neighborhood with properties from 800,000 to over a million dollars,” Fleishman says. “The whole house was so dated that it needed to be remodeled, but these folks were determined to go get new appliances.”
“A buyer in that neighborhood was going to tear out the kitchen and redo it because it was just so dated and it was in that kind of community. So, I didn’t want them to go out and spend $20,000 on appliances that people may or may not be able to work into their new kitchen design,” she says.
Lean Into a Home’s Quirks
Most of the time, a neutral home is the way to go for photographs and showings. However, unique homes have their own selling advantages.
“There’s a beautiful listing that almost looks out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. There’s a lot of dark wood inside that I wouldn’t change because it’s going to mess with the character of the house,” Jones says. “It’s only going to appeal to a smaller group of buyers, but the buyers it appeals to are going to really appreciate that.”
Target specific niche groups, with the help of your realtor, if you have a home that’s different than any of the comparable listings.
A Deep Clean Covers So Much
“A deep clean never fails to solicit buyer comments like the house feels solid, well-maintained, or meticulously care for—even if the house is really outdated!” says Jessica Riphenburg, one of the top 18% of agents in Madison, Wisconsin.
For older homes in particular, consider hiring a professional cleaning service to sparkle every nook and cranny. It shows buyers that the home is loved and well cared for.
Do Your Job as Sellers
“I remind sellers that they have to get up early, they have to make their beds and put the dishes in the dishwasher,” Fleishman says. “If they want top dollar for their house, they have to be in top condition.”
Just like in photographs, clutter should never disrupt a home showing. Clutter impacts the overall staging and appearance of a home. At worst, a messy home will cause potential buyers to wonder about things they can’t see, behind the walls, and worry they’re all not well-maintained.
Ditch the Carpet
Carpet can carry smells, pet hair, and so much more. Pull up old carpets—especially if they show hardwood floors underneath.
If there are no hardwood floors, work with an agent and professional stager to determine whether it’s market appropriate to lay down fresh carpet, a tile or laminate, or splurge for new hardwood floors.
Show off the Storage Space
The majority of recent buyers would have wanted more or larger closets and more storage, according to NAR’s 2013 Home Features Survey. If a home has walk-in closets, put that information prominently in listings and open the closet doors in showings. If you already plan to do some renovations, consider all ways to add storage space in the process.
Make Sure Condos Pop
In a condo tower, the individual units can be cookie-cutter—ensure yours is not.
“Condos need to pop somehow, so you have to have something a little different than the neighbors,” Fleishman says. She recommends adding new granite countertops, a unique light fixture, a luxurious fireplace design, or something else that will stand out immediately.
Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal
“If that front door looks bad, you only have one chance to make that first impression,” Fleishman warns.
Overbeck agrees: “Women are usually the decision-makers in buying a home, and they can fall in love with homes over rosebushes.”
What exactly does curb appeal mean? Fleishman lays it all out in a checklist, calling it inexpensive “sweat equity”:
- Lay down fresh mulch
- Mow the lawn
- Pull every single weed
- Trim the shrubs and trees
- Remove overgrown items
- Edge the yard
- Paint or clean the front door, even if you think you don’t need to
- No chipping, peeling paint
- Fix sagging gutters or downspouts falling apart
- Remove leaves in the gutters
- Pressure wash the house
- Pressure wash the driveway
- For asphalt driveways, reseal and put on extra black topcoat
- Clean the windows
- Clean all outdoor light fixtures
If you don’t want to do all of this yourself, hire a professional landscaper. You can find some good ones in your area with Angie’s List or neighborhood recommendations.
Here’s What Helps Sell a House When You’re Actually Showing It
These top-level agents know how to stick the landing with a stand-out home showing. Dozens of years of experience combined have given them secret tips and tricks that will give your home a huge advantage for open houses.
Let There Be Light
“I’ve never met anybody who likes dark homes,” says Jones.
Riphenburg agrees: “This may sound crazy but it makes a huge difference: Replace all of your bulbs with LED lights to give the effect of higher wattage.”
Pull back the curtains, raise the shades, flick on the lights, and even, as Riphenburg recommends, increase the wattage of your bulbs. A clean home will sparkle in the light, and no buyer want to think you’re hiding anything.
Stay Away, Sellers
“When I show a property, I never want the seller to be there because I want the buyer to say whatever they want about the house without fear of offending the seller,” Jones says. “Also, a buyer doesn’t feel like they can poke around or open and close doors while the seller is there. It’s uncomfortable.”
Making a potential buyer uncomfortable is a surefire way to not get an offer. Plus, agents need that visitor feedback to adjust the listing if necessary, so don’t put buyers in a position to stay silent on the negatives.
Take Pets With You
Sellers should stay away, and so should their pets. Pets bring noises, smells, distractions, and worse, allergic reactions, even if they’re crated. Arrange ahead of time to send your pet to a friend, family, or professional boarder during any open houses or showings.
Speaking of smells, the morning of a showing is not the time to re-test a recipe for a quiche you always burn. Open the windows, light a (neutral) candle—a non-scented one is best in case of allergies—and keep the home smelling fresh and clean.
Use the Home to Remind Buyers of the Listing Info
Buyers have looked at a lot of listings, so they may not remember this home is near the beautiful lake or that a fun playground is two blocks away.
“Postings about how great different things are in the neighborhood, right up in the kitchen on the refrigerator so that people see it when they’re in the house can really help,” Overbeck says.
It can work for home-specific information, too.
“Putting information around the home saying the refrigerator is included and the washer-dryer is included—touches like that can really help sell a home that’s stale and having a hard time selling,” she adds.
Laminate a sign saying “Kitchen Appliances Included,” for example, and attach it via magnets to the refrigerator.
Host an Event
Have a home on a golf course? Auction off clubs or a tee time. If the house is on the water, host a beach day with games for kids. Fleishman recalls one specific special event she threw that helped draw major foot traffic into her listings.
“I was selling some new homes for a smaller builder … and they were very cute homes but they were tucked away so it was kind of hard to get a lot of action back there,” she explains. “So I created an event day, and I had some NFL retired football players to come, and it was a neighborhood fun day.”
“We invited the entire neighborhood to come and we had face-painting and popcorn and you could get autographs and pictures and even throw the ball around and play a little touch football,” she says. “We got to meet a lot of the community and it helped bring attention to the homes and bring more people through the doors.”
What Really Helps Sell a House? A Damn Good Real Estate Agent
Now that you’ve garnered advice from the best of the best real estate agents in the country, you’re in a great position to move forward on your home sale. Every home and every neighborhood is unique, so you should speak with top local real estate agents who know your area inside and out.
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