How to Sell Your Home Fast: Tips and Tricks

Updated on January 26, 2018
anwaish profile image

Anne is a nonprofit executive and graduated summa cum laude from William Woods University with a BS in business management.

Listed our home of 18 years in mid-May.  Received first offer within 5 days.
Listed our home of 18 years in mid-May. Received first offer within 5 days.

Don't Get Overwhelmed

Many people who want or need to sell their home of many years get overwhelmed at the thought of needed updates and repairs. However, with some straight forward advice from your realtor and good planning, you can be well on your way to making that sale a reality. Here are some tips from the plan I followed.

Tip #1: Find the Best Realtor

First, before making any changes to your home, find the best realtor in your area. Fortunately for us, the number one realtor in our area lived right across the street. It's always good to:

  • Research the market to see which listing agents have highest sales.
  • Find one that is certified.
  • Look for someone with a minimum of 5 years experience.

Tip #2: Prepare for the Meeting with Your Realtor

  1. Create a binder to hold all of the research and other data on your home and the market.
  2. Have a calendar and potential timeline.
  3. Know your home mortgage payoff.
  4. If you have it, the listing sheet from when you purchased the home will be helpful.
  5. Copy of appraisal, if completed within the last year.

We had a listing date in mind which gave us ample time for updating the house. We began filling in the calendar with all the detail to meet the deadline (which was March originally but then later moved it to May).

Our realtor had a lot of data on recent sales of similar homes. I added all of that to my binder to refer back to if necessary. It was an easy conversation that took place in our kitchen instead of her office which put us more at ease from the start. We then had a second meeting a month later, where we made some decisions. She had lots of suggestions for our home and pointed out what she thought would help make rooms look larger and prevent our 18-year-old home from looking dated. To us these things were invisible. However, after diving into that process of elimination, it became clear that she was right. I think the amount you spend on updates and repairs is relative to your price range. The higher the price of the home the higher the cost of updating.

Tip #3: Create Your Plan

So we began by creating a plan with a timeline.

  1. List everything that needs to be repaired and/or updated.
  2. Estimate the cost and when it needs to be completed.
  3. Arrange in chronological order.
  4. Walk around interior and exterior of your home and look at everything to be sure the list is complete.

Once we finished timeline we realized that May 1 was the earliest we could list the house instead of March. Everything, no matter how small, went on the planning list. If a sink needed a stopper or an outlet didn't work, it was listed with repairs.

This was our list of updates with estimated costs.
This was our list of updates with estimated costs.

Tip #4: De-Clutter

Even though we thought about it, we decided against renting a storage facility. Most of the items being removed probably needed to go anyway (sell, donate or pitch). Our realtor said to put items we wanted to keep in plastic tubs and stack them neatly in our garage. That’s where we started.

Then we had a garage sale, sold larger or more expensive items on eBay and Craigslist until we rounded the corner into February. Then anything left was given away, donated or pitched.

I reorganized all of the storage closets. We replaced most of our cardboard boxes with plastic tubs which gave them a more organized less cluttered appearance.

The Garage Sale Plan

  • ads on the local newspaper's website, garage sale websites, Craigslist, etc.
  • Big colorful signage/balloons the day of the sale with address and what CREDIT/DEBIT Cards were acceptable (square.com and many other online options available).
  • Staging - Use a lot of chairs and tables with cloths over them to create inviting and colorful nooks for items.
  • Traffic Flow - Create a very easy traffic pattern so all come in and follow the path around items and follow a natural flow to register. We had 2 garage doors so for us a horseshoe type traffic flow was perfect.
  • Groupings - Place items according to category or seasons if appropriate. Then as items sell, rearranged to keep it looking attractive and inviting.
  • Price - Everything to sell (A lot of websites online with suggested pricing).
  • Money box - Always have 2 people managing money.
  • Bags - Have a good supply of bags by money box.
  • Leftovers - Donate to Goodwill or other similar agency.

In the end, our garage sale grossed about $1,000.

Selling on Craigslist and Ebay

After the garage sale, I launched into selling things on a couple of websites to continue the purging.

The first item to sell was my sons Goosebump book collection which didn’t sell at the garage sale. However, it sold within minutes on one of the websites for $65. Then I posted another item and it sold fast too. So now I really got serious about finding more things to list. I was amazed at how much I was moving. Along the way, I even purchased a mannequin to display the clothes I was selling. I believe we actually made about $4,000 from that process. I did this from August through January. Then in February, it was clear we were running out of time if we wanted to keep with listing the house in May, so we just began making a lot of trips to a local donation outlet. It was hard but once into it, we didn’t look back. So the mannequin went into the storage room and my selling website storefront was closed for the season.

Tip #5: Be Flexible

As with anything, there were surprises along the way.

Budget

Some things were more costly than anticipated. Looking back we spent 10% more than we planned to due to unexpected repairs and expenses. Anytime something was higher, we stepped back and readjusted our list of updates and repairs. There were some things we couldn't do because of such. Originally all of the appliances were going to be replaced. However, after other things came in higher, we dropped them from the list.

Family Health Issues

My husband Jim was in and out of the hospital throughout the process but no matter what, life threw at us, we still kept to the schedule. Sometimes contractors were working on the house while we were at the hospital. If we wanted to list it in May though, we had to keep things moving forward. The pool was a big part of the marketing plan for the home and that called for a spring listing. In our area, May is one of the biggest months for home sales. So there was no way we were going to miss that window. Our theme: Push Through It!

Work Delays

The door hardware also took almost the entire month to complete. With 41 doors, 3 hinges each, along with 2 door handles (some with locks and some without), patience and persistence were called upon often.

Tip #6: Paint Paint Paint

Nothing is as easy and inexpensive as paint to give a room a new look. Our realtor put us in touch with wonderful handy-men and other vendors, who did great work and were so accommodating. We removed a lot of items from any of the walls that were scratched or cluttered, and had all of them repainted. The color was still current so we only repainted the damaged wall, not the whole room. Paint stores can match any color off of a chip of paint.

Also, don't forget the outside of the house. The front door and shutters were pretty weathered so they were repainted with a more current color.

The painting took longer but was so worth it.

Scaffolding needed for painting.
Scaffolding needed for painting.

Tip #7: Update Light Fixtures

We worked with a local designer to choose the appropriate light fixtures for each room since ours were all the outdated brass. She was extremely helpful which made the job so easy. All of the old fixtures and door hardware was donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Our outdoor lights were rusted so they were replaced with oil rub bronze lamps along with a new mailbox with the same finish. That face-lift was the star on the tree for the very important - curb appeal. To top it off, we hung a new flower arrangement on the door that coordinated with new topiaries in the black urns we had on the front porch. I previously had a couple of fire engine red dragons on the porch as well. However, those were retired. I really liked the dragons, but this wasn’t about what I liked, it was about what would appeal to the potential buyer.

When you decide to sell your home, you realize as you make changes to make it more marketable, that it’s no longer “your” home. It was sad at first but the goal was to sell the house to get to a smaller more manageable place. So each time I’d start to feel that sadness creep in, I’d brush it back by focusing on our life in our next home. In the end, it became all about getting to “the other side.”

Out with the old.
Out with the old.
In with the new.
In with the new.

Tip #8: Replace Any Rotted Wood

Nothing says old and unkempt, like rotted wood. Any rotted wood whether it was a doorstop or small piece of frame, was disposed of and replaced including an entire door and frame on the side of our garage.

Our deck needed some attention so we had a contractor do an assessment. They replaced some boards and made some minor repairs and then washed and stained it for us. The realtor picked out the stain and it was a beautiful rich finish which made it look brand new.

Tip #9: Maximize Selling Points of the Home

Our kitchen needed a back splash, so for a minimal amount of money, we added tile which also gave it a very current look.

Most homes in our price range had granite counter tops and newer stainless steel appliances. We didn't have either of those. In fact, our white appliances were 18 years old but new ones in the end, had to be cut from the budget. What we did have though were big beautiful custom made plantation shutters on all the downstairs oversized windows. They let in a lot of light and overlooked the swimming pool and very large backyard. We figured the buyers would be so fixed on that when they came to the kitchen, that the counters and appliances wouldn't be noticed as much...We were right. By maximizing the strong selling points of our home we were able to minimize its weaknesses.

Tiled back splash was not very expensive but added so much appeal to kitchen
Tiled back splash was not very expensive but added so much appeal to kitchen

Tip #10: Refresh Landscaping

We started out by just adding more rock and mulch to all of our flower beds. We already had a relationship with someone that was treating the lawn with a 5 step program and managed all the trimming of our shrubs too. So we asked them to manage the weed control in the flower beds to keep the fresh look throughout the summer months. It's vital that the yard has a very manicured appearance. That was part of marketing the pool as a big selling point. Who wants to lay by a pool and look at weedy flower beds or half dead shrubs. Any items like that were replaced with new.

Our yard was very deep and at the end was a struggling Weeping Willow tree with several dead limbs. So, we hired a tree trimmer to shape it up. It was once the crowning glory of our yard but between a significant ice storm and later a drought like summer, the tree was no longer attractive. After all of the dead portions were removed though, it was good as new.

The lawn mowing service typically did not bag the entire yard, so we paid extra for them to do so which added to the appearance and cut down on clippings in the flower beds and pool.

Our swimming pool, which we knew would be a big selling point, needed a new vinyl liner and cover. That had to be ordered in March to be here by May. So those arrangements were made with our pool maintenance man. He suggested we make some other changes as well which we did to add to the pool's appearance. We figured it would be a young family that would purchase the home and the pool would really appeal to them.

Give lots of attention to the landscaping.  A well manicured yard goes a long way when selling your home.
Give lots of attention to the landscaping. A well manicured yard goes a long way when selling your home.

Tip #11: Fix Any Basement Water or Mold Issues

We had a small water leak that had surfaced over the past 18 months but would only appear after a very hard torrential rain. Therefore, we knew that had to be fixed before we could sell the house. I called a waterproofing professional to assess the situation. It was determined the water was coming from up high not from the foundation. They made some suggestions but these were not things that they themselves could fix.

We took their list and began to work through the handful of items they thought would solve our problem. The first thing was to caulk all around the doors and windows as well as over key areas in the driveway. So that was all taken care of quickly. Soon after that, we had a major storm that brought 4 inches of rain over a 2 hour period and found that our efforts were not enough. The carpet by the wall downstairs was wet again. We then had a plumber run a snake through all the downspouts to be sure they were all clear and daylighting away from the house at the appropriate distance from such. We found that a couple of them were clogged. So that was fixed. Additionally, we used a 15-foot pipe to extend the drainage out further into the backyard.

Then finally we had our roof checked for leaks and found that the flashing was missing from around the brick where the shingles stop. So that was fixed along with several shingles replaced too. This seemed like the most likely cause for our water issue so once again we thought this would fix the issue. The carpet in the room was replaced and the wall that we cut into in an attempt to see where water was coming from was repaired and painted. It withstood several other storms and seemed that the problem was now behind us finally. Then in late May, we had another torrential rain with several inches in a few hours. As with any rain since discovering the initial leak, I would check for wet carpet along the wall. This time it did get wet but was just a very small area of the carpet - nothing like before. The problem though was that while we disclosed the leak, we indicated on the form that it was fixed. So now we had to amend our disclosure and let them know that it did resurface but to a lesser degree. We also laid out our plan to fix it. An offer was on the table already so the buyer’s realtor came by the house and I showed him where the carpet had been wet and what repair was made to fix the problem. He seemed satisfied but the big test was how it would fair in the inspection which was the following week.

The inspector was one that had a reputation for being extremely thorough. So we were pretty nervous. However, when he tested the area with a moisture meter, to our relief it was dry. So he said whatever leak that was there had been fixed.

May brought a heavy amount of rain which delayed our pool liner from being installed. That and other issues caused us to push back listing the house 2 weeks. Finally, after all the rush to get things ready and all of the hard work, it was listed mid-May.

Added several feet of additional pipes to extend drain out past house.
Added several feet of additional pipes to extend drain out past house.

Home Showings

Fortunately, we didn’t have to do many showings but for those we did, we were ready. Each time someone was coming to see it, we’d complete the "To Do" list for showings. Then us, along with our dog, would load up in the car and head over to my sister’s home where we waited for an hour or two. For the record, you do have to disclose if you have a pet in the house. However, it’s just good common sense not to leave evidence of such right under the potential buyers nose.

We assumed the house would take months to sell because of the price range was at the higher end of the market and all of the bedrooms were up stairs. However that wasn’t the case.

After only 3 showings, we received our first offer. Then after negotiations, we agreed to a final price contingent upon their home selling. Two or three weeks later we received another offer and this one…without a contingency.

Home Showing (To Do List)

List of things we did before each showing.
List of things we did before each showing.

Selling Process - When does the sold sign go up?

Many people believe that the house is sold once the contract is signed, but that isn’t the case. It’s a process and things can fall apart anywhere along the way.

1. The Inspection

After the contract is signed, next is the inspection. These days that is another point where negotiations may occur. In our case, our furnace, air conditioner and water heaters were the same age as the house (18 years). We had them serviced every season though and were confident they were in good condition. However, after the inspection which put our home under intense scrutiny, the buyers requested a $12K credit for the 3 systems due to their age. We felt that was over the line due to the fact that they were aware of age of the systems when they originally signed contract. Because the upstairs air conditioner didn’t cool as well as the other unit, we settled on a $2K credit which they agreed to also.

2. The Appraisal

We had an appraisal done a year earlier so we were confident that we wouldn’t have any problem here. This was pretty smooth and occurred within a few days of the negotiations following the inspection. The buyers did have to request moving the loan commitment date back because of how long things drug out after inspection.

3. Loan Commitment

This occurs after the appraisal is good. We’ve sold 3 homes and never had it come back low. However it does happen sometimes. Once the loan commitment date has passed you are on more solid ground. Still not final though. This is when the sold sign goes up though.

4. Final Walk Through

Due to the negotiations that occurred after the inspection, I was so nervous about the final walk through. This occurred the morning of closing. We had a team of people scour our home after we moved out, a couple days before. They did a beautiful job making it look its absolute best. I went over and did some last minute handy work also. There was a large stain on the light carpet in living room where an area rug had been which I wasn’t aware of before. There was nothing I could do about it though at this point. Then I placed flowers in the kitchen with the light over head shining down on them.

When the couple arrived at the closing they remarked to the loan officer how pristine the home looked – it was immaculate. I was so relieved to see that they were happy and everything went so smoothly. Now our home was finally considered sold. It was now finished.

Happy Ending

It was such a happy ending to a hard but needed transition in our lives. We loved our home of 18 years. This is where we raised our son, celebrated graduations, and mourned the passing of parents and other loved ones; experienced great highs and sad lows; etched in the wood work our sons growing milestones. So leaving it was really hard but for the best.

I had typed up some “Notes for the New Owners” regarding features of the home and how to manage the pool along with a list of (vendors). Also, gave them our contact information in case they had questions about anything along with papers for appliances and such. So we hugged and handed over all the notes and said our good byes.

We watched other homes in our price range linger for months. We knew that our window to sell was late spring and early summer due to the pool. Also, towards the end of summer parents are thinking about school and not moving to a new home. Therefore we put all our effort into getting our home ready, so once it was listed, it would sell fast.

Good luck and if you lay out your plan as we did, hopefully you will sell your home fast too.

What's your biggest concern about selling your home?

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© 2018 Anne Carmichael

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