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How to Sell a House in California in 10 Simple Steps

Lara ManettaMay 30, 2024

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As a homeowner in California, you’ve been tracking the real estate market for years. And while it hasn’t always been predictable, it’s always been hot. But now, it’s finally time to sell. How can you really make sure that you’re getting the value you deserve from your home?

First, breathe a sigh of relief: the California housing market is very friendly to sellers. Still, there are a lot of moving parts that will take place before you can hand over your keys and move on to your next adventure. Understanding what to expect will help you make the right choices — and avoid the wrong ones. 

Real estate is highly local whether you live in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Palm Springs. To put together a 10-step guide for your home sale, we’ve put our knowledge and research together with a local expert in California sales: Lorin Ruttenberg, a licensed Realtor® with Ahead of the Curve Homes

1. Choose your move-out date and work back from there.

You know you have a checklist of a thousand things to do before you sell. Don’t panic. The best way to work out your timeline can involve doing something counter-intuitive: decide when you want to move before you do anything else.

Let's say Susan and Jamie want to sell their house in Los Angeles. Susan's new job in Houston starts on July 1, and she wants at least a month to settle in before her first day on the job. That would mean moving out of their Los Angeles home by June 1.

If they start getting ready to move in March, that gives them three months to finish minor home improvement projects, get rid of items they don't want to move, and gather up all the documents they'll need for the sale. 

Having a timeline also helps you decide what you have time to accomplish before listing the house. Spending time in your yard updating your landscaping may be on your wish list of tasks. But, a tight timeline may mean either hiring someone for the job or streamlining it.

2. Interview multiple agents and choose the one who fits your needs best.

Find your agent early. 

Selling your home is a huge commitment; you need to be sure you are working with an agent who understands your perspective and the local market. Experts recommend talking to at least three agents before you commit. Ruttenberg, an experienced real estate professional, recommends studying an agent’s communication style most of all. 

"Does the agent listen to you more than they talk? Or are they just talking and trying to sell themselves?" Ruttenberg asks. She says that it is vital to work with someone who understands your position and your needs. You need an agent who will listen to you and consider your concerns and goals while still providing good counsel. 

"Listening doesn't mean agreeing," Ruttenberg says. An agent who agrees with everything you say can be as much of an impediment as one who doesn't listen. You need to be able to trust your agent's input and experience and feel secure that they will advise you well and successfully represent you and your home.

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3. Make any needed repairs and get on top of maintenance.

Most homebuyers are looking for a home that is move-in ready. Take some time to address small issues like missing knobs on cabinets, holes in walls from hanging pictures, and other issues. 

Thinking of home improvements to increase your selling price? Consider focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency. In a recent NAR survey, 51% of respondents said energy-efficient windows were very or somewhat important, and 31% said solar panels increased the perceived value of the home. 

"Everything is situational, but you need to make sure you are not spending money on things that will not pay back," says Ruttenberg. She says to talk to your agent about what improvements are necessary and which will not make a house sell faster or allow the seller to recoup their costs. Research shows that home sellers spend an average of $5,400 getting their houses ready for sale.  

4. Set your asking price.

While some markets have shown signs of cooling in 2024, many in-demand areas are still seeing rising prices. San Diego, for instance, saw a 2.3% month-over-month increase in housing prices in early 2024.

That said, pricing your home for your local market is still vital. When asked the biggest mistake sellers make, Lorin answers immediately: "Overpricing." While she acknowledges prices can be adjusted after a home is listed, a price that is too high can cost sellers momentum.

"You only have one opportunity to make a first impression," Ruttenberg says. 

5. Continue getting your home ready for sale.

Now, it's time to start decluttering and depersonalizing your home. Make it easy for buyers to step into your house and picture living their lives there.

Four out of five buyers' agents say that staging a home well helps buyers imagine themselves in the property. You have several options when it comes to home staging. If you have a knack for design, you may be able to do it yourself. 

Some sellers have their agent do their staging for them. Others hire a third-party staging company for the task. While hiring a staging professional can cost between $400 and $600, the investment may pay off in a quicker sale or a higher selling price. 

6. Get ready for the marketing phase.

Your Realtor® will handle writing your listing, taking photos of your home, and sharing that listing across the MLS and other relevant networks.

The decluttering and depersonalizing activities from Step 5 set the stage for excellent photographs to market your home. See if your agent or their photographer can come to your home during the "golden hour," which is the hour after sunrise or before sunset when the light is particularly flattering. About 100% of home buyers use the internet, and good photos of the home are key. While cell phone cameras have dramatically improved in recent years, hiring a professional photographer to show off your home's best features is worth the cost. 

Once the listing is active, be prepared for a flurry of showings. Keeping the home in show-ready condition can be stressful, especially if you have small children. Consider having everyone use the same bathroom in a multi-bathroom home to cut down on cleaning. 

7. Review your offers and start negotiating.

You should start getting offers soon after listing. Recent figures show that most buyers make an offer at or above the listing price of a home. But, price is not the only area where buyers and sellers need to work out an agreement. A few other aspects that need to be negotiated include:

  • the desired closing date.

  • any contingencies, such as a buyer's need to sell their previous home before closing on a new one.

  • any agreed-upon repairs. 

Roof and HVAC system replacements are often areas of negotiation when closing on a house. Here, your agent will guide you regarding what is considered normal or unusual for the market. In some markets, it’s common to make a lot of repairs. In others, the buyers are largely on their own.

8. Do the inspection and appraisal.

Inspections and appraisals aren’t required by law — and while they’re nearly always included in the process of selling a home, California is a little bit unique.

If your buyer is purchasing with a mortgage — and two out of three buyers are — they will need to get an inspection and an appraisal. The bank will insist. But the market in California is so hot that it’s not entirely unusual to see properties listed as “as-is, no inspection or appraisal.”

To go that route, you’re going to have to have a cash buyer. But it can be a valid route if, for some reason, you know your property isn’t going to pass inspection. Regardless, the buyer will arrange and pay for the inspection and appraisal, you’ll just need to deal with the consequences.

Most home inspectors will find something wrong, whether it’s a leaky roof or a bad water heater. And it’ll be up to you to decide (with the guidance of your real estate agent) whether you want to make any concessions. 

If the appraisal falls short, on the other hand, the buyer may need to make up the difference in cash.

9. Do your disclosures.

California requires sellers to make certain disclosures when they are selling a home. This will include explaining any material defects on the property. The disclosure takes the form of a standardized checklist called the Transfer Disclosure Statement — and, lucky for you, this is another way in which your real estate agent is going to really provide value. Because they’re going to help you through all this paperwork, which can be significant and confusing.

The transfer disclosure helps everyone. It ensures you’ve been transparent and alleviates your liability because the buyer has clearly been aware of any property risks. Some common disclosures include lead paint, asbestos, flooding, or even having loud frogs around!

California provides a handbook for sellers that goes over what is required in the disclosure. Ask your real estate agent if you run into any problems!

10. Close the deal.

Once the buyer has made an offer and you've accepted, now it's time to close. In California, that process will take anywhere from 30 to 40 days. 

It all starts with a final walkthrough. This is the buyer's last chance to ensure that everything about the property is as they expect. The walkthrough is usually done a couple of days before closing.

You'll then receive a settlement statement. This is a document that goes over all the financial details of the transaction. Go over this with your agent line by line to make sure you understand and agree with all of it. 

You are not legally required to have a real estate attorney involved in your sale. However, many sellers opt for one when there are complicated aspects to the sale. If you are selling a home from out of state or selling a home inherited from a deceased family member, your real estate agent may recommend the assistance of a lawyer.

Summing up

Selling a home is a major life milestone. It marks a transition to something wonderful and new. And yes, the process can be intimidating. But having the right real estate agent will ensure that everything goes smoothly, from start to finish. 

Above all, make sure that you trust your agent — and make them aware of your goals. "Sellers need to work in tandem with a Realtor they trust," says Ruttenberg. It’s a collaborative process — and one that demands teamwork and attention.

Redy.com is your secret weapon for finding the right real estate agent for you. The site gives you the ability to compare multiple agents head-to-head, in terms of experience, costs, and strategy. Beyond that, Redy is the only platform that lets agents win your business with an upfront payment. 

Ready to sell your home? Sign up to get matched with qualified agents today.

Lara Manetta is a freelance writer based in Florida. She's written extensively about local and national real estate, including a book for doctors interested in real estate investing. When she's not writing, you can find her kayaking, reading, or sailing.

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