How Long Does it Take to Sell a House? The 8 Step Guide

How Long Does it Take to Sell a House? The 8 Step Guide

Posted on Sep 15, 2020

One of the first questions homeowners have once they decide to sell is, “How long will it take to sell my house?” Knowing the answer can have a big impact on everything from moving plans to personal finances.

According to Zillow, the average time to sell a house is 65 to 93 days — that’s from initial listing to closing. The actual timeline, though, can be longer if you include prep work. Here’s what you need to know.

Step 1: Find an Agent 

(1 week)

Before doing anything else, you’ll need to find a real estate agent who can sell your home. This step is super important because not all agents have the same approach, pricing, or expertise. Instead of opting for the first agent you come across, we recommend interviewing several agents and making sure their approach aligns with your needs and budget. Check reviews and ask about their experience. Here’s our list of questions you should ask your Realtor. 

Step 2: Meet with Your Agent 

(1 week)

As part of your initial consultation, your agent will meet with you to build a competitive marketing strategy for your home and to recommend a listing price using local comps and other significant data to ensure you’re coming in at a fair market value. They may also advise you on some quick fixes and how to better stage your home to boost buyer interest. Read more about Houwzer’s listing services to get an idea of what to expect.

Step 3: Stage Your Home

(1 week)

Tidying and staging your home for visitors is important. The first impression most people have of your home is from photographs online, and a messy home can distract potential buyers from your home’s best features. Not only that, it’s also a psychological cue. Buyers are concerned with how homeowners have maintained their homes over the years — and a tidy home is more likely to convince them that you’ve stayed on top of routine maintenance. It’s a good idea to remove personal items like photographs so that the buyers can more easily imagine themselves living there.

Step 4: Professional Photography, Videography

 (1 week)

Any real estate agent worth their salt can tell you that great photography is essential for getting maximum exposure for your property. Considering that 95% of home searches begin online, having low-quality photos isn’t an option. After you’ve successfully tidied up your home, put away the clutter, and staged it for success, your agent will arrange for a professional photographer, and potentially a videographer as well, to come and shoot your home. 

Step 5: Marketing 

(1 week)

Once you have photographs, you need to use them. Your agent will get you a for sale sign and assemble print and digital marketing material to help sell your home. They will also help you create a listing description, and prepare a listing for the MLS. Once the listing becomes active, the MLS will syndicate the information to sites like Zillow and the agent will begin marketing the home.

Step 6: Showing Your Home 

(six weeks)

Once your MLS listing is up, people will want to see your home. Because there are so many variables that go into home selling, it’s impossible to say how many people will view your home before you receive an offer. You could get an offer after the first showing, or it could take more time depending on the market, home competition, and pricing. According to Redfin’s data center, homes were on the market for 39 days on average in 2020 — and that’s a 3-day increase from 2019 (which may be attributed to the impact of COVID-19). 


How long does it take to sell a house? Graph constructed using Redfin’s national data

What else can impact the timeline (how can I sell my home fast)? 

Time of year: Spring is real estate’s biggest season, which translates into more potential buyers. For one thing, buyers with families often look to purchase before the next school year starts, especially if they’re trying to move into a certain school district. Selling in the winter may add several weeks to your timeline. Not only are fewer people looking during the winter, but most people are also reluctant to buy a home during the holiday season. However, life changes can happen at any moment and there are always buyers out there. Sometimes buyers looking in the winter are more serious and motivated, and with less homes on the market, your home will have less competition.

Price: If you price your home above market value in the hopes that someone will buy it anyway, you may have to wait longer for an offer. Homeowners who price at or slightly below market value, on the other hand, can receive offers more quickly — and will likely beat the 39 day timeline. Sometimes pricing your home a little below market value can actually result in a higher sale price as it will make it into more buyer’s price range search results and drive up bidding wars. Of course, this all depends on the market. Your agent can determine the best pricing strategy for your home.

Location: Certain cities, states, and regions of the country have higher demand than others. In areas where the housing inventory is low, demand may help your home sell quicker. Good school districts, short commute times, parking, and proximity to local parks and desirable neighborhood amenities or hotspots can also help.

Buyer vs. seller’s market: When it’s a buyer’s market, buyers have the upper hand with more options and more time to consider. In a buyer’s market, sellers are generally the party that has to make concessions and that normally plays out in more time on the market or a lower listing price. In a seller’s market, buyers don’t have the luxury of waiting around. Competition can lead to quick decisions and even bidding wars as buyers compete for a smaller pool of available homes.

Home condition: This likely isn’t as important as you think. If a home is priced right, then buyers won’t necessarily care that the kitchen is outdated — they’re happy to pay less now, and update later. For some buyers, an outdated home can be an opportunity to land a home in a high-end market that they otherwise might not have been able to afford. However, a home that requires extensive work may move off the market more slowly than a newly renovated property that’s ready immediately. This is particularly true in a buyer’s market – buyers can afford to be pickier when there is a greater selection of homes and lower prices. 


Step 7: Respond to Offers and Negotiate 

(up to a week)

Once you receive an offer, it’s time to evaluate. (Remember, any offer is a good sign because it shows the interest is there!) If your home is getting flooded with showing requests and you received an offer the day you listed it, you might want to see how those play out or use the other interest as leverage to negotiate. If you receive multiple bids, your agent can help you weigh your offers and will often ask all buyers to submit “best and final” offers to cut out the back and forth. Sometimes a lower bid can be more appealing, for example, if the buyer is paying in cash or if they have fewer contingencies than other buyers. If you decide you want to negotiate, you may need to wait a day or two to receive an answer back.

Note: You don’t have to accept an offer you aren’t happy with, but you should always try to negotiate and see if you can get a buyer close to where you want them instead of rejecting them outright. However, the waiting game doesn’t always yield a higher offer. Homes generally get the most eyes on them when they first hit the market and buyer agents know if your home has 45 days on market, you probably aren’t sitting on other offers. The longer your home sits on the market, the less likely you are to receive your asking price. Your agent can advise you on the best course of action. 

Step 8: Closing Time 

(6 weeks)

On average, 41 days pass between the day you accept the offer and the day you close the deal (when all the paperwork is finished and home ownership is transferred to the next person). 

This can be one of the most stressful periods for sellers, for a few reasons. 

  1. You’ll likely be packing up your home. 
  2. Before you hand over the keys at closing, there are still hurdles to get through that can create delays or cause the deal to fall through altogether. 

What can happen during this time period?

Inspection: While it might only take a day to get a home inspection, the results can really throw a wrench in your timeline. If problems come up during inspection, buyers may sink the cost themselves, or they might ask the seller to address it or finance the repairs. If the home’s underlying issues are too time consuming or expensive (like structural damage), they might decide to walk away. 

Buyer’s Home Sale: An offer that is contingent on the buyer’s current home selling is less than ideal for sellers. It multiplies the risk of your deal falling apart because you’re also relying on another deal to go through. In a seller’s market, or when selling a desirable home, you will likely want to accept an offer without this kind of contingency.

Appraisal: Lenders require buyers to get the home appraised to determine how much the home is actually worth. If the appraisal comes in low, buyers will have to pay the difference between the offer and the appraisal price or cancel the sale. Appraisal contingencies are common, but you can usually negotiate to have them waved in a seller’s market – in which case the buyer would forfeit the escrow money if they backed out.

Title: Every home sale has to go through a title search to make sure there’s no issues that would prevent a sale, like liens on the property. 

Financing: Until the deal is closed, a buyer’s financing can always fall through. A job change, missed credit card payments, new debt, or anything dramatically impacting the buyer’s credit profile could potentially throw off the mortgage financing. Given the pandemic’s impact on the economy and job market, financing issues have become more common in recent months.

All of these tasks can take days or potentially weeks to complete, which is why it generally takes a month or longer to close. If the offer was contingent on any of these steps or the buyer felt the problems were insurmountable, sellers can find themselves back on the market. While these things do happen (and became more common during the chaos of 2020), the vast majority make it to closing.

Conclusion: How long does it take to sell a house?

 (plan for at least 3 months)

There’s no crystal ball that can predict exactly how long your home will sit on the market, but based on all the factors listed above, a good rule of thumb is to plan for at least three months (90 days) from beginning to end. Home sellers who price their home fairly, who opt for top-quality listing services, and who make sure their home is in good condition will have the best chance of selling their home quickly.

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