You’ve decided to sell your home.
If you’re like most home sellers, you want to sell your house fast, for the best price, and want the process to be as easy as possible.
But you’re unsure which steps to take.
If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place.
This is the most comprehensive guide to selling a house that covers the entire home selling process step-by-step.
(Including a blueprint you won’t find anywhere else.)
Let’s dive right in.
The home selling process in 13 steps
Selling a house is a big decision and a major step in life’s next journey.
The process that lies ahead may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Follow these exact steps to learn how to sell a house the right way.
1. Choose the right real estate agent
The difference between two real estate agents can literally be tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket.
It can also be the difference between a stressful experience and an easier one.
But the right agent will also do something else.
They’ll guide you through the entire home selling process from start to finish and make your sale a top priority.
This means less stress and a higher chance of a successful home sale.
That’s why choosing the right real estate agent is the first step to selling your home.
Follow these steps to make sure you choose the right listing agent:
Ask the right questions
Think of choosing a listing agent as a job interview. You need to ask the right questions when interviewing real estate agents to sell your house.
Get the right answers
Just because that agent sells a lot of homes or was referred to you doesn’t mean they’re the right person to sell your house.
You need to get the right answers to ensure they’re going to treat the sale of your home as if it was their own.
Understand your listing agreement
When you commit to your listing agent, you’ll sign an exclusive agreement with them. You need to understand what you’re signing before you put pen to paper.
Make sure you have the option to cancel
The listing agreement is a legally binding contract that is difficult to cancel. Having the option to do so, at any time, increases your chances of selling your home with a real estate agent who can be trusted.
Go with your gut to make sure there’s a connection
You’re going to be working with this person for an extended period of time. You need to go with your instincts and make sure that there’s a connection and you feel comfortable with them.
You might be tempted to skip some of these steps, but don’t.
They’ll prevent you from selling with the wrong agent.
And they will help you find the right person who you can rely on throughout the entire home selling process.
All of these can have a big impact on how much you sell for and how long the process takes.
So make sure you’re selling your home with someone you trust.
2. Estimate how much you can get from selling your house
The formula to figure this out is simple:
“Sale price – mortgage balance & closing costs = proceeds.”
You’re going to have to make decisions on certain things throughout the home selling process.
And some of these things will affect how much you’ll make.
Estimating how much money you can walk away with will help make these decisions a bit easier.
Plus, it will help prevent any last-minute surprises and help you plan for your next move.
This is especially important if you’re a first-time home seller.
Here are the steps to finding out your potential profit:
Estimate your sale price
The most accurate way to get your potential sales price is to get a comparative market analysis from your real estate agent.
This analysis is a similar approach to what an appraiser uses, but it factors in the desirability of potential buyers.
Your home is compared to similar properties that have sold, and value adjustments are included for the differences in features and characteristics (more on this in a bit).
The best real estate agents are very good at these.
You can also use our home value estimator to find the estimated price of your home.
Estimate your closing costs
The costs when selling your house are often referred to as “closing costs.” These consist of several items.
The biggest one is going to be the real estate commission.
- When you sell your home, you’ll pay the commission to your realtor as well as the buyer’s realtor.
- The average total commission to sell a house is somewhere around 5 to 6%.
- Real estate commissions are negotiable, and the average depends on your area and the type of real estate agent you’re hiring.
In addition to agent commissions, there are other items bundled into the closing costs.
These include escrow and title fees, transfer taxes, and miscellaneous fees.
These costs can vary depending on which state, county, and city you live in.
You can use our home sale calculator to get an idea of what these might be.
Calculate your proceeds
Take your estimated sales price and subtract your mortgage balance and estimated costs.
This is the estimated amount you’ll walk away with after you sell your home.
Another way to do this is to get an estimated net sheet from your agent.
They can get this from an escrow officer early in the selling process.
Here’s what it looks like:
This will show you a breakdown of your costs specific to your home (based on what you think your house will sell for).
It will also give you an idea of whether you need to pay capital gains taxes.
This is important if you plan on purchasing a new home after you sell your house.
Confirm this with your tax person, but generally, all of your closing costs are tax-deductible.
3. Determine the best time to sell your house
The ideal time to sell a house is when supply is low and demand is high.
Supply is the number of homes for sale, and demand is the number of buyers.
You and your agent don’t have any control over your local real estate market, but you can keep an eye on the housing market conditions so that you can time the sale of your home in your favor.
Here’s how to determine the best time to put your house on the market.
Get an analysis from your real estate agent that compares the current inventory (number of homes for sale) to the previous month in your local market.
This is known as an inventory analysis and will give you insight into how many houses are currently for sale in your area and how fast they’re selling.
You calculate this data point by taking the number of homes for sale in any given area and dividing it by the number of houses sold in the last month.
- Let’s say there are 500 homes currently on the market and 100 have sold over the last 30 days.
- Dividing 500 by 100 gives you 5 months of supply.
- Typically, anything under ~6 months is a seller’s market, and anything over that is a buyer’s market.
This calculation can also be reversed to figure out the absorption rate.
Keep in mind that the real estate market can change on a weekly basis.
So keeping an eye on these trends at the beginning of the selling process will boost your chances of timing the sale of your home in your favor, which can ultimately help you sell your home for more money.
This is why using data to help you determine the best time to sell your house is key.
4. Get a pre-sale home inspection
Having a home inspection completed before you sell your house is one of the best investments you can make.
There are two reasons why:
- Potential buyers will feel more confident when submitting their offer.
- It reduces the chances of the buyer asking you to repair something after their offer is accepted.
In some parts of the country, a homeowner who is selling will solely rely on the buyer to get their own inspection report.
But these are the home sellers that usually have a greater chance of the buyer backing out of the sale.
The cost for a home inspection can range anywhere from about $300 to $700. This will depend on the area you live in and the size of your house.
A home inspector will inspect the entire property and will need access to the attic, crawlspace, water heater, and garage walls. So before they visit your home, make sure these are easily accessible.
The inspection report will usually cover the following items:
- Foundation and other structural elements
- Water heater
- Windows and doors
- Heating and cooling systems
- Windows, ceilings, and walls
It’s very common to see numerous items called out on the summary page of the inspection report.
But don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you need to fix all of them.
In fact, you can do nothing and still sell your house as is.
The whole purpose of getting a home inspection earlier in the selling process is to provide potential buyers with the information they need to make their best offer.
But the lower the number of necessary repairs, the more attractive your home looks.
And the more attractive your home looks, the higher the chances of selling your home fast and for the best price.
5. Make repairs (but keep them minimal)
There’s a reason why this step in the selling process comes after getting a home inspection.
Because doing so will save you time and money.
Too many sellers spend too much time making unnecessary repairs.
Once you have the home inspection report, ask your agent which repairs are worth making.
Once you’ve made the necessary repairs, make a list of the items you took care of and give them to your listing agent.
They can attach this list to the inspection report so that potential buyers are aware of the items that have been fixed.
This is one of the best ways to make your home stand out from the competition (other homes for sale).
6. Fill in your selling disclosures
A homeowner is typically required to disclose certain information about the property they’re selling on specific disclosure documents.
The requirements for these can vary depending on which state and city the property is in.
Your real estate agent will be able to provide these disclosures to you and guide you through the process.
Many of these are template-based and only require signatures from the seller and buyer, but several will give you a list of questions that you’ll need to answer.
Here are a few examples of what you’ll be required to disclose:
- Water damage
- Neighborhood noise
- Environmental contamination
- Potential risk from natural disaster
- Death in the property
- HOA information
Here’s an example of what one of these disclosures looks like:
These are meant to give potential buyers information about the property that could have a negative effect.
Similar to a home inspection, the disclosures provide home buyers with important information up front so that they can feel more comfortable about offering a better price for your home.
Keep this in mind: Do not intentionally hide anything. Doing so can bring a potential lawsuit from the buyer. It’s always better to over-disclose than to under-disclose.
7. Open escrow
An escrow company is a neutral third party between the buyer and seller.
They’re responsible for:
- Holding the buyer’s initial money deposit.
- Making sure that the seller doesn’t receive their proceeds until all of the conditions in the purchase contract are met.
- Ensuring the buyer doesn’t receive the deed to the property until those same conditions are met.
- Handling the funds between the buyer and seller.
In some areas, the seller opens escrow, and in others, the buyer does.
If you live in an area where it’s common for the seller to open escrow, you should do so at this stage of the home selling process.
It will allow the escrow officer assigned to your home sale to start the escrow process as soon as the purchase contract is ratified, which can help prevent any delays with the closing date.
Technically, home sellers can choose and open escrow with any company of their choice.
However, in most real estate transactions, the seller relies on their real estate agent to do this for them.
The next step in the home selling process is to get your home ready to sell.
8. Prepare your home for sale
In order to give yourself the best shot at selling your house for the most money, you’ll want to prepare your home with something important.
Remove your emotional attachment.
Think of selling your house as a business transaction because that’s what it is.
The goal is to sell your home in the shortest amount of time and for top dollar.
You’ll maximize your chances of doing this by changing your mindset as you start to get your home ready to sell.
Let’s show you how to do that by going through the prepping process step by step.
Declutter and maximize your space
Want to make a great first impression when potential buyers visit your home?
Declutter and maximize your space.
Home buyers love extra space and storage.
Start by getting garbage bags and boxes. Go room by room and make several piles:
Stay focused and finish one room before moving to the next.
And don’t forget to remove the family photos.
Anything you keep can be stored in the garage.
This is common, and many buyers expect it.
Have anything worth selling?
Think about having a garage sale.
The Salvation Army can save you hassle by picking up the items for you.
Go through every room, and don’t forget the closets.
You probably have more stuff than you think.
Start this process early and don’t procrastinate.
Do these money-making improvements to boost your sale price
You make the improvements, and potential buyers will factor them into their offer price.
And in some cases, the amount added to the market value of your home far exceeds the amount it cost you.
Because certain improvements have a big impact on the visual appearance of your home.
Many home buyers let their emotions influence their decision when deciding how much to offer for your home.
And the visual appearance with certain improvements plays a big role in this.
But not all improvements pay off.
The four upgrades that will usually make the most money when selling a house are:
- Stainless steel appliances
- Front yard landscaping
- Interior paint
A fresh coat of paint and an enhanced curb appeal are most common among people selling their homes.
Both of these upgrades can be inexpensive and make you the greatest return on your money.
Ask your agent which improvements are worth making, and see if they can make the process easier for you.
Many listing agents have contacts to service professionals and will help coordinate the work.
Deep clean and make your house shine
Hiring a professional will save you the time and hassle of having to do it yourself.
The cost for a deep clean will depend on your area and the size of your home, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $600.
Or you can take the DIY approach.
If you do, here’s a list of what you’ll want to make sure you clean:
- Vanity doors and handles
- Appliances (including inside of oven)
- Cabinets (including inside shelving)
- Windows (inside and outside)
- Window coverings
- Vents (and replace filters)
Transform your space by staging your home
You’re in the final steps of getting your home ready to sell.
But you need one final touch to help buyers envision themselves living in your home.
That final touch?
Staging your house.
Look at this home:
Now look at this one:
Pretty big difference, right?
You shouldn’t think twice about staging your home if it’s going to be vacant when selling.
Online photos of a vacant home make a bad first impression.
And a bad first impression can drastically reduce buyer interest and prolong the home selling process.
You should consider hiring a professional stager if you plan on living in your house while it’s on the market.
Ask your real estate agent for recommendations to home stagers.
Many of them will provide a free consultation and make suggestions about which furniture can stay and which should go.
Take professional photos
According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of home buyers search online.
Which means your photos (and list price) will be the first thing home buyers see.
A great photographer can make your home look better than it really is.
Most real estate agents will include professional photos in their marketing plan, so you can expect your agent to coordinate the photo shoot.
Here’s what you’ll want to do to prepare:
- Make sure your house is clean.
- Turn on all lights.
- Open all window coverings.
Show as much light as you can.
It will help make a great first impression when buyers are viewing the photos online.
You’ll want to make sure that your real estate agent tells the photographer to not show any negative property characteristics or features.
Some of these might include things such as high voltage lines, a really small stall shower, or maybe a backyard that needs work.
Now that you’ve gone through the prepping process, the next step is to determine how much you should “ask” for your home.
9. Set the best list price
Your home is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it.
But the number you price your home at can help attract more buyers AND maximize your sale price.
That’s why setting the best list price is one of the most important steps in the home selling process.
And it’s also why the “asking price” should be used as part of your marketing strategy.
If you’re working with the right real estate agent, this is exactly what they’re going to help you do.
Here’s how to ensure you’re listing your home at the best price.
Get an updated comparative market analysis from your listing agent
A market analysis is going to compare your home to:
- Recently sold homes
- Properties that are currently for sale
- Pending home sales (seller accepted an offer, but the sale hasn’t closed yet)
You should have received this from your agent earlier in the selling process, but now you’ll want to update the properties that are included in the analysis.
Buyers will look at these same homes before determining their offer price and will put more weight on the ones that have recently sold.
So you should do the same.
The properties that are pending are good to look at because they’ll give you insight into how long it took for the seller to accept an offer.
And the ones that are currently on the market will be your competition.
Analyze the data
The best market analysis will have the best value adjustments.
Value adjustments are dollar amounts for key differences between your home and the ones you’re comparing to.
Some of these differences include the following:
- Interior square footage
- Lot size
- Street noise
The dollar amount for each adjustment will depend on the sold price of the comparable home.
For example, let’s say a recently sold home had two bathrooms and a sale price of $800,000.
And your home has three bathrooms.
You might see a value adjustment for something like +$10,000 or +$15,000.
This would put your comparable price to that recently sold home at $810,000 or $815,000 (sold price + value adjustment)
The next step is to add all of the value adjustments to the sold price to arrive at a comparable price for each recently sold home.
This is the same approach that appraisers use and is the most accurate way to determine the market value of a home.
Determine the actual number to use for your asking price
Using a number that is slightly less than a rounded number is very common, and it works.
For example, let’s say the comparable price of each recently sold home is the following:
Since the average is $1,060,000, pricing your home at $1,049,000 is probably the best strategy.
The key is to not set your price too high or low.
Finalize the perfect number with your real estate agent, and you’ll maximize your chances of getting a top-dollar offer sooner than you think.
10. List your home for sale
The next step in the selling process is the moment you’ve been waiting for.
It’s time to sell your home.
The goal is to tell the world that your house is for sale.
Your agent should do this by incorporating the right marketing process and utilizing the right channels to reach the most buyers.
Upload your listing to the MLS
The “MLS” is a database used by brokerages and agents across the country to list their homes for sale.
Your real estate agent will strategize with you on a date to upload your listing to the MLS.
Once your home is listed, it gets syndicated out to numerous sites, including all of the major real estate search sites, such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, and realtor.com.
Utilize social media
There’s an extremely strong chance that the buyer for your home is on social media.
Tech-savvy real estate agents use this to their advantage.
They do this by showing your listing to their audience and/or by placing ads on different platforms.
This not only maximizes the exposure to the audience that you’re targeting, but it also makes it easy for those people to tell others that you’re selling a home.
Spread the word through a network of top real estate agents
The listing agents who consistently sell more homes than their peers have a lot of contacts.
If your real estate agent falls into this category, then your listing will have access to their network of top buyer’s agents.
Keep this in mind: Many agents who sell a lot of homes will try to also represent the buyer to double their commission. This can be damaging because in many cases, the agent will minimize the marketing and focus on finding a buyer who doesn’t have an agent. When this happens, the house almost always sells for much less than it should have. If you want to take full advantage of your agent’s network and make the most money, you might want to get a commitment that they won’t represent the buyer.
Buyers most likely discovered your listing somewhere online and discussed it with their agent.
Which is a good thing.
This means your listing piqued their curiosity and your online marketing strategy worked.
Now it’s time to get them interested in making an offer.
Open houses give them that opportunity.
Most open houses are scheduled for two to four hours on Saturday and Sunday.
A Friday evening twilight open house can also work well.
On the day of an open house, aim to keep the appearance of your house similar to what it was for the photos.
Turn on all the lights.
Open all of your window coverings.
And remove anything that takes up space.
Remember, buyers will be viewing your house from a different point of view.
So even the smallest things can make a big difference.
Sometimes buyers can’t attend an open house.
Or they want to view your home before others do.
These are set up through a private showing.
If you’re living in the property when selling, you can tell your agent to schedule these only on certain days or certain times of the day.
This will make the showing process a bit easier for you.
And keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to be at your home while potential buyers are viewing it.
Many buyers feel uncomfortable asking their buying agent important questions as they’re walking around.
11. Vet, negotiate, and accept an offer
Waiting for a buyer to give you an offer can be nerve-wracking.
But if you followed everything we discussed in the previous steps, you shouldn’t be waiting too long.
The offer process when selling a home doesn’t work how most sellers think it does.
So we’re going to break this step of the home selling process down into three “sub-steps.”
- Vet the buyer and their offer
How to vet the buyer and their offer
Vetting an offer from a potential buyer is key.
This will do three things:
- Eliminate any surprises that the buyer might be trying to sneak in.
- Increase the probability that your sale closes on time.
- Minimize the chances of the buyer backing out.
The offer from the buyer will be on a contract and sent to your listing agent.
This is commonly referred to as a “purchase contract” or “purchase agreement.”
Vet the buyer’s offer
The first step in the vetting process is to thoroughly go through the offer and look for these:
- Offer price
- Deposit amount and due date
- Days to close
- Type of financing
- Percentage of down payment
You’ll see some of these listed on page 1 of the offer contract.
Your real estate agent will go through the offer and discuss the details with you.
Many people selling a home consider the offer price most important.
But contingencies are also important.
A contingency is a condition in the contract that must be met in order to make it binding.
The buyer has the option to include one or more contingencies in their offer.
The three most common contingencies from homebuyers are:
You need to know this because a contingency allows the buyer to back out of the sale (for that contingency reason) and get their deposit back.
This means that you can get an exceptional offer price, but it doesn’t mean much until the buyer removes their contingencies.
And even when they do, they can still back out of the sale.
But it’s much less likely because their deposit is at risk.
Vet the buyer
Your real estate agent should request that every buyer submit the following with their offer:
- Proof of funds (liquid assets, 401k, etc.)
- Signed disclosures and inspections
- Pre-approval letter
The proof of funds verifies that the buyer has enough for their:
- Down payment
- Closing costs
- Remaining assets that will be required from their lender
The signed disclosures and inspections are proof that the buyer is aware of all of the information you provided up front.
This makes it less likely that they’ll ask you to repair something after the offer is accepted.
The pre-approval letter will include the loan officer’s contact information and state how much the buyer is pre-approved for.
Have your real estate agent call the buyer’s loan officer.
The goal of this phone call is to verify that the buyer is well qualified.
Negotiate with the buyer
There are two different scenarios that can take place when negotiating: before you get the offer and after.
Negotiating before you get an offer
Your real estate agent might talk about price and terms without you knowing.
This happens when the buyer’s agent initiates the conversation before putting the offer in writing.
They’re trying to see if your agent will show their cards.
The best listing agents know exactly how to take advantage of this.
They swing the negotiations in your favor by knowing what to say to the buyer’s agent and when to say it.
And can literally bump the purchase price by thousands of dollars with just a few words.
Negotiating after you get an offer
You have three options when you receive an offer for your home:
- Counter offer
If you want to negotiate with the buyer, you do so by sending them a counter offer.
Here’s how to counter offer when selling a house:
The first thing you’ll need to do is accept the buyer’s offer and make it subject to your counter offer.
You’ll do this by checking a box on the buyer’s offer contract that states this.
It looks like this:
Next, you need to determine what you want to counter offer.
You can counter the purchase price or anything else the buyer included in their offer.
For example, let’s say you received an offer with the following price and terms:
- $1,100,000 purchase price
- 14-day inspection contingency
- 30-day close of escrow
- Deposit made within 72 hours after acceptance
You and your realtor discuss it, and you think the best approach is to send the buyer a counter offer for $1,120,000 and no inspection contingency.
Here’s what that would look like on a counter offer:
Accept an offer
The first big hurdle for a home seller after the offer is accepted is waiting for the buyer to make their deposit in escrow.
Tell your listing agent to not change the status in the MLS to “pending” or “contingent” until after the buyer makes their deposit.
The online listing will still show as “active,” which will put pressure on your buyer to make the deposit sooner rather than later.
12. Complete the buyer’s financing, appraisal, and inspections
Having the buyer make their deposit means you’re one step closer to finalizing the sale of your house.
But now it’s time to manage the rest of the selling process to make sure your sale is completed by the projected closing date.
Let’s break these down so you know what to expect.
Keep an eye on the buyer’s loan
The buyer’s pre-approval letter doesn’t mean that the buyer was guaranteed the loan.
The lender still needs to see other documents that are a part of the transaction (purchase contract, title report, etc.) before issuing the actual loan approval.
This is what the loan officer will be working on as soon as you and the buyer have a ratified contract.
These outstanding items are known as conditions.
There will be numerous conditions that need to be met before the lender will draw up the final documents for the buyer to sign.
One of these conditions is an appraisal.
Complete the appraisal
Your property will be used as collateral for the buyer’s loan.
So their lender will want to make sure that your home is worth the price the buyer is paying.
The buyer’s loan officer will start the appraisal process by ordering the appraisal (buyer pays for it).
Your real estate agent will let you know the day and time that the appraiser will be at your property.
They usually take ~30 minutes, and there’s no need to stress about cleaning beforehand.
Buyer’s inspections after an accepted offer
The buyer can choose whether they want to get their own home inspection (or any other type of inspection).
If they do, and if they waived their inspection contingency, that makes it difficult for them to back out of the sale and have their money deposit returned to them.
If they included an inspection contingency in their offer, then they’ll be able to back out and get their deposit back should they not be satisfied with their inspection report.
As we discussed in an earlier step, this is why getting a pre-sale home inspection can be a good idea.
And this is also why the buyer’s inspection contingency is a critical part of the selling process.
13. Close the sale
The big hurdles are out of the way.
The buyer has removed all of their contingencies, and their loan is almost finalized.
Now it’s time to complete the final step of the home selling process.
The buyer’s final walkthrough
One of the first steps of the closing process is having the buyer conduct a final walkthrough of the property.
They’ll do this with their real estate agent several days before the closing date.
This walkthrough is not a contingency.
The purpose is for the buyer to acknowledge that the property is in the same condition as when they first saw it.
Sign the final documents
You’ll sign the closing documents with a notary and will need to bring the following with you:
- Legal photo ID
- Account and routing numbers of where you want your funds wired to
Some states require hiring a real estate attorney during the closing process.
The real estate attorney is there to look over the contract and final documents that will officially transfer the property to the new buyer.
Get ready for closing
There will probably be ~2-5 days between the time you sign and the day that the sale of your home is official.
You can use this time to do the following:
- Remove everything from your home that is not included in the sale
- Get the house cleaned
- Take the utilities out of your name
- Cancel your homeowner’s insurance
- Update your mailing address
Funding the buyer’s loan
If it all looks good, the lender will wire the buyer’s loan amount to escrow.
This is called “funding.”
Once escrow has all of the funds (buyer’s initial deposit + remaining down payment + loan amount), they prepare for their final step — closing.
Time to make the sale official
The sale of your home will be official once the grant deed is recorded in the county where your property resides.
The escrow company will take care of this and notify your real estate agent once it’s official.
There are two ways to collect your proceeds:
- Cashier’s check
- Wire transfer
If you requested a cashier’s check, you should be able to pick it up later in the afternoon on the day of closing, or at the latest, the next morning.
If you requested a wire transfer, you should see the funds hit your account no later than the morning after closing.
And once you do?
Congratulations are in order.
You’ve completed the entire process of selling your house!
Selling a house involves numerous steps that can be overwhelming. Especially if it’s your first time.
But the process can seem more daunting than it really is. The key to selling faster and for the most money will be the real estate agent you decide to sell with.
The right person will take the weight off your shoulders and sell your house like it’s theirs.
Follow the steps in this home selling guide and boost your chances of having an easier, faster, and more profitable sale.