Seller’s Guide

The Answer Book for Sellers

 Click and the botton above and download a collection of how-tos, checklists, and worksheets to help your buyers and sellers understand what to expect during the real estate purchasing experience.

Prepare and Plan

Selling a home is a major undertaking — before taking the plunge, make sure that you’ve thought it through and are ready to proceed.

Deciding to Sell

Consider your motivations for selling to help determine if you are truly ready to part with your current home.

Are You Ready to Leave Your Current Home?

Moving is a tiring and stressful experience, and leaving your home can be emotionally difficult as well – especially if you’ve lived there for many years. Make sure you’re really ready to go before you put the property on the market.

Moving Up

Probably the most common reasons for selling a home are the need for more space and the desire to move up to more luxurious property. Many homeowners find that increased income – coupled with appreciation in their current houses – makes moving up a feasible option. This strategy has proven to be a successful long-term wealth builder as housing prices have generally continued to rise over time.

Financial and Tax Implications of Selling

A home is a major investment, and the decision to sell is one fraught with financial implications. Is now a good time to sell? Is it a good time to buy another home? Have you considered the tax consequences of the sale?

Selling for Financial Reasons

Many people sell for financial reasons. A reduction in income, increased expenses (e.g. college tuitions), and the need to save or invest more to meet goals are common reasons for moving to a smaller home.

Remodeling vs. Selling

Even if you want more space or more luxurious appointments, there is an option to selling – you can remodel your existing house. 

Selling for Retirees

Retirement is a great time to sell the old family home and purchase something smaller and more convenient. For many people, home equity is a major portion of overall savings and net worth. Reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of an appreciated home can significantly improve your post-retirement budget – and help support an active and enjoyable lifestyle.

Sell First or Buy First

This is one of the biggest questions faced by homeowners – and it’s not an easy one to answer. Review our tips for determining which way is best for you.

Rent Our Your Old Home Instead of Selling?

If you’re moving but are reluctant to sell your old home you may have another option – renting. By renting you may be able to sustain the costs of both your old and new houses. Being a landlord is no picnic, however. Check out our rental guide to get an idea of what is involved before going down this road. 

It’s always a good idea to have as much information as possible when planning something as important as selling a home.

Check the Market

Market conditions will have a major impact on your selling experience. Understanding what is happening in the marketplace can help you develop and execute a realistic plan to sell your home. 

Gauge market Conditions

Real estate markets are highly cyclical. The current status of the market can have a significant effect on your home selling strategy and the results you are likely to see. Try to develop an understanding of the state of the market so you have some idea of what to expect – and a feel for how hard you can bargain when negotiating with buyers. 

What’s Best – Hot or Cold Market?

Unless you’re planning to rent, you will probably be buying a new home at the same time as you are selling your old one, so it’s not always easy to decide if a hot market is helpful or harmful. As a general rule, if you are moving up – looking for a new home significantly more costly than your old one – you may want to act during a weak market, when the savings on an expensive new property will more than outweigh the losses on the older one. Conversely, empty-nesters looking to switch to a smaller home may want to plan the move during a hot market, when they can maximize gains on the larger home to be sold. 

When is the Best Time to Sell?

There are two primary sellings seasons – spring and fall. Spring is the strongest, since many shoppers want to buy and move in before school begins. Summer and winter are generally very slow periods in most markets. Some areas have their own seasonality, however. If, for example, you are selling a home in a seaside vacation spot, summer is probably a great time to be on the market. 

Understanding Area Sales

Don’t listen to anecdotes and stories about bidding wars and houses being snapped up in one day. There is no substitute for hard data when you are considering selling your home. Check out actual sale and closing prices of homes in the area and try to develop a feel for the true state of the market.


Get Ready

Selling a home is a major undertaking. If you invest the time required to get everything ready beforehand you’ll have a much easier time once your home hits the market.

Selecting an Agent

A good listing agent is a partner in your home sale, someone with whom you’ll be working closely. Spend the time to develop a strong relationship. 

Advantages of Using an Agent

Your agent can give you valuable insight into the market and help you set the right price for your home. He or she can also suggest features of your home that are potential problem areas and advise on possible remedies. Listing with an agent also gets your home posted to the multiple listing service – exposing the property to thousands of potential buyers. 

A Good Listing Agent is a Marketing Director

An experienced listing agent should be able to effectively coordinate advertising and promotion for your home. This includes running ads in the local papers, holding open houses, and publicizing the listing to area agents. 

Choosing an Agent

You want to choose an agent with experience listing homes (this is different from selling homes) and a strong knowledge of the local market. A listing agent must be available to other agents who are seeking information on the house and should be prepared to put in the time required to effectively market the property. With the Internet becoming more and more crucial to the home marketing effort, you may want to look for an agent with a strong web presence. If an agent doesn’t have the time, interest, or commitment to develop an understanding of your needs, look for one who does. 

Working with Your Agent

Make sure to take advantage of your agent’s knowledge and experience. Start with a consultation on pricing – and be honest with your agent about specific requirements (a need to sell quickly, for example). Don’t hesitate to ask the agent to suggest any repairs or improvements. While your agent may make some suggestions that are just too expensive or otherwise unfeasible, he or she can give you a good idea of what aspects of your home will turn off buyers.

Your home is the star performer in this show. Even the best marketing and promotion efforts will fall short if your home isn’t appealing to potential buyers.

Prep Your Home

There are a number of things to consider when getting your home ready for market. By addressing these items early – before the sales effort begins – you can insure that your home will show its best side to buyers. 

Seller Liability

Many sellers do not realize the extent of their potential liability after the sale. While local laws vary considerably, a seller is generally required to disclose any deficiencies of which he or she is aware. This is the problem – how do you prove exactly what you did or did not know? Our disclosure checklist can provide a starting point by helping you determine which items are disclosure issues. A pre-sale inspection by a reputable inspector can be an ideal way to protect yourself against disclosure related claims after the closing. 

Pre-Sale Inspections

Inspections are for buyer’s, right? That is a popular perception, but the truth is that a pre-market inspection can be a very valuable tool for a seller. Since the buyer is probably going to have an inspection anyway, why not find out about any problems upfront so you’re not taken by surprise a few weeks before the closing date? A pre-sale inspection can also help protect against potential seller liability – if the inspector didn’t find a problem it is a reasonable assertion that the seller did not know about it either.

Clean, Clean, Clean

A home for sale can never be too clean. In addition to a complete scrubbing you may want to do a little rearranging to insure that your home shows as well as possible. Review our home cleaning checklist for some ideas on where to start. 

Major Improvements

Most major home improvements don’t make sense for sellers, however there are notable exceptions to this rule. Required repairs, or other deficiencies that must be disclosed, will likely make it very difficult to sell your home (and you’ll probably end up agreeing to correct them anyway) – so it may be worth dealing with these items before hitting the market. 

Smaller Projects Unlike major improvements, many small home projects can be very good investments for the seller. Generally, the best projects to consider are those that are fairly low in cost yet provide a major impact to the look of the property. Check out our list of 10 improvements for sellers for some ideas.

Pricing is one of the most crucial aspects of your marketing effort. The figure your choose must reflect the various attributes of your home, the state of the market, and your need or desire for a fast sale.

Setting a Price

Deciding on the right price isn’t easy. Set too high a price and your home may languish on the market – too low and you may get thousands less than you could have. 

Work with Your Agent

Your agent is in the market every day – no one can offer you a better view of pricing and sales activity. Once your agent is familiar with your home and its features, he or she can prepare a comparative market analysis and propose a listing price. Seriously consider this pricing, but don’t be hesitant to disagree or suggest another figure – just try to be realistic. 

Consider Market Conditions

Real estate markets are highly cyclical. While home prices have typically risen over extended periods of time, the road is sometimes a bumpy one. The price you will get for your home – and the time it will take to get it – depend to a great extent on the overall state of the market. Our guide to evaluating real estate markets can help you figure out how to proceed. 

Be Objective About Your House

It’s important to be objective about your home when setting pricing. Remember, it’s really not relevant what you paid or how much you love the property – the important consideration is what the market will bear at this time. 

How Quickly Do You Need to Sell

Setting real estate prices is not an exact science. A low asking price may generate a fast sale, while a bit of patience – and a higher listing price – may allow you to net a larger figure. It’s important to be honest with yourself about your needs when setting a price. Our quick sale checklist can help you decide if it makes sense to accept a bit less in return for a faster sale. 

Is Your Home Overbuilt?

Generally, nicer homes yield higher sales prices. This relationship begins to diverge a bit, however, near the top of the market. Overbuilt homes rarely sell for the prices it appears that they should. Buyers in the price range of the overbuilt home are generally interested in more upscale communities, while the typical buyer for the area cannot afford to pay a significantly higher price. If your home is overbuilt you may have to accept the fact that you won’t be able to get the price you think you should.


Find a Buyer

Preparation can get you ready for the selling process, but finding a buyer requires a well executed marketing effort. 

Market Your Home
There are a number of components to a well-conceived marketing plan. Understanding each – and what it can contribute to your sales effort – is important to achieving the best possible results. 


Advertising is a key part of an effective marketing plan. Your real estate broker should advertise the property periodically in local newspapers. Generally, the cost of advertising is included in the commission, so make sure your property gets its share. Signage is also important – a prominently displayed sign on the property is one of the most effective pieces of advertising, so make sure there is a clear and visible spot available. 

Multiple Listing Service

The Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, is a catalog of available homes in a given market area. Your agent will list your home in the local MLS so that other realtors in the area can access information when working with buyers. The MLS is only available through your agent – and it is a powerful selling tool. 

Open Houses

Open houses are another major marketing tool when selling a home. There are two basic types of open house. The first, generally scheduled during the week, is for area agents to stop by and take a look at a home that is new to the market. The second type is held on a weekend – usually a Sunday afternoon – and is intended to allow homebuyers to visit the property without an appointment. 

The Lockbox

A lockbox is a small device containing a key to the house that is attached to or near the front door. Local agents can access the box to gain entry to the house at any time. Ideal for unoccupied homes, the lockbox may be problematical if you have kids or pets – or are simply uncomfortable with this arrangement. If you do not use a lockbox, make sure that your agent has a key or that you are available on short notice to open the house. 

Using the Net

The Internet has begun to revolutionize the home selling process. Shoppers (and sellers) have access to more information than ever before. It’s important to select an agent who has a significant understanding of the Internet. Your agent should have a web site where shoppers can access information about your home and should list the property with one or more major online listing services. 

Have Your Home Ready

Your home should be maintained in a constant state of readiness to be viewed. Try to keep things as clean and uncluttered as possible. Keep the yard well tended and make sure that access to the house is unfettered (keep snow cleared away in winter). 


Have potpourri or scented candles on hand to keep the house clean and fresh smelling. If you have a fireplace, consider having a fire burning during viewings (season and time permitting). Ask your agent for other suggestions on presenting your home in the best possible way. 

Handling Kids and Pets

Whenever possible, arrange for children and pets to stay with a friend or neighbor during showings. If the children are home during a showing, explain that they should be quiet and well behaved while the buyers are in the house.

A buyer’s early impressions are crucial, so it’s extremely important to make sure that you are prepared to properly handle showings. This entails a number of things – from being available on short notice to deflecting insensitive remarks about your home.

Handling Buyers

It’s best to handle buyers in a calm, unemotional manner. Try to be as responsive as possible to requests for information or last-minute showings. Most of all, it’s important to be patient. If you appear too eager to a buyer you are only undermining your negotiating position. 

Dealing with Showings

Showings are where your home really gets sold. First impressions are of vital improtance – if the buyer isn’t intrigued at the outset there is very little likelihood that an offer will be forthcoming. Make sure your home is available on short notice and is always looking its best. Let your agent take the lead during showings. You may not even want to attend – many buyers feel more comfortable viewing a home without the owners present. 

Controlling Your Emotions

Selling a home is an emotional undertaking for many people. Listening to buyers making candid – and often insensitive – remarks about your home can be upsetting. It’s best to ignore this kind of thing, however, and not let it get to you. If you find these comments difficult to take, or are simply uncomfortable with the notion of strangers prowling around your home, arrange to be out during showings – your agent is capable of handling the situation. 

Handling Information Requests

Buyers may ask a variety of questions about your home and the neighborhood. Make sure you only provide information that you know is correct. Misleading a buyer – even accidentally – could cause problems down the road. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. You can always offer to check it out and get back to the buyer. 

Identifying Real Buyers

There is really no reliable way to discern whether buyers are serious or not until an offer is made. Some buyers will visit a home 3 or 4 times and never go any further, while others will make an offer the day they see a property for the first time. Our tips for identifying real buyers offer a few pointers on spotting the serious ones.

Pricing is only one factor to consider when reviewing an offer on your home. It’s important to review the entire offer – with all of its terms and conditions – when making a decision.

Evaluating Offers

Consider these areas when evalutaing any offers you receive from interested purchasers. 


Obviously, price is a major consideration. How close is the offer to your asking price? Is the market strong – do you have a good chance of getting more if you wait? 


Virtually all home purchase contracts have some contingencies – and many of these are extremely reasonable. But it’s important to consider the potential of these conditions to affect or terminate the transaction. It may be advisable to accept a lower price with few contingencies over a higher figure with a large list of conditions. 

Prequalified Buyers

Buyers who are pre-approved for mortgage financing are among the strongest purchasers. Not only do these buyers already have funding in place – they are also typically among the most credit-worthy buyers. 

Beware the Home Sale Contingency

Offers are sometimes conditioned upon the sale of the buyer’s current home prior to the closing. This is an extremely onerous condition. You simply trade the risk of selling one home for that of selling a different one – and you have far less control over the marketing of the buyer’s house. 

Seller Financing

Some offers are contingent upon the seller taking back financing. The exact terms can vary considerably, however it is usually not advisable to accept this type of deal unless there are no alternatives. Apart from the fact that most sellers want to cash out in order to buy a new home, holding a mortgage can be risky, involving costly legal enforcement actions if the borrower defaults. With the number of mortgage programs available from lenders, a buyer who demands financing from the seller is probably a high-risk borrower. 

What Does the Buyer Want You to Do?

Few homes are in perfect condition, yet a buyer may expect to receive yours in pristine form. A purchaser who expects to buy a 50-year-old house in flawless condition is unrealistic – and could turn out to be a difficult buyer. While you should expect to repair any major problems, beware of a purchaser who seems excessive in his or her demands. 

Handling Multiple Offers

If you are fortunate enough to receive multiple offers, make sure to review each one carefully. If one party is significantly stronger than the other(s), or one offer has fewer conditions you may want to try work with that buyer first. After reviewing the terms of the offers – and discussing them with your agent – you can submit a counter-offer to all of the parties. 

Counter-Offers and Negotiation

Negotiation is very common in the real estate markets. When you receive an offer for less than the asking price you have three choices – accept it, reject it out of hand, or make a counter-offer.


Close The Deal

A properly written contract sets forth the terms of the sale and protects the interests of both buyer and seller.

The Contract

The contract specifies the terms of the sale and the rights and obligations of the buyer and the seller. A well-written document protects both parties, while a poorly drafted contract can cause serious problems. 

Get it in Writing

Oral agreements are usually difficult or impossible to enforce, so if you’ve negotiated your purchase verbally make sure to have contracts signed as soon as possible. 

Attorney Review

Always make sure that any contract you sign has an attorney review clause that allows you time (at least three business days – preferably five) to review the document and have it checked out by your lawyer if you feel it is necessary. Many states specify a mandatory review period, whether it is specified or not, but don’t take any chances – make sure it’s in writing. This gives you the chance to make sure all bases are covered before you are committed. 

Choose an Attorney or Escrow Company

In some areas it is standard practice to retain an attorney to handle the closing. In others the norm is to have the title or escrow company handle the transaction. If you do hire an attorney (which is a good idea), try and find someone local who specializes in real estate closings. An experienced real estate attorney can help you move quickly to closing and sidestep any problems or oversights. If you are using an escrow company, make sure that they have a solid track record. 

Cover All Contingencies

Make sure that the buyer’s contingencies are reasonable and that the time allowed for any required activities or testing (i.e. obtaining a mortgage, home inspections, etc.) is not excessive. Reasonable contingencies are an essential part of a fair and balanced contract – just don’t let the buyer take advantage of you. 

Learn About Deeds and Title

The deed is a legal document that transfers ownership of the home. There are several types of deed that can be used for your transfer, as well as a number of special provisions that may apply. Your attorney or escrow agent can answer any questions you have on title and deeds. 

Know Your Deposit Obligations

The contract should specify the due dates and disposition of earnest money and deposits. Typically a small amount is posted at the signing of the contract with the balance of the deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) due within 1-3 weeks. Make sure that the deposit monies are posted as required – they are your primary security in the deal.

You’re almost there — but there is still some work to do before the deal is closed.

Preparing to Close

There’s a lot to do in the weeks leading up to the closing, so good organization is a must. Proper scheduling can reduce your stress and prevent any mistakes or delays. 

Get Organized

Create a schedule of the items you need to complete before closing. Set up a file with all of your purchase and closing related documentation so you have it readily available. 

Confirm Payment of Deposit Funds

The contract probably calls for the balance of the deposit to be paid to the escrow agent within a certain period of time. Confirm that this has been done as required. The deposit is your major security until the closing – make sure it is posted as required. If the buyer seems unable to produce the required funds it could be a sign of trouble – so find out what is going on. 

Monitor Inspections and Contingencies

The contract is probably subject to a number of inspections and contingencies. These conditions are intended to allow the buyer to check things out and make sure there are no problems – not as an open ended delaying tactic. Confirm that the buyer schedules the inspections in a timely manner, and make sure access to the property is available. 

Deal with the Inspection Reports

The buyer’s inspection reports will usually list a number of sub-standard items – few homes are without defects. The buyer may provide you with a list of things to be corrected before the closing. You may or may not agree that you are responsible for items on the list. At this point another negotiation may result. Although each deal is different, typically the seller will repair (or provide a credit to cover the cost) any major or structural problems. The seller is usually responsible for the cost of radon remediation, if required. Normal wear and tear items, on the other hand, are not usually corrected by the seller. 

Address Your Contingencies

The contract may include contingencies or conditions requiring the seller to take certain actions – removing debris or an old shed, for example. Make sure to attend to these matters early so they do not become a problem at closing time. 

Get a Payoff Letter

If you have a mortgage on your home you will be paying it off at the closing so you can transfer clean title to the buyer. Your lender should provide you with a payoff letter specifying the exact amount required to completely retire the loan. The payoff letter should also specify a per diem, an additional amount required for each day after the payoff letter is dated. For example, if your payoff letter states a figure of $95,000 with a per diem of $20 you would owe $95,200 if the closing occurred 10 days after the date of the letter. Your attorney or escrow agent may request the payoff letter from the lender – but it’s still a good idea for you to make sure it gets done. 

Review the Closing Costs

Consider your closing costs so you have a good idea of what proceeds you will net from the sale. Our guide to closing costs can give you some idea of what to expect. 

Provide Information to the Buyer

Provide the buyer with copies of any relevant documents you have – surveys, septic designs, service records, building permits (from past projects), etc. The contract may specify that you are to provide these items, but even if it doesn’t, it may help the buyer conclude the inspection phase – and it is a basic courtesy. 

Get Ready for Moving Day

You probably be moving out right before the closing (or just after if you’ve arranged this with the buyer), so now is the time to start preparing. You need to hire a mover (unless you plan to handle the move yourself) and start packing your possessions. It’s also time to make arrangements for utility shutoffs and installations at your new address – our utility checklist can help you organize these tasks. 

Do the Walkthrough

The final walkthrough should be conducted the day of or before the closing. The walkthrough allows the buyer to confirm that the house is ready and that any required repairs have been completed. Conducting a walkthrough reduces the chance of confusion or problems at the closing.

It’s almost finished. The preparations are all complete – now it’s time to finalize the sale.

Closing Title

Check with your attorney or escrow agent a day or two before the closing date to confirm that everything is on schedule. Remind the attorney or agent to complete the closing statements and other documentation in advance – this may seem obvious, but closings often become protracted affairs because the professionals are unprepared. 

Have Your Paperwork Available

Bring all of your documentation to the closing in case you need something at the last minute. Your closing file should include the contract, receipts for any repairs made, and copies of all correspondence relating to the purchase. 

Understand the Closing Documents

Review the closing statement (HUD-1) and other documents beforehand so you understand the purpose of each. Your primary documents are the closing statement, the deed, and the mortgage cancellation paperwork. 

Deal With Any Problems

Closings frequently proceed without a hitch, but problems are not uncommon. Don’t panic if the closing hits a snag – most issues can be resolved by simple means, such as escrowing funds to cover a contingency or unfinished repair. Even if the closing has to be postponed, don’t overreact – chances are the matter can be resolved in a few days. 

Execute the Documents

At this point the parties should execute the closing statements and other documents – and you will then sign over the deed. Congratulations, you’ve just sold your house! 

Give Keys and Documents to the Buyer

You should have the keys available to give to the buyer at the closing. Additionally, you should provide all warranties, repair records, etc. pertaining to the house – either bring these to the closing or leave them in an accessible location in the house.


Congratulations! It’s done – you’ve sold your house!

Moving Out

It’s finally time to leave the old place and move on. Depending upon your arrangements with the buyer, you will probably be moving out either right before or after the closing. 

Be Prepared for the Movers

Make sure the moving van has room to park and easy access to both houses. Movers expect payment upon delivery, so you’ll also need to have a certified check and/or cash available to settle the bill. Many movers accept credit cards as well, so inquire in advance if this is your chosen payment method. Tipping is customary – usually about $20 per mover – though this is obviously highly variable with the length and difficulty of the move. 

Work With the Movers

Be available to answer questions about packing order and fragile items. Point out any items you intend to move yourself, and keep these things separated from those to be handled by the movers. Make sure the movers have clear directions to your new house as well as a phone number to reach someone if they get lost or have any problems. Make sure someone remains at the old home until the movers are packed and ready to leave. 

Do a Final Walkthrough

Make one last inspection to insure that nothing has been forgotten and left behind. It’s OK to have a few minutes to yourself if you are feeling emotional at this point. 

Arrange for Mail to be Forwarded

You’ll actually want to make these arrangements a week or two before moving day. Go to your old post office and arrange for mail to be forwarded to your new address (if you had a P.O. box you may want to retain it for a period of time). Send out change of address cards with your new location.


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