Selling a house: What you need to know

Need to relocate for a job or find more room for your growing family? Maybe you want to cash in your current equity to buy your dream home. Whatever the reason, selling a house can be exciting. But there are many moving parts between listing a property and handing the keys over to a new owner. 

Not sure where to start? This guide breaks down some common ins and outs of selling a home. 

Key takeaways

  • Selling a home is a multistep process. Enlisting the help of an experienced local agent could be a good starting point.
  • Several factors—like available inventory, interest rates and location—may affect the time it takes to sell a home.
  • Selling a home could have upfront costs, such as home repairs, renovations, agent commissions and closing fees.
  • Enhancing curb appeal, investing in professional real estate photography and using a staging service are a few ways to help attract potential buyers.

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How to sell a house

Selling a house is a big decision, and the process can vary from one homeowner to the next. But here are some common steps sellers typically take.

Step 1: Set a timeline for selling the house

There are a variety of reasons why someone might sell their home—and each reason could have a unique timeline. Someone relocating for work may need to move quickly. But a couple searching for their dream home could be willing to wait for the right listing to come along.

That said, several factors could affect the time it takes to sell a home. So it might help to consider:

  • How quickly similar local listings are selling.
  • Any renovations you’d like to make before putting your house on the market.
  • Where you’ll live once your current home sells. 
  • How the time of year may affect real estate sales. 
  • How asking price could affect the time it takes to sell. 
  • Whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market

Step 2: Find an experienced real estate agent

Setting a timeline is only one part of the home-selling process. It’s also helpful to think about how to market a home, attract potential buyers and find the right offer. 

The good news is that sellers don’t have to navigate these steps alone. An experienced real estate agent could:

  • Compare local listings to find a competitive asking price.
  • Suggest ways to add curb appeal and increase property value. 
  • Use marketing tactics—like listing services and open house events—to attract potential buyers. 
  • Help sellers review offers and draft purchase agreements. 
  • Connect sellers with remodeling companies, real estate photographers and home inspectors. 
  • Guide sellers through the closing process. 

Some real estate agents represent buyers and others represent sellers. If you want to put your house on the market, it may help to:

  • Look for sellers’ agents in your area. 
  • Get referrals from friends or family. 
  • Research each agent’s experience, the types of listings they sell and whether they have any special training or awards.
  • Read reviews from past clients. 
  • Create a list of questions to ask during the interview.
  • Review the listing agreement terms. 

Step 3: Prep the property: Renovate, repair and stage the house

Making some upgrades and repairs before listing a home may increase property value. But certain home renovations could be costly, so it’s helpful to think about the potential return on investment. 

Minor touch-ups—like decluttering, repairing trim or refreshing paint—could be cost-effective ways to boost a home’s curb appeal. Kitchen and bathroom upgrades might be more expensive, but these value-adding updates could help attract buyers. 

Once upgrades are complete, it’s time to stage the home. Staging can showcase a property’s positive features—like natural light, open concept floor plans and modern design touches. And removing personal items, such as family photos and heirlooms, can help buyers visualize their family enjoying the space.  

Keep in mind that online house hunters may appreciate high-quality photos. So hiring a professional real estate photographer might be a good idea. Real estate photographers can capture a home’s best features, create virtual tours and more. 

Step 4: Put the home up for sale

The listing process may vary depending on whether the seller uses a real estate agent or goes the route of for sale by owner (FSBO). Like real estate agents, FSBO sellers can market their home using signs, open houses, online services and more. 

But unlike agent-represented properties, homeowners can’t directly upload their FSBO listing to the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS is a database designed to connect buyers and sellers. It’s used by licensed real estate brokers to share details about available properties. 

Whichever way you list, don’t forget to prepare for home showings. During a private tour, potential buyers—and their agents—may ask about things like square footage, upgrades, and any past or current property issues.

Step 5: Review offers, negotiate terms and create a sale agreement

If a buyer is interested in a home, they may submit a written offer. Sellers can either accept an offer as is, decline it or make a counteroffer. 

Depending on market conditions, some sellers might have multiple offers to choose from. In a seller’s market, for example, buyers may enter into bidding wars or waive contingencies. But in a buyer’s market, sellers may have fewer incoming offers, or they could need to make concessions—like paying closing costs.  

While it may be tempting to accept the first—or highest—offer, it’s important to review:

  • The buyer’s financial situation and whether they’re pre-approved. 
  • Whether the buyer offers to pay some, all or no closing costs. 
  • Any presale renovation or repair requests. 
  • Whether the buyer needs to sell their home before purchasing a new one. 
  • Other contingencies the buyer may have requested. 

Once a seller accepts an offer, the home will be taken off the market and a sale agreement will be created. There will then be a due diligence period so the buyer and seller have time to complete the purchase agreement terms. 

Step 6: Get the home inspected

Some sellers may pay for an inspection before listing their home. But home inspections typically take place during the due diligence period of a sale. An inspector can check for issues with a home’s structure, electrical wiring, plumbing and more. 

If the home inspection finds any problems, homeowners may need to fix these issues before selling the home. Or, depending on the purchase agreement terms, the buyer might be able to back out of the sale and have their earnest money refunded. 

Step 7: Consider hiring a real estate attorney

Some states require buyers or sellers to have a real estate attorney present during the final part of the home-selling process. Selling a home is a big financial decision. So even if your state doesn’t require a real estate attorney, it may be beneficial to have one. 

A real estate attorney could write, amend, review and finalize agreements—like escrow and title documents. They can also perform title searches and help ensure their client’s interests are protected throughout the sale. 

Step 8: Collect paperwork and close the sale

Closing day is when buyers and sellers typically meet with their real estate agents, attorneys and other parties to review documents and finalize the sale.  

A home sale is a legal transaction, so it may involve a fair amount of paperwork, such as:

  • The purchase contract
  • Mortgage documents
  • Title documents
  • Homeowners insurance documents
  • Tax records
  • Home inspection and appraisal reports

While you’re gathering paperwork, don’t forget to grab the keys. Once all parties review and sign the documents, ownership typically transfers to the buyer. 

Also keep in mind that sellers may pay some closing costs, like: 

  • Real estate agent commissions 
  • Title transfer fees
  • Any outstanding property taxes 

Step 9: Prepare to move

It’s hard to predict how fast a home will sell. So as you prepare to list your home, it’s a good idea to keep your next move in mind. 

Here are some steps that could help:

  • Decide where you want to live and what you’re looking for in a new property. 
  • Look for listings and consider working with a buyer’s agent. 
  • Explore financing options and start the mortgage pre-approval process.
  • Consider asking for a flexible closing and move-out date. 
  • Coordinate packing, storage and moving services.

Depending on your preferences and budget, you may decide to hire professional movers or take a DIY approach. Whichever option you choose, don’t forget to factor moving costs into your budget and consider how you’ll pay for these expenses.

Using a credit card to cover these costs could potentially help cardholders earn cash back. Just be sure to use credit responsibly and remember that paying off the balance each month can help avoid extra interest charges.

A couple stands in their kitchen and reviews offers with their real estate agent. 

How long does it take to sell a house?

According to, as of January 2023, homes spent an average of 75 days on the market. But the exact time it takes to sell a home could depend on a variety of factors—like local market conditions, the home’s location, mortgage interest rates and available inventory.

How much does it cost to sell a house?

Homeowners often expect to make money from selling their home. But first they should prepare to cover some upfront costs. 

For example, sellers typically pay real estate agent fees and commissions, which could be 5% to 6% of the purchase price. Depending on the purchase agreement terms, sellers may also need to pay some or all closing costs. These costs may range from 2% to 5% of the mortgage total.

Before handing over the keys to the new owners, it’s a good idea for sellers to consider whether they’ll need to cover the following costs:

  • Property taxes 
  • Transfer taxes 
  • Attorney fees 
  • Homeowners association (HOA) fees
  • Title-related fees
  • Escrow fees
  • Buyer-requested purchase terms, like repairs or a home warranty 

Keep in mind that closing costs might be negotiable. For instance, in a seller’s market, homeowners might request that the buyer cover all closing costs. But in a buyer’s market, sellers may need to make more concessions to close the deal.

How to sell a house without a realtor

Instead of working with a real estate agent, some homeowners choose to list their home for sale by owner. With the FSBO approach, sellers might avoid paying real estate agent fees and commissions. 

Without an agent, though, sellers take on all duties and risks associated with selling a home, including:

  • Comparing listings and setting a sale price.
  • Sourcing renovation companies, real estate photographers and staging services.
  • Marketing the home, coordinating showings and hosting open houses.
  • Reviewing offers and negotiating the purchase agreement.
  • Preparing legal documents and finalizing the sale. 

Listing a home FSBO may save sellers some money, but it could cost them time and money in the long run. Thinking about listing your home FSBO? Before you decide, it’s a good idea to speak with sellers who used this approach and learn about the experience.

How to stage a house for sale

Staging a home can help showcase a property’s best features through open houses, virtual tours and online listings. 

From enhancing curb appeal to creating an inviting space, these home-staging tips could potentially attract more buyers and higher offers.

Declutter the living space

Simply put, prospective buyers want to visualize themselves in the space. But stacks of books, scattered toys and overflowing junk drawers might make that difficult. So it’s a good idea to declutter your home before putting it on the market. 

An organized space can help a home look well maintained. Plus, decluttering before a move could make moving a bit easier. 

Hide the personal touches

Keep in mind that buyers are trying to find their future home. Removing personal items, such as family photos or keepsakes, can help house hunters imagine their family enjoying the space.  

Take high-quality photos

According to a 2022 report from the National Association of Realtors, 96% of buyers used online tools to search for a home. That said, photo quality could make or break a prospective buyer’s first impression of a listing. 

Sellers could work with a professional real estate photographer to help their listing stand out. A good photographer understands how to use lighting, composition and design to showcase a home’s best features. If you take your own photos, make sure the space is well lit and try to use high-resolution images.

A living room is staged with two couches, a vase, a rug and a houseplant. 

3 home-selling mistakes and how to avoid them 

Selling a home for the first time can be stressful. Here are some common missteps sellers make and tips to help avoid them. 

Letting emotions drive decision-making

Selling your house can be an emotional experience. After all, you’ve probably made a lot of memories there. But emotions can cloud judgment. 

Try to be realistic about the home’s value and price it accordingly. An experienced real estate agent may provide a voice of reason and help sellers find the right offer. 

Setting an unrealistic asking price

Pricing strategy plays a key role in the home-selling process. Pricing a home too low could mean missing out on more money. But sellers may have a hard time finding buyers if they price their home too high. 

Having a home appraised before putting it on the market could help. A knowledgeable real estate agent could also provide some insight into the local market and current property values. 

Sellers can also look up local listings to see how others are pricing their homes. Just be sure to look for listings with similar square footage, floor plans and lot size.  

Trying to hide problems with the property

It’s best to be upfront with buyers about any structural problems or legal issues—like liens. After all, these types of issues will typically be uncovered during a home inspection or title search. Keep in mind that most states have disclosure laws that require sellers to tell buyers about any known property issues. 

The home selling process in a nutshell

Selling a home isn’t as simple as putting a sign in the yard, signing some papers and handing over the keys. But the process doesn’t have to be overly complicated either. 

Getting rid of clutter, adding some curb appeal and staging the home can help make a great first impression on buyers. It may be a good idea to work with an experienced real estate agent too. 

Want to get a sense of your home’s value before putting it up for sale? Check out Capital One’s guide to finding how much your house is worth.

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