No matter how you go about selling your home, there’s always some level of forethought and preparation involved. After all, your home is often your largest financial asset, so preparing to sell requires a thoughtful timeline and due diligence.
According to Consumer Housing Trends Report 2020, sellers spent an average of six months thinking about selling before they take action.
Regardless of how far ahead you’re planning, follow our checklist to get prepared.
How to get your house ready to sell: 6 months before
If you’re serious about selling, it’s best to get a jump on planning. Six months should give you enough time to consider the process and complete your preliminary research. Here are the must-do tasks when you’re six months out.
Pick an ideal listing date
Sales data from 2019 showed that the best time of year to list your home to maximize profit and minimize time on market is the first half of May. The most popular day of the week to list your home for sale is Saturday. However, this can vary somewhat based on where you live (see the Research the market section below for more on this), and the individual circumstances such as climate, job market, and broader housing market trends.
Planning ahead makes it easier for you to time the market strategically, but there’s still no guarantee that your home will sell as quickly as the average, so it’s important to be flexible.
What is the average time to sell a house?
The market moved incredibly fast in 2020, with homes going pending — having an offer accepted, but not yet officially closed — after just two to three weeks nationwide over the course of the year, and just days in some particularly fast markets. Your home may sell as quickly as two months after you put it on the market once you figure in another 45-60 days between pending and the actual close date. But these are just averages, and some homes will sell more quickly, while others will take more time, depending on local market factors and your price point. So to be safe, pencil in about three months to give yourself time and ease stress.
Research the market
Learn what homes similar to yours are selling for so you can get a better sense of what your home is worth. Although you’ll probably make some adjustments as you get closer to your listing date, it doesn’t hurt to run the comps early.
If you’re looking at comps now, remember that home prices can change drastically depending on the season. Generally, mid-late spring is the best time of year to sell a home to both minimize time on market and maximize proceeds. But the best window can change a lot depending where you live. For example, in recent years, the best time to sell in LA has generally been the second half of May, where homes sell several days faster and for several thousand more dollars than homes listed at other times.
If you have flexibility in your timeline, consult with local real estate professionals to determine the best sellers window for your local real estate market. But remember, even with research, real estate is unpredictable. Keep an eye on factors that may affect pricing in your area, like interest rate changes, property tax increases and job market trends.
Assess property condition
Understanding the condition of your home will help you match it to comparable properties in your area. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to fix known issues before listing. Here’s an example. If your basement flooded recently, you may have to disclose that to buyers at some point in the sale process, depending on disclosure laws in your state. It might be worth fixing it now so you don’t have to disclose.
If you’re unsure of what needs fixing in your home, get a pre-listing home inspection. It allows you to discover potential issues and address them, instead of the buyer finding them and calling off the deal.
Consider working with an agent
Many sellers establish relationships with agents months in advance. If you don’t have a trustworthy agent in mind yet, now’s the time to start looking for a local professional who can guide you through the selling process and manage most of the pre-listing, marketing, showing and negotiation tasks.
Alternatively, if you plan to sell for sale by owner (FSBO), account for the additional tasks you’ll have to complete before listing — we’ll talk more about this later.
Ask for feedback
If you’ve lived in your home for many years, you may be desensitized to its less desirable features. Ask friends, family members or neighbors for their honest opinions on your home. Ask your agent too. What needs work? Are there any major defects worth addressing before selling?
While major renovations might not give you a great ROI, minor repairs and simple cosmetic changes like paint and new hardware can go a long way toward making your home appealing to today’s buyers.
How to get your house ready to sell: 60 days before
Two months before listing, it’s time to put some of your initial plans into action and expand on any preliminary research you’ve done.
Do you have repair projects you’ve been putting off? Now is the time to cross them off the to-do list. Spend a weekend fixing the leaky faucet, repairing the broken fence or patching holes.
As you do this work, you’ll be in good company. According to Consumer Housing Trends Report 2020, the average seller makes 2.3 renovations or improvements to prepare to sell, and 79% of sellers make at least one home improvement. Only 21% of sellers list their home as-is.
Declutter and donate
Starting the decluttering process now will save you from the last-minute scramble of getting rid of stuff right before listing. Donate or purge anything you no longer need. You might even consider renting temporary storage space to set aside things you won’t need until after you’ve moved.
Since it’s early on, you don’t have to get rid of everything just yet. Simply prioritize and sort what you want to keep, store, toss or donate. You can even get some boxes and packing materials to start packing up items you won’t need before you move, like seasonal items.
Create a marketing plan
If you plan to list your home on the open market, it’s time to get a marketing plan in place — whether you’re working with an agent or going FSBO. If you’re selling with an agent, you can help them by spreading the word on social networks, at work, and to family and friends.
If you’re selling FSBO, you’ll have to build your own marketing strategy. Prepare to write a listing description, hire a photographer, advertise your listing, get your home listed on Realtor.com and make a plan for how you’re going to handle showings.
Get paperwork in order
When it comes time to sell, you’ll need copies of permits for past renovation work, home warranty documentation, land surveys, tax bills and utility bills. Assemble these in advance so you don’t have to go digging around right as you’re preparing to list.
One of the most important pieces of information you’ll need is your mortgage payoff amount. While the final amount will change a bit by the time you’re ready to close, getting an estimated payoff amount — including remaining loan balance, applicable interest and prorated property taxes — can help you determine how much you’ll profit when you sell.
How to get your house ready to sell: 30 days before
When you’re one month from listing, it’s time to reassess the market. You should also take care of any last cosmetic upgrades and get your home staged so it’ll be ready for photos and showings.
Set a listing price
You or your agent should run the comps about 30 days before listing to gauge your home’s current market value and set an appropriate listing price. Pricing your home too high could lead to a stale listing and a price reduction. Throughout 2020, about one-in-eight (roughly 12%) of homes on the market at a given time had undergone at least one price cut, on average.
Start the staging process
At 30 days out, you should be finished with your decluttering process. Pack up lesser-used items, do a final pass at donating unused items, recycle or dispose of worn-out belongings, and move excess things to an off-site storage unit. With a blank canvas, staging your home is much easier.
Go room by room and eliminate unnecessary furniture taking up valuable space. And avoid the temptation to cram things in a closet — buyers look for homes with ample storage space, and full closets can make it look like your home doesn’t have enough room. Aim to only use about 50% of your available closet space.
Painting your home a month before listing is the perfect time — the walls will still look freshly painted when your home goes on the market, and you’ve already done some of the packing and moving, so you won’t scratch or damage newly painted walls.
Painting a home’s interior is one of the most common pre-listing tasks. According to the report, 35% of sellers paint the interior before selling. When painting to sell, it’s best to choose a light neutral tone like greige or taupe.
Create curb appeal
The exterior of your home is the first thing buyers see, both online in listing photos and when they see your home in person. Poor curb appeal can even cause a potential buyer to decide it’s not worth coming inside.
Given the high stakes, it’s no wonder that 28% of sellers landscape before listing their homes for sale. Improving curb appeal can be as easy as planting some flowers, edging the lawn, painting the front door, changing outdated hardware or light fixtures, and adding accent lighting.
How to get your house ready to sell: 2 weeks before
Now’s the time to make your house really sparkle! Getting your house ready for listings and showings starts now.
Do a deep clean
Have your carpets professionally cleaned. And in addition to your regular weekly cleaning, you should clean windows and screens, disinfect bathrooms and polish kitchen appliances.
Don’t forget — you’ll need to clean regularly the whole time your home is on the market, so this isn’t a one-time task. Don’t pack cleaning products in boxes yet, but make sure you can easily tuck them away after you’ve used them each time.
Hire a professional photographer
Whether you’re selling with an agent or on your own, professional photographs are a must in today’s market. Check to see if your photographer can also capture a virtual 3D house tour to give your listing a boost in online views. Before your appointment, make sure rooms are sparsely furnished, depersonalized, bright, welcoming and photo-ready.
Plan for showings
Think through the logistics of private showings. Will you allow lockbox tours? How much notice does your agent need to give you for a showing? Where will you go during showings? (It’s best that the homeowner isn’t present.) Where will you store valuables like jewelry, documents and medications during showings?