10 Steps to Sell Your House
In Selling a House, by Anthony Bayardelle
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At first the idea of selling your home seems exhausting and endless, but if you know the exact series of steps you have to follow it becomes more of a fun challenge than an insurmountable task.
Whether you are selling your home yourself or working with a realtor, it is incredibly beneficial to go into the process knowing exactly what will be expected of you. This allows you to prepare for things ahead of time, do the appropriate research before it becomes necessary, and to pace yourself so you don't become overwhelmed by the process.
So, without further ado, here are the ten steps to selling a house.
Disclaimer: Each of these steps deserves far more research than could possibly be contained in this single article.
However, this is a comprehensive overview of all of the main building blocks, so to speak. No single article could cover everything that needs to be done between now and when you hand over your keys, but as you go through each step, you can read further on each topic. I've included many links to other articles that should help you on your way.
Step 1: Determine the Right Price for Your Home
Determining the right price for your home is one of the most important decisions you'll make in the home sale process.
If you have a realtor, you should lean heavily on their experience and their knowledge of your immediate neighborhood and geographic area. This is the biggest asset a realtor brings to the table when you choose to work with them, so make sure your realtor is pulling their weight when it comes to researching and leveraging their network.
If you are selling your house yourself, the research falls on your shoulders for determining what the right price for your house is. Trying to stay as rational and unemotional as possible when choosing a listing price. It's very hard, because your house is something to which you have most likely grown quite attached, but you want to see it more as a business transaction than as the selling of sentimental property.
I wrote an entire article on how to price your home for sale, so if you're struggling on this point please take a look, as I go into a lot more detail there.
Overall, the most important thing to do is research the other houses that have been put on the market in your area recently. I say the houses that have been put on the market, not the houses that have sold, because it's important to look at both the houses which have successfully sold and those which were either taken off, have expired, or are still lingering on the market. Both successful and unsuccessful sales are going to be good data points for you as you determine your house’s sale price.
Make sure you're trying to compare apples to apples when you look at the different houses comparable to yours. Look at how many bedrooms they have, what the square footage is, and if there are any special amenities (like a pool or an awesome view) which would account for them selling for a higher or lower amount.
You want to list your house for a price that will be roughly equivalent to other homes on the market. If it's a seller's market, you can opt for a little bit higher, and vice-versa in a buyer's market, but you don't want your house to be too far out of the normal range.
Step 2: Figure Out Your Selling Points
One of the first things you need to know about your home is what makes it stand out from the rest of the market.
In order to know this, the first thing you need to do is research the other houses in your area with comparable size, location, and amenities to yours. Once you look at your house in a field of its peers, you can know the things that are extra special about your house.
This can at first be challenging, because of the sentimental nature of a home, But try to think like a homebuyer rather than the owner of your home and you will be able to find your house’s specific benefits. Things like added solar panels, new air conditioning units, constructed add-ons, or other things that your house might have over others in the area are added pluses. If you haven't done any maintenance or renovation since you lived there, it will also give you a leg up on the competition.
If you do have a realtor, this is a great conversation to have with them so that you both know exactly what you're dealing with from the beginning.
Step 3: Prepare Your House for Sale
Many websites and home sales guides this step a great deal later in the process, but there is a reason why it needs to be done early in the game. (I’ll get to the reason in a second.)
Preparing your house for sale is a broad umbrella for all of the cosmetic changes, home maintenance, and staging activities you will have to do to turn your house around from its normal, lived-in state to the picturesque model home that will make potential buyers drool when they walk in the door.
The first thing you should do when preparing your home for sale is a thorough deep cleaning.
This includes obvious things like scrubbing the counters, Windex the windows, and the usual dusting routine. It also includes more detailed things like shampooing the carpets, shining or using floor restorer on the hardwood floors, and cleaning out those hard-to-reach areas in the back of cabinets or behind the washer and dryer.
One of the things potential buyers look for when they tour a house is potential maintenance issues. This means that they won't only be looking at the big picture, they will be looking behind machinery, inside cab, and other places you do not expect.
This is no one's favorite task, but by doing a really thorough overview of your house, cleaning out all of those little pockets of dirt that you never have time to get to on a normal cleaning day, you'll run into all of the other problems or issues that need to be fixed before your sale. This is the home equivalent of proofreading a paper before you turn it in. You catch all of the errors you have been making throughout the whole process and have time to go back and correct them.
Speaking of catching errors, if in the course of your deep cleaning you do discover any maintenance issues, now is the time to take care of them. Leaky pipes, a broken air conditioner, or other major maintenance issues could put a serious damper on any potential deal. You don't have to make major upgrades in order for your house to sell, but if there is anything that needs fixing to be considered “working condition” you should take care of it if it is at all financially possible.
Decluttering and Organization
Once you have finished your deep cleaning, the next step is to do a thorough decluttering. Not only is this beneficial to you because you will have to move fewer objects once the house does sell, the more you can get rid of, tidy, or organize, the better your house will look to potential buyers.
The staging process is comprised of all the steps which you wouldn't take if you weren't selling the house. Obviously, in a perfect world, you would perform regular deep cleanings and you would declutter and organize your belongings on a fairly regular basis. Staging is a whole different ball game.
When you are staging a house, you want to make it look spacious, borderline under furnished, and impersonal. If possible, try and remove up to half of the furniture you have in each room. If you can, you can get a storage locker and stow away some of your favorites, or if you're moving to a new place that you already own you can preemptively move some items. The goal is to make your house look more spacious and open. Fewer pieces of furniture will also have the added benefit of making your rooms look bigger.
During the staging process, you also want to remove as many of the personal items and sentimental knick knacks that no one but you will understand. Take family photos off of the shelves, remove children's artwork from the fridge, and clear the counters as much as you practically can.
When a buyer walks into your home, you don't want them thinking about you living there. That will most likely deter them, even though we've evolved to carry briefcases, as humans are still very territorial creatures. You want a potential buyer to walk into your home and immediately think of how their own personal items would look on your counter, their kids’ artwork on the fridge, and their family portraits on the walls.
This is about making your buyer picture themselves living in your home, so get rid of as many personal effects as possible.
Step 4: Take Professional Photos
Many people don't put enough weight in this step.
Many people are wrong.
In the era of the internet, most buyers will make their first impression of your home on a home search website (like Zillow, Realtory.com, or Trulia). This means that whatever pictures you take will be the only information a potential buyer has to make a split-second decision on whether they want to even see it in person.
If you are selling your house, you probably are in the process of buying or have recently bought a new one. If you looked at the profile of a house and saw dingy, dark, or otherwise unappealing photos, what are the odds of you actually lugging yourself over to look at the place in person just in case?
No, the unfortunate age of Tinder, most potential buyers will make a split-second decision on the desirability of your house while sitting at their computer or swiping on their phone. This decision will be largely based on the photos you use.
Remember how I said staging was important to do far earlier in the process then many recommend? This is why.
Even though potential buyers are not going to begin rifling through your house just yet, you want to have your house looking it's best for the pictures you take for MLS and other home listing websites. Also, if you take pictures of your house fully staged, it has the added boost of extra credibility when buyers walk in and recognize that your house does in fact look like the pictures that were on the internet. It is very apparent to buyers when they are being misled, so this credibility is essential for building trust.
Yes, getting professional photos taken can be expensive. If you have a very experienced realtor who has shown you their previous work, you can allow your realtor to take pictures, but I would highly recommend getting it professionally done if there is any doubt in your mind.
This single factor can have a huge difference on how many buyers show up to your open house, decide to schedule a tour, or ask their realtors for more information about your home. The more interest in your house, the more likely it is to sell at or above the listing price, so this added expense in the short-term will more than make up for itself in a long-term.
Step 5: List Your Home on the MLS and Get the Word Out
When selling your house, most buyers will find out about it online either via the MLS (which is the tool that U.S. realtors use to showcase homes for sale) or on some other Home search website.
If you have a realtor, they should take care of this quite easily. However, it never hurts to double-check and ask if they need any extra information, photos, or details in order to make a listing pop.
If you are selling your home yourself, you can list your property on the MLS for a flat fee. A simple Google search for “flat fee MLS” plus the name of the state in which you plan to list your house should yield a multitude of different options.
Home Search Websites
There are an alarming number of home search websites out there. You don't need to do too much work, as most of these will most likely have at least basic listings for your house already, but it is a good idea to go over your listing on all the major players, just to make sure the information is current and to showcase those beautiful photos you took back in Step 4.
For each of the major home search websites, go on and type in your address. The specific steps to edit a listing will differ from website to website, but all of them should have a fairly obvious “this is my home” option that lets you edit the details after some owner verification.
If you're working with a realtor, ask them if this is part of the services they offer. (It should be.) Again, ask if you can help provide information or if there any steps you need to take. Even if your realtor says they will take care of this themselves, I would still go on to the main website and take a look at your house is listing after your realtor has updated it.
If you are listing your home by yourself, make sure you at least cover the following main players in the online home search landscape:
Of course, there are websites not on this list, but most buyers will find your home on one of these sites.
Step 6: Have an Open House
Market Your Open House
One of the most important parts of an open house is letting people know that it is happening. Everyone sees those signs that Realtors put up with a giant arrow pointing out an open house in progress, but you also need to do some marketing ahead of time as well.
Create a basic advertisement for your house and post it on internet classifieds, open house directories, and other social media outlets at least a week ahead of time. You can also do old-school, print advertising with your local newspaper or other community resources if you are so inclined. If you are working with a realtor, this is part of where they earn their money, but it never hurts to ask if there is anything you can do on your end to help the process along.
Prepare Collateral Materials
You want potential buyers to leave your open house with a brochure, hot-sheet, or other piece of material with your house’s basic statistics on it. Chances are yours is not the only home they will be looking at. It might not even be the only one they see that day. You want their memory to be fresh when it comes time to remember what they liked about your home.
Have you or your realtor create a visually pleasing brochure or flyer with a few good pictures of your home and the basic details. Don't forget to include things like your address, the square footage, the number of bedrooms, and any salient selling points your house might have. You also want to include the basic financial information, so that buyers can calculate their mortgage payment and information based on the information you provide.
You also want to make sure you have copies at hands of inspection reports, appraisal reports, any warranties you might have, blueprints for additions to your house, or other necessary documents. Not all of the people who visit your open house will want to take these, but you want to have a few available in case they are requested.
Day of Preparations
The day of your open house, you want your house looking at its best.
Make sure everything is still clean and decluttered, open all of the drapes and blinds to let in as much sunlight as possible, and turn on all of the artificial lights as well.
Feel free to lay out refreshments, snacks, or something for potential buyers to nibble on while they look around. You don't need to go crazy on this, and definitely don't serve anything with an off-putting smell. However, many swear by baking cookies the morning of an open house as is gives the home that freshly baked cookies smell that many crave. Whatever you do, stay away from artificial scents and air fresheners, as some could be allergic.
Right before the scheduled start of the open house, remove all your vehicles from the driveway and turn on some soft music throughout the house. If you can pre-order range with your neighbor's for them not to park in front of your house, this gives visitors some extra comfort on open house day.
Don't forget to put out the flyers and marketing materials you pre-printed for the occasion.
At the Open House
Fortunately, you don't have to impersonate Vanna White throughout your entire open house. Most buyers will want to look at around on their own or with their own realtor.
You should, however, be there to greet each visitor, ask a few questions about what they're looking for, and point out anything about your house that seems to specifically meet their needs. Follow your instincts on how much conversation a potential visitor might want. Some do actually want the guided tour, where others really just want to be left alone.
Try to remember that you're not there to force your home on them. You're there to make sure they have as pleasant of an experience as possible.
Also, try not to be disappointed or put out if buyers do not show excitement or do not put in offers immediately on the day of your open house. Buying agents prepare their clients to keep a decent poker face during an open house so as not to give away negotiating power. Similarly, some buyers could want to get their financial situation in order before sending an offer.
Be patient, pleasant, and helpful regardless of whether or not it feels like the buyers properly appreciate the incredibleness of your home.
Step 7: Show Your House
If you don't immediately become inundated by offers at your open house, which is very rarely happens, it is now time to show your house.
Whether you have a realtor to coordinate your showings or you're selling your home yourself, it is really in your best interest to be as flexible and amenable to showing things as possible. Having strict rules about when people are allowed to see your house is going to ward off potential buyers and prolong the period of time where you have to welcome strangers into your home.
It is definitely inconvenient, but, again, try to be as flexible as possible.
The one clear rule during this time is that you really shouldn't be present when buyers are walking through your home. Even if this means you practically take up Residence at the coffee shop down the street, buyers are going to want to be able to speak freely while touring your home. They need to be able to speak to their realtor about things they like and don't like, talk about potential offers, and other details which would likely be awkward if you were standing there watching them.
Even if it's unpleasant and inconvenient, give your potential buyers privacy and you will be rewarded with a much speedier and more pleasant sale.
Step 8: Compare and Analyze Your Offers
You might have multiple offers right away, or you might wait for a while before one offer even materializes. Whether you have a single offer or many, it is still beneficial to analyze any offers that come in with a critical eye.
As I discussed in my blog on how to price your home for sale, You want to make sure your offer is reasonable in relation to your listing price, area comparables, and your financial break-even point. This can, on occasion, be very hard to do rationally with all the sentimental attachment we place on our homes, but if you look at it like a business deal rather than a home sale it often helps you keep your eye on the metaphorical ball.
If you are working with a realtor, this is one of the times that which they will be most helpful. While you only sell your home every decade or so, your realtor does it every day. Lean on their experience and impartial expertise to ensure you were treating each offer fairly.
Step 9: Negotiate Your Sale
Once you have decided on a single offer, you can begin negotiating the specifics of your sale with the buyer.
While the price is a very important point to negotiate, it Is by no means the only variable on the table. Make sure that you cover at least the following things in the course of your negotiations, as well as nailing down a mutually acceptable price:
Closing and escrow dates
Any furniture or possessions which will be sold with the house
Allowances for closing costs or home improvements
Contingencies for home Inspections, financing for the buyer, or appraisals
Any other contingencies (e.g. sale of the buyer’s home, etc.)
Negotiating the deal is one of the main reasons for hiring a realtor, so if you do sell your home using an agent, this is really where they should shine. If you are negotiating your own deal, make sure you attempt to stay rational and look at things as a long-term business deal rather than the sale of something personal.
If you do decide to sell your home yourself, but then have issues in the negotiation phase of things, don't hesitate to call a local realtor and ask questions before you make a decision. Even if they don't eventually get your business, most realtors will be happy to help and answer questions to make sure you're getting a fair shake of things.
Step 10: Escrow and Closing
Even though you feel like the hard part is over once you accept the offer, there is still much that has to be done during the escrow phase.
(I actually wrote an entire article about all the things which still have to be done once escrow begins.)
Whether it is carrying out inspections and appraisals, ensuring the buyer secures a mortgage or other funding, or dealing with other contingencies in your deal, you definitely don't want to sit back on your heels just yet. The escrow period is a finite amount of time, but you want to make sure that all of the details are taken care of so your closing goes smoothly.
Overall, the home selling process can be overwhelming if you don't go into it with a methodical approach. However, if you do the appropriate research ahead of time and lean on the experience of your realtor, if you're working with one, it should be a manageable process with an expected end.
Whether you're using a realtor or not, don't hesitate to reach out to local area Realtors for advice, information, or with any questions you might have. While you wouldn't expect them to do work for free, there's nothing wrong with asking an expert for their opinion as long as you're not leading them on that you might potentially want to work with them.
If you want further information, check out my printable guide for the top 10 mistakes people make when they sell their homes. This will make sure you don't fall into any of the major pitfalls that make home stay on the market forever without a single offer.