How to sell a house
How to Sell a House
Ready to sell your house? It’s a major decision, and no matter what crazy stuff is going on in the world, selling your house is always a big deal. You’ve made dozens of memories there and spent time, money and effort turning your house into a home. It might feel sad to leave, but if selling is the right thing for you and your family, it’s worth it to explore somewhere new!
Now selling your house doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. You just need to sell the smart way. That means creating the right plan and sticking to it—getting all the things you need done to sell your house successfully:
- Finding a real estate agent
- Pricing your home
- Preparing your house for sale
- Listing your house
If you’re ready to make a move, I’ll give you the best tips for selling your home quickly and for the most money. It might seem like an elephant-sized task to take on, but like my dad always says: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Let’s get started!
Find a Stellar Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents are such an important part of this home-selling process. That’s why you don’t need just any agent . . . You need someone who will super-serve you, negotiate the best deal, and sell your house the right way—and fast! And you need someone who knows your local market inside and out to accomplish all that and more.
Real estate agents are also very helpful when it comes to some of the more challenging parts of selling your home, like mountains of paperwork and the stress of home inspections. A really good agent will work tirelessly for you and be in your corner when things get tough.
And as tempting as it might be to have a relative, a friend from church, or your cousin’s husband’s buddy help you, always choose a vetted real estate pro with several years of experience. They’ll help you sell your home for the most money in the shortest amount of time.
Can I sell my house myself?
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of saving money. If you’re planning a move, selling your house yourself can seem like a great way to do just that. But For Sale by Owner (FSBO) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. First of all, if you really want to sell your home fast and get the best price, you need to get it in front of buyers—and lots of them. That’s where an agent comes in handy.
An experienced real estate agent will give your home a much-needed online presence through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). This exposes your house to thousands of potential buyers. And if it seems like homes are flying off the market in your area, that’s even more reason to have a professional by your side. They’ll know how to get you the best deal no matter how many crazy offers, home showings or open houses come your way. Plus, an agent will create a strategy to market your house to their extensive network of buyers and agents.
But won’t you save big money going FSBO? Not really. When you sell your house yourself, you still pay a commission to the buyer’s agent. So you’d only save the commission on one side of the transaction.
A great agent will more than make up for that cost. Consider this: The average home sold by an agent in 2021 brought in $318,000. Compare that to the average FSBO home which went for $260,000.1 That’s a $58,000 difference! So sure, you’ll pay a few grand more in commission fees when you use an agent. But even when you knock those fees off the top, you still come out about $50,000 ahead of a FSBO sale.
Trust me—working with a great real estate agent will help you get the most money for your house.
Price Your House to Sell
The key to pricing your home is to think objectively about your home’s value. If you’ve lived in your home long enough to make memories, those sentimental ties could cloud your judgment. So, stick to the facts as much as possible when you estimate how much your home could sell for.
The best way to determine your home’s value is by asking your real estate agent to run a comparative market analysis (CMA). This free report compares your house to similar houses in your area that are currently on the market or have sold in recent months. The comparison allows your agent to more accurately predict what buyers will pay for your home . . . and set a competitive price based on fact, not feelings.
You may be thinking, But Rachel, in my hot market, homes usually sell way above asking price. Well, that could be true. But even if buyers are willing to pay more than the asking price, your home still has to go through an appraisal once an offer is accepted.
What’s an appraisal? It’s when the buyer’s lender has a professional appraiser assess your home’s value. They’ll make sure the loan amount isn’t more than the home is actually worth. That way, the lender gets the security they need to move forward with a mortgage application, and the buyer is protected from a seller setting an unrealistic price.
Set a Home-Selling Timeline
If you know when you want to sell your house and put it on the market, you’ll want to work backwards and break your to-do list into bite-size pieces. (Remember that part about eating an elephant? This is it!) That way you’ll know exactly where to start when selling your house. Here’s a sample timeline you can use to get started. But of course, you should adjust the timeline according to your own needs and personal schedule.
- Interview real estate agents. Take time to find a professional with a proven track record and confidence in their abilities.
- Outline a plan. Work with your agent to set priorities so you can focus on finishing one task at a time.
- Declutter or sell stuff. Decide what you can live without until your home sells. Then pack it up and get it out (or better yet . . . sell it!).
2–3 Months Before Listing
- Hire a home inspector. Finding and fixing issues early in the home-selling process lets you work the cost of repairs into your budget . . . and won’t derail your deal later.
- Tackle repairs. Ask your agent where your repair budget will do the most good so you can get the best resale value.
1–2 Months Before Listing
- Set the stage. Create an inviting space so buyers can imagine your house as their own.
- Deep clean. Scrub every surface until it shines. Hire a cleaner to make carpets and rugs look—and smell—new again.
- Apply finishing touches. Get your house picture-perfect so your photographer can capture it in the best possible condition.
I know this sounds like a lot of big tasks to handle. But the key to keeping stress at bay in the weeks and months before you put your house on the market is to make a plan—and then follow that plan step by step.
Get a Home Inspection Before Listing
Most home buyers know it pays to get a home inspection. But did you know it’s a worthwhile tool for home sellers too? It’s true!
A presale home inspection might cost a few hundred dollars, but it’ll be money well spent. Why? Because seeing an inspection report can give buyers the confidence to put in an offer—and it can keep them from demanding big bucks during negotiations. It’s a win-win.
So, what’s included in a presale home inspection? According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), inspections cover:
- Electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems
- Windows, ceilings, walls, doors and floors
- Attic, visible insulation and roof
- Foundation, structural elements and basement2
A qualified home inspector will comb through your home’s accessible areas (like the roof, attic, walls and ceilings) to assess the home’s condition and find any health and safety issues. Once the inspection is complete, you’ll receive a detailed report outlining what works and what doesn’t, with recommendations for maintenance and repairs.
Don’t worry about taking care of every single thing in your presale home inspection report. But do pay attention to big-ticket issues that can scare buyers into asking for way more money off the sale price than what it’d take to make the repair. Your agent can help you sort through the inspection findings, but the roof, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems typically take priority. If there’s room in your budget, address those repairs before you list.
Stage Your House
Once your house is in good working order, it’s time to set the stage and show off its best features. That starts with a deep cleaning. Unless you’re Mr. Clean, that probably won’t sound very fun, but a buyer won’t forget the feeling of a grimy or cluttered house. Simple things like scrubbing the counters and door surfaces, a fresh coat of paint, carpet cleaning and decluttering are relatively low-cost, easy chores that will make a huge impact for the first impression of your home.
Once your home is spic-and-span, you can begin to stage. Keep your decor colors neutral and depersonalize as much as possible. I know those family portraits are super cute but take them down so buyers can imagine their families enjoying the house. Closets are always important to home buyers, so make space by storing away out-of-season clothing and miscellaneous gear. When in doubt, less is more.
Staging also gets your home ready for professional photos for your home’s online listing (and you should definitely go pro on those). Your agent should help coordinate the photo shoot, so that’s less pressure on you. Here are a few staging tips to get your home prepared for its glamour shot:
- Stay organized. Again, a tidy home is nonnegotiable. Channel your inner Snow White and whistle while you work if you have to. Just clean up the place.
- Add an extra touch of decor. A pair of throw pillows or a few green plants will add life to any room.
- Clear off the counters. Throw your juicer and blender in the kitchen cabinet. The same goes for your bathrooms. Toss those personal products in a drawer to keep them out of sight.
- Add more lighting. Bright rooms make your home look bigger. Open the curtains, pull up the blinds, and let the sunshine in. In spaces that don’t get much natural light, a well-placed lamp can make a big difference!
- Go easy on the rugs. Rugs generally don’t photograph well, and they can make your space look smaller. Your agent can help you decide which rugs can stay and which ones should go.
- Put a lid on it. Your toilet, that is. Keep it classy and private for a nice photo shoot.
- Don’t forget to stage outside too. Tidy your front porch and place nice planters near your entryway. If you have a deck, pressure wash it and add plants to give the space some life.
List Your House
Home showings are hard to juggle whether your home is empty or full of kids. If you’re still living in the home you’re trying to sell, these handy tips can help you stay sane and manage the home-showing phase.
- Make a daily to-do list. Reduce last-minute panic by putting things away as soon as you’re done with them and creating a checklist of simple tasks to knock out before you leave every morning.
- Find a place for your pets during showings. Leaving pets at home can get messy, and a vocal dog won’t make the best impression on buyers. Take your pup for a ride around the neighborhood or drop him off at Grandma’s house so buyers can focus on your home.
- Try to be flexible. If you want to make a deal, you’ve got to give buyers time and space to fall in love with your home. Be flexible about scheduling showings, and don’t make buyers work around you, your feelings or your schedule when they visit.
- Tackle the toys. Paring down the playroom or toy box is a tough task, but it sure does make cleanup a breeze. Ask your kids to choose a few favorite toys to keep in their rooms, then store the rest in bins.
Do the best you can, but remember, you’re only human. There will be days you just can’t get everything put away and make it out the door on time. If you get a call for a showing, tell your agent you were running behind so they can prepare the buyer ahead of time. Just don’t miss an opportunity to get your home seen.
Negotiate the Contract and Close
Negotiations between you (the seller) and the buyer start with the buyer’s initial offer. Keep in mind the contract stage works differently in every state, so your agent should explain those details in terms you understand. Never sign a purchase agreement before you’re clear about what is and is not included in the offer and how it affects you.
Pay close attention to these details:
- Purchase price
- Closing or escrow date
- Special allowances for personal property, possible tax implications, home improvements and closing costs
- Contingency deadlines for the home inspection, appraisal and buyer financing
- Additional contingencies like the sale of the buyer’s current home
Once you and the buyer reach a final purchase agreement, there’s still a lot to do from contract to closing. Here are some quick tips to help you manage this stage of the selling process:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to pack.
- Communicate with your buyer.
- Keep your home insurance up to date until you’ve signed the dotted line.
- Make a list of what to bring on closing day.
- Remain flexible because delays can (and will) happen.
How Long Does It Take to Sell Your House?
There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to how long it will take to sell your home. Houses in the U.S. currently sit on the market for a median of 14 days.3 Keep in mind that number just means half of homes sold in 14 days or less, and half sold in more than 14 days. Plus, the market is always changing. How long it actually takes to sell your house depends on the real estate trends in your area and the particulars of your home.
If you’re wondering how to sell your house fast, remember that these factors can impact your home-selling timeline:
- The hot (or not) nature of your real estate market: If you live in an area with a hot market, you can typically expect your house to sell faster than in markets where buyer demand is low.
- The season: If you want to maximize your sale price and decrease the time your house is on the market, listing your home in late spring is your best bet. But that’s not true for every home or market. And ultimately, the best time to sell your house is when the time is right for you.
- Location, location, location: Details like your home’s school district, neighborhood, and distance to restaurants and shopping can affect how long it takes to sell.
- Your home’s price point: Larger, more expensive houses can take longer to sell because the pool of buyers is smaller.4
- The time it takes to get your home ready to sell: If you decide to make some updates or repairs to your house before listing, your selling timeline will be longer.
- The closing process: If your buyers are getting a mortgage, the closing date is dependent on their financing. Your closing could also be delayed by home inspection or appraisal issues.
How Much Does It Cost to Sell Your House?
You’ll probably make money from the sale of your home, but there are some costs that will cut into your profits. Here are some you may need to prepare for:
- Real estate agent commission: As the seller, you’ll be responsible for paying the real estate commission, which is split between the buyer’s agent and your listing agent. Usually that commission is 6% of the home’s sale price.5
- Staging your home: As you’re preparing to list your house, you could spend some money getting your house staged or investing in some new decor to give your space a fresh look.
- Repairs or maintenance: You may decide to take care of some repairs before you list your house. Or if the home buyer does a home inspection, they may ask you to do some repairs before closing.
- Fees negotiated in the contract: As part of your purchase and sale agreement, the buyer may ask you to cover a portion of the closing costs, title insurance or other fees.