Before You List

People sell their homes for many reasons, from wanting to find a bigger or smaller place, to being relocated. And once the decision to sell is made, most people are eager to get the show on the road and leap in. But now, more than ever, preparation is key. So before you put your house on the market, there are some important things you must do.

Just because you were qualified to buy your last home doesn't mean that now you are qualified to buy your next one. Due to a variety of financial circumstances, you may find that though you've sold your own home, now you don't have the resources to buy a new one. Don't get left out in the cold. Contact a lender you trust and get pre-approved for a home loan. This simple step can prevent you from giving up something you may not be able to replace.


You may also want to get pre-qualified for a home-equity line of credit. This will provide you with the option to access money, usually at a lower rate, for down payments and closing costs when you purchase your new home.

Next, call your current mortgage company and find out the balance on your mortgage. This will help you figure out how much money you have to spend on a new home.

Before you put the "for sale" sign in the front yard, you should assess the housing market in your area. If homes are selling like hot cakes, now is probably a good time to get in on the action. But if that property down the street has barely had a nibble for the last three months, you might want to consider waiting until the market picks up--if you have that option.

You'll also want to find out how much your house is worth. If you're using a real estate agent, they will usually help. But if you're selling yourself, the best way to determine a fair and reasonable asking price is to get a property pricing report. You may also consider hiring a professional appraisal done on your home. Analyze the market in your neighborhood, compare houses similar to your own in your area, and check local listings to ensure you set a competitive price.

Next, figure out how much it will cost you to sell your home. Are you selling it yourself? You'll need to pay for advertising. Otherwise, you'll have to consider the real estate commission. There are also fees for lawyers, tax transfers, property taxes, homeowner association fees, and general fees that often get paid by the seller (home warranties, etc.)

When you have a good estimate of how much your home is worth, and a fair idea of how much it will cost you to sell it, you can figure out the rough proceeds you can expect.

It's also smart to research the housing market in the area where you're planning to move so you know how much your new home might cost. Assess your resources and decide if you'll want to move "up," into a bigger home or one with more features, or if you'll be happy staying in a house similar to the one you currently own. Think about how much of a down payment you'll need, and what you can afford. Plan your financial needs accordingly. While you're considering the cost of a new home, you should also take in to account moving expenses, as well as additional costs such as home inspections, title searches, transfer taxes, recording fees, and insurance policies.

At this point, you may decide to get a home inspection. An inspection will give you a complete evaluation of the condition of your property, from plumbing to heating, electrical, structural, and even roofing elements. It can help you decide what repairs are necessary, or can reassure buyers that your home is in good condition.

Another option is to purchase a home warranty. A home warranty covers items in your home--like your stove or refrigerator--that fail due to old age, malfunction, or even an accident. For sellers, home warranties can make the difference between making the sale or not. It provides sellers with a sense of security, and can result in a quicker sale that is closer to your asking price, especially if you own an older home.

The saying "first impressions count" is never more true than when a potential buyer walks into a home for sale. Before you even think about listing your home, you'll need to clean, fix repairs, and make anything and everything spic and span.

First, tackle the repairs. While you may be tempted to sell your house "as-is," especially if you're pressed for time, this is never a good idea. If you try to sell your home with visible damage, you may run the risk of not selling it at all. Every time a buyer sees something broken--even as simple as a door handle, the alarm bell goes off in the back of their heads wondering, "what else is wrong with this house?" Hire professionals if necessary, but make sure everything in your home is in good working order.

While "cosmetic" improvements aren't necessary, they can have a huge impact on if, when, and for how much you sell your home. Decide before you list it whether or not you'll give your house a new coat of paint. But even if you don't, you'll need to make it presentable. Many buyers do "drive-bys" before they ever stop in at an open house. Stand across the street from your home and check out its "curb appeal." Look at your property with an objective eye. Make sure windows are clean, paint is fresh, and shrubbery is tidy. Mow the lawn and pull the weeds. Clean your gutters and prune your plants. The littlest details can make all the difference.

And while it may not seem worth the energy, you're going to have to clean. An unkempt home gives buyers the impression that your house isn't well taken care of, and sets off those pesky alarm bells again. Clean everything--including the mildew in the bathroom. Also, make sure your home is prepared for showings by keeping it well lit. Dim lighting can leave the impression that your home is dirty or cramped.

Next, it's time to de-clutter. As proud as you are of your thimble collection or your child's latest masterpiece, potential buyers often have little or no imagination. Help them out. Tone down your personal decorating choices as much as possible--be it busy wallpaper or pretty pink pillows everywhere. You want your home to shine, but not too much. You want it to be clean, spacious, and inviting, but also a place where your buyer could envision himself or herself.


When you think your house is ready to hit the market, you'll have to decide whether or not to sell it yourself, or use an agent. If you sell it yourself, there is more research and preparations you'll need to make. If you do decide to hire an agent, you should interview several, from both large and small offices. You should find out how much training your agent has, and how long they've been in the business. Ask the average number of days that houses they represent stay on the market, and feel free to request references from previous clients. Find out how quickly they'll be able to begin, and whether or not they'll be responsible for holding your open houses. Also, discuss whether or not they've ever sold homes in your housing complex or neighborhood before, and assess their familiarity with your area. Ultimately, you have to decide if you're more comfortable listing your house with an agent or taking charge yourself.

And finally, get ready to let go. Soon (with any luck) you'll be saying goodbye to your home. Abandon any reservations you have about letting buyers wander around and check it out. If you're working with a realtor, leave during showings. If you're selling yourself, take a seat on the porch and let buyers know where you'll be if they have any questions. Nothing will make someone feel more uncomfortable about opening cabinets and closets than to have you lurking just over their shoulder.

By being prepared and armed with as much information as possible, you'll have a leg up on the competition. So get yourself ready, then get your house sold!