When you put your home on the market, it is increasingly important to get out in front of the process and stay in control. Things can happen really fast, and though there is no black and white prescription for how to get a home to market, there are real risks to mitigate.
In a perfect world, the likely steps to listing your home would go something along these lines...

  1. Engage a trusted agent of choice who has experience in the marketplace--and the earlier in your process, the better. A quality agent will be happy to provide you with strong advice well in advance of any set listing date. They can give you periodic market value opinions in the years preceding your potential sale, help you decide what improvements are a waste of financial resources/equity and which are well worth it, and so much more. If you feel like an agent is pushing you to list immediately without a logical reason to do so, reconsider your alignment with them. Be sure you select someone you trust that will be honest and proactive, and tell you things you don't always want to hear. An agent who sugar-coats, omits information, or only tells you "yes" is not a good sign. They are there to advise you and keep things real, not set you up for failure by trying to always be the good guy or gal. It is advantageous to also engage them on your future home of choice search. Having one professional coordinating the logistics on both makes the process much more streamlined at the end of the day. 

  2. Same advice goes for engaging a good lender if your sale is leading up to a future purchase--Engage early and plan touch-points often. Selling a home in the future but also want to make a major purchase (example: a car) too? Run that by your lender as well. Buying a car now might put the brakes on buying a new home after you eventually sell, regardless of the amount of proceeds you might have. Your lender should be one of your closest allies throughout the whole process and using an unproven resource there can be extremely risky, even in the most uncomplicated transactions. 

  3. Get on the same page with every decision maker in your corner about WHY you want to move and WHAT that means. Are you leaving the area? Is it feasible to do so? If you are upsizing can you afford to do so? If you are downsizing is inventory in your price range available in the area you want to move to? Are you (and all family members) prepared to open your home to strangers on a daily basis for showings? If everyone is on the same page, forge ahead. If not... take the time to figure it all out before you sign on any dotted lines. 

  4. Know (and play out) several scenarios as to where you are going next. Are you aiming for settlements to be back-to-back? Are you moving into a rental apartment or home? Do you have friends or family you could live with temporarily if someone wants a quick close and your home of choice is not ready yet? Factor in those soft and hard costs in your planning as well. 

  5. Walk your home with an eagle eye as though you are a potential buyer. Take several hours with a clipboard and a pen and make a line item list. Test EVERY SINGLE switch, appliance, window, shade/blind, identify leaks/drips, creep up into the attic, poke around in the basement/crawlspace, and do your best to put on your objective home hunter glasses. 

    Fix anything that might give a buyer pause.
    ...And not like this. :)

    Pull service records and if you have lots of "deferred maintenance" (<--the nice way to say you may have just let things "go" over time) get systems serviced and keep the records handy. Step away from the duct tape (or in the case of the picture at right, the clever man's belt used to apparently keep a squeaky staircase in check--true story!) and hire a professional as needed. Be critical and be honest with what you see and make notes. Though it is obviously not a new home, the typical expectation is that everything will be in working order at minimum. If you want the maximum price be prepared to give the maximum value. 

  6. Sit down with your agent and review the property punch list. They will be instrumental in advising you on what conditions are typical in your price range, what deficiencies current lending rules/regulations might require be repaired or addressed, and what is simply not necessary to worry over. They can also provide guidance on improvements, and what might be well worth your while to invest time and money in focusing on (as in a kitchen, for example) or simply refreshing (like fresh paint in certain areas). 

  7. Review the CMA/market value assessment your agent has prepared for you and agree on a pricing strategy and 15-30-45-60 day strategic plan. Knowing the nearby competition will be essential. This analysis is a lot of science but also a lot of art--It's not EVER an apples to apples comparison (this is one of the major limitations of automatic value generators, like Zillow). Your agent should be digging a little deeper to really get the complete picture vs. just pulling the numbers the MLS database spits out and turning them over to you. This straight statistical information is the foundation, but a good agent will know (and have often visited) some of the closest direct comparables to your home before delivering you a final market price recommendation and collaborating with you on a go-to-market strategy. 

  8. Review your potential sale scenarios based on the offering price range (and any adjustments mapped out) and the likely offers that may come. I like to use a Google spreadsheet that I share with clients to show them all the hard line items (transfer taxes, recordation, etc) and potential line items (closing cost requests, potential costs like wood destroying insect damage, etc) that may factor into their true net, so there are no unaccounted for surprises. I typically show a strong, middle of the road, and low-ball offer to get them started and mentally ready for anything that may come their way as the show gets on the road. If nobody runs screaming from the building after performing a gut check there, you are good to go. 

  9. Map out a timetable for listing. How long will it take you to address the items on your pre-market to-do list? Are there any significant high-dollar items that might have impact on your ability to sell? When would you have the home ready for listing pictures to be taken? Are there any considerations to preparing it for showing that might take time (ex: staging?)? 

  10. Once you sign the listing paperwork and pinpoint that "go live" date, your agent will get to work behind the scenes. They will arrange to get the best (and maximum number of) photos of your property, create marketing materials, put the listing into the MLS database, prepare and upload the disclosure paperwork, arrange for signage to be installed, install a lockbox on your home, prepare the showing instructions/work with the showing services, and so forth. 

  11. Go live. That day has arrived, and your house has gone live. In this instant technology age, don't be surprised if the same day you go live you also get your first showing request. There are tech-savvy buyers who literally have automatic search beacons set to pick up the moment a listing meeting certain parameters--like price and geography--hits the database (and here is mine, if you want to sign up to get listings by email hot off the presses). Be ready! :) 

So what happens next? Subscribe/check back in a few weeks for my follow up piece on "Your Home is Listed on the Market--Now What?" where I will go over what to expect in the first 30 days of open market time, including quick sales, troubleshooting and next steps, especially if activity is less than you had hoped for. Happy selling!