Choosing an agent, determining the right sale price, staging your home — when it comes to selling your home, a lot work happens behind the scenes before the “for sale” sign goes up.
If this is the first time you’ve ever sold a home, the process and all of its initial steps may come as a surprise. While you may bring in a real estate agent to handle the details, you and your family are still responsible for a lot of the heavy lifting involved in getting your house ready to sell — especially if you want to get the most out of the sale.
To help you prepare for what to expect and to gear up for a seamless process, here’s a look at the first steps in successfully selling your home that you need to know.
Pick Your Real Estate Agent
While you can go it alone, 91 percent of sellers work with a real estate professional during the home-selling process, according to the National Association of Realtors. It’s no wonder most homeowners choose an agent — they know the ins and outs of the housing market and all of the intricacies involved in getting your home ready for sale.
Do your homework when selecting your agent, though. You want an agent who is familiar with your neighborhood and has a wealth of experience in the industry to get the job done. Look at agents’ websites, read through their online reviews and ask neighbors for any referrals. Meet your top three choices for coffee to see how you connect. Ask about their commission rates, how they operate and what to expect from their services.
Choosing your agent is the first pivotal step — they ultimately have the fiduciary responsibility to look out for your best interests in the home-selling process and will be your helping hand, guiding you through the next steps. Keep in mind, you don’t have to use a real estate agent; “for sale by owner” is another route you can take too.
Determine the Value of Your Home
Homeowners may be tied up in nostalgia with their house, but they need to tread carefully when pricing their property to sell. The strategy is to find that sweet spot in a listing price that will draw in the most prospective buyers while setting the stage for maximizing their profit margin.
If you price your home too high, you’ll scare buyers off, but if you price it too low, they may think something is wrong with the home or you’re aiming for a bidding war.
There are a few resources home sellers and their agents can use to help them strike the right balance. For starters, your agent will pull together a comparative market analysis report, which is a comprehensive look at how much similar homes (comparables or “comps”) have recently sold for in your neighborhood. You’ll want to keep the listing price within the parameters of what the report suggests is the going price. Recent sellers typically sold their homes for a median of 99 percent of the listing price, and 33 percent reported reducing the asking price at least once, according to NAR estimates.
You can also use online home value estimators, or automated valuation models, that rely on algorithms to spit out an approximate amount for how much your home is worth. You simply plug in your postal code and your home’s specs to get a calculation. If you’re in a bustling city, situated next to the highway or a train station, that may make your home more desirable, for example.
Get the Timing Right
Your agent will also have a read on your local housing market — if it’s hot, cold or neutral, and how this could affect how to price your home.
It’s important to get the timing right too. Housing market trends take inventory into account, but spring and summer are traditionally the busiest home-buying seasons. With nicer weather and the kids off for the summer, the warmer months are the most opportune time to put your house up for sale.
Pay attention to your current neighborhood dynamics. If a few neighbors already have “for sale” signs on your street, you might prefer to wait a bit so you don’t saturate the local market. Sometimes this is a good thing — if you aren’t in a hurry to move, you can use the time to get your home in its best condition.
Spruce Up Your Home
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work on making your home sale-worthy.
As you shop for a new home, you’re likely going to open houses and looking at online listings, so you know first-hand that a home in tip-top shape will command the best offers.
Between your agent’s recommendations after a walkthrough and a pre-listing inspection list, you can zero in on the most necessary repairs and renovations. (Pre-listing home inspections are an optional step but they provide an invaluable look at how your home will fare at an official inspection later on and give you an opportunity to sort out issues proactively.)
You can address any glaring issues, such as dirty tiles in the bathroom, worn-out carpets or dated kitchen drawers and cabinets. Repair the leaky faucet, the creaky door and the broken window frame, and give your home a deep cleaning from top to bottom so each room is sparkling and odor-free.
Declutter as much as you can. Prospective buyers are going to be curious about closet space, depth of cupboards and the spaciousness of each room. Help them visualize how they would fit into your home by clearing it out so they have a clean slate to work with. This applies to your bookshelves, countertops and tables too.
Your agent will point you to “curb appeal.” It’s real estate lingo for what potential buyers can see of your home from the street. You want to provide a pretty picture of your home to entice people to ask for a viewing. Some ways you can do this include freshening the exterior with a new coat of paint, tidying your front yard and making sure your garage is organized.
If your home needs a major renovation, such as remodeling the kitchen, finishing a basement or adding central air conditioning, you’ll have to decide whether investing in the renovation will help garner a better sale price. Statistics suggest that your home won’t sell for more than 15 percent above the median price of other homes in your neighborhood, so before you put in marble floors or state-of-the-art kitchen appliances to bump up your sale price, consult with your agent. They may dissuade you from making expensive changes or customizations that may not get the return you want. A good rule of thumb is to defer to your pre-listing home inspection (if you decide to get one). If you address any major defects now, you could preempt potential issues that might prevent buyers from sealing the deal.
Make Your Home Picture Perfect
These days, prospective homebuyers are scouring online listings before deciding which ones to view in person. Fifty percent of homebuyers found their new homes online, according to the NAR, so ultimately, your home is making its first impression through online ads, photo galleries and virtual tours.
With this in mind, you should recruit a professional photographer to take high-quality pictures of each room in your home. This is a make-or-break step you shouldn’t skimp on, as homebuyers won’t bother looking at your listing if the images are low quality. Your agent likely has a go-to photographer who can put together an album of top-notch images of your home and stitch together a 360-degree virtual tour for each room.
Before the photo shoot, you should stage every room in your house so the photographer can capture your home with its best foot forward. Your living room, kitchen and master bedroom are the most important rooms to stage. This means stowing away personal items, damaged furniture and clutter, and making sure the décor, lighting and accents complement your home’s best features.
If you’re not sure how to stage your home, hire a professional. They often have furniture, statement art and mirrors that can level up your space so it’s every potential buyers’ dream home.
Fill Out Your Seller Disclosures
Homeowners, by law, need to fully disclose any issues they had while living in the house that may affect the home’s property value or appeal to potential buyers. Homes built before 1978 need to disclosure whether there is lead-based paint, as a prime example, and potential buyers with allergies may need to know if you had a pest problem or kept pets in the home.
Other disclosures include physical defects like leaks, faulty wiring, cracks in the concrete and other issues that you had to deal with. Depending on what state you live in, your responsibility could be heightened – while homeowners in most states are only responsible for disclosing what they’re aware of, in other states they’re obligated to search out problems.
Your state should have a special form for you to fill out, sign and date. Hang on to this form as your buyer will have to acknowledge receipt of your disclosures by signing and dating the forms later in the process.
Between your pre-listing inspection, cleaning checklist and careful analysis of issues you fixed around the home, you should have an insightful response for this step.
List and Market Your Home
With your sale price and professional photos ready, it’s time to decide on how to market your home. Sit down with your agent and pick out the defining features of your home that will attract homebuyers. Is your home filled with plenty of natural light? Is it located next to great schools and transport links? Does it have upgraded appliances in the kitchen and bathroom?
Your agent will likely have a list of advertising words to choose from for your MLS (Multiple Listing Service) listing. Once you agree on the wording to describe your home, you can add your photo gallery and virtual tour. Review the online listing to ensure you’re happy with it, as it will pop up on most real estate websites.
After that, your agent will develop and deliver on a marketing strategy for your home to attract buyers. They’ll promote your listing to their clients who are shopping, they’ll carry out a social media campaign, they’ll swap notes with their network of agents helping buyers, and they’ll make sure you have that prominent “for sale” sign out front. Depending on where you live, they may even turn to old-fashioned newspaper ads and neighborhood flyers pointing to your listing.
After all of your hard work, your home is now on the market. Take a moment to celebrate, but the process isn’t over yet. Now that your home is up for grabs, you’ll move into the second half of the home-selling process, which includes showing your home, closing the deal and everything in between.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.