Table of contents

1. Create a plan
2. Decide how you’re going to sell
3. Determine the best time to sell
4. Decide on an asking price
5. Estimate your costs
6. Prepare your home for sale
7. Show your home
8. Receive purchase offers and negotiate
9. Prepare for the appraisal
10. Prepare for the inspection and provide disclosures
11. Contact the title company and open escrow
12. Negotiate repairs and seller concessions
13. Sign title and escrow documents

Ready to sell your home?

The good news is that you’re already familiar with real estate markets, since you had that crash course as a first time buyer. The bad news is selling your first home isn’t as easy as home and garden shows make it seem.

how to sell your house - with couple

But that’s OK, because our comprehensive home seller guide offers a glimpse into all aspects of the home selling process, and provides practical tips for getting the home show ready.

1. Create a game plan

You want to make the most money possible out of your sale, maybe get into a house that better suits your needs. Creating a home selling plan is critical in order to set priorities for the sale and avoid confusion throughout the process. The most important items to include in a home selling game plan are:

  • A clearly defined reason for making the big move — why are you selling the home?
  • Knowledge of where you’re going to move next.
  • An outline of your priorities for this home sale: Are you more interested in a profit, or in selling the home quickly?

Additionally, your plan should include the following items, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in the following sections:

  • The best time to list the home
  • A rough estimate of the costs associated with selling
  • How to best prepare the home for showings
  • Setting a competitive list price for the home

2. Determine how you’re going to sell

Perhaps the most important decision to make is how to sell the home. Fortunately, there are a variety of options available to you:

  • Hire a real estate agent, where the agent handles every detail of the transaction in exchange for a commission upon sale of the home.
  • Sell the home yourself, with a “For Sale By Owner” transaction you will handle every step of the process from marketing, to paperwork, to preparations for closing.
  • Sell your home to a direct buyer like Opendoor. At Opendoor, we take a single service charge to provide you with a hassle-free sales process without listing, showings, and months of stress. You’re in complete control of your moving timeline, and choose your own closing date.

3. Determine the best time to list

As we’ve concluded in our post about the real estate seasons in Phoenix, late spring is the best time to sell a home—and we believe that our takeaways from Arizona’s capital apply to most other markets as well.

Creating a first-time home selling plan is critical in order to set priorities for the sale and avoid confusion throughout the process.

But in areas where inventory is low and buyers are plentiful, the calendar may matter less than other factors, such as the state of your personal finances.

If your finances are in good shape and you’re in need for more room or an upgrade, that might determine a better time to sell in a tight market than trying to play the calendar.

4. Determine your asking price

Determining the list price of your home is often the trickiest part for sellers. Too high, and your home could sit on the market. Too low, and you could be leaving money on the table.

There are a variety of online tools that help you to create a ballpark idea of your home’s true value. On our blog, we walk you through the steps of calculating a home’s value.

Some of the important questions to ask when pricing a home:

  • What are homes with similar features in my neighborhood worth?
  • Does my home have any extraordinary features that increase the value, such as a pool?
  • Is this home as up to date as other recent sales in the neighborhood?

5. Estimate your costs

Although buying a home is expensive because of the down payment, there are high-dollar costs associated with selling a home as well — you can get a more detailed rundown of the total cost of selling your home on our blog.

calculate home selling cost

Some of the costs you’ll want to factor into your seller’s budget, and the eventual list price:

  • Realtor commission fees
  • Prepping the home to sell, from cosmetic touch-ups to repairs
  • Seller concessions
  • Closing costs
  • Housing overlap costs, such as first month’s rent or mortgage on the new home while covering the home you’re selling

6. Prepare your home for sale

Most homes need a little pre-sale cosmetic work, even if they’re newer builds and you’ve kept the home in good shape.

Have someone with a great eye for detail walk through your home and point out areas of concern, or visualize what your pickiest friend would say about the home. A realtor might have a home stager they recommend to help with this, with an eye toward space and design tweaks that engage sellers.

Not all fixes need to cost much. For example, you’ll want to declutter and depersonalize the home. This includes ensuring each room is tidy, and also that all closets, cabinets, and shelves are clutter-free. Make sure the lawn is freshly mown and the porch is swept. Paint rooms in a fresh, neutral color. Remove large furniture pieces. You want the potential buyers to envision that there is more than enough storage in the home to fit their needs.

decorating for a first time home seller guide

Repairs can vary from small fixes, such as broken or loose knobs, to large scale bathroom renovations. When evaluating whether you need extensive renovations, it’s crucial to research other homes in the area. Ask yourself:

  • Are updated homes in the neighborhood going for significantly more money?
  • Will you have to re-evaluate your desired list price because your home isn’t updated?
  • Are there features standard in homes in your area that your house does not have?

These answers will vary depending on the area, neighborhood, and the overall price point of your home. Check out our in-depth blog post to read more about the steps you should be aware of when preparing your home for a sale.

7. Show your home.

When you’re working with an agent they’ll typically show the home without you present, unless you request otherwise. Your job as a seller is to create a welcoming environment that makes it easier to attract a serious buyer. Here are a few best practices to consider:

    • Ensure that the home isn’t too hot or too cold
    • Clean the house top to bottom to make the best impression
    • Find a place for your pets to stay during the showing
    • Make sure that the rooms are well lit
    • Don’t overdo it with any scents
    • Have your agent ask visitors for feedback and use it to improve.

Keep in mind that, nationwide, homes are on the market for 65 days on average before the owner receives an offer, according to Realtor.com. It also takes 10 showings on average to find a buyer, so don’t get discouraged. Of course, these numbers vary greatly depending on the market where you live and the unique condition of your home.

8. Receive purchase offers and negotiate.

If your home is priced appropriately and it shows well, you’ll start seeing offers come in. As a seller, you don’t always want to accept the initial bid a buyer makes on your home. Buyers may expect there to be a negotiation, so they’ll often come in below the list price.

You may also receive multiple offers, so you’ll want to be ready to counter-offer accordingly. Depending on the circumstances, it’s okay to counter-offer at the list price. Even if you receive a lowball offer, be sure to take it seriously and negotiate a counter offer. Once you’ve found a buyer and come to an agreement on a sale price, you’ll need to prepare for the inspection and appraisal. The appraisal typically happens before the inspection, but the order can be changed.

9. Prepare for the appraisal.

Once you’ve accepted an offer, if the buyer is using financing, the buyer’s lender will schedule an appraisal of the home. A good tip is to clean the house beforehand, so that it’s in great condition for the appraiser. Once you’re finished with the appraisal, the house will need to be inspected.

home appraisal as part of how to sell your house

If the home receives a low appraisal, don’t panic. A low appraisal doesn’t necessarily mean that the sale is off. It simply means that the bank will only fund the buyer’s loan to the amount of the appraisal. There are several options you can take to continue with the sale, and your agent will typically have a recommendation. For instance, the buyer can make up the difference in cash, you can lower the home price, or you can try providing a list of comparable sales to the lender’s underwriter in hopes that the appraisal changes.

10. Prepare for the inspection and provide disclosures.

Following the appraisal, the buyer will request an inspection of the home. Ask your agent for a checklist to prepare for the inspection. Make sure the inspector has access to the attic and basement. If the general inspector finds any issues the buyer may request follow-up inspections, like a roof certification.

Following the inspection, your agent will help you provide seller disclosures to the buyer, including lead-based paint disclosures, and any conditions that could affect the buyer’s decision to buy the house. If your neighborhood has a homeowners association (HOA), you’ll also need to share the rules of the HOA—also known as the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions or CC&Rs—with the buyer.

11. Contact the title company and open escrow.

To move forward, you’ll need to work with a title company. The title company does a search of property records that helps catch issues like disputed ownership claims and incomplete documentation. The listing agent, your lender or anyone you know who has bought or sold a home should be able to recommend a title company. Once you know the title company you’ll be working with, your agent will order a title policy.

house in escrow - how to sell your house

As part of a home sale, you’ll also pen an escrow account, which is basically a trusted third-party service to ensure that money only changes hands from buyer to seller once the relevant commitments are met. At this phase, you’ll ask the buyer for an earnest money deposit. Earnest money is essentially a deposit the buyer gives to the seller to show their good faith in the transaction. There’s no official amount required for earnest money, but it’s usually 1% to 3% of the sale price.

12. Negotiate repairs and seller concessions.

Based on the inspection, buyers may request repairs before they purchase the home. It’s important to note that repair requests are extremely common. Unless your house is brand new it will likely need some repairs. If the buyer requests repairs, you are entitled to a copy of the inspection report. If you prefer not to complete repairs, a buyer may accept a credit instead.

Buyers may also request that you help with their closing costs. Anything that you agree to give the buyer to improve the deal is part of what’s called seller concessions. Seller concessions include things like paying for inspection, appraisal, and processing fees.

13. Sign title and escrow documents.

You’re almost there. All that’s left is for you to sign your title and escrow documents. Be sure to bring a valid photo ID with you when you sign. Following close of escrow, documents showing that the seller now owns the house will be recorded in public records. You’ll be wired your money, and the sale will be complete. Congratulations, you made it!

With the tips outlined in this home seller guide, you’re well on the way to having a successful selling experience.

By Lauren Bowling

Related guides and blog articles

→ How to prepare your house for sale
→ How much does it cost to sell a house
→ When is the best time to sell your home – 5 factors to consider
→ 15 expert tips to increase your home value
→ Top things homeowners hate about the home selling process