How to Sell Your House: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Selling your house isn’t as simple as putting a “For Sale” sign in your yard. Whether it’s your first time or your 10th, selling your home can be time-consuming and stressful. But it doesn’t have to be!

Selling your house can be a time of excitement and relief when you have the resources and information you need. Follow our step-by-step guide and, with a little planning and prep work, you can do it the right way – saving time, money and stress in the process.

How to sell your house: The ultimate step-by-step guide

1. Find a real estate agent

A good real estate agent will make your life easier. Not only will they help you get your house ready and priced right, but they can get results with their marketing skills and resources. Plus, they utilize the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the tool all agents use to reach thousands of buyers at once.

Listing your home for sale with a real estate agent costs money, but the agent isn’t paid until the house sells. Sellers typically pay agents a commission, or an agreed upon percentage of the price of the home.

It’s safe to assume we all want to save money when we can. But before you put that For Sale By Owner sign in your yard, think about how quickly you want to sell your home – and for how much. How will you get buyers through the front door? Do you know how to price your home? How to prepare it for sale? How to counter an offer?

88% of buyers use a real estate agent to buy their home, which means, if you aren’t working with an agent, you aren’t reaching the largest pool of buyers available to you. 1

In the end, the cost of real estate commissions is an investment that pays off. Not only will you sell your house faster, but you will also get top dollar without the stress of navigating the world of real estate on your own.

How do you find a great real estate agent?

Get referrals from other people who have had a good experience selling their home. You can also “interview” agents to see if they’re a good fit for you.

Questions to ask agents:

  • What is your experience in real estate?
  • How available are you?
  • Do you typically work within my local market and price range?
  • Do you have a recommended list of service providers? (Lenders, contractors, inspectors)
  • Can you help me find my next home (if needed)?

Trust your intuition. Only hire an agent who is willing to answer your questions, listen to you and meet all your real estate needs.

In the Des Moines area? Contact us! We’ll answer your questions and help you every step of the way.

2. Prepare your home

A little preparation goes a long way when you’re getting ready to list your house for sale. The extra work you put in upfront pays off (literally!). Home buyers want to see a house that’s clean, maintained, and move-in ready. Focus on the following things:


It’s better to make repairs before listing your home for sale. If you have multiple repairs and can’t tackle them all, talk with your real estate agent to identify which issues should take priority.

Some of the bigger items that might require your attention include the roof, siding, foundation, HVAC system, electrical and plumbing.

Consider getting a home inspection if your agent recommends it.

Clean up

Deep clean of every surface of your house. I know, I know. It’s not exactly what you want to spend your time doing. It’s not fun, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to prepare your home for sale.

Scrub the floors, cabinets, countertops, and bathrooms. Dust vents, fans, and appliances. Don’t forget to clean and organize the basement and garage. Plan to get carpets cleaned a short time before actually listing your home.

If you have pets, it’s essential that you clean up the fur, litter and eliminate any odors.


Home buyers need to be able to picture themselves living in your home. Declutter all your personal items and “stuff” so that your home is a clean, simple living space. Even your family photos and mementos need to be packed away for the time being.

While it may be tempting to put all that “stuff” in your closets, it’s not a good idea. Closet space is important to home buyers, so it’s best to clear out non-essentials to make closets feel spacious.

Consider renting storage space or ask a friend/family member if you can temporarily borrow some space in their garage or basement to store things.


Paint is a cheap way to update your rooms. Giving walls a fresh coat of paint makes rooms feel fresh, clean and updated. Make sure you use neutral colors!


Since you live in your home, you aren’t likely to notice some of the things buyer’s will notice. But try to imagine your home from a buyer’s perspective. What would make you want to live there? What would you love? What would you dislike? Are there any special features that are appealing? How comfortable are you? Does the space flow?

Consider hiring a professional home stager to help you make a really great first impression. Or you can try your hand at staging too.

Keep in mind, less is better when it comes to home decor. A few coordinated, colorful pieces are good, but keep surfaces mostly clear. Since you want your home to feel spacious, keep rugs and furniture to a minimum.

Outside/Exterior of your home

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression – the outside of your house is the very first thing buyers will see. Spend a little time to maximize your homes curb appeal.

Address these outside items:

  • Sweep the porch
  • Put away toys and tools
  • Clean up dead or overgrown vegetation, pull weeds, mow the lawn and add a fresh layer of mulch
  • Clean the windows and gutters
  • Scrape and repaint any chipped or peeling paint

3. Price to sell

Your real estate agent will help you decide the best price for your home by providing a market analysis. The agent will gather a list of comparable homes in your market. These are homes similar to your home in size, age, floorplan, and other features that are for sale or have sold in your local area in the past few months.

The market analysis will include details on comparable homes so you can decide how your house stacks up against them. 

Some things to keep in mind when pricing your home:

    • The assessed value of your home is what the local government uses to determine how much you pay in property taxes, but it’s not a reliable indicator of market price.
    • Real estate markets fluctuate. Prices can differ considerably between cities, neighborhoods, and even streets in a neighborhood (which is why a market analysis is so valuable).
    • Pricing your home right could mean the difference between selling your home in a week versus months sitting on the market.
    • Your emotions can easily creep in when setting the price. This is your home and you value it higher than anyone else. That said, try to be as objective as possible and stick to the facts of the market analysis.
    • A competitive price will get more buyers through the door. The more people interested in your home, the more likely you are to get a quick sale, closer to your listing price.
    • While Zillow and other online real estate sites can provide valuable information, they are no substitute for a market analysis from your agent. Those sites have no way to show what your local market looks like and can fall short when it comes to pricing.

4. List your home

At last! The day has arrived for it to become official.

Your agent will arrange a photographer to take photos of your home for online marketing. The agent will also place a For Sale sign in your yard and a lockbox on your front door.*

Next, your agent will write up and publish your listing on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). The MLS ensures your listing reaches all local agents and the buyers they represent. When your house is listed on the MLS, it could also appear on other real estate websites, such as Realtor.com.

*The lockbox is a secure device that contains a key to your house. This makes it easier for other real estate agents to access your home to show to buyers.

5. Prepare for showings

Your house should look it’s best when buyers walk through the front door. It needs to be clean and orderly to make that all-important first impression.

This is easier said than done if you are still living in the home, particularly if you have children and/or pets. But a little preparation and organization go a long way.

Tips to make showings easier:

  • Make a to-do list for daily tasks, such as sweeping, vacuuming, making the beds, cleaning and clearing the counters, emptying garbage, loading/running the dishwasher, and putting laundry in hamper or washer/dryer.
  • Make another to-do list for the time just before a showing. Include things such as picking up toys, wiping down sinks, turning on lights, loading up pets, and getting the kids out the door.
  • Make a plan for pets and kids.

It’s best to take kids and pets out of the house during a showing. Sometimes, this isn’t an easy task. Here are some suggestions that can help:

  • Talk to kids ahead of time about their responsibilities and tasks when preparing for a showing
  • Have special bags for the kids (with games, snacks, crayons) ready at the door to grab when you’re heading out
  • Have pet carriers, leashes, and treats by the door for pets*

Don’t forget to maintain your sanity! Though showings can feel intrusive on your time and space, to sell the house, buyers have to have the opportunity to explore your home. This is one of the biggest purchases they will ever make. Your patience and flexibility will pay off.

*It may be easier if pets go to stay with a relative during the time you are showing the home. When we listed our last house, the cats went to visit with grandma and grandpa for a few weeks.

6. Accept an offer

Receiving an offer to buy your house is exciting! But before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you thoroughly understand everything included in the offer. Your agent will go through each section of the offer with you and answer any questions you have.

The offer will include*:

  • Address and legal description of the property
  • Price
  • Approximate closing date
  • Deadlines and contingencies for a home inspection and buyer financing
  • Special terms (home repairs, the inclusion of personal property, who pays for specific closing costs)
  • Contingencies on special terms and/or sale of the buyer’s home
  • Amount of earnest money provided by the buyer
  • Type of deed

*The requirements for an offer vary from state to state

All offers are negotiable. As the seller, you can accept, reject, or submit a counteroffer. A counteroffer is your opportunity to make modifications to the original offer – on price, terms and/or contingencies. If you provide a counteroffer to the buyer, they can either accept or reject the new conditions.

Your real estate agent will be by your side throughout this process. They will help you evaluate the offer and/or draw up and submit a counteroffer if you wish to negotiate the original offer.

Once the offer is signed by both the buyer and the seller, it becomes a legally binding purchase agreement.

7. Prepare to close

You’re almost to the finish line, but there are still a few things you need to do to make sure the closing process goes smoothly:

  • Follow through with the terms of the purchase agreement
  • If you agreed to complete repairs, get them done as soon as possible to prevent delays
  • Be ready for the buyer’s home inspection (if they requested one)
  • Expect an appraisal of your home’s value
  • Communicate with your real estate agent regularly
  • Keep your homeowner’s insurance policy in place until the day of closing
  • Gather any documents you need for the closing day
  • Alert utility companies of the change in service near the closing date
  • Make moving arrangements early and don’t wait until the last minute to pack!

When the closing day arrives, all your hard work pays off. Congratulations on successfully selling your home!

Selling a home can, at times, feel intimidating and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. At Coluzzi Real Estate, we answer all your questions and simplify the process every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time!

Quick Real Estate Statistics from the National Association of Realtors®

Image credit: Pixabay


About the Author:

Amanda has lived in the Des Moines area since 1999, where she and her husband have bought and sold a handful of homes over the years, including a recent flip. Amanda enjoys writing, obsesses about personal finance and is fond of looking at houses. She loves sharing useful tips and info to make life easier for anyone wanting to buy or sell a home. In her spare time, Amanda cherishes time with her family, volunteers with IHYC, gardens, hikes, and practices TaeKwonDo. You can read more of her writing at whywemoney.com