Looking to sell a house in California but need help understanding the process and legal requirements? We’ve got you covered.
Our step-by-step guide breaks down the home sales process from start to finish. We discuss how to find and choose the best agent, list your home for sale, negotiate with buyers, sign paperwork, and close.
To navigate the California home sale process, check out our 9-step guide.
Table of contents
- Find and choose a California realtor
- Sign a listing agreement
- Determine a list price
- Prepare to list your house
- Market and show your house
- Negotiate with buyers
- Review paperwork and sign
- Conduct inspections
- Close on your sale
How to sell a house in California
1. Find and choose a California real estate agent
We recommend finding at least 2-3 local seller’s agents to compare and choose from before signing a listing agreement. Comparing multiple options helps you find the best fit for your situation and could save you thousands on realtor commission.
There’s many ways to find a realtor in California. To save the most time and money, stick to sources that make it easy to find quality options.
Agent matching services
Agent matching services match you up to local agents at no cost. It’s the best way to connect to experienced, local real estate agents in California, and to achieve commission savings.
How it works: You provide basic info about your home and what you’re looking for in an agents. Within minutes, the service matches you up with top California agents from name-brand brokerages, like Berkshire Hathaway and Keller Williams.
Some agent matching services, like Clever Real Estate, can also potentially save you thousands on realtor commission.
For example, Clever has pre-negotiated a flat $3,000 or 1% listing fee with its network of top agents — much lower than the average California listing agent commission (2.5%).
Family and friends can provide you with a credible, trustworthy realtor referral, because they probably wouldn’t recommend someone they didn’t have a good experience with.
But there’s no guarantee of a good match. You’ll need to vet the agent’s experience and qualifications carefully, even if they come highly recommended from a trusted source.
How to compare agents
After you’ve found several top-rated agents to compare, it’s time to set up interviews, meet with agents at your house, and choose an agent.
Here are some key agent criteria to consider:
- Experience. Choose a listing agent with at least 2-3 years of full-time experience, focused in your area, price point, and property type (you can find this information on popular real estate websites like Zillow).
- Customer reviews: Look for positive customer reviews from past clients. One or two bad reviews isn’t a big deal. But agents with multiple bad reviews in a short timeframe (3-6 months) could be a red flag. You can vet each agent’s reviews using Zillow’s agent finder tool.
- Marketing skills. Check each agent’s active and closed listings on Zillow, or ask them for listing photo examples. Look for clear, polished photos with good lighting. and compelling listing descriptions that highlight each home’s key features.
- Commission rate. California listing agents earn an average commission rate of 2.5% per sale. This doesn’t include the buyer’s agent commission (2% to 3.0%), which sellers almost always pay in California.
- Ask what the agent charges (and what is included in their services). Consider trying out an agent matching service like Clever, which has pre-negotiated a flat 1% (or $3,000) listing commission rate with agents in its network.
- You can also check to see if each agent’s real estate license is active and in good standing — or if it’s suspended or inactive. View licenses at the California Department of Real Estate.
- » MORE: Top questions to ask a realtor during your interview
2. Sign a California listing agreement and seller disclosures
After meeting with agents and deciding on your top pick, it’s time to read and sign a California listing agreement to get your house on the market.
Here you’ll find important details of your home sale. It contains your anticipated listing date, initial list price, what’s included (or not included) in your sale, where the listing will be marketed, and the length of your agreement.
Key things to pay attention to include:
- Type of listing agreement. Most agents work under an exclusive right to sell listing agreement (single agency). It means the agent works solely for you, and gets paid regardless of whether they bring forward a buyer or not.
- Listing commission rate. Make sure the agent’s stated commission rate matches up to what’s on the listing agreement.
- Items that convey with the property. If you plan to keep items or belongings in the home like appliances, you’ll need to write that down in the contract.
Realtor disclosure requirements
California law requires agents to provide you with an agency disclosure form, which describes all of the agent’s legal duties to you.
Here are the types of real estate agency agreements:
- Single agent relationship. The agent or broker represents only one party (either the buyer or seller) and acts as a fiduciary. Agents often recommend their clients work under a single agent relationship – it gives their clients the most protection compared to other options.
- Transaction broker relationship or “open listing.” The agent or broker provides limited representation to a buyer, seller, or both parties in a transaction, and does not act as a fiduciary (meaning they don’t have to act in your best interests). It’s a less desirable option compared to a single agent relationship, since the agent doesn’t have to act in your best interests (not a fiduciary).
- Dual agency. The agent can represent both you and the buyer in the same transaction while also acting as a fiduciary for both parties. This might happen if your listing agent brings a buyer to the table. Although it’s illegal in some states, dual agency is legal and quite common in California.
Contact a local real estate attorney for more advice on California listing agreements and required disclosures.
What do California sellers need to disclose to buyers?
California disclosure requirements are complicated compared to most other states.
Sellers are legally required to complete the Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement and provide it to the buyer as soon as possible before transferring the title.
Sellers must still notify buyers about any defects that may affect the value of the home or the buyer’s readiness to purchase it. These include structural defects, any structural additions to the property (e.g. new bedrooms), flooding problems, or major weather-related damage to the property. Provide an explanation for each “Yes” answer.
In California, sellers need to disclose material defects on a property before executing a sales contract. And sellers must also disclose if there was a death on the property, if it occurred within the last three years (and was not AIDS-related).
Ask your real estate attorney or agent about what they recommend you disclose to home buyers, and how to do so.
3. Price your home
Your next step is to determine a competitive listing price for your home.
During your initial interview, the agent should have provided you with a comparative market analysis (CMA) report: an estimate of your home’s fair value, based on its condition, upgrades, and what similar homes have recently sold for in your area.
A CMA is a great tool to help you and your agent set a fair listing price for your home. But it’s just a recommendation: you can always list for more (or less) than the CMA valuation.
Is a CMA free in California?
Most California realtors will perform a CMA for free to try to win your business, presented during your initial interview with the agent. You will have to pay for a CMA (or broker price opinion) if you’re selling “for sale by owner” and just need a professional pricing recommendation.
What if I don’t agree with the agent’s valuation?
Get aligned with your agent on pricing before signing a listing agreement. But if you’re in disagreement on price after you’ve signed, there are some potential solutions.
Talk to the agent to better understand how they arrived at their valuation, and go through the numbers: it’s possible they missed one or more of your home’s key features, or underreported your square footage, which may be holding back its value.
If the agent still insists on their valuation, ask them if there’s any minor repairs or improvements you can make to increase your home’s value before listing.
If you’re still at a disagreement, it might just be worth trying to get out of your contract and finding another agent.
Should I just get a pre-listing appraisal instead?
Appraisals are usually conducted by the buyer during the home sale process. But you can technically get an appraisal before listing your home for sale to guide your pricing.
Appraisers often have more knowledge and experience valuing homes compared to agents, and may provide you with a more accurate valuation.
However, appraisals aren’t cheap (they cost around $650 in California, higher than most other states), and can be time-consuming (1-2 weeks to complete), so it needs to fit within your budget and timeframe.
There’s also no guarantee your home value will come in higher with an appraisal compared to your agent’s CMA, so keep this in mind before moving forward.
4. Prepare your home for sale
It’s time to get your home ready for showings!
Gather important documents
Most California home sales require a variety of documents and records for closing. These include your mortgage statement, natural hazard disclosures (for example, if the house is in a flood hazard zone or earthquake fault zone), homeowners association (HOA) documents, and property taxes.
It’s also a good idea to gather utility bills, and any home warranties or appliance manuals you might have, in case the buyer requests them.
Get a pre-listing inspection
You can get a home inspection ($400-$450) if you suspect your home has an issue that could potentially delay or derail your sale.
A pre-listing inspection can potentially help you spot and fix issues with your home before those issues surface on a buyer’s home inspection.
However, an experienced real estate agent should advise you on whether or not a pre-listing inspection is worth the time and money.
Make home repairs and improvements
Based on the results of a pre-listing inspection (and the condition of your home), it could be worth making certain repairs or improvements.
According to San Diego-based John Robinson’s Inspection Group, common home inspection issues in California are related to:
- Roof damage due to year-round sun, frequent rain, and ocean salt
- Fire damage from the state’s frequent forest fires
- Exterior problems caused by earthquakes, such as a cracked foundation
Many California homes are outdated, according to Jose Roberto Samano, a top broker with eXp Realty of California Inc. This leads to issues with neglected maintenance on air conditioning systems, fixtures, plumbing, and insulation.
Your agent is in the best position to advise you on which repairs or improvements to make before listing. In a strong seller’s market, you might not have to make any updates.
Declutter, depersonalize, and clean
Now is the perfect time to sell, donate, or throw away unused or unwanted items, and re-organize your home before showings.
Make sure all areas of your home are spotless. Pay careful attention to areas where buyers will notice dirty areas the most, like your kitchen and bathrooms.
Aim to depersonalize every room, removing family photos, artwork, and posters — it’s best to keep buyer’s attention on your home, not your belongings.
Consider home staging
Staging can increase your home’s appeal and lead to a higher sale price, but it doesn’t make sense for every seller.
Home staging is expensive ($3,500 to $6,500 or more in California). But pricing depends on the size of your home, the number of rooms staged, and your local market.
Consult with your realtor for advice on whether or not home staging is right for you.
How much money can I make on my California home sale?
Our calculator shows you what you might earn in a home sale after deducting typical home sale costs, including realtor commission and closing costs.
Realtor commission: While the average California rate is close to 5%, you can potentially save thousands by using an agent-matching service like Clever, or negotiating a lower rate with agents.
Closing costs. California sellers pay an average of 0.8% of the home sale in closing costs, which typically includes title service and closing fees, owner’s title insurance, transfer tax and recording fees.
It does not include other potential costs, such as home staging, relocation expenses, a buyer’s closing costs if you agree to pay them, or capital gains tax.
Mortgage/liens. What a seller might owe on outstanding mortgage or liens, which is paid in full at closing by your attorney or title company.
Net proceeds. What you’d walk away with from your home sale at various price points after deducting commission, closing costs, and mortgages.
5. Market and show your home to buyers
Now it’s time to actually list your home and host potential buyers!
Your listing agent will put a “for-sale” sign on your front lawn and post your home for sale on the multiple listing service (MLS): a database most real estate agents use to market and sell properties.
Your agent should also list your home on all popular real estate sites (like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor), and they might also host an open house to drum up more interest.
My listing is live: What happens next?
Listing your home for sale can be both exciting and nerve-racking! Here’s what to do next:
- Have a plan in place for your pets. Some sellers keep their pets in the backyard or garage during showings, while others remove them from the home entirely. It’s your call — not the buyer’s! If you plan to keep pets in your home for showings, you’ll probably need to notify buyers (ask your agent for advice on how to do this).
- Check out your listing on Zillow and other popular sites. Make sure you like all of the photos used by your agent (contact them if you don’t).
- Double-check the agent’s listing description. It should describe all of your home’s main features and selling points, and have good grammar and punctuation.
- Consider posting your listing on social media. Get the word out to family and friends, and consider sharing the listing on local Facebook groups.
- Keep an eye on your listing activity. You can check how many people have viewed and saved your listing on Zillow and compare that to other local listings to see how it is performing. This information is found under “overview” on your listing’s Zillow page (example below).
How are showings booked?
Most agents use a mobile app called ShowingTime to help manage showing appointments.
The app allows buyers to request showings digitally, while sellers can view and approve (or deny) any showing requests (and agents are notified of all activity).
You may start to get showing requests within just a day or two of going live, although it could take longer depending on your home’s price, condition, and your local market.
What happens during showings?
Leave your home so the home buyer and their agent can tour your home — buyers and sellers rarely have direct contact, and only communicate through agents.
Your house key might be left in a lockbox where the buyer’s agent can access it. The agent often gains entry by using a one-time code.
Showings typically last between 15 to 45 minutes, depending mainly on the size of your house and how fast the buyer can walk through it.
Let your agent know if you have any special showing requirements, like if you want buyers to take off their shoes before entering, if the lights should be left on (or turned off) after showings, or if any part of the house should be closed off.
What happens after showings?
The ShowingTime app or your agent will notify you when the showing is complete and you can return home.
You may get showing feedback from buyers through the ShowingTime app, via email, or from your agent. Feedback can provide valuable insights into your home’s price and condition from the buyer’s perspective.
Hopefully, you’ll also receive a call from your agent saying that the buyer loves your home and is interested in putting an offer in.
6. Negotiate with buyers
With luck, you’ve received multiple offers within just a few days or weeks of going live!
The offer should contain the buyer’s offer price, if they’re asking you to pay for any of their closing costs, the type of financing used, an estimated closing date, and an offer expiry date (typically 24-48 hours after submission).
There are three ways sellers and their listing agent can respond to a buyer’s offer:
- Accept the offer. If the offer has everything you’re looking for — price, terms, and timing all look great — then you might just want to accept it without countering, especially if no other offers are on the table.
- Counter the offer. Most of the details of an offer to purchase your home are negotiable. It could make sense to counter an offer if you’re confident you’d receive another good one if the buyer declines it.
- Ignore the offer. There’s no need to respond to a lowball offer or one that doesn’t meet any of your criteria — especially if you have stronger offers on the table (or you’re confident others will come in.
Remember, if you counter an offer and the buyer accepts it, you’re technically under contract.
How long might it take me to get an acceptable offer?
Timing depends mainly on your home’s desirability, and how well you’ve priced your home.
California listings spent an average of 40 days on the market in 2021, shorter than the national average of 48 days, according to Realtor.com.
However, the median time on market for homes in California’s five largest cities ranged from 17 days to 32 days.
|City||Median days on market|
Talk with your agent to discuss expectations on when you might receive an acceptable offer after going live.
Price is important, but it’s not everything!
The highest sale price offer is not always the best offer you’ll receive. Besides price, other factors to consider include:
- Buyer closing costs: Is the buyer asking you to cover part or all of their closing costs? This impacts your total net proceeds at closing, so run the numbers carefully (and ask your agent for an updated net sheet).
- Financing type: Is the buyer paying all cash or financing the purchase? (Cash deals usually close faster and with fewer hiccups compared to financed deals).
- Earnest money: How much risk is the buyer taking on? Earnest money is usually between 1% to 3% of the home’s purchase price. A larger deposit gives the buyer more “skin in the game,” meaning they have more to potentially lose by backing out.
- Timing of sale: Is the buyer willing and able to close on the sale within your desired timeframe?
- Home sale contingency: Does the buyer need to sell a house in order to buy yours? It might not be worth the risk of the buyer’s other sale not closing — especially if you have stronger offers on the table.
Your realtor is in the best position to advise you on how to compare offers and negotiate with buyers.
7. Review paperwork and sign an offer
Once you’ve decided to accept an offer and you’ve talked it through with your agent, it’s time to review the contract and sign!
After all parties have signed, your home is under contract and you’re just a few months away from closing!
In California, it usually takes about 69 days to close on a home sale after accepting an offer, lower than the national average of 78 days, according to Realtor.com.
What’s in a California purchase and sale agreement?
You can find the full, current version of the California Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions on the California Association of Realtors website, but it costs $827.95 for non-members to download.
Here are some key items the buyer’s offer to purchase form should contain:
- Basic details. The buyer’s full legal name, and your home’s address.
- Purchase price. How much the buyer is offering to purchase your home.
- Close of escrow. The estimated date when ownership transfers to the buyer.
- Initial deposit amount. Also known as earnest money, which the buyer submits into a trust or escrow account. The money is held in the trust until closing, at which point it’s applied to the home’s purchase price and/or closing costs.
- Financing information. The loan type used to finance the purchase (conventional, FHA, VA, seller financing, or other), and the loan amount.
- Balance of down payment. The remainder of the down payment that is due at closing after the buyer has paid the initial deposit and additional deposit.
- Items included: Such as appliances or security camera equipment.
- Allocation of costs. A list of closing costs and whether the buyer or seller (or both) will pay, including required inspections, escrow fees, owner’s title policy, etc.
- Closing costs: A list of closing costs the buyer and seller agree to pay.
8. Conduct inspections, appraisal, and closing walk-through
California contracts typically provide buyers with a 17-day due diligence or contingency period, during which they can complete a home inspection and apply for financing.
Don’t worry: this step is a totally normal part of the home sale process. In fact, the vast majority of home buyers (87%) have a home inspection contingency nationwide.
The home inspection usually takes 1-2 hours to inspect and report on the overall condition of the home, pointing out potential issues, including:
- Roof or plumbing leaks
- Water damage
- Heating and air conditioning failure or poor upkeep
- The presence of termites
- Mold, asbestos, or radon gas
- Insufficient grade sloping and drainage
- Code violations
Sellers usually don’t attend the inspection or even get to see the buyer’s home inspection report. But the buyer might ask you to fix any defects or serious issues discovered in the inspection (or negotiate a lower price or closing credit).
Check with your agent to learn what you’re obligated to fix and the best way to move forward following the home inspection.
Termites are a huge issue in California, and most lenders require a termite inspection or wood destroying pests and organisms (WDO) report. You can request a WDO Inspection and Completion Activity Report form online.
You may or may not be on the hook for the cost of a termite inspection (about $100), so check with your agent for more information.
Lenders often require buyers to get an appraisal to be certain that the home is worth its purchase price. It’s typically paid for by the buyer in California (though sometimes the seller offers to cover this cost).
The appraiser visits your home to take interior and exterior photos, noting any features or upgrades that add value to the home. They compare your home to recent sales in your area, and generate a report that provides an opinion of value.
Both the lender and buyer receive a copy of the appraisal. You’ll get notified if your home’s appraised value comes in lower than the buyer’s purchase price — in which case you may have to re-negotiate the price with the buyer. Talk to your agent for advice on dealing with a low appraisal.
» MORE: How do appraisals work?
The buyer may do a walk-through of the home a day or two before closing, to make sure the home is in the same condition since their last viewing.
Here’s what you need to do before their walk-through:
- Clear out your house entirely if you haven’t yet, removing all personal belongings.
- Repair or patch any damaged drywall, paint, or nail holes.
- Make sure items included in the sale contract is still there (appliances, light fixtures, etc).
- Do some light cleaning if the home is dirty.
9. Close on your home sale
You’re almost at the finish line! Here’s what to do in the days leading up to your scheduled closing.
- Look out for a closing disclosure. You’ll likely need to sign this form two to three days before closing. It contains every cost to be paid by the buyer and seller, and your estimated net proceeds. Double check all the numbers with your agent, and speak up if the numbers don’t look right.
- Clear out your house entirely. Your home should be completely empty before the buyer’s scheduled closing walk-through. It’s a good idea to do another walk-through yourself before then just in case you missed something.
- Hand the keys to your agent. Your realtor likely needs your house keys and garage door openers to hand over to the buyer’s agent.
- Find out when and where the closing is scheduled. Most of the paperwork has already been completed on your end. Ask your agent if you need to attend your closing, or if you can sign any remaining paperwork digitally.
- Keep in touch. Buyer closings get delayed quite frequently (there are a lot of moving parts in a real estate transaction). Don’t be surprised if the closing doesn’t happen exactly at its scheduled time! Your agent should keep you updated on closing status 24/7.
💰Final step: Get your paycheck!
Congratulations! Once you and the buyer have signed all documents, you’ve closed on your home sale.
The home’s sale price pays off the realtor commission, closing costs, and covers any outstanding mortgages or liens owed on the property.
Your net proceeds might be wired to your bank account after closing. Contact your agent, attorney, or title company for more details on how and when you’ll get paid.
Next steps after closing
While your home sale is technically complete, there’s a few things you might want to do after closing.
Save your home sale documents. It’s best to have both physical and digital copies of the home sale contract for your taxes and personal records.
Calculate your potential capital gains tax. You may or may not owe tax on the sale of your home, depending on how much your home rose in value since you bought it.
The IRS excludes home sale gains of up to $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a married couple who have lived in and owned a home for at least two of the last five years.
Contact your tax advisor for more guidance on capital gains tax and if you’ll owe anything.
Notify the U.S. Postal Service and DMV. You may want to set up mail forwarding to your new address via the USPS website (it costs $1.10).
Whether you’re staying in-state or moving to a new state, California requires residents to notify the DMV within 10 days of changing an address. This applies if you’re registering your vehicle in the new state or maintaining its California registration.
Show your agent some love. Did your agent do a great job? Leave them a positive Zillow review, and pass along the agent’s contact information to family and friends who are interested in buying or selling a home.
FAQs about selling a home in California
How much does it cost to hire a realtor in California?
It typically costs around 7% of your home's sale price to sell a home in California. The average realtor commission cost is 4.92%, covering both your agent and the buyer's agent, while closing costs average 0.8%, according to Clever Real Estate.
However, you can potentially save thousands by using an agent-matching service like Clever, working with another low commission rate real estate company, or trying to negotiate a lower rate with agents on your own.
Can you sell a home in California without a realtor?
Yes, you can sell for-sale by owner in California to avoid paying a listing commission (2.5%). But you'll need to complete every task an agent would handle, including advertising your home, filling out all of the required paperwork, negotiating with buyers, and closing.
FSBO in California likely works best for experienced sellers, or if you're planning to sell to someone close to you (such as family or friends) and have assistance from a local real estate attorney to handle all of the paperwork and legal requirements to sell.
If you're trying to save money on your home sale and putting your home on the market, you likely have lower-risk options, such as a 1% commission realtor or brokerage.
What documents are needed to sell a house in California?
There are many documents needed to close on a home sale in California. They include, but are not limited to:
- A fully executed California residential sales contract
- Closing statement
- Signed deed
- Bill of sale
- Affidavit of title
- Loan payoff information (if applicable)
- California transfer disclosure statement
- Megan's law disclosure
Check with a local real estate professional for more advice on what legal documents you'll need to close on your home sale.