[How to] Sell Your House Fast
Have you ever wondered why some houses sell faster than others? Odds are, it's because the owners had a selling strategy! With the right action plan, you can tilt the odds in your favor to beat out the competition (the other sellers and inventory on the market).
I polled several real estate agents to gather as many ideas as possible to write this article about selling a home fast. In addition to all their great ideas, here are a few high-level thoughts from the experts:
- It’s unlikely that sellers can get a top dollar offer, and list a home for fewer days on the market, without making an effort to bring it to its most presentable state.
- In fact, only half of all homeowners to spruce up their home for a quick sale. That is great news for you; if you put in the effort, odds tilt in your favor to beat other homes in the market and win the deal.
- Some sellers think that all they need to do is mow the lawn and get a good real estate agent. While getting a great listing agent is important, even the best are not miracle workers.
- The modern world is hectic and fast-paced. People are busy and short on time. Buyers want a move-in ready home. When they find a house appears livable on day 1, they’ll pounce. More than ever, convenience carries more weight, as a part of their decision-making.
You want your house to look great, attract qualified buyers and beat the competition. The process doesn’t have to be a difficult or expensive (barring major repairs). There are four key areas in which to focus:
- The appearance of the property, inside and out
- Listing information that is descriptive and accurate
- The home is priced fairly
- Smooth showings
Curb Appeal (Outside the House)
Today's home shopper will first see your house online or by perusing neighborhoods they like, noticing the “For Sale” sign in your yard. In both cases, first impressions matter. For the drive-by home shopper, if your yard looks a little worse for wear, they’ll likely keep on driving without giving your house a chance.
Weed and feed your front lawn and repair bare patches. Prune all of your shrubs and plants in your flower beds, pull those stubborn weeds and cover the dirt with fresh bark. You’ll be amazed how just a little bark can make your yard “pop.” Trim back any tree branches that block your windows. A groomed yard that looks tight will impress.
Now, review the driveway. Repair any cracks and replace gravel if needed. See any oil spots? Consider renting a pressure washer or hire a professional to remove them. In addition to cleaning the driveway, you can power wash the roof to break off any moss or remove algae stains. While you're at it, hit the deck to remove any debris.
Fences, Sheds and Dog Houses
If you have a fence, replace any broken panels. Consider re-painting or staining the fence if it needs it. If you’re selling a home with pets and the dog house is looking a little shabby, you can give it a coat of paint or stain. Grungy-looking sheds might need some love, too.
Staging (Inside the House)
Staging is the art of making the interior of your house appealing to prospective buyers. If your home is not clean and clutter-free, selling it quickly will be much more challenging. I tell people to pretend their house is going to be a hotel room for the next few weeks – the fewer traces of its previous occupants, the better.
Depersonalizing your home allows potential buyers see themselves living in your home. They won’t be able to do that if they see personal photos on the fireplace mantle or junior’s soccer trophy in the hall; the home won’t feel like it can be their place. Some buyers even admit that seeing photos of the family selling the home makes them feel like they’ll upset them. This may sound cold and dispassionate, but remove every family picture you can, even those that hang on the wall.
Decluttering is the most common things I hear from other real estate agents when asked how to sell a home fast. Clean, orderly rooms look larger. When you sell your home, this is an excellent opportunity to have a garage sale. You can get rid of things you don't need that take up space and make a little money. Lastly, you'll have less stuff to move, possibly saving some dough by using a smaller moving van.
Furthermore, pack anything that isn’t essential to day-to-day living in your home and store it in a small storage unit. If that option is too expensive, then pack up what you can and store those items in stacked boxes in your garage. If your garage is already stuffed full of boxes, leaving no additional room, get a storage unit, they’re cheap compared to losing a deal. Some home buyers will go nuts for a tidy Garage. When every tool has its spot, and the workbench is well-organized, this can seal the deal, especially for men.
Clear all counters of knick-knacks, pack up video games or movies that are sitting out by the TV and toss out old magazines, catalogs, and newspapers. Now, scrutinize what’s left in each room. Is the living room crowded with too much furniture or a piece or two that is worn out? Put some of it in storage. Stow kitchen appliances that you use infrequently. Round up pet toys and place them in a box.
Move plants and artwork around. You want to create large open spaces but at the same time, not be too sparse. Does any room look “too busy?” Double check the kids’ rooms. If your kitchen or bathroom towels are old and worn, buy some new ones to have on display.
Well-organized closets, with colored hangers and shoes assembled in perfect order, will surely impress prospective buyers.
General Cleaning Shimmering windows and clean screens send a “clear” signal of a well-maintained home.
Sometimes dirty air ducts will need to be cleaned. Replace filthy AC and furnace filters. Check the fireplace for old ashes. The oven and microwave should also sparkle, inside and out.
Refrigerator doors should be clear of artwork, pictures, shopping lists, etc. The inside should get a thorough cleaning. Right or wrong, most home shoppers will open your fridge! If you plan on an extended absence from your home while it is on the market, make sure no food is left behind. Rotted food and the accompanying smell can be a real deal-killer.
Clean every nook and cranny throughout the house. Don’t forget to scrub the toilets. Wood, tile or other types of floors should be spotless. In dusty climates like Los Angeles, it may be necessary to give your walls a good scrub down.
Consider having your carpets cleaned by a professional. Besides looking better, clean carpets will help your house to smell fresh. You can rent a steam system from your local hardware store if you prefer to do it yourself.
Drapes also accumulate smells, particularly in homes where smoking was allowed. Dry cleaners can handle them; it's much tougher to wash blinds on your own.
Does your house smell like a bunch of animals live there? It’s time to wash pet beds, refresh cat litter, vacuum the couch and pick up all the toys. If any of your animals have soiled the carpet, don’t even think of trying to see your house without a good carpet cleaning, preferably one with a steam cleaner and shampoo.
A relatively affordable way to improve the appearance of your home, inside and out, is a fresh paint job. For interiors, choose neutral, light colors as that will appeal to most people. People do not like gloomy, dark places. Aim for a bright and cheery vibe.
While you're at it, think about finding a few plug-in room fresheners that will give off a pleasant, subtle scent. Nothing too flowery. Putting one in every room will surely be overkill. You might be better aiming for a neutral instead of strong smell, lest the buyer may ask themselves what is being covered up. Dry rot? Mold? Some even sprinkle cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice on a warm burner to add a welcoming scent. Fresh flowers are a nice touch and add to the overall aesthetic of a room.
Check all lighting for missing bulbs. In darker areas with no ceiling lights, you can put lamps in the corners. Leave blinds open to let natural light inside
We all have little projects that we meant to do, but never started. That’s a part of life. However, when it comes to selling your home, little eyesores that you no longer notice will stand out to potential buyers. Give your home a critical look and make notes for small repairs like holes in the walls, broken fixtures, cracked light switch covers, etc. Re-caulk the shower or bathtub if needed.
Smart Upgrades (more involved)
While it is true that you can sometimes get a higher price for a house if you make upgrades, you could also end up spending too much money without a return on the investment. For instance, if your kitchen counter top is hideous or damaged it might be worth replacing to sell the home faster, but if your counter is in good condition and only slightly out of style, leave it be. Your real estate agent will be able to advise you on what things to upgrade if any.
Structural, Mechanical or Environmental Defects (major)
Conduct a visual inspection to head off any items an inspector will uncover that could delay a sale to an otherwise enthusiastic buyer. Here are some typical items for you to check before listing your home for sale:
- Large cracks in the foundation
- Broken roof tiles
- Deteriorated or broken decking
- Busted chimney bricks
- Water damage, mold, dry rot
- Presence of wood destroying insects (e.g. termites)
- Faulty wiring
- Plumbing problems
The Property Listing
Now that your house looks the part, it’s time to create your listing, which includes images, a written description and key data about your property. All three of these elements work together to attract potential buyers.
Photographs Photos are the first thing home shoppers will notice in listings. They go hand-in-hand with the written description and other information. You have three options to get great listing pictures.
- You take them
- Your agent takes them
- Hire a professional
Just because your smartphone comes with a camera, that doesn't mean it can take a decent picture. Nor is everyone a good photographer. If you're a skilled shutterbug, go for it! Agents with a Midas touch can take them for you. Hiring a pro is the safest choice. Interior photos typically turn out best when taken with a “prosumer” grade camera body hooked up to a wide-angle lens. Keep the shades open and lights on (don't forget recessed lighting and lights under cabinets). Exterior photos are less tricky but usually benefit from a little touch-up work using Photoshop, Affinity Photo or free, online photo editors.
Good photographs help attract buyers and sell a house faster.
Now it's time to come up with an accompanying, written property description. Remember this: adjectives are your friends! In fact, reading other property descriptions provides some inspiration. Be sure to highlight unique characteristics of your house that help make it stand apart.
While you'll have a certain degree of creative license, make sure your description is accurate. Wildly misleading characterizations of your property will backfire. In most cases, the best property descriptions are vibrant, yet set an appropriate expectation with the reader. I love the adage "under promise and over deliver."
The raw data added to the listing, like the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, etc. is straightforward.
A big part of selling a house fast is getting the listing seen by home shoppers. By far, the internet is the most viable medium to make this happen. When you work with a real estate agent (who is also a paying member of your local Multiple Listing Service or MLS), your listing will be made available to all the other members - local agents. Members can log into the MLS, view your listing and provide it to their clients (the buyers you're want to reach).
The local MLS feed (containing all the listings posted by members) is sent to popular websites like Realtor.com, reaching more potential home buyers. Local websites -- operated by individual agents sometimes an entire branch -- may also display the MLS feed.
Listings generally show up on Zillow and Trulia. However, the relationships between these national companies and local MLSs are in flux. Some MLSs have distribution agreements, and others do not. And those arrangements change from time-to-time.
Pricing the House to Sell Fast
Selling a home fast requires appropriate and fair pricing. Price a home too high, and you'll possibly reduce the number of potential buyers and number of showings. Pricing too low could leave money on the table.
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA)
Listing with a REALTOR, given their access to a local MLS and market data, is a significant advantage to you. Agents can create a comparative market analysis (CMA) report based on listing and sale prices of comparable homes nearby (comps). In fact, CMAs can be put together pretty quickly, using computer programs that determine fair market value. But creating a CMA report is as much an art form as it is a data exercise as it includes both quantitative and qualitative data.
- Number of bedrooms, baths
- Square footage of home
- Size of lot
- Amenities like a pool and central air
- Age of home
- Location - proximity to shopping, major roads, schools and so on
- Condition and recent improvements
Given all the information about your home, the CMA report provides a comparison it to similar properties:
- Comparable homes currently for sale
- Comparable homes recently sold
- Comparable homes that failed to sell
In addition to the house-to-house comparisons in the CMA report, you may way want to ask your agent about the overall local market. Here are some indicators market health:
- Sale-to-List Ratio (percentage) – final sales prices divided last listed prices, indicates whether homes in the local market are selling above or below list prices.
- Average Days on Market (DOM) – How long homes are on the market before they sell.
- Months of Supply – Given monthly sales volume, indicates how many months would it take to sell all the current homes on the market.
Simply stated: selling a home fast means beating the current market averages.
The price you ask for a home may be influenced by the month in which you plan to sell it. Residential real estate transaction volume tends to pick up every spring, but that is not the only thing that moves around. Prices will tick upward and the average number of Days on Market (DOM) for which a home is listed will go down. Not every home seller has the luxury to wait until the best time of year to sell their home fast, but it never hurts to familiarize yourself with seasonal adjustments that take place in your market. For sellers in Los Angeles, you can check seasonal fluctuations and historical data using this best time to sell calculator in Los Angeles.
Side note: You have to admit, it’s fun to check Zestimates (Zillow's home value estimates) to see what your home might be worth. Be cautious! Zestimates are partly based on asking prices which are usually higher than actual sales prices. Using Zillow as a pricing tool is very problematic, especially for folks taking the “For Sale by Owner” or “FSBO” route.
What to Expect
When your home is listed, the first two to three weeks will be the busiest period for showings. After that, activity cools down and levels off to a slower, yet steady pace. Why the initial spike? First, home shoppers spend a lot of time scouring listings online, months before buying. They know the homes already on the market, so the newest listings pique their interest. Second, shoppers actively viewing homes take an interest in properties they’ve not yet seen in person. To sell a home fast, the first couple weeks are critical.
Availability for Showings
Make your home available for showings as much as possible. The more flexibility you provide for showings, the more opportunity you’ll have to get an offer. For example, if you block visits on Sundays, you'll be missing out on one of the busiest real estate days of the week.
Fast Home Sales: A Team Effort
First of all, you’ll need your whole family’s support on this. Explain that as long as the house is up for sale, everyone needs to pretend that they don’t really live there. Everyone needs to be vigilant to keep the house clean at all times, even a little sterile-looking, in case a prospective buyer should want to drop in at a moment’s notice.
Everyone in the family should be on the same page not only in how the house looks, but how everyone behaves. In a perfect world, home shoppers would come to view your home while no one is home. But that's not always possible with last-minute appointments. For example, if someone wants to see your home during the week, while kids are home, they need to be aware that anything they say can influence a potential buyer's viewpoint. As you know, kids are honest. Sometimes to a fault. If they say, "Mom and Dad are getting divorced," this tidbit of information may suggest a distressed sale, resulting in a lower offer.
Home Seller’s Daily Routine
Setting a daily routine helps maintain a clean, presentable environment. Make regular trips to the back yard to pick up your pet's waste. Round up pet toys, pet beds, etc. and keep them in a box, preferably in a closet out of sight. Kids will need to pack away toys (it's only temporary) and commit to making their beds every day. Boo!
You can bet your bottom dollar that home shoppers will open the fridge. Keeping it organized and clean – even while you’re using it every day – is important. Agents notice home shoppers opening fridge doors all the time. In fact, a spotless refrigerator can sometimes seal the deal. An oft-repeated refrain from home shoppers, which an agent will overhear is, “If they are this organized, this house must be in great shape.”
Don’t leave dishes in the sink. Make sure toilets are flushed.
Home Selling Safety and Privacy
Here’s something most REALTORS® won’t sell you: with the rare exception, open houses aren’t effective. Open houses are a throwback to pre-internet days when the opening a home to the public was considered a viable way to market a property. Today, buyers do their research online or via mobile apps.
What’s more, open houses should be labeled "open risk." Agents can't realistically monitor all visitors during an open house, thus creating opportunities for theft, casing, and invasion of your privacy. You take on much less risk when a buyer's agent brings in one party (individual, couple, family) at a time.
Medicine cabinets are the perfect example of the possibility of both theft and invasion of privacy. Experienced agents see buyers open medicine cabinets all the time. Consider storing medicines (particularly opioids) and jewelry in a hidden spot while your house is on the market.
If you have pets, your agent will advise you to remove them during showings. You can take them for a walk, have them stay with a friend or neighbor, or even put them in pet daycare for the day. Consider the potential liability should your dog or cat harm a visitor. Injury payouts from dog bites in California run $30k per incident, according to State Farm.
Final Thoughts on Selling Your House Quickly
Remember, when you put your home up for a quick sale, you'll be competing with other properties in the market. A great-looking home, in good repair, will attract more potential buyers. A listing containing good photos and an accurate, well-worded description also helps attract home shoppers. A fair asking price, based on actual market data, can also cut down the number of days your home is listed before it’s sold.