Most people agree that buying a house is a big deal, but I believe that selling a house is an even bigger deal. Houses become a part of us, providing both the foundation for our families and the backdrop for our memories.
When I work with sellers, I help them navigate not only the logistical steps of moving, but also the emotional ones. Because it’s true that a house may need to be “staged” to ensure that the property appeals to the largest set of buyers. But, it’s also true that sellers can enjoy the last moments in their house before they turn it over to the next owner.
Below are the 13 home seller steps that I recommend going through as you sell your house and move on to the next phase in your life.
13 steps to selling a home, from start to finish
1. Make the decision and stick to it
Many homeowners consider selling for months or even years before they make the final decision, and that’s okay. While you may know that it’s time to consider downsizing, for example, you may wish to wait until your last child has officially flown the coop before you move on from the family home. The first home seller step is to simply make the call.
Whatever your circumstance, it’s important that you don’t feel pressured (to sell, or not to) as you make your final decision. Speak with the family members who need to be directly involved with the sale (like your spouse or partner). Be sure to have open discussions about timing and your next steps before you make the final call.
Once you’re ready, give me a call and we can begin the process of selling your home. To begin our work together, I’ll have you sign a contract stating that we plan to work exclusively together.
2. Discuss the aesthetics: Staging, landscaping and more
This next home seller step is one of my favorites, and it’s also one that many home sellers and agents tend to overlook. Studies show that buyers prefer homes that are updated and neutral in decor. But it’s also very important that sellers don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars updating their house on low-ROI projects right before selling.
So, what can sellers do to keep their costs down, while also appealing to a large set of buyers?
The basics of staging
First, they can stage their home, which is the process in which a homeowner makes their house a blank slate for buyers. That doesn’t mean white walls and all the furniture removed. It does mean that you might remove the family photos in favor of larger pieces of contemporary art, and that your walls would be painted a neutral but inviting color.
The layout of rooms is also super important when staging. Is your furniture bulky or does it make your rooms look smaller than they really are? In that case, we may replace your furniture with right-sized pieces during the selling process. Last, we’ll make sure everything is bright, bright, bright. Nothing turns buyers off quite like a dimly lit, darkly decorated home.
In some cases, we may need to go beyond staging to improve some parts of your home. We’ll try our best to stick to cosmetic fixes, such as replacing hardware on aging cabinets or adding in a new, modern light fixture to add kitchen appeal.
We’ll also check on the exterior of the house. In the spring, summer and fall months, we’ll focus on easy-to-maintain landscaping, including bright plants on the front steps. In the winter, we’ll put together a plan to clear your driveways and walkways for all buyer visits and appointments.
Keep in mind that while the larger projects, like landscaping and painting, will be your responsibility, I’ll be there every step of the way. I always cover the cost of the home’s staging. This can include replacement furniture or other smaller decor pieces, like pillows, frames and artwork.
3. Determine a price
Together, we’ll look over the final sales prices of recently sold homes in your area — focusing on the ones that are the most similar to your home’s size, location and condition. The goal is to list your home at a fair price that will appeal to buyers right out of the gate.
Some sellers hope to list their home for a higher price than they expect to earn, thinking that they will just lower the price later if need be. But today’s internet-focused buyers are laser sharp. They tend to look at homes that have just come on the market. When a home is on the market for an extended period of time, it tends to get fewer views and fewer offers. Our goal is always to draw in plenty of buyer interest in the first few weeks after the home is listed. That’s why I’ll always recommend a fair, but competitive list price to you.
4. Finalize the preparations and take the listing photos
The fourth home seller step is to finish up those minor home repairs and landscaping projects, and get the home staged. Once your home is in peak condition, the next home seller step is on me. I’ll arrange to have a professional photographer come in to take photos of the property.
5. List and market the home
The next home seller step is to list your home on the MLS, which is a shared service agents use to publicly list and share their for-sale properties online. Once your house is listed, it will be syndicated across all the major home buying websites, portals and apps, making it available to every potential buyer nationwide. I also suggest that you choose a real estate attorney to represent you early on in the process so that you can feel comfortable with your representation. If you need recommendations, please let me know. I work with some of the best attorneys in our area!
Of course, we can’t assume that every buyer is searching for your house. To drum up the most potential interest in your home, I’ll take over the marketing of your property, which includes:
- A pitch-perfect listing description and gorgeous professional photography, video tour, and floorplans
- Online advertising in virtually every national real estate portal
- Direct mail marketing campaigns to potential local buyers
- Promotion to brokers and agents in the area
- Extensive, targeted advertising on social media
The goal is to drum up keen interest in your property, from the minute it’s listed to the moment we accept a final offer.
6. Host an open house and accept private showing requests
With your permission, I’ll also host an open house at your property in the first few weeks after the listing goes live. This helps to alleviate some of the one-on-one showings from buyers who are early in their search process. It also provides an opportunity to those who are interested, but who are still comparison shopping.
We will also accept private showing requests, where a buyer comes to the house with their real estate agent for an individual viewing. I’ll work with you to ensure that showings are held at times that are most convenient for you. However, we should also keep in mind that the requests of super-interested buyers should be accommodated whenever possible.
7. Negotiate and accept an offer
If more than one offer comes in on your property, we will celebrate a bit, then dive in to consider each one individually. After an initial review, we may:
- Give one, or all buyers, the opportunity to improve their initial offer
- Counteroffer to one buyer, asking them to make a specific change or set of changes to their original offer
- Accept the offer of one buyer outright
Typically, when we are in a multiple offer situation, we would be able to negotiate for a better final price or other better terms for you. But if a perfect buyer has come along, there’s no harm in accepting the offer and moving on quickly.
Understanding the purchase agreement
Once the offer has been accepted, you’ll sign the purchase agreement and we will enter the attorney review period. During this time both the buyer and seller have the right to consult with an attorney. You will then review the terms of the contract, make changes, or “disapprove” (i.e. terminate) the agreement for any reason (or no reason at all). You can expect to see communication between the two attorneys that is designed to make changes to the standard NJ Real Estate Commission prepared contract.
One important thing to be aware of is that during the attorney review period, either party can change their mind. Which means if you decide that it is not in your best interest to proceed, you can have your attorney cancel the contract during attorney review with no penalty. Sometimes this happens if a seller receives another offer during the attorney review period. However, it could also happen if the buyers have a change of heart, or find a different house that they want to pursue. So… you are not allowed to celebrate until we are past the attorney review period! Once we have satisfied attorney review we will begin the process of moving toward the closing table. If the contract is terminated during attorney review, the transaction is cancelled. If this happens, any deposit monies delivered are returned to the buyers.
8. Set up the initial pre-closing steps
At this time, the attorneys will open an escrow account that will serve as the transfer point for the “earnest money deposit” from the buyer. The earnest money deposit is a show of good faith that the buyer will purchase your property, as agreed.
They also order a title policy, which will seek to validate that you are the rightful owner of your home and its land, and that you are able to transfer the property free and clear to the next owner.
9. Begin the official moving process
While you may have been downsizing and decluttering throughout the staging process, now is the time when things get real. The next home seller step is to begin planning your moving process to ensure that we are able to complete the move as seamlessly as possible.
I have spent years getting to know local moving companies and other moving specialists, including folks who can help with downsizing and post-retirement transitions. I’ll be here for you every step of the way.
10. Complete the appraisal and inspection
The appraisal and inspection are typically both required by the buyer’s lender. In the appraisal, a pricing expert will come to your house and verify that the property is worth the amount that the buyer has offered. I will be there to meet the appraiser and provide information and data.
In the inspection, an inspector will check the home’s foundation, systems, appliances and spaces to ensure that everything is in working order. It’s not uncommon for an inspector to find small flaws during this process. Together, we’ll determine if we need to negotiate with the buyer to fix any of these flaws pre-closing. Alternatively, you can provide a closing cost credit, which allows for the buyer to fix the issues on your dime, post-close.
11. Finalize the moving process
Moving boxes will start to take over your house, as you pack up the last of your belongings. During this phase, I usually remind sellers to spend time together doing some of their favorite activities.
Whether it’s a morning walk on the local trails, a gathering with neighbors or a final dinner at the bistro where you’re on a first-name basis with the chef, it’s important to mark this time with one last set of treasured memories.
12. Prep for the final walk-through
At this point, you’ll have completed almost all of the home seller steps! The final walk-through typically happens the morning of the closing. At this time, it’s extremely important to have all your belongings removed, so that the closing can be void of any animus or conflict. The last thing we need on closing day is the headache of an unhappy buyer or a request for an escrow to be held until all personal items are removed. I will be providing a professional cleaning for you once you fully vacate the property. This is my way of relieving some of the stress, and I find it makes for a much smoother closing for all!
13. Close on your home and toast to your next chapter
During the closing, you’ll sign the title over to the home’s rightful new owners. You’ll also receive all the final signed documentation about the escrow account that holds the money earned from the sale.
You’ll also hand over the home’s keys and garage door opener to the buyers at this time.
Upon leaving the closing, it’s a good idea to have an activity planned. Maybe it’s a happy hour toasting to your new chapter, or a dinner with good friends. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a celebration of a job well done!
But once we close, I don’t disappear. You can expect to hear from me from time to time. I like to check in on my clients and hear about their new adventures!
Ready to sell?
Together, we can ensure your home sale process is low stress and conflict-free. Reach out any time to get started!
P.S. If you have a real estate question of your own, feel free to reach out! I am happy to help!