Selling your house is a thrilling, lucrative process— but it can also be an intimidating and expensive one, especially for first-time sellers. Even the fastest sale can take months, and there are so many third parties involved, from home inspectors, to home staging pros, to real estate attorneys.
You need to take home selling one step at a time. And your first step should be learning exactly what you’re getting into.
Read on for our step-by-step guide on how to sell your house— by the time you reach the end, we promise you’ll feel more confident about your home sale.
Find an Agent
A good agent is your most valuable partner when you’re figuring out how to sell your house. Why? Well, when you’re looking up your property on the big real estate websites, it’s easy to get caught up in the property estimates you find there, but the fact is that there’s no such thing as a true, objective home value. Your home is really only worth whatever someone will pay for it.
An agent is immersed in the market and understands its dynamics. That means they know what your home is worth more than any website, and probably even better than you do. That’s an invaluable starting point.
And that’s just the start. Agents know all the steps to selling your house; they know how to get your house ready to sell, they know how to put your home on the market, and they know how to get a deal across the finish line. A good agent can:
- Use their professional network to spread the word about your listing
- Run your showings in a smooth, professional manner
- Refer you to dependable professionals like home staging services, photographers, and home inspectors
- Advise you on a list price that will attract interest
- Suggest the best season, month, and even day to list your home for maximum exposure
- Help you evaluate the quality of each offer you receive
- Negotiate counteroffers with the buyer’s agent
- Coach you through the stressful closing process
- Review all closing paperwork to make sure there are no hidden surprises
- Provide technical and emotional support through the long sale process
Can you sell your home without an agent, as a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) listing? Absolutely. But it’s a lot of work, especially for someone who isn’t a real estate professional, and it’s hard to get comparable results as an amateur.
Statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show that while the average agent listing sells for $280,000, the average FSBO listing sells for $200,000. That’s a massive gap, and probably a big factor in why FSBO listings have declined by more than half since 1981.
The takeaway? An agent can be expensive; conventional real estate commission is 6% of the final sale price. But they’re often worth it (if you find a good one!).
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you’ve contacted at least three agents, interviewed them, and found one you’re comfortable with.
Our partner, Clever Real Estate, connects sellers like you with top agents in your area. These are pre-vetted agents with proven track records, and they’ll sell your home for a flat fee of $3,000, or 1.5% if your home sells for more than $350,000. Contact Clever today to start your agent search!
Renovations and Repairs
When it comes to how to get your house ready to sell, renovations and repairs should be your starting point.
Repairs are self-explanatory; you want to replace that burned-out light fixture on the porch, fix that crooked closet door, fill and paint the cracks in your plaster walls. Overlooking these small touches will make an outsized negative impression on prospective buyers, so it’s worth your time to handle them up front.
Renovations are more complicated. Everyone you ask will have tips for selling your house, but they may not make financial sense. Putting in a new bathroom, or renovating the attic, or replacing a bad roof can hugely impact your home’s value, but those are also expensive renovations. Think of it this way: if a renovation improves your home value by $12,000, but it cost you $16,000, was it really a good investment?
You’ll want to target renovations with a good return on investment (ROI).
A few high ROI renovations include:
Minor Bathroom Remodel (102% ROI)
The experts say that kitchens and bathrooms are the most important rooms to buyers, so it makes sense that the most valuable renovation (and the only one with an ROI that exceeds 100%) is a bathroom remodel. Note that this is a minor remodel; there’s no need to tear out walls and finishes. A fancy showerhead, a new paint job, and some updated lights will probably do the job.
Landscaping (100% ROI)
Curb appeal is hugely important to a home; most buyers make up their mind about a property within eight seconds. Landscaping helps your home make a great first impression.
Minor Kitchen Remodel (98.5% ROI)
In the vein of the bathroom remodel, this is a great renovation as long as you don’t go overboard. Upgrade the appliances, but shy away from any kind of gut renovation; a new paint job and updating the finishes and hardware is usually adequate.
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you’ve identified problem areas of your home, and targeted and completed some high ROI renovations.
Home staging is simply the art of presenting your home in its best light. There are a few basic principles to keep in mind here: less is more, make your home a blank canvas, and consider using a professional.
“Less is more” is pretty simple. You’ll want to de-clutter your home so it’s more soothing to the eye; experts recommend removing about half your furniture. You want a feeling of openness and space.
Making your home a blank canvas is important because you want buyers to be able to imagine themselves living in your house. Projecting their own tastes onto the space is going to be difficult if the space is still dominated by your own tastes. Take down artwork, quirky furnishings, and revert to a cooler, more neutral, appealing color scheme.
If that all sounds difficult, that’s because, well, it is. Staging a home requires the eye of an interior designer, the sensibility of a salesperson, and the tastes of an architect. Hiring a professional home staging service can save you a lot of time and effort, and a good home staging often has a ROI north of 100%. Some experts believe an effective home staging can help your home sell up to 73% faster.
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you’ve removed at least 50% of your furnishings from your home, and converted to a neutral aesthetic.
Pre-Sale Home Inspection
The results of a home inspection can change the complexion of the whole deal. There’s nothing more deflating than having a home sale on the brink of closing, only for an unforeseen problem like a cracked foundation, a leaky roof, or an HVAC on its last legs to slam the brakes on the transaction.
A pre-sale home inspection is optional, but it’s highly recommended, especially if you live in an old home. Uncovering any potential problems ahead of time can prevent unpleasant surprises down the line. And keep in mind that if the prospective buyer perceives those last-minute reveals as dishonest, they might walk away from the entire deal.
Knowing the exact condition of your home also helps you set a more accurate list price, which is one of the most important parts of the pre-sale process.
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you’ve received a clean report card from your home inspector, or you’ve discovered problems and come up with an actionable plan to address them.
Find Out What Your Home Is Worth
Once you’ve prepared your house for the market, the question is no longer “how to sell your house” but “how much is your house worth?” The big real estate websites like Redfin and Zillow are a good place to start when you’re trying to establish your home’s value. But while those estimated home values are informed by a lot of data and advanced analytic tools, they’re ultimately just guesses.
The best approach to figure out what your home is worth is a comparative market analysis (CMA). A CMA looks at properties similar to yours, in areas similar to yours, that have recently sold, and plugs those numbers into your local market conditions to come up with the most accurate home value estimate available.
So how do you get a CMA? Normally, you get one through your real estate agent. Some will provide one free of charge, but many will charge you a few hundred dollars.
Our partner Clever Real Estate connects sellers with top real estate agents in their area, who provide a full service sale experience for a flat fee of $3,000, or 1.5% if your home sells for more than $350,000. That full service experience includes a free CMA, so you can start your sale with the best information out there. Contact Clever today to find out how they can help you sell your home!
You’ll know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you’ve determined a fair market rate for your home.
Professional Photos and List
Quality photos are extremely important when it comes to how to sell your house. In the social media era, crisp, high quality photos are the standard; anything less and you risk appearing amateurish. How important are listing photos? Studies show that over 95% of buyers look at listing photos before anything else, and good listing photos can improve your home’s final sale price by tens of thousands of dollars.
Zillow’s data backs this up. They found that the optimal number of photos is 16-21, and that having fewer than nine photos measurably decreases the chances of your home selling quickly. They also found that having 280 or more pageviews in the first week tripled the chances of a home selling quickly; knowing that almost everyone looks at photos first, this means that the quality of your listing photos is the primary factor in determining if people “click through.”
With all that in mind, it’s clear you should hire a professional photographer who specializes in real estate to take your listing photos. Make sure you review their work, and don’t be shy about asking for reshoots if you don’t think they effectively capture your home’s potential.
Once you have your photos, you’ve staged, repaired, and renovated your home, you’ve used all the available data to settle on a list price, and you’ve partnered with a great agent, you’re ready to list. Your agent will upload your listing data to the local MLS and (hopefully) the home buyers will come knocking.
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you have high quality, professional listing photos, and your home is ready to be seen by the public.
Review Offers and Negotiate
Once your home hits the market, you can expect offers to start coming in, perhaps immediately. Notice we said “offers,” plural; you’ll likely have multiple offers, at different price points, accompanied by different conditions. How do you decide which one to accept?
To begin with, do not accept the first offer you receive, no matter how tempted you are. Competition is what drives the market, which means that the more offers you get, the higher your final sale price will be. You want to encourage as many offers as possible.
Of course, you probably have your own priorities here. Maybe you just want to get it over with as fast as possible, and are willing to take offers below the list price to make that happen, or maybe you want a smooth, streamlined deal with no contingencies. Whatever your desires, make sure you let your agent know what kind of deal you’re aiming for, so they can communicate that to the buyers.
Just keep in mind that a home sale is almost never as straightforward as accepting an offer, receiving the money, and handing over the keys. Once you negotiate and accept the best offer, you still have a few hurdles to clear.
The typical purchase agreement will contain contingencies. These are essentially clauses stating that the sale moving forward is dependent (i.e. “contingent”) on certain conditions being met. Most commonly, these conditions are related to issues like financing or inspections.
For example, an inspection contingency basically states that, if major problems are uncovered in the home inspection, the buyer can walk away from the deal— or ask for seller concessions. Same with the financing contingency; if, for whatever reason, the buyer fails to get a mortgage, they can walk away without penalty.
Most sellers will agree that these contingencies are reasonable, but they should also understand that accepting an offer isn’t the end of the sale; it’s closer to the beginning.
You know you’re ready to move onto the next step if: you clearly understand your purchase agreement, you’re happy with the final sale price, and all contingencies have been addressed and satisfied.
Gather Your Paperwork for Closing
Selling a home is a huge financial transaction that’s governed by a web of local, state, and federal laws. So it’s probably not a surprise that it comes with a ton of paperwork. What might be a surprise is just how much paperwork there is.
If you’re working with an agent, they’ll guide you through closing. They’ve been through the process many times before, and they can advise you on everything from mandatory disclosure forms to tax statements.
If you’re not working with an agent, you can hire a real estate attorney to handle this phase of the negotiations. (Some states require you to hire an attorney at closing.) But you’ll likely need some help. If you browse this list of required closing paperwork that FSBO sellers have to produce, you’ll see that it’s a big job, especially for an inexperienced seller. And not to alarm you, but closing paperwork is a very serious matter; an overlooked disclosure form or tax statement can have financial or even legal consequences— even years down the line.
The best way to make sure your closing process checks all the boxes is to work with an agent. But if you’re put off by paying a full 6% commission, we sympathize. Our partner, Clever Real Estate, connects sellers with top local agents who’ll sell your home for a flat fee of $3,000, or 1.5% if your home sells for more than $350,000.
That’s a huge savings over a conventional real estate commission, and they offer a full service sale experience— meaning they’ll advise you every step of the way, from staging all the way through to the end of closing. Intrigued? Contact Clever today for a free, no-obligation consultation!
The Seller’s Net Sheet Explained
Things change fast in a home sale, and there are so many different numbers thrown out, and so many fees to pay, that it can be tough to know exactly how much you, the seller, stand to make from the sale. That’s where the seller’s net sheet comes in— an up-to-the-minute guide to exactly how much you stand to net from your sale.
What Companies Offer the Lowest Real Estate Commission Fees?
Real estate commission is by far the largest cost associated with selling a home— 6%, in a typical transaction. Over the last decade, we’ve seen many innovative companies challenging the traditional commission model, and offering savings to sellers everywhere. So who, exactly, offers the lowest fees?
Realtor Fees: All Your Questions Answered
Even if you know that the average real estate commission is 6%, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. How is the commission split among the agents? Who pays the brokers? And why does the seller pay both agents? All those questions, and many more, are answered in our definitive guide to realtor fees.
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