The Home Selling Process
If you’re ready to sell your home — or just thinking about it — it’s important to do your homework.
There may be home improvements to make, real estate agents to find, a move to plan, and other steps in between. Read on for what to expect, what to avoid, and a few tips to help make the process easier — it’s especially useful for first-time home sellers.
Step 1—Get Started
Before the “for sale” sign goes up, make sure your home is ready — and so are you.
Selling your home requires some upfront costs. You’ll need to factor in any necessary home improvement costs, closing costs, and moving expenses. If you have equity in your home, you could end up walking away with some money. On the other hand, if your home is worth less than the amount you owe on it, you’re unlikely to have leftover money. You can estimate your home equity by subtracting the amount you still owe on your mortgage from the current market value of your home.
Review market conditions
Research your local housing market, including the current inventory of homes for sale, recent sales, and housing prices. Are homes moving quickly, or are they staying on the market for a long time? Are you prepared for a quick sale, or do you need time to find a new home? Start by gathering information about the market from national real estate websites as well as local agents.
Decide how to list
There are several ways to market and list your home for sale. You can work with a real estate agent, sell it yourself (i.e., “for sale by owner”), or use an online marketplace. While there are pros and cons to each, a professional real estate agent can help you determine the best asking price for your house. They’ll also market the home and guide you through the selling process.
Prepare your home
Ensuring your home is in the best possible condition is a benefit to both you and potential buyers. Give your home a thorough inspection — inside and out — and take care of any needed repairs, cosmetic updates, and general maintenance ahead of time.
Selling tip: Keep it simple
When viewing a home, potential buyers may be put off by unusual landscaping, brightly colored walls, or too many personal touches like family photos or memorabilia. You want to make the home as attractive as possible to as many buyers as possible. Keep things neutral, simple, and free of clutter. You can also arrange, or “stage,” furniture to better showcase the home.
Step 2—List your home
Once you’ve done your research and gotten your home ready to sell, it’s time to list it.
Have a marketing plan
Work with your agent (unless you’re selling the home on your own) to develop a detailed marketing plan to attract buyers. This will likely include listing the home on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) to maximize exposure to other agents and buyers, as well as tactics like open houses, virtual tours, and flyers.
Show it off
Once your home is on the market, expect potential buyers to tour the property at various times — sometimes with little notice. Make sure the house is clean, valuables are locked away, and pets are kept safe. In-person tours are a huge factor in a buyer’s decision-making process, so make the most of your showings.
Selling tip: Switch things up
If your home has been on the market a while without much attention from potential buyers, it may be time to change your strategy. You might encourage buyer interest by reducing the price or adding other incentives, like paying for closing costs. You could also take the home off the market and relist it later or temporarily offer it for lease. Every market is different, but typically the longer the house remains for sale, the harder it becomes to sell. Your agent can review the best options for your situation.
Step 3—Sell your home
Once you have an offer on the table — or maybe several — you’ll move on to the final step of selling your home.
Examine all offers carefully, even if they seem too low. Don’t just focus on the price — some buyers may offer other favorable terms like a short closing or fast inspection period. When you get a suitable offer, you can either accept it or make a counteroffer for a higher price or different terms. Your agent will work with you to determine a fair price and reasonable terms, and they’ll negotiate with the buyer’s agent.
Finalize the contract
Review the sales contract thoroughly with your agent. Once you and the buyer agree on the sale price and other terms, you’ll both formally accept by signing the sales contract. Each contract is different, but typical terms include an inspection period, closing date, and any seller/buyer contingencies that must be met before closing.
Once all the terms and conditions of the contract have been met, the final step of the process is closing the sale. As the seller, you will receive the proceeds from the sale and transfer ownership to the buyer at closing. You’ll use the proceeds to pay off your current mortgage (if applicable) and any other costs from the sale. Every state has its own laws, so talk to your agent about your responsibilities for that day.
Selling tip: Understand your contract
Most contingencies benefit the buyer, not the seller. For example, a buyer may be able to walk away from the contract if the inspection turns up too many issues or if the appraisal is lower than expected. Make sure you understand all the details of the sales contract before signing to avoid potential surprises later.