Some people may feel that buying or building a house is extremely stressful, but we don’t feel it should be. If you don’t know what to expect, the process of selling your house may very well scare you, but don’t let it. In reality, selling your home is just as simple as buying it, with a different set of steps to overcome.
Luckily, you don’t have to worry about your credit score in the process or trying to prove a viable debt-to-income ratio. Instead, you need to focus on what your home has to offer. A good REALTOR can help you walk through these steps, so it is better if you to have one on your side. They will guide you through the process better than any online tool or “How to Sell A House Fast” checklist.
To support you in your journey, we’ve outlined steps to help you ease the burden during the home selling process.
Step 1: Find a REALTOR
You need someone who understands the market. Someone who knows what your home could provide your next potential buyer. Talk to different agents, find out how well you are going to work together since this can be a lengthy process. You don’t want to work with someone you don’t get along with or won’t be about to communicate with.
Find someone you trust, with a strong team behind them. When negotiations arise, you want a team behind you to represent you in the process and look out for your best interests.
Some homeowners try to sell their house themselves, to save on fees, but this isn’t always the best plan. Many banks won’t finance a house that is FSBO (“For Sale By Owner”), because there is a marginal amount of risk to them in the sale. In these cases, there is no real regulation on the house, and the bank—who owns the property until the buyers pay it off—doesn’t want the risk.
If you want to get the most money for your future former home, bite the bullet and hire a professional. It will ease the strain of the home selling process.
Step 2: Prepare Yourself
This is an important step in the process that can’t be overlooked. Selling your house is a major step in life, whether good or bad. Make sure you are ready to move out. Your kids might be attached to their only home, or you even might be attached. It’s okay to feel bittersweet about the whole thing: That is perfectly normal.
But, you need to remember that this is not a personal transaction: between you and the buyer (and any involved agents), this has to be a business transaction. You want the most money for your home that you can get. Remember not to let personal feelings cloud your judgment on how much it is worth. Your agent will help you with comparable sales in the area you can base the sale on.
Above all, ready yourself mentally. Don’t try to sell your house fast and take the first offer that comes along just because you don’t want to deal with the stress. Try to be level-headed and patient, because you will find a good buyer who’s realistic.
Next, set yourself a timeline. How long does it take to sell a house? Every home is different. Some houses sell like hotcakes, and others take a long time to sell. Your REALTOR should know the market enough to help you plan the timeline.
Plan out anything you need to work on or store away to declutter the house. If you need to, get a home inspection to see if there is anything you need to work on first.
Take it slow, and be methodical. Talk everything out with your REALTOR so that you are on the same page and avoid any potential misunderstandings.
Step 3: Do Some Light Work
As stated before, if you need to declutter, now is the time to do it. Rent a storage area or compartment and file some unnecessary furniture out of sight for a time. Now is a great time to clean the house. Have it professionally cleaned if you want; there is nothing wrong with that if you don’t have time to do it yourself.
If you got the optional home inspection, address the small repairs that need to be done. If it’s something you can do on your own, go ahead and fix the problem. If it’s an issue that a licensed contractor has to work on, hire someone to take care of it. It may feel counter-intuitive to put all of this work and time into a house you are about to sell, but that small amount of work or money will be a good investment in the selling process.
If there are major repairs that need to be made—something in the $10,000 - $50,000 range—maybe discuss the fixes with your REALTOR. If they believe it is a fix that is necessary, beneficial, or even helpful, go ahead and do it. If it’s not something they believe is necessary or a good idea, then don’t. You don’t need to sink all of your money here, or you’ll wind up upside-down on the sale.
Any upgrades you do need to be the ones that bring the best return in the sale. Bathroom and Kitchen upgrades have the best returns, followed by new paint and trim throughout your house. They are simple upgrades that are relatively cheap and easy to do. They will help dress up the space and make it look like you’ve always taken very good care of the property.
Also, if you need to, pay a staging company to decorate the house. It’s only about $1500 and helps with photos for the listings. Buyers are able to visualize the space better with furniture already in place.
Step 4: Take Professional Photos
This is one of the most important steps, especially in the modern world. High-quality photos maximize the online “curb appeal” of your home. Your photos need to shine, otherwise, your house will sit online without user interaction, much less a scheduled showing.
The first things a buyer sees or even thinks about when they look at houses to buy are pictures. They are trying to see what they want to buy. Think about it from their point of view. When you search for a product online, do you want to buy the product that has great, high-quality pictures, or do you want to buy the one that has pictures that were taken on a cell phone from 2002?
Your REALTOR should hire a professional photographer to highlight the best aspects of your home. A great photographer with the right skills will know how to take photos that make rooms look bigger, brighter, and add those extra touches that make every room unique. You want your photos to showcase the greatest parts and aspects of every room.
Step 5: List the Sale
This might be the simplest step. Simply put, you and your REALTOR agree to post the listing wherever the REALTOR thinks is best to attract the right buyers. There are a couple of key tips to remember if you want the sale to go faster.
First off, the internet is a place where presentation matters. If your listing is online—it is in the 21st century—you want to maximize that online “curb appeal” we have already looked at. Your home’s online presence can make or break a sale, and you need to bring your A-game with the photos, listing layout, social media posts, and anything else that will affect buyers finding your listing.
Keep your house clean! It should remain spotless and ready for showings. When people come to look at your house, they do not want to see your clothes, garbage, and toys strewn about the place. They want to see a clean house they can picture themselves in. They do not want to see the owners there; they want to feel free to voice their own opinions, and will usually feel pressured if you are there to hear their thoughts. When a showing is scheduled, maybe go out for a date, dinner, or a movie. It will help you sell the house even faster without added pressure for either side.
Step 6: Remember to Keep the Price Reasonable
In your listing, remember to set a reasonable price. Your REALTOR will have already shown you comparable sales in the past, so you know what a good price is. Don’t try to set a high price then drop the price frequently. It actually won’t help you, because people will feel like something is wrong with the home, or that you are unreasonable in your price range.
If your price is just too high, you won’t get enough calls or can lose out on sales that might have been promising.
Step 7: Assess Offers
Once you start getting offers, your agent will help you and be the best source of insight as to your best options. A good agent will help you get the highest price, while also being fair and reasonable towards the buyers. If your home is selling fast, buyers will rack up a “bidding war” on the property and might drive the price up. If this is the case, great!
If your home isn’t selling as fast, offers might come in at the asking price, or even lower. If this is the case, you may need to negotiate a little bit. In the negotiation process, you have the option to reject the offers, accept the offer, or make a counteroffer, which the buyer then decides to accept or reject any offer as they see fit.
Counteroffers often come in different forms. They can be anything from a price change to a credit for work that still needs to be done or even leaving behind something in the house to make the sale more appealing to the buyer. As is the case, any counteroffer—especially any offer in writing—is binding and you should keep your end of the deal.
When you look at offers, remember to look at how the buyer intends to pay, what kind of financing they are getting, and what date they plan on closing on. If you are okay with these details, then accept the offer.
Always remember that the highest offer isn’t always the best. In the selling process, the house does get appraised, and any price difference may change the sale price, the buyer’s down payment, mortgage rate, or any of the other terms. The deal might fall through if you or the buyer aren’t prepared for the difference.
Step 8: Prepare for Closing
Both parties in the sale have closing costs, they just pay for different aspects of the closing. As the seller, you will be responsible for the agent’s commission, which is some previously agreed-on percentage of the sale price. Also, be aware of other costs that you may need to pay: some states require the seller to pay for other aspects of the closing, or require new pieces of information—such as another inspection or survey. You will have to pay any outstanding liens on the property before it can be sold, and government transfer taxes (basically just a slice of the sale given to Uncle Sam).
Your agent will make sure you are aware of any costs upfront before you sell, but always be prepared, and have everything prepped and ready in advance because it always helps to cut out last minutes stressors.
You will need to have some important paperwork gathered before you approach the closing date. Some of the paperwork may include any survey you have completed, the appraisal for the home, tax records, mortgage records, your purchase contract (from when you bought the house), home inspection paperwork (if any), and your homeowner's insurance. Again, your REALTOR will help you put these things together.
Step 9: Close
This is the step that you have waited for! Finish the sale, collect your money—hopefully, you are happy about the amount—and wish the buyers a happy life in your old home! You are done!
Pro Tips for Selling Your Home
Remember not to put too much money into the house before you sell: you don’t want to waste money you didn’t have to spend.
Make sure to be sales-minded the whole time. Think things like, “How do I sell my house?” or “What would make me want to buy this house?” The answers might surprise you but should help steady your mindset throughout the process.
Keep the house clean, and make sure it has a great online listing: presentation is everything.
Don’t pit yourself against the market, work with the market to get the most out of your house sale.
Remember to be careful selling to friends or family: you don’t want any hard feelings between personal relationships. A house sale is just business. Don’t let it be more than that.
*Refreshed June 17, 2021