Reality Check: 9 Things to Expect When Selling Your Home

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Buying your first home was full of surprises. But now that you’re a seasoned homeowner, you’ll know what to expect when selling your home — right? You’ll simply show the house to a few buyers, pick the best offer, wait for closing, and pocket some cash.

Not quite. As it turns out, selling can be tough — overwhelming, even. The home sale process involves a long list of steps, and your execution of each impacts your final sale price.

As with most things in life, preparation is the key to a successful home sale. The more you know upfront, the better you’ll handle the responsibilities and emotions that crop up along the way. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of what to expect when selling your home.

For expert insight, we spoke with Kurt Thompson, a top real estate agent and former president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors®. With 24 years of experience under his belt, Thompson shared a few gems about navigating the home sale journey.

An image of a kitchen to demonstrate what to expect when selling your home.
Source: (Zac Gudakov / Unsplash)

1. Decluttering takes time — but it’s an essential step

One of the first (and most important) steps to getting your home ready for sale is decluttering.

“Sellers don’t always understand the condition that their property should be in bringing onto the market,” says Thompson. “It’s very common for me to hear from my sellers, ‘Oh, my gosh! I didn’t realize I needed to do that to get my property ready.'”

Start by clearing off flat spaces like your kitchen counter — an essential task, according to nearly 97% of real estate agents surveyed by HomeLight. You want homebuyers’ eyes on your Italian marble countertops, not your Starbucks mug collection.

Decluttering doesn’t just keep discerning homebuyers’ eyes from wandering; it helps make rooms appear bigger — a major selling point for buyers seeking more space.

To keep your stress level in check, give yourself plenty of time by decluttering well in advance of your sale. Depending on how much you own, you could spend an entire weekend, or even several weekends, turning your home into a clean slate.

And don’t forget clutter in your front and back yards: 62% of agents surveyed by HomeLight said clearing exterior clutter is critical, particularly for listing photos and virtual tours. So tuck away the gnome collection and garbage bins before potential homebuyers drive up.

While decluttering is a sizable project, you’ll reap the rewards of your effort. Decluttering increase your home’s value by up to $2,500. Plus, you’ll be a step ahead of moving if you pack your spare belongings into boxes in the process.

2. You won’t see a full return on investment for all of your home upgrades

After you sell, you’ll leave your home with fond memories of drinking margaritas in your custom, in-ground pool. But you won’t walk away with the $50,000 you shelled out to build that pool. According to HomeLight’s Spring 2021 Top Agent Insights Report, an in-ground pool adds an average value of $27,199 to your home — less than its average $42,480 cost.

Home improvements and additions rarely yield a full return on investment.

In other words, while you can recoup the cost of certain upgrades, don’t expect to cash out every dollar you spent. For example, here’s the average cost recouped for common upgrades:

  • Hardwood floors: 106%
  • Landscaping: 100%
  • Garage door: 94%
  • Minor kitchen remodel: 77%
  • Vinyl windows: 72%

3. Closing can take more than a month

Once you accept an offer, it can take over a month to finalize the sale. During this time, you and the buyer complete the following:

  • Negotiate the terms of your purchase agreement, including contingency timelines
  • Open escrow
  • Work with the title rep to review and clear any title issues
  • Hire a home inspector
  • Complete necessary repairs
  • Schedule time for the appraisal
  • Renegotiate offer terms, if needed
  • Pay off any debts on the property
  • Complete a final walk-through of the property
  • Hand over the keys to the new owner

Your buyer’s loan approval is often the closing step that takes the longest. Ellie Mae estimates that it takes 46 days on average to close a loan. If you work with a buyer who is purchasing your home with cash, you may close faster.

Then there’s the inevitable delay. According to a NAR survey of real estate agents, nearly 20% of contracts didn’t close on time between December 2019 and February 2020. Issues like loan delays, survey issues, and title issues can stretch your closing weeks or longer.

An image of a computer to demonstrate what to expect when selling your home.
Source: (Matthew Henry / Burst)

4. Timing your move can prove tricky — plan ahead

Thompson says it’s surprising how many sellers he sees delay planning their next living situation until the final hour. Ideally, you want to have your moving plans more or less locked in before your home sells.

Do you need interim housing, a specific closing date, or a seller rent back? Work with your real estate agent to negotiate these home sale details for a smooth move. Otherwise, you could find yourself out of your house with nowhere to go. “[We] want to make sure that nobody’s homeless,” says Thompson.

You’ll also need a game plan for moving your things. Book a truck or moving service in advance to ensure you’re out before the date of possession on your purchase contract. The earlier you book, the better selection of movers you’ll have. United Van Lines recommends booking as soon as possible, at least four to six weeks in advance.

5. Your buyer will use the home inspection report to leverage a deal

You accepted an offer! But not so fast. The deal isn’t set in stone yet.

In most cases, the buyer includes a home inspection contingency in their offer that allows them to walk away from the deal with their earnest money intact if you don’t agree to complete or pay for repairs. So if the inspector finds significant defects in the home, expect to return to the negotiating table.

To avoid repair negotiations, some sellers conduct a pre-listing inspection to get ahead of issues and make repairs in advance. The buyer can review the pre-listing inspection report and make their offer based on any issues disclosed upfront. A buyer might even waive their right to a home inspection if there’s already a report on file.

While the buyer normally pays for the home inspection, a pre-listing inspection happens before your buyer comes into the picture, which means you’re on the hook for the fee (typically around $400).

6. It’s natural to get cold feet

Selling your first home is hard. Not only is your home your biggest asset, but you’ve made a lot of memories there. And after decluttering and sprucing up your home, you might find yourself falling in love with your place all over again.

While you’ve probably heard of buyer’s remorse, seller’s remorse is just as real. To overcome seller’s remorse, remember why you’re selling. Is your current home too small? Did you accept a new job across town? Then focus on what’s ahead. What are your next steps? What adventures await? Having something to look forward to will help you persevere through the ups and downs of your home sale.

An image of a couch to demonstrate what to expect when selling your home.
Source: (Megan Nixon / Unsplash)

7. Most buyers want to schedule showings on weekends and after 5 pm weekdays — sometimes at a moment’s notice

If you’re living in the house while it’s on the market, you’ll need to accommodate home showings — whether or not it’s convenient for you. That means clearing out of your home during times you’d usually be getting dinner ready or helping the kids with homework. You’ll also need to keep your home in show-ready condition in case your agent schedules a last-minute appointment.

Thompson does his best to mitigate the inconvenience of random showings. He blocks out specific time frames for buyers to see a home. “It minimizes the intrusion and the impact to our seller client’s schedule by not having to deal with random showings throughout the week.”

Another option is to schedule an open house on the weekend to encourage buyers to walk through during a specific time (that’s not when you’re about to sit down for dinner).

8. You may find instant cash offers tempting

Even in a seller’s market, when it’s easier to find a buyer, the process of selling your home can be anxiety-inducing. You need to tackle repairs, light remodeling, and staging to whip your home into shape. Then you need to coordinate with buyers who may drop out of the deal at a moment’s notice through an offer contingency. If you’re biting your nails just thinking about the uncertainty of it all, you might consider selling your home instantly for cash to a direct buyer.

Direct buyers are investors or companies that buy homes directly from the owner to resell or rent out for profit. House flippers, iBuyers, and buy-and-hold investors are examples of direct buyers who will purchase your homes with cash.

Just note that if you sell to a direct buyer, your fast, certain sale comes at a cost since direct buyers typically offer a lower price than what you’d get on the open market.

HomeLight’s Simple Sale can save you time and energy comparing offers from direct buyers. Simply answer a few questions about your home and selling timeline, and we’ll gather offers from our network of pre-approved cash buyers. Once all offers are in, we’ll share with you the top no-obligation cash offer on your home, plus a side-by-side estimate of what you could sell your home for on the open market with a top real estate agent. That way, you know exactly where your options stand.

9. A great agent will be at your side through thick and thin — hire wisely

Your first home sale can feel intimidating. But don’t worry: Your agent will guide you through the process, looking out for your best interest at all times.  They’ll advise you on staging, high-ROI home improvements, pricing, negotiation, closing, and just about every other aspect of your sale.

For example, Thompson shares that he counsels his clients to review offers holistically instead of focusing solely on the highest price (as newbie sellers tend to do). He helps clients evaluate the buyer’s financial strength and offer terms like contingencies and rent backs to choose the best offer that’s most likely to close.

Just don’t expect all agents to be equal. According to HomeLight’s data, the top 5% of real estate agents can net up to 10% more for the sale of your home than the average agent. With just a few keystrokes, HomeLight’s Agent Finder tool makes it easy to connect with a top agent in your neighborhood. We’ll crunch transaction data to match you with the three best real estate agents for your home sale. From there, we recommend you interview each candidate to choose the best woman or man for the job.

Knowing what to expect when selling your home eases stress

While selling your home may seem overwhelming at first, knowing what’s involved ahead of time can help streamline the process. Whether you partner with a top agent or forego a traditional sale with a cash buyer, you’ll be handing your house keys to new owners and off to your next adventure in no time.

Header Image Source: (Avelino Calvar Martinez / Burst)