If selling your home is on your to-do list this year, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. Your success relies on several factors, and small details can make the difference between selling quickly for top dollar — or not getting any offers at all.

1. Figure out why you want to sell

Selling a house is a lot of work, and there’s a smart way and a hard way to do it. The best place to start is by answering one important question: Why are you moving? Given how much it costs to sell a house, your motivation for selling will help you set clear goals before you list your home. The following are common reasons to sell a home:

  • You need more (or less) space.
  • You’re ready to buy your dream home.
  • You want to move closer to friends and family.
  • The job market is better elsewhere.
  • You’re done with homeownership.

2. Talk to a real estate agent

Selling your home without a real estate agent may be tempting, but it’s probably not worth it. You may find a lot of advice about how to sell your house, but nothing can replace the experience and knowledge of a real estate professional who regularly sells homes in your area. Understand the local market conditions and get an idea of your home’s current market value.

3. Set a timeline you can live with

Be realistic about when you’ll be ready to close if a buyer makes an offer you can’t refuse.

Maybe you need to sell your home fast because of a job change or divorce. Or you need extra time to buy a house because your current one hasn’t sold. Make sure you know the average time to close on a house in your area to set a realistic closing timeline.

Through November of 2019, homes typically remained on the market for 38 days,  according to data from NAR. Check with your real estate agent to get a better idea of how quickly homes area are selling near you, and then plan your next steps accordingly.

4. Choose a realistic price

Sellers want to get the best price for their home, but overpricing it can make your home suffer on the market. Your real estate agent can provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA) to come up with an asking price that’s in line with what similar homes in your area have sold for. You’ll be able to take a close look at the features of homes in the report, and determine how your home compares based on its condition, layout and size.

As you’re deciding on an asking price, fill out the seller disclosure form. This document is required by law in most states, and sellers must reveal any known material defects with their homes. You may decide to adjust your sales price based on known issues.

5. Prep your house to sell

Before selling your house, you have to make it stand out from the crowd. Here’s a list of ways to prep it for sale.

  • Consider a presale home inspection. This is basically a home inspection to identify any issues with your home before you list it for sale.
  • Stage your home. Professional staging can help your home sell more quickly and for more money, according to NAR. The average cost of staging is $302 to $1,358, according to HomeAdvisor.com.
  • Declutter and remove personal items. Remove clutter, family photos, knickknacks and other personal items so buyers can truly see themselves living in the home.
  • Take professional photos. Spend the money on professional photography to show your home at its best and make a great first impression online.
  • Keep colors neutral and floors clean. A fresh coat of neutral paint and professionally cleaned carpets and floors will go a long way with buyers for a minimal cost.
  • Set a realistic price. A comparable market analysis will give you a good indicator of your home’s value.

6. Have a plan for showing your home

Preparing your house for sale includes arranging for showings and open houses. Here are some strategies for both.

  • Make your home inviting. During open houses and showings, turn on all lights, open windows and consider providing light refreshments to welcome potential buyers.
  • Leave your home. Plan to be out of your home when buyers are in it (but keep your phone handy to answer agents’ calls), and make arrangements for pets, too.
  • Follow-up quickly. Respond to buyers’ questions quickly after showings, otherwise, they’ll move on to the next home.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask your agent for feedback from potential buyers who visit your home, and be proactive about addressing any issues they point out.
  • Don’t forget curb appeal. Keep the landscaping tidy, toys out of sight and the exterior clean. Consider adding fresh flowers and plants on your porch, too.

7. Evaluate and negotiate offers

If your home is priced and staged right, the offers should start coming in. When you receive an offer, you’ll have the option to accept it as is, send back a counteroffer or reject the offer and move on. A counteroffer is a seller’s response to the buyer’s offer that requests changes to the original offer — usually to the price, timeline or contingency terms. All offers should be submitted in writing by set deadlines written into the contracts.

Your real estate agent’s experience and negotiating skills will be instrumental as you review offers, so listen carefully to their advice. Here are items to consider when negotiating buyer offers:

  • Earnest money. A buyer who is genuinely interested in your home may put down a larger earnest money deposit than the typical 1% to 3%.
  • Contingencies. Fewer contract contingencies usually mean fewer hassles. If a buyer needs to sell a home before buying yours or needs credit approval, you could run into issues.
  • Closing date. If you need to close and move quickly, that may be more important to you than netting top dollar. On the other hand, you may need more time in your home to close on a new home purchase. A buyer who’s willing to let you pay rent to stay in the home longer might stand out from buyers with less flexibility.
  • Down payment. Like the earnest deposit, the size of a buyer’s down payment may be a good indicator of their interest and financial strength.
  • Cash offers. Buyers who pay cash for houses, especially in hot markets, could mean you’ll have an easier transaction. However, cash offers may be lower than your asking price.

8. Close the sale

Once the offer is accepted, the focus will be on getting to the close. Here are key action items for sellers:

  • Get repairs done quickly. If you’ve agreed to certain repairs before closing, getting them done promptly, and make sure you keep receipts and paid invoices to prove they were completed.
  • Prepare for the walk-through. Buyers will do a final check to make sure there are no new issues in the home, and that you (the seller) has made agreed-upon repairs. Make sure all of your belongings have been removed from the home, and leave it in move-in ready condition.
  • Review closing documents. Check your final documents for any errors in the address, spelling of your name or the legal description of your property. If the buyer is getting a mortgage, review the closing disclosure to ensure you’re paying only for the credits and costs you agreed to.
  • Provide keys and other home-related items to the buyer. Gather all house keys, garage door openers, home appliance/system manuals (if you have them) and other items a buyer will need to access and move into the home.

9. Collect and store final paperwork

After the sale is a done deal, you’ll want to hang on to closing and loan documents in case you need them later on. Here’s a list of the paperwork to gather.

Preliminary title report and title insurance. The preliminary title report and title insurance binder provide evidence of research and insurance issued to the buyer when a home is sold.

Mortgage satisfaction letter. After your loan is paid off, you’ll get a release from the lender confirming it. Look out for the 1098 mortgage interest form to deduct that interest at tax time.

Utility readings and bills. In case there’s a dispute over when utility charges stopped for you and began for the new owner, keep copies of the final billing statements you paid.

Transfer taxes and final property tax bills. State and local property taxes are usually tax-deductible, so document any property or transfer taxes you paid.

Repair invoices. You should’ve submitted these to the buyer before closing, but if any issues arise later on, you can direct the buyer to the contractors who made repairs.

Final deed. Once the property is transferred, you’ll want a copy of the property deed showing your ownership has been released.

Closing disclosure or settlement statement. If the buyer needs mortgage financing to buy your home, keep a copy of the final closing disclosure you were provided for tax purposes.

Real estate listing agreement. It’s rare, but disputes can arise over who listed your home for sale. Keep a copy of your listing agreement just in case the buyer takes you (or your agent) to court for issues later on.

Seller disclosure. If the buyer has an unexpected problem after closing, you’ll want a copy of the seller disclosure form you provided before the purchase contract was signed.

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