Selling your home is a big project with many steps. It can be overwhelming, especially the first time, when you may still be wondering, “How do I sell my house?”
The steps are an advantage: you can take things on a few at a time. Let’s divide a sale into three parts: Finding an Agent, Prepping Your House for Sale, and Offers and Closing.
Stay on top of things, but don’t do it alone! It’s important to get a great real estate agent first.
Finding an Agent (and Your Paperwork)
Some homes out there are For Sale by Owner. Statistics show they consistently sell for less and take longer.
An effective sale requires ongoing marketing, home-showing experience, and expertise in contracts and negotiation. Most homeowners don’t have the skills or the vast amounts of time necessary.
There are online tools for finding the top realtors in your area, with track records and local market knowledge you want.
Interview a few agents before you choose! This person is going to be right in the middle of your life for a while. Make sure you two “click” and feel the trust.
- If they’re licensed, full-time Realtors
- About their experience and success in your area
- What their marketing plan for your house would be
- To see referrals from previous clients
- How their fees are calculated
Then get this paperwork together as your agent starts his work:
- Original sales contract
- Title/ownership documents
- Mortgage and financial documents
- Tax records
- Your purchase appraisal and any done since
- Insurance records
- Inspection reports
- Documentation from your changes or renovations
- Repair and maintenance records
- Manuals and warranties for included appliances
- HOA documents
- Written disclosures you need to make, such as lead paint
Your next step to prep the house to be shown to buyers.
Prepping Your House for Sale
The listing doesn’t sell the house; the buyers’ experience does. The goal of prepping is to get people to imagine their lives in the home, not to see yours. What encourages imagination? Decluttering, cleanliness, and staging. Let’s look at all three.
But first, ask and take your agent’s advice on what repairs need to be done.
Decluttering is a must. Clear out everyday stuff: no toys covering the yard, magazines piles, photos on every surface, cereal boxes on the counter, knickknacks everywhere, or crammed closets. Spaciousness sells.
Decluttering lets you get a head-start on packing and downsizing. Create piles for Keep, Donate, and Trash. Get some boxes and garbage bags, fill them, and get those things where they need to go. You’ll thank yourself.
Cleanliness, as agents have found, is next to… getting higher offers, so clean it like you mean it.
Start by gathering supplies: broom, mop, vacuum, buckets, gloves, rags, scrubbing pads, old toothbrushes for nooks and crannies, and your favorite cleaning products.
To be efficient, do one step throughout the house, instead of doing one whole room at a time. Go in this order for best results:
- Scrub the walls first
- Dust everything, top to bottom
- Sweep all floors
- Vacuum where required
- Mop as your last step
- Deodorize lingering pet or cooking odors
Staging is about creating a “look” to emphasize the features and lifestyle the house offers. You can hire a professional stager to work some magic within your budget, or you can DIY.
Colorful walls need to go neutral, so painting comes first. Remember: neutral color doesn’t have to be stark white or boring!
New light fixtures and cabinet/drawer handles are easy, refreshing updates.
Strip windows of anything but shades or blinds. Let the light in.
Then use pops of color and vignettes to show rooms off:
- Colorful throw pillows
- Flowers or plants in vases, perhaps from the yard
- A teapot-and-cup or cup-and-book arrangement on a counter or in a cozy nook
- Some art pieces, attractive books, or objects collected on a tray
- Good, but not overwhelming smells: baking, citrus, laundry, candles
Don’t forget outside: paint the front door, mow the lawn, and plant some native flowers. Make sure outdoor spaces, including decks and porches, look comfy and livable, like rooms.
Now you just have to keep it looking this great until it’s sold. Your other job is to make you, your kids, and the pets disappear when your agent shows the house. Buyers need to look, ask, and comment without you there.
Offers and Closing
Your agent will help you evaluate offers and negotiate the contract.
Some key factors in an offer you will consider:
- The price offered
- A good faith deposit with the offer, which you keep if the buyer backs out
- The amount of the down payment, ideally 20% or more.
- If the buyer is pre-approved for financing. If not, how soon before the closing will the mortgage be confirmed?
Once you accept an offer, there are a few more steps.
The buyer will schedule a home inspection and an appraisal, and either one can lead to some re-negotiation of the contract. Once an agreement is reached, and everything has been approved by all parties, you’re close to closing.
The bank will issue a “clear to close” just before the closing date, meaning everything is set.
Have your driver’s license or ID with you. The Closing Statement will list the net amount you will receive, and you’ll get whatever payment is changing hands that day.
A big project? Selling a home is a life event! But with awareness of the process, step-by-step organization, and the help of a great real estate agent, you can do it!