Many blogs and articles dot the Internet with how-tos and guides for first-time home buyers, but what if it’s your first time selling a home? The process may be a little simpler than buying (especially in the market we’ve been experiencing for the last ~5+ years), but there are still a few things you need to know about and plan for.

First Steps

Get the right partner. The real estate agent you work with is your trusted guide and partner through the selling process. Choose someone who is able to use data to demonstrate the value of your home given current market conditions. Don’t be shy about meeting with two or three agents to find the right fit.

Make sure you trust this person and his/her opinions. Just because someone was recommended by a friend, or is your aunt/brother/sister-in-law does not make them the right agent for you. 

Choosing a real estate agent that you clash with will more than likely result in an unpleasant experience for everyone. Worst-case, you end up parting ways with the agent and go back on the market with another, losing time, stressing out, and generally not enjoying the process.

Think of the listing agent you choose as your mountain guide, getting you safely to and from the top of the peak and making the process as enjoyable as possible. The relationship you have with your listing agent is a partnership. 

If all you want is someone to plunk a sign in the yard and put the listing on the local MLS, there are other companies that do that. (Of course, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect a full-service agent experience from a low flat fee company).

You Have Chosen Wisely

Now that you have chosen your listing agent, it’s time to work together on putting the plan in place. A few things your agent will want to know are:

  • Your timeline:
    • When do you need to move?
      • Now, for a job that is taking you far away? Or is your timing more flexible because you’re downsizing?
      • Do you want to get your elderly mother’s condo on the market immediately, or will your father-in-law’s huge house in the country take months to clear out before listing?
  • Any issues that should be addressed before going on the market:
    • Are there squeaky floors that need a tweak? Worn carpet to be replaced? An attic full of boxes that need to go?
  • What you hope to net from the sale, and potentially why:
    • Do you need the maximum cash possible because your firstborn is off to college?
    • Do you expect to get the same or more than your neighbor did? Is your house a good “comp,” or will you need to make improvements to get that higher price?
  • The most important terms for you:
    • Would a quick closing be helpful? Or do you need extra time to move?
    • Is price the most important thing, or would you be open to taking a lower offer if the other terms (closing timeline, cash vs. financed, etc.) were better for your circumstances?

Setting the Price

Your listing agent should show you reasonable comps (comparable properties) that are currently on the market, pending sales, and sold homes in your area. This will be the basis for the price you set for your home. Remember, your listing agent is there to give you guidance and data, but you–the home seller–sets the price.

Pricing a home for sale is both an art and a science. Your listing agent should also be able to show you date from her/his past sales. This shows you if your agent is generally accurate with judging the market, or if he tends to accept a lot of overpriced listings.

This is also known as “buying the listing,” or listing at a price that’s too high for the market simply because the home seller wants a certain price and the agent wants the business. It’s often easier to say, “Sure, Mr. Homeowner, we’ll go with whatever price you want” and then lower it later than to make the case for a more realistic price. However, as the seller, what’s best for YOU is to set a fair and accurate price in the beginning.

Questions about home pricing? Contact Megan…there’s more to it than you want to read here. 

Before Your House Hits the Market

OK, now you have a target price. But keep in mind, the price isn’t written in stone. If you put a list price in the listing agreement paperwork and something changes, you can change the price. It’s best to do this before the listing is live, though. (It generally looks bad, or at least raises flags, to change the price soon after hitting the market.)

You also have your timeline laid out, and now it’s time to get to work. You may have days, weeks, or months, to prepare. Here are a few things you might be working on before listing:

  • Get the exterior spruced up. This is the time to take care of the “curb appeal” stuff, like painting, landscaping clean-up, plantings, fixing loose steps, etc. And for the love of God, please fix or replace locks that are difficult. A decent deadbolt and knob combo can be purchased for around $50 at your local home store or online. (Yes, it’s my biggest pet peeve when showing. Dealing with a lock that’s stuck, finicky, or otherwise difficult.)
    • The biggest bang for your buck, according to many articles, is a fresh coat of paint on the front door.
    • Here are some more improvements that pay off, according to HGTV and
  • De-cluttering and cleaning. When you’re selling a house, remember that you’re trying to sell it to someone who wants to picture their stuff in it, not yours. This is the time to get serious and clean out your closets, getting rid of junk and clutter. Frankly, eliminating stuff you don’t need or use anymore can feel really good. Especially when you think of the money you’re saving not moving all that stuff! There are tons of articles and tips online about how to declutter, so I’ll spare the details here. If it hasn’t been used or worn in a year, donate or toss it.
  • Fixing the “little stuff” and getting cleaned up. Things like squeaky floorboards, missing grout in the shower, cracked tiles, and worn/damaged paint are all indications to home buyers that the house needs work. Whether or not they are thinking of it consciously, in the back of their minds they’re wondering what else needs to be done. If you’ve been living with the little imperfections for so long you don’t notice them, have a trusted (and honest) friend or family member walk through the house with a fresh eye, pointing out things they notice. This is also a good time to change out family pics with neutral scenes and pack up trophies, diplomas, kindergarten art projects, and the like. You may be super-proud of that golf trophy from 10 years ago, but to a buyer it’s just clutter.
  • Go over the plan and what to expect. Your listing agent should make sure you’re clear on what to expect next, from when the pictures will be taken to what you can expect when the house hits the market. This is also the time to make sure your agent is clear on any showing restrictions. Of course, it’s best to make the house available as much as possible for showings, but let’s be real: if you’re still living there, especially when there are kids or pets in the house, there may be times that are just not good. Be clear, but be flexible. If you can take the dog for a walk with 10 minutes, notice, great. If showings after 7 p.m. are no good because the kids are getting ready for bed, just let your agent know. Avoid unpleasant surprises when someone wants to schedule a showing!

Want to learn more about the home selling process?

Check out our First-Time Guide for Home Sellers: Part 2.


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