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Sometimes life comes at you fast. Just a few weeks ago, we were making a list of pros and cons to downsizing our home. Now, we’re stunned to have accepted an offer. I’ll share with you the house selling process we went through to move from decision to sale in under four weeks.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this timeline to anyone. Certainly not to two educators in the busiest most stressful time of the school year. Instead, I share our process to help you consider how you might approach selling your home. Hopefully, you can do it at a more relaxed pace.
Note: The use of “sale” in the title does not mean closing. Rather, I use it to signify acceptance of a credible offer. There are still several process steps to complete, many of which are outside our control to complete.
How We Got Here
Since we discovered financial independence and first mapped out our plan, we’ve considered selling our house many times. Every time, we decided that its cost was worth the extra time we’d need to work to afford it. We loved our house and where we lived even though we knew it was too large and a financial drag.
Then, this spring break we skipped our usual tropical trip in favor of a long road trip. We drove almost 2800 miles in 10 days, visited three national parks, and spent a bit of frivolous time in Las Vegas.
The trip confirmed our love of long road trips and gave us lots of time to discuss our future. Partway through, to my surprise, TFI started talking about selling the house. Suddenly, it was a real option.
When we returned, we started exploring housing options. We even went to visit a few, just to get a feel if smaller, cheaper alternatives would still meet our needs. (There is no reason to downsize to a life of unhappiness!) We toured one and thought it might work. Suddenly, it was a real possibility.
We made our list of pros and cons of downsizing our home. In a surprise shift for both of us, we landed on downsizing.
One of the key factors was the ability to wipe out any mortgage payment by cashing out equity from our house. We realized we weren’t comfortable carrying two mortgages even for a short time, and in our market trying to buy on a sales contingency weakens your position. We decided to take the risk of selling without yet knowing where we’d live.
This was mid-April. A quick search of information showed us that for our best chance, we’d want to get the house up in May. In most markets (including ours) you have the best chance of selling in the April – July timeframe. It also appears our local market is softening and now may be the best time to get out.
As a reminder – we are both educators. May is the worst time to take on additional stress. End of year chaos is real, and people are tired. For me, I’m trying to finish out a current school year and plan for the next year simultaneously.
While listing ASAP is optimal from a house-selling standpoint, it’s the exact opposite from a professional standpoint. However, once we decide to do something, we get it done. So, we decided to make it happen.
Yikes. (A reminder that sometimes I make insane decisions.)
We made our decision to sell on April 24.
Suddenly, we were in late April, looking to get our house on the market as quickly as possible. And we made it – our house was listed on May 16. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable.
Here are the steps we took, week by week, to pull it off.
Start on The Known Projects
If you are preparing to sell your house, you want it to look clean and cared for. Fortunately, we aren’t incredible messy people. We do have lots of stuff though.
We also had a list of projects I’d been planning to do in the coming year. We started working on these immediately.
For us, the known projects were:
- Repainting the master bath
- Repainting the guest bath
- Repainting the entry way
- Painting and changing out trim in the laundry room
- Decluttering the walk-in closet
These were all known projects that we already planned to do, over time. As soon as we decided to sell, we started on these with our weekends and open evenings.
Important note: We did not do anything that was a significant investment. Unless you think a project will prevent your home from selling, large investments rarely return value in the short term. In our case, we knew the master bathroom needed to be redone and had planned to do it for ourselves. However, instead of putting in thousands of dollars, we accepted it was subpar and simply repainted and refreshed it.
Interview Listing Agents
There are strong opinions about the value of an agent and the potential of selling a house yourself. Since it was our first time selling a home and we knew we would not have time to promote the home and manage showings, it was a clear choice for us: we would hire an agent.
We identified and interviewed several prospective listing agents. A quick search online gave us a good framework for interviewing. Some posts that we found valuable:
As personal finance enthusiasts, fees were also an important part of our decision. Total commission ranges from 4% – 6% (usually 2-3% each for listing and buyers’ agents.)
We met with agents and asked them selected questions. While all sites recommend speaking with references, I will be honest that we skipped this step. We asked them to provide references (to ensure they could) but then relied on online ratings and reviews from multiple sites.
In the end, we selected an agent that we had randomly met during our house exploring process. She had been professional and responsive, so we added her to the interview pool. We also gave her additional points for being a teacher on a professional sabbatical while raising her kids. (Educators should take care of each other!)
She answered well during the interview, had a strong professional portfolio, and excellent ratings and reviews. She looked doubtful at our timeline requests, but expressed confidence that she could make it work if we followed through on our commitments. We’ve found this balance of healthy skepticism combined with “let’s make it work” approach has served us well in the past.
We agreed to a total commision of 4%. She would take 1.5% as listing agent, and 2.5% buyers commision is the typical floor in our market.
Our listing agent was selected on April 30.
Set a Projected Date
After reviewing online information, and discussing it with our realtor we decide our listing would go live on a Thursday. According to some studies, you sell for the most with a Wednesday listing. But, Thursday is the day to list for fastest sale, and is competitive in terms of price.
It also timed out well for us, because we were targeting a weekend where we would be out-of-town. If we listed on a Thursday, we could get up and head to work Friday, then leave the house entirely free for showings and open houses over the weekend.
Of course, the weekend we planned to be gone was May 17-19.
That made our projected listing date May 16. Less than 3 weeks away.
Work With a Professional Stager
The agent we selected offered a consult with a professional stager as part of her package. You could contract for additional staging items, or just accept the free consult with the stager. As I mentioned – we have plenty of stuff. We went with the free consult and scheduled it as quickly as possible.
This was invaluable in helping us prepare. Unless you have experience selling real estate or are skilled at interior design, I highly recommend working with a professional.
She walked through our house room-by-room telling us exactly how to rearrange, or remove, our existing furniture. She was explicit about what items had to go and thorough about explaining why.
The concept of creating space is even more important than we’d realized. We were already planning to depersonalize the space and had started decluttering. Depersonalization helps prospective buyers envision themselves in the house. We thought decluttering was just to help cleanliness.
The professional stager explained that you want buyers to feel as if there is plenty of storage. So space in all storage areas, including closets becomes critical. Anything that is “full” shrinks the space in the buyer’s mind. Clothes hanging in closets need space between, no shelf should be more than half full, dishes shouldn’t touch. Logically, you realize that no one actually lives like that – but the visceral impression works. We were surprised.
After the consult, we more than doubled the amount of items we had planned to remove.
She was also very helpful in explaining security concerns. Any valuables needed to be removed and secured. File cabinets or document holders were removed, locked, or turned against the wall to prevent access. We naively hadn’t realized that some people view homes explicitly to steal things – including identity documents. It’s apparently very common!
Our staging consult ended with a long list of tasks to prepare each room in the house. Valuable, but daunting.
It was May 4. Less than two weeks to go.
Get Professional Photos
This was another service our chosen agent offered. She worked with a professional photographer and had examples of previous listings. They were stunning and stood out from most other listings we’d reviewed.
If you are considering selling, go to a site like Redfin or Zillow. Click through some listings in your price range. You’ll quickly see which ones were done professionally and which ones were not. The photos matter for generating interest and traffic.
We scheduled the photographer three days before the listing. So, the to-be-photographed parts of the house had to be ready by Monday, May 13.
Create a Project Plan
We had an incredible amount to get done, and limited time to do it.
I project plan professionally. I tend to operate in most aspects of my life with a project plan. This can create friction between TFI and I at times as she doesn’t work this way.
Staring down a ten day timeline to get our house listed, we both agreed that we needed to get intentional and structured. We had one weekend and eight workday evenings to get the house ready for listing. We agreed to use Sunday to finish final painting projects we’d already started.
Then, we considered work schedules and needs, and planned tasks each day that would get us to completion. Weekends were packed. Some evenings, we both arrived home at 7pm and could only accomplish a small task.
Items were only marked off when they were “show ready.” So, a room being marked off meant that all repairs/refresh were complete, it had been decluttered, cleaned, and staged.
Here is what our project plan from this point forward looked like. Note that I had to leave town on the 14th – so most major projects would be completed by then. Our real plan was hand drawn and written, but includes some personal notes and information that I didn’t want to publish. I’ve included everything else in this more polished version.
Hire Out What You Can
When on a tight timeline, you sometimes just have to acknowledge you can’t do it all. There were a number of tasks that we would typically do ourselves. However, in this case they’d be done better and faster if we hired professionals to do them.
We identified the following tasks to hire and schedule out. (You’ll see them listed on the project plan too.)
- Yard clean-up
- Roof moss-removal and gutter clean-out
- Exterior window clean (It’s a tall house on a slope)
- Full house deep clean
- Graffiti removal (this was an unexpected expense that popped up when we discovered spray paint on a retaining wall)
We’d asked potential listing agents about their ability to recommend professional services. Ours was fantastic and offered multiple recommendations for each. We were able to schedule quickly and at generally competitive prices. The timeline likely kept us from negotiating “best possible” deals, but it worked out.
I didn’t explicitly mention setting a budget for preparing your listing. When we decided to sell, we anticipated spending up to $5,000 for preparations. We thought perhaps our realtor would recommend some additional improvement projects. Fortunately, we didn’t need these and were able to come in well below even after hiring out these services.
Communicate Clearly and Often
This is always good advice for any situation. In a quick house selling process, it’s absolutely essential. One of our clear selection criteria for an agent was commitment to frequent communication and responsiveness.
As we prepared to sell and made decisions, we kept her up to date. She did the same by informing us about each step that was scheduled, where necessary paperwork was, and by when we needed to have certain things complete.
Every step of the process happened as scheduled, or was easily adjusted due to clear and frequent communication.
The listing went live on May 16. Then, the real communication began.
Once the house was on the market, we agreed that we would never go longer than 30 minutes without responding to an agent request. TFI and I were clear with each other about who was responsible for communication during which time periods – since we were still working full time.
The listing agent knew she could provide prospective buyers with quick responses and schedule showings on a moment’s notice. She let us know about each showing, including interest and feedback. She held multiple open houses and we got a detailed report of the number of visitors, feedback about the home, and potential offers each day.
Consider and Anticipate Possibilities
During both preparation and the selling process, TFI and I constantly discussed the most current information and possible outcomes. It helped us both plan and responsd quickly to information or changes.
This began early on with setting a price. We knew what houses in our area had gone for. Our agent (and all the agents we interviewed) had done pricing analysis. Yet, we also knew our house had unique characteristics, both positive and negative, that made pricing it based on comps challenging.
After a debate, we set a price at the mid range of what the data suggested. Then, we worried it was both too high or low depending on the day. To avoid getting stuck moving the number around, we just started creating scenarios. “If no interest, then this…” “If it’s priced too low, the market will correct that with multiple quick bids..” etc.
During the prep process, we had back-up plans in case service providers didn’t show or did a subpar job. Due to the crazy timelines, these mostly involved us losing sleep to do it ourselves…but hey, we were anticipating!
Once the house was listed, we started getting price signals. As often happens, we almost immediately received a lowball offer. We used that to begin considering scenarios if nothing else came in.
Fortunately, those scenarios never came to fruition because we ended up with multiple offers.
Be Clear About Important Decision Criteria
This is useful to do when considering selling your house. It’s absolutely necessary to do by the time you get to reviewing offers.
What criteria will help you decide between accepting or rejecting an offer?
If you have multiple offers, how will you prioritize them?
Criteria We Used
For many, price will be the ultimate factor. In some cases, sellers need to get a certain amount out to meet financial obligations. That is a clear decision-making point.
For us, we knew what our minimum acceptable number was. That number was well below what we anticipated getting. So, while price was still a factor it wasn’t the ONLY factor.
Flexibility on Close
We were selling our house without having a replacement home lined up. This was our own risky choice. However, it meant that if we closed quickly on a standard 30-day timeline, we would be potentially packing and moving during the last week of the school year.
This was not optimal.
Therefore, an additional two weeks of rent back or delayed closing meant a lot to us. We agreed that an offer over our asking price that required a 30-day closing was okay and we’d make it work.
But, if it was a lower offer OR we were deciding between competing offers then a delayed timeline would be an important factor.
Strength of Offer
This one we didn’t necessarily have in our minds initially, but as offers started coming in we realized how useful it could be. This included things like amount of money down, size of loan, contingencies (none), and bank. Basically, it was a way to assess the likelihood that the offer would reach closing. This ultimately proved useful.
Work with Your Agent
Which brings me back to the importance of your agent’s communication and experience. Once the offers started coming in, she helped us immensely by clearly sharing all the information she had that was legal to share.
She also knew that closing flexibility was an important factor for us and could communicate that to other agents.
So, when we ended up with two motivated competing buyers she helped us meet our decision criteria. She was careful not to offer recommendations, but to clearly share considerations and respond to our information requests.
It’s clear by both the title and some of the details I shared that we were fortunate enough to accept an offer quickly.
We decided to sell on April 24.
During preparation we logged countless hours and spent a total of $2375 to get the house ready for market. The expenses breaks down as:
- Yard cleanup – $725
- Exterior windows – $250
- Roof, moss, gutters – $475
- Deep Clean – $445
- Home Improvement Purchases (paint, building materials, etc.) – $480
We listed our house on May 16.
That weekend we had 38 parties visit either through scheduled showings or open houses. We received three written offers (and several other verbal discussions) that eventually narrowed to two motivated buyers.
We requested final best offers by the evening of May 20.
On May 21, we accepted an offer for 103% of list price, with 80% cash and closing extended by 10 days. In the end, it was an almost ideal result.
We are now in the inspection period. There are still likely some negotiations that will happen after inspection – there almost always are. But, we are optimistic that we will close.
There you have it – the house selling process that moved us from a decision to an accepted offer in less than 4 weeks.
It was a whirlwind, but worth it. As long as we close successfully.
Now, we just have to find a place to live, continue disposing of things, and move to our new place. During the busiest time of the school year…
Update: We found a new place! Read the steps we took to find the right smaller home.