Any good angler would tell you that the first rule of effectively catching fish is maximizing the time that your line is in the water. They’ll also tell you that sometimes your first cast is the one with the best chance of getting a bite. The same is true with selling your house. The sooner you can get it on the market with the most attractive listing, the sooner you can get it sold.
We’ve prepared a 30-day guide to help you set a plan and stay on track to get your home listed with the best chances to sell for top dollar. We’ll walk you through your daily to-do list, complete with step-by-step instructions and expert tips so you can whip your home into shape on deadline.
For added expertise on how to nail the pre-listing process, we spoke with Toril Schoepfer and Lisa Hudson, two top real estate agents in Sumner, Washington. Working with 69% more single-family homes than the average agent in their area, this team knows just what it takes to get your house ready to sell in 30 days without compromising on sale price.
While the month ahead will be busy, you’ll hopefully know it was worth it when you collect that paycheck at closing and cash in on your hard work.
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Week 1: Set your strategy and assemble your team
To sell your home, you can either list it on the market with a real estate agent or sell your house for cash to an investor or an instant buyer, known as an iBuyer. Dedicate your first week to researching which option is best for you.
Day 1: Estimate your home equity
First, determine your home equity — the current value of your home minus what you owe on your mortgage. Estimate your home’s current value with a free automated valuation model (AVM) tool such as HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator. Then, get your outstanding mortgage balance and calculate your approximate equity by subtracting this balance from your estimated home value.
The amount of equity you have will influence your best option to list your home in 30 days. If you’ve got a nice nest egg, selling is a great option to turn your equity into cash to put toward a bigger home or your retirement. On the other hand, with limited equity, you may want to weigh whether selling your home now is the best option — or if you should wait until you’ve got a bit more equity. Selling a home can typically cost up to 9%-10% of the sale price. So the proceeds from the sale need to cover those expenses and then some if you hope to make a profit.
Day 2: Determine if you want to list your home on the market or sell it for cash
If you’re in a pinch to sell your house ASAP, it may be worth exploring how much a cash buyer would pay for your home “as is.” When you sell your home to a cash buyer, you skip the lengthy process required to list your home, such as repairs, renovations, staging and open houses. On the other hand, that convenience often comes at a cost: cash offers typically come below full market value.
To quickly evaluate your options, you can request a cash offer on your home with HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform. HomeLight provides a no-obligation cash offer to buy your home, typically for at least 90% of your home’s market value.
Simple Sale will also display estimates of how much you’d make selling your home to a cash buyer side-by-side with how much you’d possibly make selling your house on the open market with the help of a top agent.
Day 3: Interview at least three real estate agents
For the best results, you’ll want to partner with a top real estate agent to achieve your 30-day listing mission. Reach out to your network for referrals and compare local agents online with HomeLight’s free Agent Match tool. We analyze millions of real estate transactions to compare agents based on years of experience, transaction volume, average price point, speed of sale, specialties, and client reviews to match you with top agents suited to sell your home.
Quick 15-minute phone interviews are a great way to start. Share your goal of listing your home in 30 days so the agent can recommend the most relevant selling strategies.
“We’re really in tune with our clients. We want to know your goal so we can help you achieve it,” Hudson comments.
Here are a few questions to ask your prospective agents:
- What’s the fastest you’ve ever sold a home? What strategies did you use to expedite the sale?
- What’s your average days on market compared to how fast homes sell in the area?
- Do you have reputable contractors in your network who would be available on short notice?
- How do you handle prep work and staging?
- What are the top three things that separate you from the competition?
- If I pick you, what’s the first thing we would do to get started?
Day 4: Hire the agent you’re most confident in
Compare your candidates and choose the agent who you feel is the best match. You’ll want to hire an agent who is:
- Quick to communicate and accommodate your needs
- Experienced selling homes in your neighborhood or county
- Knowledgeable and able to answer your questions thoroughly
- Provides actionable suggestions on how to sell your home fast
If it’s a toss-up between two stellar agents, go with your gut. You’ll want to partner with the agent with whom you feel the strongest personal connection.
Day 5: Conduct an initial walkthrough
Once you’ve teamed up with a top agent, it’s time for them to see your home in person. During the walkthrough, your agent will suggest repairs, staging, and other preparations that will help attract buyers in your particular market. Make a to-do list that you’ll revisit in a couple of days.
“We don’t want clients to prep before we come through. We want to see the house in its raw form so that we can save them time, energy, and money,” explains Hudson. “A lot of times, sellers think, based on home shows, that they should do this or that. We don’t want them spending a dollar unless they are getting $5 in return.”
Day 6: Settle on a list price
Precise pricing is essential to pulling off a fast sale. If you overprice your home, it’s likely to sit on the market, growing less desirable to buyers. To determine your home’s market value, your agent will conduct a comparative market analysis comparing your home’s features, size, condition, and more to similar homes that recently sold in your area. Once your agent narrows in on the market value, they will work with you to set a listing price guided by market trends.
Day 7: Create a budget for updates
Next, create a budget for all of the items on your to-do list from day five. To get you started, here is a rundown of some common home improvements and their average price tags:
- Professional cleaning service: Be prepared to spend an average of $169, and up to $350 for larger homes.
- Lawn care and landscaping: Budget $300 for small landscaping projects and up to $4,000 for larger-scale projects, such as sod installation.
- Home staging services: Some agents, Hudson and Schoepher included, offer staging as a service covered by their commission. Otherwise, you can hire a professional stager for between $647 to $2,514.
- New light fixtures: When updating lighting fixtures, choose affordable, transitional styles that appeal to the majority of buyers. You can find affordable fixtures at retailers like Home Depot and Wayfair for around $100.
- New cabinet hardware: As with lighting fixtures, there are plenty of options to choose from for a modest price tag of $5 and up apiece.
- Fresh paint: The cost of interior painting depends on the size of the room. If you hire a pro, expect to pay a national average between $951 and $2,905. If you do it yourself, you’ll pay between $20 and $45 on average per gallon.
Day 8: Make arrangements with contractors and other professionals
Vet and hire reputable contractors for hire-out jobs on your to-do list. Start by asking your agent if they can refer you to trusted professionals in their network. You can also compare reviews and hire professionals on websites such as Thumbtack, HomeAdvisor, Angi, and Fixr.
Week 2: Prepare the interior of your home
Both Schoepfer and Hudson agree that cleaning, decluttering, and home staging are some of the most impactful pre-listing activities. Dedicate Week two to getting your home ready for listing photos and in-person showings.
Day 9: Declutter your entire home
“Empty the spaces that make you money,” advises Hudson. “I call them the money areas: the main living area, kitchen, front of the home, master bedroom, and bath . . . We’re looking for clean lines and minimal distractions.”
Trash, donate, or recycle things you don’t need, and then pack up items that you won’t need until you’re in your new home. Hudson recommends storing these boxes in the garage for the listing period, stating that a box-filled garage is not going to make you a penny more or a penny less.
“If the garage is full, take one spare bedroom — the least attractive spare bedroom — and pack that with the contents. People know that you’re moving anyway, so it’s not going to hurt you,” Hudson adds.
Day 10: Depersonalize your home
Remove personal items that may alienate potential buyers, such as family photos, novelty collections, religious decorations, and sports team regalia. By depersonalizing every room, you boost the buyers’ ability to envision themselves living in the home.
Day 11: Replace old lighting fixtures
Old lighting fixtures date your home as fast as popcorn ceilings. For an instant refresh, update worn and dated lighting fixtures, especially those in the common areas such as the living room, dining room, and kitchen. For broad buyer appeal, opt for transitional style fixtures that balance contemporary and traditional design, such as the Gusman 5 – Light Candle Style Wagon Wheel Chandelier from Wayfair.
Keep in mind that you should hire a licensed electrician to complete this task unless you have previous electrical experience with lighting.
Day 12: Swap out dated hardware
Update dingy hardware including cabinet knobs, door handles, hinges, and towel racks. Choose neutral designs with a black or brushed chrome finish like these:
- Franklin Brass Soft-Iron Pulls, $19.65 from Amazon
- Harmon Matte Black Round Cabinet Knobs, $3.08 from Home Depot
- Amerock Cup Pulls in Antique Silver, $4.83 from Lowe’s
For a quick swap out, choose hardware that fits the existing holes in your cabinets.
Day 13: Tackle DIY repairs throughout your home
Leaky faucet? It’s time to tighten things up and put the drip drop to a quick stop. Dedicate Day 13 to tackling small repairs so buyers trust that your home is in excellent condition. Here is a list of some easy yet essential repairs:
- Clean tile grout using a homemade cleaner with baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar.
- Bleach or remove moldy caulk in showers and bathtubs, recaulking where necessary.
- Replace worn screens and weather stripping.
- Lubricate squeaky hinges and sticky drawers with a spray-dry lubricant, such as WD-40.
- Touch up scratches on stained wood with a wood repair marker.
- Tighten or replace protruding nails on decking and railing.
- Fill in picture holes on your walls with spackling and a putty knife.
- Spruce up your mailbox, ensuring that the post is straight and the box is free of rust and dirt.
Day 14: Freshen up the paint
While your daughter adores her bubblegum bedroom, your buyers see pink walls as a problem to fix. According to the 2022 Paint & Color Trends Report compiled by Fixr, homebuyers continue to prefer light, neutral colors. The home improvement resource company surveyed 64 interior design experts and found that 81% said whites and creams are the best colors to use when preparing a house to sell.
The company also reported that the new top trending interior design palettes are warm neutrals, earthy colors, and neutrals with pops of bold colors. These include the following green tones:
- October Mist by Benjamin Moore
- Evergreen Fog by Sherwin-Williams
- Breezeway by Behr
- Cypress Garden by Dutch Boy
- Olive Sprig by PPG
- Art and Craft by DunnEdwards
- Guacamole by Glidden
- Blanched Thyme by Valspar
To see additional neutral color options, you can explore some of Home Depot’s gray selections online.
Day 15: Stage your home to boost value and marketability
The National Association of Realtors found that staging a home could increase its value by up to 5%. With strategic staging, your interior looks larger and more contemporary, increasing buyers’ perceived value of the house. It also helps buyers visualize themselves living in the home.
- Remove unnecessary furniture
- Showcase your closet and storage space
- Let in natural light to make it feel larger
Week 3: Enhance your curb appeal
Now that you’ve refreshed the inside of your home, it’s time to dial up your curb appeal. According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights 2022 Report, buyers on average will pay 7% more for a house with great curb appeal versus one with an unattractive exterior.
Investing in an improved curb appeal could result in a significant return on investment. On average, agents estimated that an investment of $3,467 could yield an additional $11,718 in resale value.
Day 16: Shop for flowers and shrubs
Flowers are one of the best ways to add charm and color to your exterior. Head to a local nursery or chain like Home Depot or Lowes to purchase some flowers for your planter beds and pots. Some tried-and-true flower options include:
- Hydrangea, $17.99 from Home Depot
- Encore Azalea, $44.99 from Lowe’s
- Autumn Carnation Shrub, $24.18 from Home Depot
Day 17: Install your plants and mulch the beds
The following day, roll up your sleeves and plant your new flowers and shrubs. Follow these best practices for planting to ensure your plants live through your listing period:
- Remove weeds, rocks, and debris from your planter.
- Loosen the soil with a rake, mixing in organic matter such as fertilizer to feed the plants.
- Remove the plant from the containers and loosen the soil and roots with your hands.
- Dig a small hole wide enough to accommodate the plant and set the plant inside.
- Push the soil into the plant until the surface around the plant is flush with the surrounding area.
- Lay two to three inches of mulch around the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
When landscaping for listing, don’t skip the mulch! Mulch instantly upgrades curb appeal for as little as $15 per yard, giving your front yard a “finished” look. To estimate how much mulch you’ll need, plug your planter bed dimensions into a mulch estimator, such as Home Depot’s Mulch Calculator.
Day 18: Paint your front door
If your front door is looking drab, give it a fresh coat of paint. When choosing a color, take into account the color and undertones of your exterior siding and masonry. Classic door colors — navy, dark green, and black — appeal to the widest range of buyers.
The Paint & Color Trends Report conducted by Fixr found that 56% of design experts believe black will be a more popular color for front doors in the coming year, followed by 36% answering wood tones, 22% answering royal blue, and 19% selecting Hunter green.
In years past, red has also been another popular choice, carrying positive associations such as luck and protection. When in doubt, ask your real estate agent for a second opinion; they’ll help you choose the best color to appeal to buyers in your market.
Day 19: Powerwash the driveway, walkway, and home exterior
Power washing is an excellent way to get rid of pollen, mold, and dirt packed into your walkway and driveway. Rent a pressure washer from a home improvement store such as Home Depot or Lowe’s for around $30-$45, depending on the rental length.
When spraying your home’s exterior, set the pressure washer to the appropriate pounds per square inch (psi) to protect the paint. If you pressure wash concrete, you may want to finish the project by applying fresh sealant to ward off future stains.
Day 20: Curate an exterior lighting scheme
Start by lighting up the walkway to your home with evenly spaced solar-powered lights. Next, update or install an entry sconce to brighten the front door, matching the fixture’s finish to the door hardware. For added dimension, place spotlights in front of prominent trees, fountains, or other attractive features in the front yard. Finally, light up your house numbers to help buyers identify the property if they drive by at night.
Day 21: Style an inviting entryway
Grab a broom and your favorite cleaning supplies to wipe down your front porch or entryway. Remove cobwebs and dirt build-up from railings, pillars, lighting fixtures, and the mailbox. If space permits, stage a pair of rocking chairs or a bench with a couple of accent pillows. Then accessorize the space with a glazed ceramic planter full of bright flowers and a new welcome mat.
Day 22: Stage a backyard entertaining area
Outdoor entertaining spaces are an in-demand feature with buyers, especially in the post-coronavirus world. Stage your backyard as you would your interior: declutter junk and personal items, arrange neutral-colored furniture, and add pops of color with smaller accessories.
You can easily create a dining area with a matching set like this 5-piece bar height outdoor patio set for $1,199 or arrange a lounge area with an upholstered outdoor sectional and coffee table. Place an outdoor area rug under the furniture for a soft, inviting feel. Lastly, add charm with table decorations like lanterns and small potted plants.
Week 4: Tackle any final listing preparations
You’re on the home stretch now, nearing your goal to list your house in 30 days! It’s time to finish some final preparations and create your property listing.
Day 23: Deep clean the whole house
Schoepher and Hudson stress the importance of deep cleaning your home regardless of having a 30-day deadline to sell. For a truly deep clean, follow HomeLight’s comprehensive cleaning checklist, simplified below:
- Wipe down all exterior surfaces
- Empty and clean refrigerator
- Clean the inside of the oven and dishwasher
- Organize the insides of cabinets and pantry
- Scrub the toilet bowl and wipe down the pedestal
- Clean all bathtubs and showers
- Scrub tile and grout with a specialty cleaner
- Polish mirrors and metal faucets
- Declutter the surfaces of tables, dressers, and shelves
- Organize built-in storage areas, including closets and cabinets
- Iron and fluff all throw pillows, blankets, and bedding
The entire house:
- Wash marks off the walls and wipe down the baseboards
- Dust shelves, lighting fixtures, blinds, and heating vents
- Sweep and mop all hard surface floors
- Deodorize upholstery and carpet (especially if you own pets!)
- Vacuum the entire house, including narrow crevices
- Launder small rugs, following care instructions
- Clean all windows from both the interior and exterior
If you prefer to leave the cleaning to the pros, hire a reliable cleaning service to tackle the job. Read company reviews to narrow down your options, then personally vet your finalists with the following questions:
- Do you have any professional training or certifications from The Cleaning Management Institute?
- What scope of services does your company offer?
- How much time do you estimate it will take to clean my home?
- What type of cleaning products do you use?
Day 24: Schedule a pre-listing home inspection
Traditionally, a home inspection takes place after a buyer has made an offer on your house. Once the buyer receives the home inspection report, they often will try to negotiate a lower price based on needed or upcoming repairs.
If you want a fast sale, you can schedule a pre-listing home inspection so you can provide buyers with the inspection’s findings before they make an offer. This way, buyers know what they’re walking into before they make an offer, speeding up the closing process. Check with your agent to see if they think a pre-listing inspection will be helpful.
Day 25: Prepare your home for the listing photographer
As you prepare to sell your home in 30 days, you need stunning, professional listing photos to attract buyers online. According to the National Association of Realtors, 95% of buyers used online tools in their search process.
Ask your real estate agent if they include professional listing photos in their services or if they can recommend a top photographer at an additional cost. Hudson explains how her team helps sellers prepare for the listing photos: “We have a photo prep list that we send to our clients. We don’t just walk through and tell them what to do. We give them the resources to get it done.”
Follow this photography prep list to ensure a smooth photoshoot:
- Walk through your home with the photographer to address any issues beforehand.
- Write a short list of all the photos you and your agent would like to include in the listing.
- Schedule the photoshoot for a sunny day if possible, especially for the exterior shots.
- Remove any small or breakable objects that might get bumped during the process.
- Replace mismatched light bulbs to match the brightness and warmth of surrounding bulbs.
Day 26: Assist the photographer during the photoshoot if needed
On the day of the photoshoot, tuck away all personal items, including kids’ toys and pet accessories. If you’re at home while the photographer is working, you can help out where needed. If not, your agent may join the photographer to ensure that they complete the entire shot list.
Day 27: Fill out required seller paperwork
Depending on the state you live in, you must fill out several documents when selling your home. Ask your real estate agent to provide you with these documents and ask if they need any additional property information from you to complete the listing. Here are a few tasks that you may need to complete on this day:
- Complete your seller disclosure forms, disclosing any known property issues.
- Provide your agent with the age and condition of key structural features, including the HVAC system and the roof.
- Email your agent a list of any additional home features, local entertainment, and community benefits that you feel may bolster the listing description.
- Track down digital copies of your property survey and floor plan to include in the listing.
Day 28: Provide your agent with your availability for showings
Once you list your home, buyers will begin to schedule showings. You can expect most buyers to request showings on the weekends or after 5 p.m. on weekdays, so try to make these times available. Remember, your family and pets will need to disappear for the duration of these showings, so plan accordingly.
Day 29: Tie up any loose ends
Does the new bistro set on the porch need a couple of throw pillows? Did your little one scuff up the baseboard in the kitchen? Are you and your agent clear about how to prep the home before each showing? Now is the time to address all last-minute details.
Day 30: List your home on the market
Congratulations on making it to Day 30! It’s time for your real estate agent to list your home on the market. They will upload your listing description and photos to the multiple listing service (MLS), the online database where real estate agents can view your home and share it with their buyer clients.
Once your listing is live, all you need to do is keep your home tidy for upcoming showings and wait for offers to come in — not to mention pat yourself on the back for completing your 30-day listing sprint.
Good luck on your home-selling adventure.
If you need help finding a top-rated real estate agent in your area, try HomeLight’s free Agent Match tool. We analyze over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is best for you based on your needs.
Header Image Source: (Erik Mclean / Unsplash)