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How to sell a home

If you're like a lot of people, your home holds a special place in your heart. It's where you spend time with your family and friends, and it's probably where you feel the most relaxed and comfortable. Making the choice to sell is never easy, and selling can seem overwhelming at times with all of the paperwork, planning and negotiating. Just like buying a home, selling is also a learning experience. We've created a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the selling journey.

Determine how you'll sell your home

You have two options for selling your home: for sale by owner or with the help of a real estate agent. If you choose to sell it yourself, you'll have more responsibilities on your shoulders — like determining a listing price, showing the house, and advertising — but you'll get to keep the full purchase price of the house. If you hire a real estate agent, they'll handle everything in exchange for a commission of the sale, usually 6%.

There isn't a right or wrong way to sell your home. Many people choose to use a real estate agent, but if you have the time and are confident that you can do the research, nothing is stopping you from selling it yourself.

Choose a price

Choosing the right price is essential to making a timely deal. Your real estate agent can help by running a report that uses the selling price of similar houses in the area. If there aren’t any comparable houses, your agent will use their expertise to price it accordingly. A good real estate agent will walk you through their reasoning and work with you to choose a price. Your home holds many memories and you know what work has been done over the years, but it’s important to be objective and stick to the facts when setting a price.

If you're selling on your own, make sure you price correctly. Use similar homes in your neighborhood that have sold in the last three months as a guide. You can even call agents to ask for the price of pending sales, although they may not give you that information. When looking at these listings, pay attention to how long they’ve been on the market. This can give you an idea on how long it might take to sell yours.

After you've done your research, avoid the urge to overprice. You'll run the risk of turning away buyers who can find similar houses for less. And your house will lose the excitement factor of being new on the market within a few weeks, and that time is crucial for attracting buyers. Don't be afraid to price a little lower; houses that are priced lower than expected tend to get multiple bids, which can raise the price when several buyers are competing against each other.

Prepare your house

This step can take a while, so give yourself plenty of time before the first showing. Your goal is to return your house to as neutral state as possible, which means painting over bright or bold wall colors, removing personal items and cleaning from top to bottom. Below are a few things to keep in mind as you're prepping your house.

Depersonalize

Buyers need to be able to imagine themselves living there, and that's hard to do with family pictures lining the mantle. You'll also want to remove toys, dirty dishes, laundry and even your pet's toys and food dishes. The less personal items they see, the better they can picture themselves in the home.

Clean everything

Pretend that buyers are your pickiest house guests, and clean accordingly. Pay close attention to your kitchen and bathrooms, they're often under the most scrutiny. Make sure there are no signs of mold, mildew or stains in the house. You may also want to place a few air fresheners throughout the house to eliminate any odors you might not notice.

Fix the small issues

Go through your house and try to see it as a potential buyer. We get used to our own living spaces, so we may not notice things like a loose step or leaky faucet, but your buyers will. These things may seem small, but the little things add up when deciding to purchase a home. Think of this as your chance to finally take care of those home improvements you've been putting off. Just because you're leaving doesn't mean your work won't be appreciated by someone else.

Clean up the yard

Don't forget to take care of the outside of your home. Curb appeal draws potential buyers in and can be the difference between making a deal or not. Maintain your lawn and landscaping, and remove personal belongings from the yard as well.

Show your house

Showings can be stressful for sellers. You want every part of your home to be perfect, and sometimes that’s just not possible. Especially for those spur-of-the-moment showings. That's okay. Make a plan in advance so you'll have a guide to follow if things get hectic.

Provide alternative spaces for the kids and pets

If you have children or pets, you'll want to have a plan for where they can go when buyers see the house. Check with family members or neighbors, or go for a walk or a drive. If that's not possible, designate an area of the house they can stay in until it's time for the buyers to see that room. Then move them to an area that's already been seen.

Keep your house tidy

Once you’ve done a thorough cleaning, do everything you can to keep it that way. When you're finished using something, put it away. It's much easier to take a few seconds to clean up after an activity than it is to rush around the house and put things away right before the potential buyers arrive.

Be flexible

Showings won't always be convenient, so if you want to sell your house, you have to be flexible. It may feel uncomfortable at first to leave your home while potential buyers walk through, or to get feedback on your home, but remind yourself of the end goal. Allow buyers the freedom to fall in love with the house like you did.

Review offers and negotiate a contract

When a buyer makes a written offer, their agent will submit it to yours, or to you if you're selling on your own. Aside from the offer price, you should also consider the following:

Seller concessions

Seller concessions are incentives that sellers offer to buyers to sweeten the deal, such as paying inspection or closing costs, paying for a one-year home warranty or covering homeowner association fees for the first year.

Buyer's home sale contingency

Many offers are contingent upon the buyer selling their house before purchasing yours. If you have multiple offers, one without a home sale contingency would be more competitive since you aren't relying on them to sell their house.

Closing date

Buyers may sometimes ask for an extended closing date due to a job search, their contingency clause or a scheduling conflict. Delays can occur during closing, so make sure that the extension doesn’t interfere with your timeline.

Cash or financing

While it doesn't happen very often, it’s possible to have a buyer who'll pay in cash. This would move the closing date up significantly because they won't need to wait for a bank to provide financing. In this event, you'll likely be expected to move out quickly, so think about where you’re going to stay and where to store your belongings if you're still looking for a new home.

Accept and close

Once you accept the buyer’s offer, your house will be taken off the market. The buyers will schedule any inspections, and their lender will order an appraisal and approve their financing. The last step of closing is to sign the documents that transfer the home to the new owners. Any profit from the sale will be sent to you, often by wire transfer directly to your bank.

Selling a house takes time and is worth celebrating. Congratulations!