Large Traditional Washington DC Home

Clean up the clutter in your home and be willing to negotiate with buyers. (Getty Images)

Selling your home may seem like a mystifying process, but it doesn't require any hidden knowledge that the real estate industry is keeping secret. In other words, “if you price it right and you prepare it right and you don’t let any buyers in until it’s all ready, your house will sell in any market,” says Anne DuBray, a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

But selling a house can become more difficult if you ignore the tried-and-true practices that have helped home sellers in the past.

[Read: What’s Dragging Down the Value of Your Home?]

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when selling your home:

  • Working alone.
  • Waiting to sell.
  • Pricing too high.
  • Refusing to make changes.
  • Keeping clutter.
  • Skipping major repairs.
  • Cutting costs on photography.
  • Being unavailable.
  • Being unwilling to negotiate.
  • Letting your emotions get the best of you.

Working Alone

Not hiring a real estate agent to represent you may seem like an easy way to avoid paying commission, but you’ll miss out on a real estate agent's market knowledge, contacts and help with the process. Unless you have a real estate license or are planning to find an iBuyer, a real estate agent is key to a successful – and less stressful – home sale.

For-sale-by-owner properties tend to sell for a lower price overall. In the National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers released in November, FSBO homes sold at a median of $200,000, compared to a median sale price of $280,000 for properties that sold with the assistance of an agent. If you're looking to sell your home for its full market value, professional insight is more likely to get you there.

Waiting to Sell

Spring and early fall are often hailed as the best times to sell a house, but that doesn’t mean you should wait months to put your home on the market. While December and August see the fewest sales, according to DuBray, homes sell every month of the year.

In fact, February is the best month to put your property on the market, DuBray says – even in places that see long, cold winters like Chicago and Milwaukee. “People are less distracted in that month than every other month of the year,” DuBray says.

Pricing Too High

You want to sell your house for top dollar, but be realistic about the value of the property and how buyers will see it. Of homes that sell in their first week on market, 57% sell for the full asking price, according to a 2017 report by Zillow. By the fourth week, that share drops to 32%, and only 18% of homes that sell after eight weeks receive the full asking price. If you've overpriced your home, chances are you'll eventually need to lower the number, but the peak period of activity that a new listing experiences is already gone.

"Time will kill you," DuBray says. "You still think you're going to get showings and showings (as time goes on) and you just don't." For that reason, it's important that your real estate agent is honest with you about what your home will sell for, based on the recent sales of similar homes in the area.

[Read: 7 Online Tools to Help You Estimate Your Home’s Value]

Refusing to Make Changes

Unless you’re planning to sell your house to an investor who will flip the property, selling your house “as-is” won’t yield the highest possible sale price.

Homebuyers today expect move-in ready conditions and want to see a blank slate that allows them to picture themselves living in the home. That means you'll need to update appliances, paint walls neutral colors such as gray or khaki and remove old carpeting.

Keeping Clutter

It’s tough to remove belongings while you’re still living in your house, but presenting each room and space in its best light means you'll need to declutter in more ways than one. Get rid of items you don't need anymore, but also remove oversized couches and other large furniture that dwarfs the room, clear out closets so they don't look overcrowded and put away decor that displays too much personal detail.

“You’d be amazed at how many people walk into (a home) and have trouble visualizing where their stuff would go in here,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Skipping Major Repairs

Pulling up carpeting and painting the walls are relatively easy tasks to tackle, but you’ll want to fix major issues as well. Cracks in the foundation or a new roof are expensive fixes that you may be wary of taking on, especially when you won’t likely recoup the entire cost in the sale. But DuBray says you’re better off fixing these issues now rather than have the buyer ask for a credit to cover the cost of the repair later. This way, you have more say over who does the job and the total cost of the repair.

“Plus, it’s something to brag about (in the listing description) if you have a brand-new roof,” DuBray says.

Cutting Costs on Photography

The first way many buyers see your property is by viewing photos of the house online, so don’t make them cross your house off their list before they’ve even visited. Among buyers who used the internet as part of their home search, 87% found photos of the property to be very useful, according to NAR’s report, which surveyed nearly 6,000 people who purchased a home between July 2018 and June 2019.

Most real estate agents include professional photography in their marketing budget. Even if you can’t get a professional, make sure all photos give the buyer an idea of the size of the rooms. Also make sure photos are well-lit and keep you out of the frame in any reflections.



Being Unavailable

When your house is on the market, showing the house should be your priority. That means if you get a call that a buyer would like to tour the house, you need to be able to leave the house in pristine condition quickly.

Even on holidays, an interested buyer is likely serious about making an offer and you shouldn't refuse a showing. So while you’re trying to sell your house, try to hold Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations elsewhere.

Being Unwilling to Negotiate

If you’ve received an offer for your house that isn’t quite what you’d hoped it would be, expect to negotiate. While you’ll naturally feel your asking price is more than fair, the only way to come to a successful deal is to make sure the buyer also feels like he or she benefits as well.

If you would like to see the sale price come up, consider offering to cover some of the buyer’s closing costs or agree to a credit for a minor repair the inspector found. That way, “the buyer doesn’t feel like he’s getting raked over the coals for no reason,” Cohen says.

[Read: Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019.]

Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You

It’s natural to have some emotional attachment to your house after living in it for years and celebrating milestones, holidays and accomplishments with your family and friends there. But you have to view selling your house as a business deal. A low offer is not a personal affront, but a start that can either be negotiated up or declined. Plans to renovate part of your house are not an insult to your taste, but a difference in preferences.

The more you can approach the sale of your house as a business deal, the better off you’ll be to make the transaction as smooth as possible.


10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on March 20, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Pick a selling strategy.

Pick a selling strategy.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Before putting a for sale sign in your yard, it's important to pick the selling strategy that will work best for you. The for-sale-by-owner option may be best if you feel confident in your ability to market the home and negotiate. If your time is better spent on other details, a real estate agent could be best. If you need to sell the home quickly, you may want to inquire with an iBuyer, an entity that can make the deal close faster than the typical homebuyer. You should feel confident in the selling strategy you choose, and avoid switching from one to the other while your house is on the market. Buyers could be turned off by the constant changing of circumstances.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word that a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Be flexible with showings.

Be flexible with showings.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home's storage space look more ample.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Pick a selling strategy.
  • Invest in a professional photographer.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Be flexible with showings.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, home prices, existing home sales, pending home sales


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

Recommended Articles

The Guide to Living in a Co-Op

Devon Thorsby | July 9, 2020

Here's what you need to know about how a co-op works differently from traditional homeownership.

What to Do if You Get Evicted

Maryalene LaPonsie | July 8, 2020

With government protections being lifted, many people could face eviction notices in the months to come.

How to Find a Real Estate Agent

Devon Thorsby | June 30, 2020

Here's how to find a real estate agent to help you confidently navigate a home sale or purchase.

Should You Buy a Condo?

Geoff Williams | June 26, 2020

Before you commit to owning a home, consider factors like maintenance fees and proximity to neighbors.

What to Know About Moving to Canada

Devon Thorsby | June 25, 2020

Planning and preparation can make your move to Canada a success.

The Guide to Buying a Home Sight Unseen

Dima Williams | June 24, 2020

While feasible, purchasing a home sight unseen requires more work and attention.

How to Look Up the History of Your House

Devon Thorsby | June 23, 2020

Find out anything from previous owners and environmental records to who died on a property.

Is My Agent Selling My Home Right?

Steven Gottlieb | June 19, 2020

A few questions can help you know if your real estate agent has the skills to sell your home at the right price.

Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane

Kimberly Lankford | June 19, 2020

Hurricane season runs from June through November, and even some small steps can make a big difference in protecting your home.

What to Know About Moving to Austin

Devon Thorsby | June 18, 2020

Find out if you should be one of the many people putting down roots in Austin, Texas.

How to Renovate a House

Devon Thorsby | June 17, 2020

Plan your home remodeling project carefully, and consider your skill level combined with your budget.

How Much Does a Tiny Home Cost?

Devon Thorsby | June 16, 2020

Living in a tiny house may sound like a great way to save, but some details require a hefty investment.

How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Move

Lisa Larson | June 12, 2020

Follow these 10 tips for getting your family and home ready to relocate to a new city or state.

Neighbor Rights Regarding Construction

Devon Thorsby | June 11, 2020

Construction noise can be a nuisance for homeowners and apartment dwellers, so it's important to know your options.

Do's and Don'ts of Buying Vacant Land

Devon Thorsby | June 9, 2020

Buying a home can be complicated, but purchasing land to build on is a whole new ball game.

15 Affordable DIY Backyard Games

Devon Thorsby | June 4, 2020

These at-home projects will get you and your crew outdoors this summer to make the most of your backyard space.

25 Affordable Home Organization Ideas

Devon Thorsby | June 2, 2020

These tips will bring order to your home – and keep it that way.

Outlook for the Housing Market in the Recession

Devon Thorsby | May 28, 2020

Are we in a recession? Here's a look at how the pandemic will affect the housing market.

What to Know Before Moving to Miami

Devon Thorsby | May 26, 2020

Beyond the sunny weather and beaches, Miami offers residents global business opportunities and multicultural attractions.

Should You Move to Florida?

Devon Thorsby | May 21, 2020

Whether you're aiming for South Beach or the Panhandle, there are a few things you should know before making Florida your new home.