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If there’s anything more stressful than buying a house, it might be selling one — especially because you may be buying and selling at the same time.
Completing a home sale can require a lot of time, planning, paperwork and, yes, money. While it’s possible to list your home for sale by owner, most people get help from a real estate agent.
Here’s a guide to the steps you’ll encounter in selling your home.
1. Make repairs and upgrades
After you’ve decided to sell — but before you list your home — start by doing a walk-through inside and outside your property. Fix any small problems you find from routine wear and tear, such as loose pieces of siding, dents in the drywall or a missing drawer pull.
As for the bigger stuff: Note the age of your home’s HVAC system, roof, insulation, water heater and other major features. If anything would raise a red flag in a potential buyer’s home inspection, you might be better off upgrading now to increase the quality of your offers.
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2. Find a real estate agent (or commit to FSBO)
It’s tempting to consider listing your home as “for sale by owner.” The biggest plus: You’d save money on the listing agent’s commission. But a FSBO (pronounced "fizbo") transaction requires a significant time commitment as well as industry knowledge and marketing savvy.
Even what seem like the easy parts of selling — like showing your house — can be awkward without an agent, especially hearing candid (and sometimes painful) comments about your home.
Often, an experienced listing agent who knows your local market is worth every penny. They can advocate for your interests during the transaction and can guide you when unexpected situations arise.
If you decide to hire a real estate agent, interview at least three contenders to find the right fit.
3. Analyze your market and comparables
Taking an objective view of your local real estate market will help you manage your expectations. In a seller’s market, you might expect multiple bids above your opening listing price. But in a buyer’s market, you may have to discount your asking price.
Your agent will gather information on recently sold homes — called comparables, or "comps" — to help you get a ballpark price. Look at homes that are as similar to yours as possible in terms of age, style, location and size. Homes that are currently for sale won't give you as reliable a picture as sold homes because the asking price isn't necessarily the final price.
4. Set a competitive price
Once your agent has analyzed the comps, they will help you set a list price of your home. You’ll want to have a little cushion for negotiation — unless you live in a hot seller’s market. But don’t be tempted to overprice your property. Generally, the longer your house stays on the market, the less you’ll get.
You’ll want to take your expenses into account, including a commission of 5% to 6%.
Even if you go without an agent, you’ll have marketing expenses such as signs, flyers, listing costs or professional photography.
» MORE: How to price your house to sell
5. Stage your home
When staging, focus on maximizing your home’s marketability. Your listing agent can help you envision your home as a potential buyer. Ultimately, the goal is to make it a blank slate so a buyer can see themselves living there. That means boxing up family photos, painting walls as needed and putting that cushy-but-worn recliner out of sight.
You can stage your home yourself or hire a professional stager who can help prepare a home for sale for a fee. Your listing agent can likely recommend a professional in your area. A professional home stager will often remove half the furniture in a home to make it appear larger. In a 2022 survey, the International Association of Home Staging Professionals found that staged homes can sell at least twice as fast and for as much as 20% more than nonstaged homes on average.
6. Post your listing and market the property
If you’re working with a listing agent, they can put your home on your local multiple listing service (MLS).
You’ve probably noticed online listings that have a little extra sizzle, with bold and bright photography and engaging descriptions of the property for sale. You can write a listing description yourself or ask your agent or a professional copywriter for help.
The value of professional photography cannot be overstated. National Association of Realtors (NAR) data from 2022 found that of home buyers searching online, 85% found photos very useful. Great real estate photography highlights your home’s best features. Natural light and eye-level angles make for realistic, but flattering, photos — and don’t forget to clear any clutter.
Digital tools, such as a 3D virtual tour or virtual staging, make it convenient to bring your property to life online. And an open house can draw interested buyers in real life. Plan to host one the weekend after the property goes on the market for the best visibility.
» MORE: How to sell your house fast
7. Get ready to negotiate
All of the finer points of negotiating with prospective buyers can be time-consuming and patience-testing — and this is where good real estate agents really earn their commission.
If you receive multiple offers, consider more than just price. A buyer’s timeline is a major factor to consider, especially if you’re buying and selling at the same time. Your agent can help you compare the different offers' financing, terms and contingencies so you can decide which is best for you.
According to 2021 NAR data, the typical price for homes sold via agents was $330,000, or roughly $105,000 more than the median price of owner-sold homes, which was $225,000. Some of that difference may be attributed to FSBO homes being lower cost. But if you're considering selling your own home just to save money on the agent’s commission, it may not be worth it.
If your house sells before you find one to buy, you might want to trigger a “rent-back” agreement from the new owners. This gives you time to complete the purchase of your new home and prepare for the move, even after your current house has sold.
8. Prepare for the closing
With or without an agent, you’ll need to make your home available for an appraisal and likely for an inspection. If the offer is contingent on a satisfactory home inspection, issues that pop up can trigger some back-and-forth and may require additional repairs.
Contingencies are market-driven factors. Generally, the higher the housing demand, the fewer conditions are placed on a sale. In an especially hot real estate market, a buyer might offer to waive contingencies like the home inspection.
You'll also want to be ready to foot the bill for some of the closing costs. Which costs are the seller's responsibility vary depending on state and local laws as well as on your agreement with the buyers. Make sure you've gone through the purchase contract in detail so you know what to expect.
» MORE: Closing costs for home sellers
9. Plan your move
After the effort it takes to sell your house, the most frantic period may be when it comes time to relocate. Coordinating movers, packing and handling a change of address — they each require a lot of attention to detail.
But after it all, there is some good news: the payoff. Once you sell your home, the IRS generally allows you to take up to a $250,000 gain on the sale, tax-free. If you’re married and file jointly, double that to $500,000.
The bad news? Selling your house for a loss is not tax-deductible.
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