Your Detailed How-To Guide on the Fastest Way to Sell a House
Selling your home fast is always a good idea, no matter the motivation. The longer the home is on the market, the less valuable it becomes so speed is of the essence. Derek Gutting, a top real estate agent who’s sold 86% more single family homes than average in Indianapolis, Indiana, explains that “the longer the home is on the market, the higher the probability of getting a lower offer.”
Luckily for some homeowners lately, going from “For Sale” to “Sold” is like taking a lap at the Indy 500. Homes in late summer 2021 sold at a median of 17 days, faster than 22 days a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).
But sometimes you need to move even quicker. Scenarios such as a new job, divorce, inheritance, or financial trouble may require that you find the absolute fastest way to sell a house with some semblance of certainty that it won’t all fall through. We spoke to some of the best agents around the country to help you unlock the keys to a quick sale with this easy-to-follow guide.
- Be smart about the listing price
- Clean, declutter, and depersonalize
- Make quick repairs (but don’t over-renovate)
- Improve your curb appeal
- Stage the home to stoke buyer imaginations
- Take professional real estate photos
- Write a listing description that sells
- Market your home on social media
- Host an open house (digital or in-person)
- Accommodate buyer showing requests
- Be decisive in your offer selection
Weigh your selling options
To unload your house in a hurry, first decide how you want to appeal to buyers. Your main options are to request a cash offer, work with a top agent who sells homes fast, or to sell the home yourself, an option known as For Sale By Owner, or FSBO. Here’s a look at each.
1. Request a cash offer
Let’s say you prep your house to perfection, attract an offer in only a few days, and enter the closing phase of the sale. It’s a dream seller scenario, but even so, you’ll likely still be weeks or even months out from wrapping this deal as you wait in limbo. Steps like the inspection and lender-ordered appraisal add time, not to mention your buyer’s loan will need to be processed, which takes 51 days on average in today’s market.
Despite best laid plans, selling your home the traditional way just isn’t always fast enough. Thankfully, you’re not stuck. As an alternative, you can go out and request a cash offer from a real estate investor or house-buying company to speed things along. Benefits to this route include:
- No risk that your buyer’s mortgage will fall through
- Save money on agent commissions fees and repairs
- Close in a matter of weeks or even days
Due to the lack of lender involvement, a cash buyer is able to operate more nimbly and on a shorter timeline, providing convenience and certainty to sellers. You’ll have to weigh the advantages against the possibility of a reduced offer, since investors aren’t likely to raise their bid out of emotion and will intend to make a profit by flipping or renting out the home.
However, when you eliminate home prep costs — such as fixing a rotted deck or installing a new front door — and you account for agent agent fees of 5%-6%, you may end up with a similar amount of money from a cash buyer as you do with a traditional listing process. According to a recent study we conducted at HomeLight, it costs $31,000 on average to sell a house in 2021.
Sell your house through HomeLight
When you request a cash offer from HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, you’ll never have to go through the listing process.
Sell Your House Faster — Take the Easy Way
Even if you get an immediate offer on the open market, you’ll need to wait for your buyer’s loan to wrap before the house is sold. HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform can provide a cash offer instead and help you close in as few as 10 days.
Just answer a short questionnaire to get started. We’ll ask you a few basic questions about the condition of your home, how much work it needs, and your selling timeline. You can skip repairs and open houses and receive an all-cash offer in as little as 48 hours. While you always have to weigh the possibility of accepting an offer lower, the money you save on house prep, repairs, and agent commissions.
Baohan Wu, a seller who used Simple Sale to sell his high-rise apartment, found the process quick and painless. “[HomeLight] gave me a very fair home inspection, took zero money out, and then just basically asked me when I wanted to close. That was it. Easy as one, two, three. The closing from start to finish was three and a half weeks, which is great for me. It exceeded my expectations.”
2. Hire a top agent who sells homes fast
In 2020, 88% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker, according to NAR, so working with an agent is always a valid route. If you’re not interested in pursuing a cash offer, skilled real estate agents such as Rebecca Stuppard are used to moving swiftly to negotiate repairs related to a home inspection, title issues, and other snags that crop up along the way. “A market that’s this fast, you don’t want a house sitting for even a week,” she says.
She recently got a property under contract the day after she listed it. These sellers then closed on the purchase of their new home an hour later. To connect with an agent in your market with a history of selling homes faster than their peers, you can reach out to HomeLight for introductions to some quality candidates in your area.
3. Go FSBO
If you have a relative, friend, or neighbor who wants to buy your house, selling it yourself could be feasible. FSBO sales accounted for 8% of total home sales in 2020, but 77% of these sold in less than two weeks, often because the buyer was someone the seller knows, according to data from NAR.
The FSBO option saves you on a listing agent’s commission (about 3% of the sale price, based on the national average). On the downside, you’re left to handle the pricing, marketing, prep work, staging, price negotiation, and contracts yourself.
You’re also likely to sell your home for at least 5.5% less than if you used an experienced agent, according to a case study from real estate analytics provider Black Knight. Echoing these findings, NAR statistics show that FSBO homes in 2020 sold for a median price of $217,900, compared to $295,000 for agent-assisted sales. So you can always keep FSBO on the table as an option, but know what you’re getting into.
Ready, set, sell
Be smart about the listing price
The best way to sell your house involves attracting buyers with the right price, starting with a comparative market analysis that evaluates your home against other recently sold or active properties similar in factors such as square footage, location, and age.
Stuppard also visits competitors’ homes and reviews their listings, including photos, then discusses leveraging the list price of active but not-yet-sold properties to help her clients’ property stand out. “It’s better to list at a fair price and get a number of offers than list at the tip-top and get maybe one offer,” she advises.
Remember, a typical lender requires an appraisal to confirm the value of your home, so don’t let hot market conditions or unrealistic expectations cause you to set the price unreasonably high. If your house would normally be worth $350,000, it won’t “magically” and credibly become worth $500,000 a few months later because of higher demand, according to appraisers in the business.
Clean, declutter, and depersonalize
It’s the triple threat that buyers can’t resist: a house that’s clean, clutter-free, and neutral like a blank canvas. Here’s what we mean.
(Almost) everything must go
Goodbye stacks of magazines, junk scattered across countertops, and clunky items eating up your floor space — it’s time to declutter with a vengeance! This act alone can add over $2,500 to your home’s value at resale and no double will help it sell faster, too.
Buyers love spaciousness, so go through each room and take a minimalist approach, expert stagers recommend. We’re talking no coasters, hair ties, or trinkets on nightstands — just a lamp will do.
File cabinets may seem “office”-y, but would the space show better if you put them in the closet? If you’re not sure what’s sticking out, take photos of rooms on your phone to help recognize what’s cluttering up each area IRL.
It’s not game day
Sports fanatics, Beanie Baby collectors, or themed-room enthusiasts: hate to break it this way, but selling a home is not the time to let your personality shine. While you’re generally decluttering, stash anything that’s so very “you.” Put those wedding photos and the “Go Big Red!” poster in the maroon-themed football den in a safe spot, at the ready to carry on to your next pad.
These items may seem easy to look past, but honestly, they distract buyers, making them think more about you and less about themselves in the space, says Trisha Roe of Designing Impressions, a licensed professional stager in Sturgis, South Dakota. If you don’t want to rent a separate unit, store your items neatly in a basement, garage, or shed. “Keep everything high and tight, like a military haircut,” Roe says.
Break out the mop (and duster… and vacuum)
Even when selling fast, take the time to clean like you mean it. You can’t expect to get a quick offer if buyers encounter gym sock odors and a sink full of dirty dishes when they arrive. But go beyond basic tidying up to make sure the floors aren’t scuffed up and the glass in your bay window sparkles in the afternoon sunshine. Always vacuum before a showing and keep Clorox wipes on hand to freshen up your bathrooms in a jiff.
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to get your hands dirty, hire a cleaning service. A deep cleaning starts at about $100 for a home smaller than 1,000 square feet to $300 for a home larger than 3,000 square feet, but our research shows that cleanliness adds an average $1,700 in what a buyer is willing to pay, making one or even multiple cleanings well worth the cost.
Make quick repairs (but don’t over-renovate)
- Water damage
- Structural issues
- An old or damaged roof
- Plumbing problems
- A damaged electrical system
- Insect or pest infestation
- HVAC system issues
Some states require inspectors to check for certain items. Nebraska law, for instance, mandates that a home should have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors at the time of sale, says Matt Steinhausen, an independent home inspector since 1999 in Lincoln, Nebraska, who holds an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
A buyer’s lender also might have particular requirements, depending on whether the buyer uses a conventional or government loan. VA, FHA, or USDA loans vary in their requirements, but in general, these involve:
- No lead-based paint
- Secure handrails on stairs or steps
- Upgraded outlets
- Bedroom windows with outside access in case of emergency
- No unpermitted renovations
- No encroachments on neighboring property
Beyond that, emphasize that the home is light, bright, and clean. Even a few hundred dollars and a bit of elbow grease can make a huge impact. Time-permitting, here are some fixes that top agents recommend:
Refresh or place the carpets:
If your carpets aren’t outdated, dirty, torn, or stained, a professional cleaning can make them look new. Rent a carpet cleaner from Home Depot for about $37 per day, or hire a pro for about $25 to $75 per room. Replacing 2,000 square feet of carpeting runs about $14,220 to $24,440, which includes the carpeting, installation, and backing. Try a neutral shade of carpet such as Home Decorators Collection Trendy Threads II in Chic at about $2.84 per square foot, which includes a 15-year limited warranty.
Buff and polish hardwood floors:
Refinishing wood floors costs between about $1,000 to $4,000 (about $800 to $1,300 for a 16×16-foot room), regardless of the wood. You also can refresh hardwood flooring that shows wear and tear through buffing (about $200 to $250 for a 15×15-foot room). Have a flooring professional apply polish to make the floors gleam afterward, or take on that project yourself for about $150 for supplies.
Touch up or repaint the walls:
If your walls have a chip here or there (and you can match the color), you likely can tackle that project yourself. Redo a room that looks dark or outdated for about $3.50 per square foot, or roughly $200 to $1,000 per room. Choose a neutral shade such as Agreeable Gray by Sherwin-Williams (which agents in a HomeLight survey ranked as the #1 paint color), Kilim Beige by Sherwin-Williams, or Penthouse by Clare.
Install a dimmer switch or a new thermostat:
A dimmer switch helps set the mood in a family room, dining room, or even a bedroom, plus it extends the life of your light bulbs and helps you save on electricity, says Lowe’s. Prices start at about $20 per switch, plus supplies such as a wire stripper and a wall plate (if needed). The home store offers a step-by-step guide for installing one yourself. As for a thermostat, energy-conscious buyers like the flexibility of a programmable thermostat, which costs less than $50 and looks modern and sleek. This best-selling Honeywell thermostat is only $24.98 and installs easily.
Redo the caulk around the sinks and the tub:
Home Depot has a step-by-step guide for removing and replacing caulk that’s dingy, moldy, or dirty. This project can cost less than $50 for supplies such as caulk, a paint scraper, and a utility knife.
Bleach away mold in bathroom grout:
Experts recommend scrubbing with a mix of water and bleach, or cleaners such as CLR or Bar Keepers Friend, which also can tackle hard water stains, mineral deposits, soap scum, and refresh stainless steel fixtures.
Spring for new cabinet handles, hinges, and door knobs:
These provide a fresh and new feeling for a low cost. Prices vary depending on materials, but expect to pay about $35 to $50 for a set of 10 knobs at Home Depot.
Update appliances (if you can afford it):
Traditional stainless steel is the most in-demand finish among today’s homebuyers, 75% of top agents say. Updating to all-new stainless steel appliances (including the refrigerator, stove, range hood, dishwasher, and microwave) costs an average of $4,229, with an average estimated ROI of $5,982, or 41.5%. Prices vary depending on features, such as energy efficiency. GE’s 30 in. 5.3 cu. ft. Slide-In Electric Range with Self-Cleaning Oven in Stainless Steel, for instance, costs about $1,500.
Your agent also can advise you on which repairs are worthwhile based on your price point. Stuppard recently sold a house where a fence enclosed only part of the yard. Although at first she thought the seller might have to pay to enclose the whole yard, the home’s interior was in such good shape that it easily showed better than the competition, so she told the seller to leave the fence as is. “It’s very situational to the house, the things you want to invest in and the things that you don’t,” she shares.
Improve your curb appeal
Curb appeal boosts the value of your home, 94% of top HomeLight agents say. You don’t have to go wild outdoors, either. Regular lawn care — mowing, applying fertilizer, and controlling weeds — recovers an estimated 267% of the cost of upkeep at the time of sale. That’s because your home’s exterior builds anticipation and attraction, a little like prepping for a date, agents say. A tidy outside also implies that you’ve taken good care of your home overall.
Although you could hire a landscaper to get the whole yard in line, you also could tackle a few specific projects, such as:
Trim trees and shrubs:
A professional tree trimmer bases their fee on the tree’s height and size, says TreeRemoval.com, an online network of tree trimming services. (You don’t want to tackle this job on your own, as you might hurt the tree or yourself.)
Trees up to 30 feet high, such as dogwood trees and Russian olive trees, can cost from $75 to $450 to trim. Trimming a crabapple or similar tree about 30 to 60 feet tall costs about $150 to $875. Exceptionally tall trees, such as pine or red oak, cost about $200 to $1,000. As for trimming shrubs and hedges, their price also depends on height, but estimate about $10 to $20 for every five feet.
Plant colorful flowers:
For about $100 or less, you can intrigue buyers with potted flowers or plants that add color and make the front of your house pop. Try grouping a specific type or color in clusters of three, five, or seven to move the eye naturally along the landscape.
Power wash the exterior, including the driveway and deck or patio, for about $290 if you hire a pro. If you’re in a DIY mood, you can rent a washer with a pressure range of 2000 psi at Home Depot for $38 per day. Use a wide nozzle of 15 or 18 degrees. (These are usually either green or yellow.)
If you’re pressed for time, just install fresh mulch, which 84% of top HomeLight agents say packs a huge wow factor.
Stage the home to stoke buyer imaginations
Staging strategically arranges furniture and other decorative items to show off a home’s features. Nearly 83% of top HomeLight agents say that a staged home sells faster than an unstaged one. What’s more, about 67% of top agents say that staging increases the sale price, especially when sellers focus on the living room, master bedroom, and kitchen. Staging experts share these suggestions:
- Remove furniture. Pare down the living room to a sofa and accent table or the bedroom to the bed and two nightstands, to make rooms feel larger.
- Whittle down the closets, too, to create “breathing room” for clothing, towels, and linens.
- Store books, DVDs, toys, throw pillows, and blankets not in regular use.
- Keep tabletops simple. For example, leave only a lamp on a nightstand.
- Pack away little-used utensils, dishes, glasses, and seasonal cookware. Set the toaster and occasional appliances inside the cabinets.
- Uncover the windows to let in natural light.
- Add fresh produce to a basket or organizer in the kitchen for a welcoming splash of color, but remember less is more.
- Set out an aromatic bar of lavender soap in the bathroom for subtle fragrance and color and top off with fluffy white bath towels.
- Add a welcoming accent to your rooms with green plants such as ferns or colorful flowers in vases.
Stuppard places sticky notes on items in her clients’ homes indicating what to pack and what to display for photos and showings. She gives clients such cues ever since one packed up, well, everything. “I thought, Whoa!” she recalls. “I learned at that point to mention things that look good in that spot. … Sometimes I’ve even asked, ‘Could you add some floating shelves right here?’”
Take professional real estate photos
More than ever, house hunters scroll through home listings on a smartphone or tablet when they’re ready to buy. NAR statistics show that 97% of buyers used the internet in 2020 to search for a home, with 43% looking at properties online as their first step.
Professional photos that are clear and sharp could net you thousands of dollars more in your home sale. Buyers rank professional photography as the single highest website feature of a real estate listing, according to NAR’s 2020 Generational Trends Report. Prices vary based on your location, and many agents will include professional photography as part of their listings services. But a real estate photography package sold separately usually starts at about $150.
Write a listing description that sells
Skip the nuts and bolts such as the square footage, which the MLS (or Multiple Listing Service) loads in its data fields, and mention brand-name appliances and specific finishes. Paint a picture of your home by describing a patio ripe for a summer cookout or entertaining.
Also highlight any perks, such as nearby transportation, shopping, commerce, or attractions. Stuppard mentions schools and the distance to Fort Gordon, home of the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, among other operations.
She’ll also point out storage and recent upgrades. If the seller has an older roof or HVAC, mentioning a home warranty is another incentive that adds peace of mind.
Market your home on social media
In addition to the MLS and major home search sites, you’ll want to list your home on social media. Facebook had about 221.6 million users in the United States in 2020, most of them (about 19 million) in California. Instagram had about 115 million users that year, with 127 million projected by 2023.
Stuppard markets on both platforms using a Canva flyer that features a few points about the house and four to five photos. She’ll also list a “squeeze page” on Facebook, which gives visitors more information if they provide an email address.
Gutting, the top real estate agent in Indianapolis, puts listings on his group’s Facebook page, which has over 1,400 followers, and encourages his clients to do the same. One client who shared a property listing netted almost 400 hits on that post within 48 hours.
For a higher price point, such as $300K to over $350K, where competition and demand may be less, Stuppard also uses reverse prospecting, contacting buyers’ agents directly if they’ve saved search criteria that match a listing.
Host an open house (digital or in-person)
With a traditional open house, buyers can take measurements, peek inside closets and cabinets, and scope out a home’s features. Virtual open houses enable your agent to show the home live on a hosting platform, such as Zoom or Facebook, for potential buyers to watch. They can ask questions while the agent points out features, turns light fixtures on and off, checks the faucets’ water pressure, and so on.
Agents also have digital tools such as virtual tours. Stuppard includes a 360-degree virtual tour with any listing over $250,000. Buyers enjoy scrolling through the house at their own pace, she says.
Accommodate buyer showing requests
Some buyers want to drop by and see the property on their own schedule. To sell your house fast, expect to be show-ready night and day for a few days. Let your agent know the best way to reach you, so they can call or text you to whip the house into shape in a flash. Then have an action plan, such as:
- Designate a suitcase, car trunk, or closet storage bin as a spot to quickly stash anything that needs to be out of sight, from toys to tissue boxes.
- Make the bed, preferably with a solid, neutral comforter or bedspread.
- Take out the trash.
- Flip on the lights.
- Each day, spread out a towel over the bathroom vanity to catch makeup powder, or use a beard bib to collect shaving mess. Give the bathroom fixtures a swipe with rubbing alcohol and microfiber towels.
- Gather up any pets, and skedaddle.
Be decisive in your offer selection
The first offer on your house usually comes from a serious buyer excited about beating the competition. If you think this is on the low side, you can respond with a counteroffer to bump that number into your goal range.
Top agents say that a buyer with a first offer tends to be a good negotiator because they’re concerned about losing out to someone else. Other concessions, such as paying a percentage of the buyer’s closing costs, can sweeten the deal.
You’ve got what you need: Now go sell that house!
The best way to sell your house is the one that works with your timeline and your needs. If you plan to put out that “For Sale” sign, amp up your home’s curb appeal, presentation, and market it like crazy. Those in a bigger hurry may prefer to request a cash offer through a platform such as Simple Sale and reduce the overall number of steps and days needed to officially close. The choice is always yours but either way, don’t hesitate to let us know how HomeLight can be of assistance!
Header Image Source: (Alex Tan / Death To The Stock Photo)