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How To Sell Your Home: A Step-By-Step Guide

Hanna KielarDecember 21, 2019

When it comes to selling your home, the number of options can seem daunting. Should I sell it myself? Do I need a real estate agent? How do I choose the right one? What are the steps to getting my house sold? Where do I even begin? With so many questions and different paths to take, having a basic understanding of the key components of selling your home can help give you some peace of mind as you work toward making your next move. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started.

Find The Right Real Estate Agents

When it comes to knowing how to sell your home, the hardest part is knowing where to begin.

First, you need to find the right real estate agent if you are going to use one. Notice I didn’t say find any agent. There’s a right one for you out there, and finding them isn’t as hard as you may think.

Ask yourself this: What makes you, as a home buyer, unique? First-time buyer? Looking for land to build on? Looking to buy a new home and sell your current one? Questions like this are key, because real estate agents, contrary to popular belief, are as unique as the buyers and sellers they represent. Some only sell houses, some only represent buyers, some do both. Heck, some specialize only in equestrian properties and others only work on foreclosures.

There are tons of options that are sometimes hard to sort through, but it’s worth it in the long run.

What’s the Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a REALTOR®?

A REALTOR® is a real estate agent who is an active member of the National Association of REALTORS®. Under the rules of NAR, active real estate agents who would like to join the organization must have a valid real estate license and an immaculate professional conduct record. In addition, all REALTORS® are required to adhere to an extensive code of ethics created and maintained by NAR. So, it may put you at ease to choose a REALTOR® as opposed to a real estate agent, as the former are thoroughly vetted and have sworn to uphold certain professional standards. According to the NAR, about half of all real estate agents in the United States are certified REALTORS®. Most real estate agents who are REALTORS®will indicate this on their website and other promotional materials, but if you can’t find the designation during your research, just ask.

Can I Sell My Home Without A Real Estate Agent or REALTOR®?

You definitely can, but there are some things to consider when going that route. Selling your home can be a daunting task, and having a professional do it for you does provide some key benefits. Here’s a look at a few reasons you may want to consider using a real estate agent instead of going it alone:

1)   A Higher Selling Price: Real estate agents tend to get more for your house than you would on your own. So much more that, even after paying their commissions, it’s very likely you will take home more money at closing. They get more by marketing your home on the multiple listing service, offering a portion of the commission to incentivize other agents to bring buyers, commissioning professional photos, and implementing a number of other marketing strategies, including everything from online advertising to good old fashioned phone calls. In addition, good agents will deploy honed negotiating skills throughout the process to make sure you are getting as much for your home as possible.

2)   Legal Documents: Contracts can be messy, but good agents can clean things up. I always tell my clients that I will do everything I can to make things go smoothly, but I also prepare them for how I can help them if things get rough. Things can go south quickly for a variety of reasons: The offer, negotiating details, inspection, appraisal, financing, and so much more all have steps that can become complicated. Having a professional who has been through it before is invaluable.

3)   Marketing: REALTORS® and real estate agents absorb the cost of many things into their commission. Paid online advertising, professional photos, staffing for showings and open houses, printing flyers and other promotional materials, and a litany of other costs too numerous to list. To get more specific information, it is totally appropriate to ask your agent to break down how they will spend a portion of their commission to market and sell your home.

After considering these factors, if you still think selling without an agent might be right for you, you can get started today with the Partner Package from ForSaleByOwner.com. They help you list your home, set accurate pricing and make sense of some of the legal documentation.

How To Get Your House Ready To Sell

If you found a real estate agent you trust, they will make sure you take the right steps, in the right order, to sell your home. That said, having a basic understanding of the process will help you feel informed and, if necessary, hold them accountable to make sure they are serving you properly.

If you have decided to sell your home yourself, the following information is even more critical.

Step 1: Price Your Home

First things first – figure out the value of your home. At this point, you or your real estate agent should be “running comps.” This means reviewing all the houses that have sold that are similar to yours in terms of size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, neighborhood, etc., in the recent past. It also means looking at what’s currently available on the market, how inventory looks throughout your area, and a number of other trends and figures that will come together to determine the best price to ask when selling your home.

If you’re using a real estate agent, they should provide evidence of their work, the thinking behind their strategy, and a sincere desire for your input into the final listing price. Remember, ultimately you decide how much you want to list your home for.

Step 2: Make Improvements

Your agent should have precise advice on where to spend your time and energy in terms of fixing things, clearing out the house or staging it, what needs to be deep-cleaned, etc. If you’re doing it on your own, here are a few key steps to get you started:

●      Cleaning: Clean and declutter ... then clean and declutter again. If people come into see the home and things aren’t tidy, they may get turned off.

●      Minor Improvements: Fix the little things. Patching holes in walls, touching up paint and fixing that faulty window latch you’ve been living with for years can go a long way.

●      Major Improvements: Check and address the big things. Have your furnace and AC unit serviced, check the basement for evidence of water, test your smoke/carbon monoxide alarms and address these issues before they become liabilities during inspection.

●      Get A Title Company: Determine which title company you’d like to use and order a pre-title on the house. This allows them to begin researching and foreseeing any roadblocks to the final sale.

Step 3: Set Up Showings

Show your beautifully fixed-up house! Have as few restrictions as possible when doing so. Open houses are great, but individual showings are usually where qualified, interested potential buyers show up, which leads to offers. They have busy schedules just like you, so when they have an opportunity to come see the house, do whatever you can to accommodate.

Step 4: Negotiate Offers

Get ready to negotiate as the offers come in. Have a game plan with your agent as offers start appearing. Do you want to see them right away? Do you want to wait until the first open house is over to entertain any offers? There are pros and cons to each option, so think about how you want to approach it ahead of time. As offers come in, you’ll gravitate toward the highest one of course, but also consider other variables: Do they have a solid lender preapproving their loan? Are they paying cash? Is the purchase of your house dependent on the sale of their current home? These are all questions you need to answer before really determining the best offer.

Accept the best one and you are officially under contract!

Step 5: Get Ready For Inspection

Everything should be in tip-top shape already, but make sure nothing has changed since you first listed your home and had people coming through it and “kicking the tires.” The buyer/their agent will set up the inspection, review the findings and decide what, if anything, they would like to request from you.

Once you get the inspection requests, which come in the form of work you need to do to the home or monetary credits you need to give the buyer at closing, be ready for more negotiations.

If something has to do with safety, don’t argue it. If there are smaller aesthetic things that the buyer knew about going in, a little pushback can be warranted. Be fair but firm in these negotiations, as you don't want to nitpick your way to blowing up the deal, but you don't want to get worked over, either.

Step 6: Prepare For Appraisal

If your home doesn't appraise for the agreed-upon sales price, the deal is in danger of falling apart. The appraisal will be ordered by the buyer’s lender but scheduled through you/your agent. Prepare by sharing the comparable houses you/your agent used to determine price with the appraiser and making sure, once again, that the house is in tip-top shape.

Step 7: Get Ready To Close!

With appraisal and inspection cleared, you’re in the home stretch. You already know who your title company is (see step 2 above), so be in constant communication with them (your real estate agent will handle this if you decided to go that route). A good title company will tell you/your agent everything you need to send them, so pay attention and be prompt with getting them what they need.

Those are the basics of selling your home, and now that you know them, you’re ready to go. So get moving!

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Rocket Companies focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.