Selling a home is a multistep process, whether it’s your first home or your fifth. While it can be exciting, putting your home on the market can also be time-consuming and emotional.
Knowing the steps involved can help you prepare for a successful home sale without feeling overwhelmed. If you’re wondering where to start – or what to do next – this home seller’s guide is for you. Here are the 11 steps to selling your house.
Step 1: Determine if Now Is the Right Time for You to Sell a Home
People sell their homes for various reasons—moving for a new job, downsizing, a change in their financial situation, or needing more space for a growing family.
Before deciding to put your house up on the market, take time to evaluate whether now is the best time for you to sell, both emotionally and financially. Clarifying your reasons and expectations for selling can help guide your decision-making during the selling process.
Here are some questions you’ll want to consider before listing your home for sale.
Why do you want to sell at this time?
Depending on why you’re selling, you may or may not have the option to wait. Regardless, it’s helpful to clearly identify why you are wanting to sell now.
For instance, if you’re moving because of a new job, you may need to sell your home quickly. In this case, you may not have time to do repairs on your home, or you may be more open to lower offers that allow for a quicker close.
However, if you want to sell to get the most value out of your home, you may want to take more time with fixes or staging.
There are no right or wrong reasons for selling your home. But, understanding your motivations can help you make the right choices for you when selling.
Are you emotionally ready to sell?
No matter how many different homes a person has owned, leaving a home – and all of the memories and experiences it holds – can be challenging.
Take time now to make sure you are emotionally prepared to leave your home. You don’t want to get halfway through the selling process only to realize you don’t want to move or let your emotions interfere with your ability to successfully sell your house.
Are you financially ready to sell?
Selling a home costs money, even in a seller’s market. You’ll want to make sure you have some liquid assets available to cover the costs you’ll encounter.
Common expenses sellers encounter during a home sale include:
- Real estate agent commissions, which are typically 5 to 6 percent of the home purchase price
- Property taxes and neighborhood fees, which varies per location
- Title insurance to protect the buyer in case a problem is found during the title search
- Paying off your mortgage, which you’ll likely use the sale of your home to cover
- Home repairs
- Pre-sale home inspection, which is often optional
- Moving costs
When it comes time to sell, you’ll ideally want your home to be worth more than what you owe on your mortgage. This is called having positive equity. In this situation, you can use the sale of your home to pay off what you owe on your mortgage. You can then use any remaining money from the sale towards the purchase of a new home (or your next adventure).
What is your time frame for selling?
Your area’s real estate market will partially dictate how long it will take to sell your home. For instance, if it’s a seller’s market, you’ll likely be able to sell quickly. But, if it’s a buyer’s market, it may take longer.
Knowing your ideal time frame can help you make the right decisions when preparing your house for sale and ultimately listing it. For example, if you’re under time pressure, you may need to limit repairs so you can get on the market quickly. If time isn’t a factor, you could consider other factors, such as the best time of year to sell in your area, so you get the maximum return on your investment.
Are you selling only or buying a home as well?
When you’re selling and buying, you’ll be wearing multiple hats. You will have to determine if you can afford to potentially hold two mortgages at once if you buy before selling your current one. While many people do both at the same time, keep this in mind during your planning process and know how you’ll cover the additional expenses.
You should also be sure to shop around for different lenders who may be able to offer a financing solution – such as a bridge loan or trade in – for your particular scenario.
Step 2: Determine If You Want to Hire Someone to Help You or Sell Your Home Yourself
Now that you’re ready to start the process, you’ll need to decide whether you’d like to sell your home yourself (called ‘for sale by owner’ or FSBO) or hire an agent.
In 2020, 89 percent of sellers in the United States used a real estate agent to guide them through the process. This study also found that homes sold by the owner typically sold for about 26 percent less than comparable properties sold with the help of an agent. However, the best choice for you will depend on your situation and needs.
When choosing whether to use an agent or sell your home on your own, you’ll want to consider:
- How much available time you have to sell your home. If you sell it yourself, you’ll need to set aside more time than if you get the help of an agent.
- Your comfort level with hearing negative remarks about your house. If you sell it yourself, you’ll need to be able to set aside your feelings and attachment to your home. Being objective about your house, even when hearing negative comments, will be critical to successfully selling it.
- Your knowledge about selling a home. Selling a home is a complex process. You’ll need to have the time, knowledge, and patience to ensure that each step is completed properly and on time. Otherwise, you risk having a deal fall through or being on the market for a long time.
- Your timeframe. Selling your house yourself can take more time than if you work with an agent. If you must sell fast, you may want to consider using an agent.
Alternatively, there are options to help you sell your home without having to pay the 5-6% in traditional agent fees. For instance, if you sell your home with REX, you’ll work with a licensed agent for a low flat rate, with no obligation to pay a buyer’s agent commission.
Step 3: How to Find the Right Representation
The right real estate agent can make selling your home less complicated. They’ll guide you through the process, including determining your listing price, preparing your house to sell, managing open houses and showings, negotiating with buyers, and more.
If you decide to hire an agent, talk to friends, co-workers, and family for referrals. Be sure to ask them what they liked (and didn’t like) about working with the agent.
Then, plan to meet with several agents first to determine if they are a good fit. You’ll want to ask them questions about their experiences and qualifications, including whether they:
- Are knowledgeable and familiar with the local market
- Have recent, nearby home sales they can show you
- Use a communication style that suits you
- Have a process for working with sellers that fits your needs
- Have a track record of success in your area, backed by solid customer reviews
Step 4: Get Your Home Ready to Sell
Getting your home ready to sell is an important step to help you get the most value out of your home. But, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are steps to help you get your home ready to be put on the market.
Declutter and deep clean
You want potential buyers to be able to see themselves in your home. To help with this process, you’ll want to declutter, remove most personal items, and deep clean.
If you’ve lived there for years, you may want to ask friends or family for help. You also can consider moving some of your personal items or excess furniture to a temporary storage facility if you haven’t yet moved.
If you’re able to, you can consider hiring a professional to help you deep clean after you’ve decluttered. However, you can also do this step yourself.
Consider completing a pre-sale home inspection
A seller’s home inspection is not required to list your home. However, most buyers will request an inspection contingency in their offer. So, at some point, your home will likely be inspected.
Having it done before you go on the market will let you know the condition of your home in advance. This allows you the chance to decide what you want to fix, and it can help guide your listing price.
Typically, the inspection only takes a few hours. The inspector will assess your electrical, ventilation, plumbing, any appliances that are staying with the house, and more. You’ll receive a report of everything they notice.
You don’t have to show the inspection report to potential buyers, and you don’t have to fix everything found in the report. You can use the report to help you identify what to disclose when a buyer has made an offer.
Complete home improvements (that make financial sense!)
Making repairs prior to putting your home on the market is common. However, you often don’t need to fix everything. In fact, there are some improvements you’ll want to avoid as they may reduce your return on your investment.
You will want to fix any structural or mechanical damages if possible. So, if your foundation is cracked, you may want to repair it before going on the market. However, if you decide not to, you’ll want to consider that when you’re determining your listing price.
Lastly, don’t forget about your curb appeal. Buyers will start forming an impression of your home as they drive up. So, you’ll want the yard, fences, and exterior of your home to look tidy and inviting.
If you’re not sure what makes financial sense to update or fix, talk with your agent. An experienced agent will know what buyers in your area are looking for. Your agent can point out which updates, touch ups, and improvements are likely to provide you with the best return on your investment.
You also may be eligible for programs or reimbursements for some of the home prep costs. For instance, the REX Home Prep program offers homeowners up to 1 percent of their home’s value (capped at $5,000) to cover the upfront costs of preparing your home for sale.
Make a list of assets you’ll include with the property
If you haven’t already, make a list of all assets – like appliances and outdoor furniture – that are staying with your home. Make sure those items are in good condition and are thoroughly cleaned.
Stage your home
Staging your home helps make your house as visually appealing as possible to a variety of potential buyers. This can lead to a quicker sale and potentially a higher selling price – as much as 20%, according to the National Association of Realtors. But, this step doesn’t have to be intensive.
You’ve already taken care of a large portion of staging if you’ve decluttered, deep cleaned, and spruced up your home’s curb appeal.
Now you’ll want to take a critical look at your home to see if there are simple decorative and other minor fixes that can help make your house look fresh, warm, and inviting. Three key rooms to focus on are the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. However, your agent can also tell you what seems most important to buyers in your current market.
Consult with your agent about what decorative touches, including painting, are recommended. You could also consider hiring a professional stager if your agent feels it’s needed or if you’ve already moved out. An empty home is hard for buyers, especially first-time ones, to see themselves in. The stager can bring in future and decorations to help show your home in its best, most livable light.
Take quality photographs of your home
Once you’ve cleaned, decluttered, and staged your home, you’ll want to take quality photographs of every room, including your outdoor spaces.
Ideally, you’ll want to hire a photographer. Your agent may include professional photography, and sometimes even videography, as part of their listing service. At the very least, they should be able to make recommendations on professionals they’ve worked with in the past.
If you can’t hire a professional, you’ll want to use the best camera you have to take the photographs. Consult with your agent for additional tips, so you can feel confident you’re showcasing your home in a way that appeals to buyers.
Step 5: Determine the Right Listing Price
Understanding your home’s value will help you price your house competitively and realistically. Your agent will help you through this process.
In general, the main factors that influence your listing price include the condition of your home, your house’s size and age, where you live, current market trends, and what comparable properties near you have sold for recently.
Fortunately, there are evaluation tools to help you examine this information. Here are five different evaluation approaches you can use to determine your home’s value.
Complete an online home value estimate
Made popular by sites like Redfin and Zillow, automated valuation model (AVM) tools use public records such as deeds, tax assessments, property transfers, and mathematical modeling to provide an estimate of your home’s value. This type of estimate is based on the details of your specific property, as well as recent sales and listing prices where you live.
These tools can quickly give you a rough idea of your home’s potential value, but they are only an estimate.
Complete the FHFA Home Price Index Calculator
The Federal Housing Financing Agency provides a house price index calculator to help you get a fast estimate of your home’s worth. Again, this calculator provides an estimate and not the actual value.
As the website points out, other factors not assessed in this calculation can influence your home’s value, such as the local market, condition and age of your house, home improvements, and more.
Receive a comparative market analysis
A local real estate agent can prepare a comparative market analysis (CMA) for you. A CMA provides a more comprehensive assessment of your home’s value than an online automated valuation tool.
To prepare a CMA, a local agent will review recently sold properties and compare them to your house to calculate the fair market value. This evaluation looks at data like your house’s square footage, number of bedrooms, proximity to local amenities, and more.
Often, agents will provide a CMA for you for little to no cost.
Gather information on comparable properties
This approach requires you to evaluate the recent sale value of homes that are similar to yours (sometimes called pulling comps). For this to work, you need to only look at homes in your area similar to yours in condition, upgrades, location, and size. Otherwise, your assessment can be misleading.
When comparing comps, you can include houses close to yours even if there are some differences. You’ll need to adjust for those differences by adding or removing value. The amount you adjust will depend on your local market.
Once you know the highest and lowest comp, you can get a rough estimate of your house’s value by choosing a value in the middle.
Hire a home appraiser
For approximately $400-$500, you can hire a professional home appraiser to estimate the value of your home. They will evaluate your property, including any upgrades, the land, the size, and more. They will also take into consideration the current market and where you live. Lastly, they will pull information on how comparable properties have sold recently.
You’ll receive a report of the appraisal.
Step 6: Set Up Your Listing Description
Your home’s listing description needs to provide accurate information that will attract your ideal buyer. In fact, creating a compelling description is critical since most homebuyers first search the internet for potential homes.
An agent will help you write the listing description and advertise it. However, if you’re selling your home yourself, you’ll want to make sure the listing description adheres to the following standards:
- Describes your home accurately. For instance, avoid including misleading descriptions like the rooms are “expansive” when your home is small. You want the listing to attract people who are a good fit for your home.
- Highlights your house’s unique features and characteristics. This will help your home stand out.
- Is properly formatted. Use short, descriptive sentences and try to keep your description to 250 words or less.
- Uses words that can help boost interest (like “landscaped”) and avoid ones that may deter buyers (like “fixer-upper”). However, only include words that are true for your property.
- Isn’t repetitive. The listing will indicate basic information like number of bathrooms and bedrooms. You don’t need to repeat this type of information in your description.
- Is free of grammar and punctuation errors. While some buyers won’t mind (or even notice) errors, others might see the level of care you put into your listing description as an indication of the level of care you put into your home. Take time to run your description through a grammar and spell checker.
- Includes quality photos. People are looking at listings online first to decide whether they will take the time to see the home in person. Providing clear, high-quality photographs of your home can help buyers decide if they’re interested in learning more. A well done video tour can also be a draw for potential buyers.
Step 7: Start Marketing Your Home
You want as many potential buyers to see your home as possible, so you’ll want to use multiple strategies to market your home. Fortunately, there are several actions you (or your real estate agent) can take to effectively market your home. Here are just a few you can use.
List in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to reach a wide range of agents and buyers
An agent will do this step for you. If you’re FSBO, look for a discount broker in your area who will list your property for you without representing you. They’ll likely charge you a fee to list your property.
Post about your listing on social media
Social media is an effective way to let people know that your house is for sale. You can post on sites like Facebook and Instagram. Let people on your personal pages know and post in other groups like your neighborhood or city Facebook page (if allowed).
Set up agent tours
Your agent may want to host tours specifically for other agents. This strategy allows local buying agents to view your house and offer feedback before hosting an open house. Having a chance to walk your home may help them think of buyers they’re working with who may be a good fit.
If you’re selling your home yourself, you’ll likely skip this step.
Schedule Showings and Open Houses
Whether you’re working with an agent or FSBO, you’ll want to set up open houses and schedule showings so buyers can see your home. On open house days, you’ll want to place open house signs in your neighborhood, including signs that direct potential buyers to your home’s location. You can also advertise open houses in local newspapers and online.
Place a ‘For Sale’ sign in your front yard
You’ll want to use signs that are easy to read and include a phone number. If you have a large lot or corner lot, consider putting up a couple of signs.
Advertise in major and local newspapers
This step will cost some money, so you’ll want to only advertise on days that get the most readers. However, this strategy can help extend your reach, especially if you’re selling your home yourself.
Step 8: Prepare for Showings and Open Houses
As mentioned above, open houses and showings are a critical part of marketing and selling your home. You’ll want to try and schedule as many as you can, including remote viewings and private tours. These activities allow buyers to experience your home firsthand. It can also help them visualize themselves living there.
You’ll want to ensure your house is properly prepared for every showing and open house event.
When you show your house, make sure your home is clean and personal items are removed. Additionally, you’ll want a way to let visitors leave feedback and have a way to record who showed up.
If you’re selling your home yourself, consider hiring a third party to host these events. Buyers will likely feel more comfortable voicing their full opinions without the owner present.
If you’re working with an agent and still living in the house, you may need to be flexible about when potential buyers can view your home. You sometimes may need to leave with little warning so your agent can show your home.
To help reduce back-and-forth communication about showings, consider sharing your schedule with your agent with an online tool like a Google calendar. You can indicate when the home is available for showings and any times that definitely won’t work.
Step 9: Review and Negotiate Offers
Once your house goes on the market and buyers start to view it, you should start to receive offers. While exciting, you’ll likely be faced with having to sift through multiple offers to determine which one you most want to pursue.
Your real estate agent will advise and advocate for you during this process.
Once you have an offer on your house, you have three choices: accept the offer as is, provide a counteroffer, or reject the offer.
A counteroffer allows you to start negotiating on the price and terms. You’ll need to make your counteroffer in writing and provide a timeframe for the buyer to respond (for example, within 48 hours). Don’t be surprised if the buyer replies to your offer with another counteroffer. Sometimes this process can take a few rounds. An agent will help prepare the offers, communicate with the buyer or their agent, and be a resource for you.
When you’re reviewing offers and negotiating, you’ll also want to make sure you disclose everything about your home. You must tell the buyer about all problems or defects. If you’re not sure if you should mention something, err on the side of telling the buyer. Not disclosing something that you knew about can lead to legal difficulties later.
How to choose between multiple offers
Having multiple offers is a great situation. When reviewing offers, consider more than price, especially if you need to stick to your own timeframe. For instance, if the buyer hasn’t been preapproved for a loan, it’s possible that their offer could fall through later in the process due to shaky financing.
Here are some aspects of an offer to consider other than price:
- Type of financing (such as a conventional or VA loan, which comes with more restrictions)
- Contingencies (such as financing, inspection, previous home sale, and appraisal)
- Timeline, including preferred closing date
- Whether the buyer is paying by cash or financing through a lender
What to do if you don’t have any offers
It’s frustrating to go through the work of getting your house ready to sell and then not get any offers. If you haven’t been able to sell, you may need to make some adjustments to how you’re pricing or marketing your home. Sometimes a small tweak can be all it takes to start attracting the right buyers to your home.
If you’ve had potential buyers view your home but not make an offer, review any feedback they may have left. This information can provide some insights on how others see your home. It may be after reviewing the comments you realize your marketing or listing description is attracting the wrong buyers. Alternatively, you may discover that a simple repair could help reduce buyer’s objections to making an offer.
Here are some questions to consider if you’re not getting any offers.
- Is your home priced correctly for the current market? This is often the number one reason a home isn’t getting offers. You may need to reevaluate your pricing, especially if you only relied on one method to determine your asking price. Consult your agent about pricing or consider hiring a professional appraiser if you’re FSBO and didn’t do this step initially.
- How effective is your marketing? Evaluate whether you’re marketing in enough of the right places. Also, take a close look at your listing description to make sure the photographs and description are working hard for you. If you wrote it yourself, consider asking a trusted friend or family member who is in your target audience to look it over.
- Are there repairs or staging changes that can improve how your home shows? If you’ve already made repairs or staged your home, be careful of making additional changes. At this point, you’re looking for simple, impactful changes that will ensure you still get a positive return on your investment. Don’t start thinking you’ve got to completely remodel a bathroom just to sell your home.
- Is now the best time to sell? Markets change. If you’re currently experiencing a buyer’s market, it may take more time to sell. Also, certain times of year are better for selling a home than others. You may or may not have a choice about when you can sell. But, if you feel you’re priced correctly, have effective marketing, and that your home is properly updated and presented, you could consider whether you want to wait and try again in the near future if you’re able.
Step 10: Going Under Contract
Being under contract is exciting, but the selling process isn’t over. You, your agent, and the buyer still have things to do. Plus, sometimes deals fall through at this stage.
After you accept a buyer’s offer, your home is under contract, or in escrow. You and the buyer will ensure that all contingencies listed in the purchase agreement are met during this phase. For example, many buyers request a home inspection before closing on a house.
Your responsibilities during the escrow period typically include providing the buyer the opportunities needed to complete the contingencies listed in the offer. For example, you’ll likely need to make your home available for different inspections and for an appraiser to assess the property. Failure to allow this to happen can prevent the buyer from moving forward and could cause your deal to fall through.
Another responsibility as the seller is to maintain the property in the same or better condition than the day of the purchase agreement. For example, if an appliance that’s part of the contract breaks, you’ll need to report it to the buyer. In this case, you may need to have the item fixed, replaced, or provide payment so the buyer can replace it.
Step 11: Closing the Sale
Once all the contract’s conditions have been met and the buyer secures financing, you’re ready to move forward with the closing meeting.
You will have some things to do before the meeting, so everything proceeds as planned. Primarily, you’ll need to allow the buyer to complete one last walkthrough of your home 24 hours before the closing. This step allows the buyer to make sure the home meets the conditions stated in the contract. Typically, you’ll need to have removed all personal items by that time unless you made a different arrangement with the buyer.
Additionally, make sure you’ve reviewed all contractual documents and have gathered everything you need to bring. Talk to your agent to see if there are additional items they’d like you to bring, such as receipts or property tax statements. On the day of closing, you should bring:
- Your checkbook
- A government-issued ID
- Cashier’s check that covers any closing costs or repair credits you agreed to
- All keys to the home, including front door, back door, and garage
- Any codes for garages, gates, or doors
- Information on how to access smart thermostats, appliances, or locks that are staying with the house
- All remotes or devices that control systems in the home that are staying
What happens on closing day
Before your closing meeting, your agent will let you know what will occur, who will be there, and what you need to sign. If you can’t make the actual meeting because you’ve moved, your agent will help ensure that you’ve completed all the steps necessary so the buyer can finish the closing on the meeting day.
The meeting will take place at a neutral third party location. During the meeting, you and the buyer will each have documents to sign. Ideally, you’ve already reviewed and discussed the documents with your agent ahead of time. However, ask any questions you have during the meeting before signing. You’ll also provide the items the buyer will need to access the house and pay for any closing costs as outlined in your contract.
After all documents are signed and all exchanges made, you will have officially sold your home! You may have a few additional tasks after your home is sold. For instance, you’ll likely want to follow up with your lender to ensure that your mortgage on the house you just sold is now paid off and ensure you’ve changed your mailing address.
Selling Your First (or Any) Home Doesn’t Have to be Stressful
Selling your home is a process, but it can go smoothly. Whether you’re selling your home yourself or using an agent, you can find the right buyer for your home when you know what to expect and are properly prepared.
Ready to sell your home? REX can help you through every step of the process, whether you’re selling, buying, or doing both.
If you sell with REX, our dedicated, licensed experts will guide you through every step of the selling process. Additionally, since our agents don’t work on commission, you’ll get our full services for a low, flat-rate fee with no hidden costs.
Contact REX today to learn more about how we can help you sell your home while saving you money on agent fees.