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When you list your home for sale, scoring top dollar can be a tricky balancing act. There are so many factors to consider, from local comps to national market trends. If you’re ready to upgrade from your starter home — or just ready to to move on — here are all the steps you need to take to sell a house for the first time.
1. Work with a local real estate agent
This is probably the most important thing you can do as a first-time home seller. An expert local agent will understand all the ins and outs of your area’s market. Good agents know the best time, price point and method to list a home to sell it as quickly as possible, for the highest amount possible.
To find the best real estate agent, get referrals from friends and family and research the names on signs in your area. Be sure to interview several agents before deciding on one. Shaival Shah, co-founder and CEO of Ribbon, a tech-enabled home-buying company based in New York City, recommends asking questions like “What price point would you advise us to list at based on current trends?” and “What additional tools and resources have you used as an agent to close more deals quickly?”
2. Set a timeline
Some times of the year are better for home sales than others. If you’re not in a particular rush, ask your agent about the best time to sell a home in your area. If you do have time constraints — you need to move by a specific date for work reasons, for example — work back from your deadline. Your agent can help you gauge approximately how long everything will take, all in all.
3. Price your home competitively
To come up with the perfect asking price, your agent will likely create a comparative market analysis of recent home sales in your area. There are multiple strategies for getting the best price possible — listing too high may dissuade buyers, and listing too low can hurt your bottom line. Your agent will help you determine the best pricing strategy for your home and local market.
4. Prepare your home for sale
Preparing your home for sale is one of the most essential steps of the home-selling process. “Buyers want to imagine what their home will look like when they move in,” says Shah. “Get your home ready to look its best. Remove clutter, organize areas and stage it to increase your chances of a faster sale.”
Clean thoroughly and complete basic repairs. Increase your home’s curb appeal by freshening up the landscaping, pressure washing the driveway or even just repainting the front door. Hiring a professional home stager may be worth the cost as well, depending on your home’s condition, so ask your agent what they recommend.
5. Get professional photos
According to 2022 data from the National Association of Realtors, 95 percent of all homebuyers use the internet in their search. Good photos ensure that your home makes a good first impression online. “Sellers need to have their home listed on prominent realty websites with as high-quality photos as possible,” says Shah. Part of your agent-interviewing process should include looking at their active listings to see how good the photos are.
6. List and market your home
Your Realtor will list your home on your area’s local multiple listing service, or MLS. This ensures that it gets seen by other agents with clients looking to buy, as well as included on listing sites like Zillow. Their marketing plan will likely include hosting an open house as well, so you’ll want to make sure it’s in pristine condition before any prospective buyers show up in person — particularly if you’re still living in your home while selling it.
7. Hire a real estate attorney
Hiring a real estate attorney to assist with at least some part of the transaction is legally required in many states. But even if you live in an area where a lawyer isn’t required, you should still consider hiring one to guide you through your first sale. Real estate contracts are complex, and a home sale is one of the most significant transactions of your life, with a lot of money at stake. Professional legal advice is well worth it to make sure all your interests are covered.
8. Review and negotiate offers
Once you start receiving offers, let your agent lead the way. It’s not necessarily all about money — the highest offer you receive may not be the best one. Offers can include things like contingency clauses that could delay closing or cause a sale to fall through. Agents know what to look out for and how to navigate this potentially tricky territory.
9. Understand your closing costs
Buyers and sellers both typically pay at least some closing costs, but many come out of the proceeds from your sale. For example, the seller pays for any real estate agent commissions on the transaction, both for your own agent and the buyer’s. Sellers may also be required to cover transfer taxes, escrow fees and other costs. Your agent should be able to create a net sheet for you to estimate what you’ll get from the sale after all deductions. And with your official closing disclosure, you’ll get the exact dollar amount of your proceeds at closing.
Selling a home for the first time doesn’t have to be hard. Focus on the things you can control — for example, you can’t control how hot the real estate market is, but you can make your home as desirable as possible by keeping it clean for showings and making it look stunning in high-quality listing photos. Work with a real estate agent to guide you through the process.