Your first home-selling experience can be a stressful time, but you can reduce the anxiety by working with experienced real estate professionals to assess the true value of your home, making necessary upgrades to attract more buyer interest and being flexible throughout the sales process. Otherwise, your home may take longer to sell and the ordeal can consume your life for a few months to years, depending on regional market conditions.
List Your Home
Before deciding on an asking price, you'll need to know what your house is worth. Your real estate agent will recommend a residential real estate appraiser who can assess the value of your home for a fee. The appraiser will study your home's features, the surrounding neighborhood and geographic region. Upon reaching a designated property value and comparing it against your outstanding property debt, you'll then decide on an asking price that can leave room for buyer negotiation and hopefully provide a cash surplus to you when the selling process concludes. The greatest chance of receiving an acceptable offer will occur if you stick to a fair asking price reflective of your home's true worth.
Review and Accept Offers
When a buyer is seriously interested in purchasing your home, your agent will receive a written offer from the buyer's agent. Because most home buyers want to feel like they received a good deal, your potential buyer will likely want to negotiate on the asking price and ask you to pay for services such as septic system pumping and tree inspections. If your local market is slow, a buyer might purposely present an offer far below your home's worth to gauge how desperate you are to get rid of the house. While you should consider each offer, remember that buyers with secured financing are more desirable and you don't have to accept any offers that make you uncomfortable. Once a potential buyer presents you with what you and your agent believe are reasonable requests, you'll indicate acceptance by signing the offer contract and returning it to the buyer's agent.
Once an offer to buy is accepted by both parties, you will each enter the escrow process, which is a legally binding, contractual agreement to perform certain tasks before the buyer can take possession of the house. A third-party escrow company will act as an intermediary between you, the seller and both agents during this phase. When the escrow begins, the buyer will provide a good faith cash deposit that will be held by the escrow company. Most escrow companies require 30 days to complete the process, but the buyer or the seller can request a shorter or longer length of time. Should escrow tasks fail to occur on time and satisfactorily to both parties, the sale can fall out of escrow and become void.
The inspection phase is one of the most fast-paced, critical times of the home sale process and can make or break a real estate deal. At this time, the potential buyer will order inspections from residential home professionals to assess factors such as your home's structural integrity and property features. As inspections are conducted according to a predetermined time frame, you will be asked to sign disclosure documents that legally bind you to declare everything you know about your home's history, including events such as storm damage, previous construction work and even suicides that happened on the premises within the last few years. During this phase, the buyer's agent may submit legal requests to conduct specific building repairs or ask you to compensate by lowering your asking price. At this time, the buyer will be required to finalize mortgage financing and property insurance, while you make arrangements to vacate the premises.
Once all inspections, repairs and requests have been performed to the buyer and seller's satisfaction, the final contracts will be submitted to the escrow company and financial institutions. On a designated date, both parties will meet their agents at a title company (either together or separately depending on state requirements) to sign contracts indicating acceptance of the property's final status. Last steps include transferring the sales amount to the seller and surrendering property keys to the new owner.
Rene Agredano is a traveling journalist and entrepreneur based in Fort Collins, Colo. Since 1998, she has covered travel, home-and-garden, fitness, animal care and other lifestyle topics for publications such as "The Times-Standard" newspaper of northern California. Agredano holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Chapman University.