Step 1: What to Expect When Selling a House

Your home is more than just brick and drywall. It’s the place where you relax, unwind, and create memories. You’ve put a lot in your home, from the bathroom tile you decided to install yourself to the scratches on the doorframe from your beloved pet. There’s that tree you planted in the back yard; that crayon mark that never fully came off the wall. When it comes time to sell your home, it could bring up a lot of emotions you weren’t expecting. Along with the excitement of moving on, there could also be some sadness for what you’re leaving behind. Everything you think and feel is valid when selling your home. There are so many things to consider, from deciding on the list price to hasty cleaning sessions ahead of showings to negotiations during closing. Let’s review the entire journey, start to finish, so you’ll know what to expect along the way.

How Long Will It Take to Sell My Home?

A variety of factors could influence how long it takes to sell your home, including which market you are in. On average, a home seller will spend about eight to 12 days preparing the home to be put on the market, roughly 45 to 70 days waiting for (and sifting through) offers, and anywhere from 14 to 60 days to close. The entire process could take as little as 30 days, or it could last several months. While it’s difficult to predict how long it might take to sell your house, here’s a rough timeline of each step and the average time frame:

Finding a real estate agent: five to seven days

Unless you already have a real estate agent, you’ll want to spend some time researching local agents, getting recommendations from friends and family, and meeting agents in person. Take time to interview agents to make sure you find someone you trust. Ask questions about their knowledge of the market and how many homes they’ve sold. Look for an agent who listens to you. Visit the agent’s website and check your state’s real estate commission site to ensure the agent is licensed in your area. Here are some questions to ask potential real estate agents:

  • Are you a full-time agent? It’s up to you whether you want a full-time agent or not, but keep in mind that part-time agents could be more difficult to reach due to time constraints.
  • How long have you been an agent? Perhaps you prefer an experienced agent with a lot of contacts and knowledge, or maybe you want someone who’s just starting out and is still working on proving themselves.
  • Will I work directly with you, or do you have a team? Some real estate agents only handle a portion of the sale, while others handle everything personally.
  • Do you work with both buyers and sellers? Some agents represent both buyers and sellers, which is fine, but there could be a potential conflict of interest if your agent ends up representing both you and the potential buyer.
  • What would your marketing plan be for my home? Agents should have an approach for marketing homes in your area.
  • What are the comparables for this neighborhood? This will give you a chance to discuss prices with the agent.
  • How many clients do you have right now? This is up to you. Do you want an agent with plenty of time to devote to you, or one who is very busy and obviously sought-after?
  • What is your commission? While six percent is typical (it will be split between your agent and the buyer’s agent), some agents charge different rates.

Once you find the right agent, you’ll sign a contract, or listing agreement. This agreement gives the agent the ability to market your home. It contains information like a description of the property, the asking price, and a contract expiration date.

Listing your home: three to five days

Much depends on how quickly your agent can gather necessary information on the home, like tax records, and how quickly you can get it staged and photographed. Your agent may suggest some ways to improve curb appeal, or they might advise you to make repairs if they think it could impact the sale. The agent may also order a sign for your yard or a lockbox for the door.

Obtain an offer: up to 70 days

This time frame is the most difficult to determine because it can vary wildly depending on where you live. In a seller’s market, you could get an offer within days of listing your home. In a buyer’s market, it could take months. If you chose to list your home at a price that’s far above market value, that could also prevent you from getting offers. Stay in touch with your agent and make sure your home is priced competitively.

Clear to close: 14-60 days

You have a potential buyer! It’s exciting, but don’t leap to accepting right away. Review the offer with your real estate agent and make sure you understand the terms of the offer. In addition to the price, the buyer may have contingencies in the offer. Make sure you are comfortable with not just the price, but the terms as well. Your agent can explain the contingencies and how they might impact the final sale. A few common contingencies include:

  1. Sale contingency (meaning the buyer will have to sell their home before they can purchase yours)
  2. Appraisal contingency (if the home doesn’t appraise for the price agreed upon, the seller can back out)
  3. Inspection contingency (if the inspector finds issues, it could impact the sale)
  4. Funding contingency (if the buyer can’t procure a mortgage loan, this contingency lets them out of the contract)

Turn over possession: 0+ days

Depending on where you live, the buyer could get the keys the day of the closing or soon after, so have a move-out plan before closing. If you can’t leave the property for whatever reason after closing, it is possible to negotiate with the buyer to rent the property for a few weeks. Often called a post occupancy agreement, you’ll want to negotiate the terms of this agreement before closing.

dining room entryway open concept floor plan home

Important Steps in Your Home Selling Journey

Depending on where you live, your home-selling journey could look quite different from those in other parts of the country. However, there are some universal steps every home seller will take. We’ll cover many of these in depth in subsequent How-To articles, but here’s a general overview:

  1. Learn the market and determine your home’s value: Do a little research so you’re familiar with your market; it will come in handy when you start meeting with agents. While your real estate agent will advise you about price based on comparables (comps), market conditions, and other factors like your home’s age and condition, you’ll decide the asking price.
  2. Find a real estate agent: Talk to at least three agents. You want to find someone who is knowledgeable about your market and someone you can communicate with. Your agent will be your partner throughout the home selling journey, so find someone who really sees what you see in your house.
  3. Prep your home for sale: Increase the curb appeal and make any repairs necessary to get your home ready to sell. If possible, move your personal belongings (like family photos, knickknacks, etc.) to a storage unit. Don’t pack and store items in your garage if you can help it since buyers will likely want to see the garage when touring the home.
  4. List your home: During this step, you’ll work with your agent to create a listing. Discuss how to bring out the personality of your home, and don’t be afraid to try new technology to increase your home’s visibility.
  5. Have an open house: Unlike open houses in years past, where curiosity-seekers would show up just to see the inside of your home, most people look at houses online first. With virtual tours, drone footage, and even AR to assist them, most buyers rule out homes they aren’t interested in without ever seeing them in person. Today, the people who show up to the open house are likely serious buyers who want to make sure the home looks as good in person as it did online.
  6. Get offers: When you start getting offers on your home, you’ll have some important decisions to make. Are the offers lower than you expected? What if you have multiple offers? Should you accept a first offer, or should you counter?
  7. The closing: Your agent will likely deal with the buyer’s agent on the final details of the contract. This could include things like home repairs and the transfer of utilities. You’ll want to ensure all paperwork from the real estate attorney is signed, initialized, and notarized. Once the contract is clear to close, start planning your move.

 

 

entryway with mid century design

Advice for Home Sellers

You love your home, and you want to get the best price possible. However, many home sellers (especially first-time home sellers) make some common mistakes when selling their property. To help you avoid making these mistakes, we’ve compiled advice from other home sellers. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Find a good agent. While some sellers decide to go with ibuyer companies or take the “for-sale-by-owner” route, selling a home is a complicated process. Having a good agent can transform your home-selling experience. Your agent will work to get you the best possible price for your home while navigating the legal documents, tax records, marketing, and other aspects of getting your house sold. This is a major sale, so make sure you have someone in your corner who knows the industry and the market.
  2. How you market your home makes all the difference. Selling a home is like a business, and every business needs good marketing. You want your house to shine, so clean and declutter your home, tidy up the lawn, and maybe even give it a fresh coat of paint. Hire a professional photographer to make your house shine online. Consider hiring a professional stager to make your home look its best in photos and in person.
  3. Set a reasonable price. It’s your home, and to you, it’s worth everything. But real estate agents will tell you that homeowners, whether they are first-time sellers or not, often price their homes too high. Make sure your price is reasonable from the beginning. Take the emotion out of it and base the price on comparables (homes in the same market with the same features as yours). An overpriced home might sit idle on the market for a while, and you could end up having to drop the sale price lower than you would have if you’d started with a moderate price to begin with. The most expensive home in the neighborhood is often the one that sells last. If you get a buyer willing pay what you ask, keep in mind that if the appraisal is less than the agreed-upon sale price, the deal could fall apart.

Home Selling Checklist

Use this checklist to navigate the process of selling your home.

Do your homework

  • Check your finances and create a budget for home repairs and home sale closing costs
  • Seek advice from real estate professionals, including legal and tax specialists
  • Research your real estate market to help you determine your sale price
  • Find an agent

Make sure the following are in good condition and make any necessary repairs:

  • Roof
  • Gutters
  • Yard
  • Windows and doors
  • Floors
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Heating and cooling
  • Paint

Price the house

  • Have your home appraised
  • Take another look at the market
  • Set a comparable price

Prepare for the open house

  • Clean and declutter
  • Have a plan for kids and pets
  • Hire a professional stager
  • Hire a professional photographer

Negotiate the offer

  • Work with your real estate agent on the purchase contract
  • Determine contingencies you’ll accept
  • Negotiate with the buyer through your agent
  • Make additional home repairs if necessary
  • Create a move-out plan and communicate possession with the buyer
  • Sign the purchase contract

Closing

  • Close the contract through escrow
  • Satisfy final inspection requests/contingencies
  • Arrange the transfer of utilities
  • Deliver the title and other documents to the buyer/your local government
  • Receive the loan commitment letter from the buyer
  • Pay closing fees

Now that you know what to expect on this home-selling journey, let’s explore each step you’ll take along the way.