When you decide to sell, the first thing to do is investigate the local housing market.
Check how sales were running, say, a year ago, so you get an idea of whether the market is heating up, cooling down, or staying put. This exercise should give you a sense of what your home is worth.
Working with an agent
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Once you find an agent you like, you will need to sign a formal listing agreement. This is a contract, laying out the specifics of your arrangement, including how long you will let the agent represent your home and what the compensation will be.
Most agents prefer an exclusive listing, meaning you agree to pay a commission regardless of whether the agent is actually responsible for finding the seller. When you discuss the listing agreement, discuss other issues as well. For instance, if there are certain times when you want the house off-limits for a walk-through, etc., be sure to let the agent know.
After you've signed a listing agreement, you may want to give your lawyer a call to notify him or her that you're selling your house and will need help reviewing bids and contracts. If you don't want to pay for a lawyer, your agent should also be able to guide you through this process.
Getting ready for an open house
Whether you sell on your own or work with an agent, you'll want to doll up your house before it goes on the market.
Take an objective look at it: Is it cluttered? A little worn and tired? Consider a new paint job. Tidy up. Remove some of your personal items, like family pictures and knickknacks. Move unneeded furniture into the attic, basement or rented storage. These seemingly insignificant details can add many thousands of dollars to your eventual sales price.
Also note how long the homes were on the market. If you're in a seller's market, with homes moving in a week or two, think about adding a premium to the asking price.
But be careful: The critical selling time is within the first month after your home hits the market. If the price is too high, you'll turn off potential buyers and agents and then have a hard time attracting them back, even if you lower your sights later.
Also make sure that all the buyer's contingencies are restricted within specific amounts of time. For instance, if the deal is contingent upon the home passing an inspection, then the inspection must occur within a week to 10 days of an accepted bid. The same is true of the closing date: Make the buyer commit to a reasonable closing date.