Tips and Steps to Selling a House

A few simple steps can help get your house sold

young woman with a for sale sign outside a house
••• Geri Lavrov/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

It's always smart to prepare a home selling plan before you start making repairs or marking a date on your calendar for an open house. Prepare your property, making repairs if necessary. Interview real estate agents and be open to suggestions for a listing price.

Of course, you want the most money you can possibly get for the property, but that might not happen if you make costly home selling mistakes along the way.

What's Your Motivation for Selling?

Explore your reasons for selling. Maybe this isn't the ideal time for you to sell if you aren't really committed. Maybe the current market isn't ideal.

Try comparing the pros and cons—staying a while longer versus selling right now—in a written list to determine if you're making the right move. Talk to trusted professionals and gather opinions.

Call Real Estate Agents

Interview real estate agents and talk to at least three neighborhood specialists. Ask each listing agent to present a comprehensive marketing plan that explains what he'll do to market your home. Ask the agents to prepare comparative market analyses for you so you have an idea of home values in your area.

How Should you Prepare Your Home for Sale? 

Compare suggestions and consider accepting the most sound advice, but you'll generally want to remove any bulky, excess, or worn out furniture. Stick extra stuff in the garage or in a private storage unit, or just throw it out if it's in really bad shape. Give the place a good cleaning. Hire a professional if necessary.

Should You Make Repairs Before Selling? 

Not all resale repairs will pay off, so calculate the potential return on your investment if you're tempted to spend money on just prettying things up. Kitchen and bathroom improvements tend to provide the best returns. Ask for professional guidance or you might spend more on things you really don't need to "fix."

Although you don't want to spend a lot of money making improvements, you do want to repair obvious maintenance issues.

You might consider investing a few hundred dollars in a home inspection before you list your home so you'll know upfront if your property has any structural, must-repair problems.

What About Home Staging?

Home staging is the art—yes, art—of presenting your home in such a way as to give potential buyers that warm, fuzzy, I-want-to-live-here feeling. You can hire a professional stager, ask your agent to help stage, or stage your place yourself, but you'll almost certainly get more for your home if you address this issue.

Move furniture—what's left after you got rid of the bulky stuff—to make rooms look larger or cozier. Add throw rugs, pillows, or artwork in colors that tend to elicit a positive psychological response. Get the lighting just right. And don't forget the exterior. Add a few potted plants, or lay down some fresh mulch so your house says, "Welcome! Come inside!"

Take pictures or hire a professional photographer to do it for you when everything is neat, clean, and attractive. She'll know the tricks of the trade to make rooms look larger and brighter, and quality photos of your home that are posted in the right places can go a long way toward bringing in buyers.

How Should You Price Your Home?

Don't select an agent based on the sales price she suggests. Some will try to overbid each other to get the listing. And do not overprice.

Homes that are overpriced often sell for less than market value...if they sell at all. Would you want to pay $25,000 more for a similar home in the same neighborhood?

Review those comparative market analyses you asked for, and look into other nearby homes that are on the market. You might even consider getting a professional appraisal so you have a firm, unbiased opinion as to what your home is really worth.

Compare Net Profits

Many agents will prepare two net sheets for sellers, one with a low price and one with a high price. This way, sellers can be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. If the lowest net price will allow you to buy the new home you want, it's time to find financing and get preapproved.

Find a Lender

First, call your existing lender to find out exactly how much you'll have to pay off. You should also order a beneficiary statement. Then check out new financing offers from lending institutions and credit unions.

Ask for an estimate of costs. Compare rates and fees. You might want to ask your agent for referrals to mortgage brokers because they often have more flexibility to discount rates. Mortgage brokers are more competitive.

Make sure you're comfortable with your loan officer and that she has plenty of experience. Get a loan preapproval letter so you know how much of a mortgage you qualify for. Keep in mind that you don't have to apply for the maximum mortgage you're approved for. A lower mortgage payment might make you more comfortable in the long run. Compare loan types and choose wisely.

Sell Before Buying

You might be tempted to bounce around online looking at homes on the web as soon as your home goes on the market. The next thing you know, you're making appointments to view a few homes. Don't get carried away by virtual tours and beautiful photographs of your dream home. It's almost always more profitable to sell before buying.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.