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Listing Your Home for Sale: What Happens After You Sign the Contract?

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

After listing your home for sale, things move fast — faster than many of us think. The average listing period lasts anywhere from 3-6 months, and a lot can happen in that time. You could get stuck with a house listed on the market for years, take on a few thousand dollars in repairs, or get tangled in closing contract negotiations that could actually prevent you from completing the sale.

So how do you prepare yourself for what happens after you put your home up for sale so that your own home sale is a successful one?

Well, we did the work for you to find out.

After extensively researching market data and speaking to some of the best real estate agents in the game, we’ve put together a guide that details what it means — what actually happens — when you list your house for sale, what takes place after your agent hits the “Submit” button on the MLS, and which steps you need to be prepared to take once your home is officially on the market.

What Does “Listing Your Home” Mean?

First things first, we need to define what the MLS is — a nearly ubiquitous term when discussing real estate. The MLS, which stands for Market Listing Service, is a service used by real estate brokers in order to browse listings of properties listed as for sale. It allows sellers’ agents to widely distribute information about the property with buyers or their respective brokers.

For homeowners, the MLS is the core of the listing process. Listing your house in the MLS is often a seller’s most anticipated step, one that marks the beginning of the journey to sell his or her house. Yet contrary to popular belief, many homes don’t start out in the MLS immediately after signing with a real estate agent. Regardless of how ready the owner might perceive the property to be, a number of pre-listing tasks must be completed in order to adequately prepare the home before listing.

According to Jody Parrish, a St. Louis-based agent who has sold 201 more single-family homes than the average agent in her region, 85-90% of her homes actually begin as MLS-exempt — which means that the home is listed, but held off the market for a period of time.

“It’s listed property; we don’t just put it in the MLS,” she explained. “It gives us the time to get our photographs, get the staging, get the virtual tours done…It may only be 3-4 days, but if they’re not ready, we’ve done MLS-exempt for up to three or four months.”

In preparing the house to be listed, Parrish described all the careful steps she and her team take to show off the space as best as possible. They:

  • Hire a stager to spot things that look out of place
  • Move furniture and objects
  • Take professional photographs
  • Make brochures
  • Get a pre-listing inspection (depending on the region and home condition)

For a top agent like Parrish, she expects the homes and accompanying materials to be ready before putting the house on the MLS, adding that she wants “to be 100% the day we go on the market.”

You Listed Your Home For Sale. Now What?

Shortly after listing your home for sale, it will appear as “for sale” in the MLS, which indicates to prospective buyers that they may begin contacting your agent for home showings. So, your home should be ready to show by the time it’s listed in the MLS in case a buyer is interested in seeing your home right away.

a photo of a locked door what happens after listing your home for sale
Source: (Scruggelgreen / Shutterstock)

Make Some Changes to Sell Your Home

As you prepare for showings, your home will likely change in physical appearance. What are some concrete modifications that might occur?

1. Repairs

If your home needs actual structural or aesthetic work that you didn’t notice until listing — maybe a pre-listing inspection determined that the piping is from the mid-1920s, or the paint is peeling off in batches in the corners — you’ll start seeing those changes happen.

2. A Lockbox

Lockboxes are crucial for allowing your agent to show the house whenever he or she needs to, rather than relying on the owner for a key. Owners are also expected to vacate the property for showings — something we talk about in our following section — so having a lockbox makes everyone’s life easier.

3. A “FOR SALE” Sign in the Front Yard

Being able to publicly show that your house is for sale allows people passing by to be able to inquire about the property if interested.

4. A Clean and Clutter-Free Home

Throughout the entire selling process, your home will need to remain clean and relatively free of personal belongings, as you’ll never know when a showing might take place.

Prepare to Leave at a Moment’s Notice

During showings, you should be prepared to lock up personal belongings and leave the property at your agent’s notice — something many sellers often forget to take into account. When the owner leaves, buyers have room to browse and breathe.

Typically, there are two types of showings: Open Houses and individual tours. Open Houses are open to the public, whereas individual tours are ones interested buyers can personally schedule with your agent. Through these showings, it’s the seller’s responsibility to keep the house looking great and be flexible with your schedule so that your agent can plan showings.

a photo of a real estate agent at house listing your home for sale
Source: (Matthew Addington / Death to the Stock Photo)

What Your Agent Does During This Time

On the agent’s end, the initial rush right after listing is a pretty hectic time as well. Parrish described that in this period, she and her team:

  • Follow up on buyers’ feedback
  • Make adjustments to the property to address any problems
  • Host showings
  • Market the home (standard listings)
  • Occasionally extra marketing (like Home Hotline)

The agent does the bulk of his or her work in the first month after the house is listed before an offer is received.

After the Initial Rush Dies Down

Although the immediate frenzy of selling a house can be exciting, few people prepare for what happens after the initial post-listing rush begins to fade. Many sellers get discouraged, questioning why they haven’t received a viable offer or why fewer and fewer buyers appear interested as more time passes.

What should sellers do in this time?

  • Be patient
  • Stay up to date with your local market

“Most of the time when we list a house, we have worked with [the owners] to make their house look really good — probably better than it’s looked since they’ve owned it,” Parrish explained. “They think everybody thinks it looks great, and that they’ll get multiple offers on the first day.”

The slowdown in traffic, however, is completely normal. In fact, an average days on market cycle lasts two-three months, depending on where you are in the country.

If there’s little movement on the property after 6 weeks, it’s time to re-strategize.

a photo of a buyer looking at house listing your home for sale
Source: (Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock)

What if it Doesn’t Sell Right Off the Bat?

Some steps you can take are:

  • Speak to your agent about trying a new arrangement
  • Target a different group of buyers
  • Utilize different channels to market the property

In the lull of prospective buyers or showings, you should still expect to keep the house clean and well-maintained — after all, you never know when the right buyer will suddenly pop up, ready to offer what you’re asking — but it can’t hurt to refine your selling tactic after so much time.

After listing your home, prepare to wait — but don’t get discouraged. Few people realize how much waiting time there is after listing your house in the MLS, and many sellers lose hope too quickly when they don’t achieve rapid results.

Even though the home selling process is long and draining, some of the anticipatory stress can definitely be alleviated with effective preparation. And, now that you know what to expect after listing your home in the MLS, there’s no doubt that you’re already one step ahead.