Contractor going over home repairs with home owner.

Add a presale inspection to that checklist. (Getty Images)

Unless you have an emergency or an incredible new job offer in a new city, selling a home is not often something you do on a whim. You generally have time before you put your home on the market. Maybe months. Maybe years.

If you know you're going to sell your house in the not-so distant future, you probably should start a to-do checklist now. Why? Because your checklist is going to be full of more checklists.

[See: 13 Things to Know About Selling Your Home in Fall or Winter.]

1. Figure out what needs to be fixed before you sell. You may be too close to your house to recognize its flaws. Bob Littell and his wife Carolyn, both real estate agents based in Atlanta, recommend paying for a presale inspection.

"Find out ahead of time things that are going to need to be fixed, painted and replaced," he says. "Not only will the house show better and therefore sell quicker, but you'll save yourself a lot of hassle and money by being able to shop around for the best person/company to do the work instead of being time-stressed to get them done prior to closing."

In other words, an interested buyer will essentially force you to do this anyway. You might as well do it now.

[See: Weird Home Features That May Confuse Buyers.]

How much might you pay for a presale inspection? Carolyn says that, at least in her area, prices for presale inspections run between $375 to $425.

Deb Tomaro, a broker associate with Re/Max Acclaimed Properties in Bloomington, Indiana, seconds the presale home inspection idea. Of course, you'd be hard-pressed to find an agent who wouldn't recommend taking this step.

"The most stressful time for a seller is that period of time between when the buyer had the inspection and when the seller hears if there are any issues," Tomaro says. "Since most people don't go in their attics, on the roof or in the crawlspace much, there are often issues that can be deal-breakers."

What sort of issues should you be looking for? What type of improvements should you consider making?

  • The roof. Leaks are the common problem. Most roofs, experts will tell you, last 20 to 50 years. Is yours older? Do you have water stains on any ceiling? Buyers will notice.
  • The paint job. Unless you've painted recently, some of your rooms could probably use a fresh coat.
  • Flooring. How old is your carpet or that kitchen tile?
  • Decks. They should be stained every two to five years, according to various home-improvement sites like AngiesList.com.
  • Landscaping. Need an update?

You'll also save money in the long run if you fix anything that needs repairing, Tomaro asserts. If you make an improvement, you probably won't go overboard. But if your buyer gets involved?

"What could be a simple roof repair can turn into a buyer wanting a whole new roof," Tomaro says.

2. Start assembling your paperwork. "Gather together every document you've ever had related to this home," says Michael Schaffer, a real estate broker associate in Denver.

This could be everything from closing documents you received when you bought the house to paperwork that came with any appliances you'll be selling with the home, like the refrigerator.

While your real estate agent, if you work with one, can best advise you, be on the lookout for the following paperwork:

  • Any documents related to the title and ownership of your house.
  • Recent tax records that you may want to show the buyer.
  • If you're in a homeowners association, any receipts and documentation related to major improvements and renovations on the house.
  • Documentation of your prelisting home inspection (if you had one done).

"Put [paperwork] in one easily accessible place, so that you know where to look when questions come up from your Realtor, potential buyers, inspectors, other Realtors, lenders and the buyer's second cousin who used to be a contractor," Schaffer says.

[See: 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast.]

3. Calculate how much your house will likely sell for. This is important because you may realize that it really isn't prudent to sell your home – or that there are some serious obstacles in the way.

For instance, you really should make sure your property taxes are paid up, especially if you've been living in your home a long time, says James Dodge, a professor of law who specializes in real estate and teaches at Concord Law School in Los Angeles.

"If they aren't paid up, the government can file claims against your property called liens that can interfere with your ability to sell your home," Dodge says.

To get an idea of how much your home is worth, without paying for a formal appraisal (which typically ranges from $300 to $400, according to Realtor.com), try:

  • Discerning the fair-market value by using calculations from your property tax bill.
  • Visiting a real estate information website like Trulia and Zillow and use a home value estimation calculator – just know that they aren't always accurate.
  • Talking to local real estate agents. They'll be able to give you an idea of how much your home is worth.

Of course, there are plenty of other things you'll want to do before getting too deep into the home-selling process, like tossing and donating things you don't want to haul to your next abode. But if you do all of these things, you'll be off to a good start. And once you get closer to actually selling your home, you can begin thinking about where you'd like to move to. A bigger home? Do you want to downsize? There are pros and cons to either. In fact, to really figure this out, you'll need to make a checklist.

Tags: real estate, housing market, home improvements, existing home sales


Geoff Williams has been a contributor to U.S. News and World Report since 2013, writing about a variety of personal finance topics, from insurance and spending strategies to small business and tax-filing tips.

Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.

For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.