In the best circumstances, selling your home isn’t something you do in a rush. It calls for planning and preparation. But if you’re like most homeowners, you probably aren’t sure exactly where to start. Try following these steps:
1: Pick a date
Assuming you don’t have to get across country for a new job next month, you should first decide when you want to sell. The world is full of advice about the best and worst times to sell. All too often it’s contradictory. Do you listen to the sage advice that says “Don’t list in December – no one buys houses in December!” Or do you trust the counterargument, “But no one lists houses in December – you’ll have the market to yourself!” How about neither? The Zillow Owner Dashboard tells you which month is the best to list a house, based on analysis of thousands of home sales in your area. So check out your dashboard and, if you can, aim to list at your optimum month.
Two months before listing
2: Research your local market
Again, the Owner Dashboard can help by giving you some basic comparable properties to look at. Start getting a ballpark price in mind. You can even explore a Make Me Move price to get a feel for your market and target price. Visit some open houses and get ideas for staging and what’s for sale near you.
Six weeks before listing
3: Hire an agent
If you are hiring a real estate agent to handle your listing, start interviewing candidates now. Don’t just pick someone who sent you a postcard. Ask friends and family for recommendations and research agent reviews. Once you find someone you feel comfortable and confident with, you can sign a listing agreement and start working out a marketing plan. Discuss any additional fixes or remodeling work the agent believes will pay off.
4: Get your house ready
Start sprucing the place up. Paint (or at least wash) interior walls. Fix any cosmetic or functional items that will turn off buyers. Be brutally honest with yourself. This probably isn’t the time to do an extensive kitchen remodel, but if you have cabinets that don’t close or an avocado green dishwasher in an otherwise modern kitchen, fix it.
One month before listing
5: Start moving out – really
If you can, get a storage pod or unit and start packing up, a little at a time. Not only will this help you with the eventual move, but a home that isn’t overloaded with furniture and personal items just shows better. If you’ve been using rooms for storage, time to move the storage offsite. Pack up as many personal items as you can. Those wedding pictures on the wall may look great but potential buyers will want to envision their own wedding pictures up there, not yours.
Talk with your neighbors about your plans. Not only is it nice to give them a heads up that you’re leaving, but they can help market the property. They may have friends looking for a house who already love your neighborhood.
Two to three weeks before listing
6: Check your financial picture
Get your loan payout information for your mortgage. You’re going to need to know how much you owe so you can figure out what your sales proceeds will be – or if you are going to be doing a short sale in which the sales price won’t satisfy the mortgage. Clear up any liens on the property.
7: Keep cleaning and decluttering
If you are using an agent, they will probably have advice on staging. If not, remember you want it to look as much like a model home as possible. Remove personal items. Make sure furniture makes sense for the space. You don’t want potential buyers looking at a room and trying to figure out a function for it.
One week before listing
8: Lights, camera… marketing
Once you’ve got the house looking its best, time for pictures. If you have an agent, they will likely take pictures or hire a real estate photographer to do it. Consider making a free Zillow video walkthrough to post with the listing. Be picky. No clutter should be visible. Shades should be open to let in as much flattering natural light as possible. These are your home’s glamour shots. You want them to look good enough to give you second thoughts about moving. But don’t Photoshop away any cosmetic issues. Buyers will be annoyed by the bait and switch.
Your agent should help create an engaging, accurate and upbeat description of your home. Think about what made you fall in love (or at least in like) with it when you bought it. You can use the Owner Dashboard to post a description of your home at any time, even if it isn’t for sale yet.
Listing day and beyond
9: Go live
If you have an agent, make sure they get your home listed on the major online sites, including Zillow. If you are selling on your own, you can post the listing on Zillow as For Sale by Owner; you should also put up a sign outside, along with flyers with photos and description. If you have an agent, they should have taken care of that by the time the house listing goes becomes active.
10: Live in a perpetual state of clean
No matter how many ways you say you need a few hours’ notice before a buyer’s agent brings potential buyers, someone will call on the way to your home, or even from your driveway. Be ready to clear out fast, leaving a sparkling home. Every bed must be made every morning. Even if you don’t have a showing scheduled, you have to assume a buyer will come by every time you leave the house. (Of course the surest way to get a buyer to come by is to leave a dirty sock on the floor.)
11: Watch the offers roll in. Or not
If you’re working with an agent, you should get feedback after every showing. If you aren’t getting a lot of showings and it’s a hot market, an early price adjustment may be in order. Remember, in any market, the sooner you sell, the higher the price you’re likely to get. So in these early days, you want to be responsive to what the market has to say.