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Selling a home: How to get the most money

Gina Pogol
The Mortgage Reports editor

In this article:

If you’re selling a home, you want to unload it fast and get the most money possible. While you probably won’t get more than the property is worth, you can squeeze the maximum out of buyers by taking care of a few items upfront:

  • Make the property as appealing as possible
  • Market the property with skill
  • Choose the best offer

This article contains tips for selling your home for the most money, and mistakes to avoid when selling a home.

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Selling a home: before you list

According to MarketWatch, the average time on the market finally dropped to pre-recession levels this year. That’s good, but you can do better-than-average if you work harder than your competition.

You want your home to catch buyers’ eyes. And you don’t want to turn them off at the outset. This means making the outside appealing, having great pictures for online viewers, getting rid of clutter and strange smells. You want to keep home shoppers in your house as long as possible, allowing them to see themselves living there.

The first step is not fun, but is absolutely necessary. Remove everything you don’t need to live and donate, sell or store it. The home should appear spacious and not loaded with personal items. If you choose to sell your unneeded items, you’ll have money to use for small repairs or to pay someone else to do a deep clean.

Complete a thorough cleaning. That means scrubbing walls, floors and carpets, and windows. Leave your home looking and smelling fresh. If you have floors or carpets that are too worn to come clean, replace them or cover them. Yes, you can offer an allowance (price break) to cover those items, but most buyers aren’t interested in projects. If you can possible afford it, take care of these repairs now.

You may want to commission a home inspection before listing. That will allow you to address problems before a buyer uncovers them. And if it’s clean, you can show it to potential buyers.

The same goes for walls and cabinets. If they are too beaten up to look nice after cleaning, put on a coat of new paint. Your place will look fresh and ready for occupation b a new buyer.

Choose your real estate agent wisely

Your agent (or you, if you choose to FSBO), will market your property to prospective buyers. So you want someone who will do this thoroughly and enthusiastically.

You should scout out potential agents before contacting them. You have probably seen for sale signs in your neighborhood during the time you’ve lived there, and you probably know who has the most experience there. It’s a good idea to choose someone who knows the area and is familiar with the local competition.

Related: Selling a home: (What does a real estate agent do?)

Take a look at the marketing for those properties. Is there an attractive web presentation, with great photos or a virtual tour? Are the agent’s listings featured in local real estate magazines? Did you receive a flier about the local listings? Is there attractive and highly-visible signage on the home? Does this agent move properties quickly?

All of those things indicate a concerted marketing effort. You want that to sell your home for the most money.

Next, contact a couple of those agents and ask them for a marketing presentation. The agents should be able to tell you what you can expect to get for your home, provide tips for making it stand out from your competition, and show you how they would market your property. Pick someone you like, someone who has the energy you need.

Showing your home

Probably the most stressful part about selling a home is that it has to be view-worthy at all times. No dishes in the sink, all surfaces and clean and dusted. Your beds must be made and pet odors contained.

You may want to set up a weekly cleaning with a housekeeping service to remove some of the burden.

Related: Selling a home (Should I have an open house?)

Make sure your home smells good for visitors. You may choose to install fresh flowers, light candles, bake cookies or heat up cider — anything to create a nice, homey impression.

You will want to exit the place before buyers come to see the property. This way, they are more likely to linger, and they will feel less self-conscious about making comments. These comments can be useful — for instance, if everyone hates your window treatments, you may wish to remove them.

Adjusting your price

If visitors love your home but routinely comment that it’s overpriced, or if you don’t even get them through the door, it’s time to consider a reduction. Don’t wait too long, or your listing will get stale and people will wonder what’s wrong with your house. Lower your price aggressively until you can beat the competition.

Related: Is the highest offer always better?

Understand that the right price for your home is not what you want, or what you think you need to get. It’s what people are willing to pay. An honest assessment of your home’s good points and weaknesses, compared to other listings in your neighborhood, should tell you what you need to do — either beat them with a better price, or beat them with a better house.

Either make some improvements or reduce what you’re willing to accept.

Choosing the best offer

When selling a home, you will hopefully receive at least one offer quickly. And you’ll need to decide what to do with it.

  • A “clean” offer, with few or no contingencies, may be better than a higher offer with a lot of exits for the buyer. For instance, an all-cash deal with a quick closing can put more money in your pocket than one that’s higher but won’t close unless the buyer sells his or her current home.
  • Don’t accept an offer without verifying that the buyer has the funds to close (if paying cash) or mortgage pre-approval (if financing the purchase). You don’t want to remove your home from the market only to find that the buyer can’t complete the transaction.
  • Require earnest money, a deposit that you can keep if the deal does not close. Allow it to be refundable only under certain conditions, like a low home appraisal or an inspection revealing more than, say, $2,000 in needed repairs.
  • You can always counter an offer that’s lower than you wish. Counter even those that seem insultingly low; the buyer might just be testing the waters to see what he or she can get away with. Don’t take it personally; some people just want to bargain for every purchase. Give the buyer a limited time in which to respond, then move on.

Selling a home can be stressful, and you want things to go smoothly and quickly. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to maximize what you receive and minimize your stress.

Verify your new rate (Dec 15th, 2018)