1. Start Early: I'm not a very patient person, so I've had to learn this the hard way. I'll spare you the headache and warn you upfront... EVERY THING takes twice as long as you are expecting. Prepare yourself for that now. When we sold our first house I thought it would be simple. You find an agent, they list it, you have an open house and the fun begins. Unfortunately it's not that simple. It took several weeks for us to get from the point where we selected the agent to the time of our open house. The delay in time wasn't because we were doing things to get the house ready. It just took that long to get the house in the system, get them to list it on the internet, get the open house advertised and then actually host the open house.
I'd recommend interviewing agents at least a month or so before you think you'd be hosting your first open house. If you have to do a lot of things to your house to get it ready for an open house, you should start even earlier. If you are even considering selling your house in the next year or two... start getting in shape for an open house now. Even if you don't take that step to sell, at least you've improved your home and crossed a few things off your to-do list. Which, brings me to the next tip....
2. Make a List: Whether it's questions you want to ask your agent or things you need to do to get ready, write it down. There will be 1001 things you'll be trying to accomplish during this time and some thing always gets over looked. I often woke up in the middle of the night with a question. Instead of calling your agent 10 times a day, write all your questions down and make the most of your conversations. It'll save you the headache of forgetting things and save time too. Trust me, you'd rather have your agent working on the search or marketing your home than sitting on the phone with you. A good place to keep your list is right on your fridge. That way it's always handy and in sight.
3. Choose Your Agent Carefully: There are a lot of people out there that think they can sell or buy a house on their own without an agent. It's true. You can. One of my neighbors successfully used a company that charged a nominal fee and then they essentially did For Sale By Owner. I, on the other hand, have been very grateful for my agents. If you pick the right agent, they will be worth every penny of the commission.
Having a good agent for the sale of your house is critical. You need some one who will be aggressive, some one who knows the area, and some one you trust to keep your best interest in mind. Your agent works for you. Interview them like you would any other employee. Find out what they plan to do to market your house, how many listings they currently have (you don't want some one over stretched), how they can ensure that you receive the same attention as houses listed in much higher sales brackets, etc. You should be a priority to your agent. I'm not saying they should devote every hour to you, but they should be available and you should FEEL like they are willing to donate every hour to you. Take the time to check references. Look at their current listings - are the descriptions and photos on those sites attractive?
Not sure where to find a "high octane" realtor? Check out Dave's list of Endorsed Local Providers in your area.
4. Take Good Pictures: They say pictures are worth a thousand words. This is especially true in today's society. I don't know the actually statistics, but I would say the vast majority of people shop on-line before they ever go visit a house. If you can't get them to come to your house, you can't sell it so making a good first impression on-line is essential. If the pictures don't capture the strengths of your house, people may look right past it. Encourage your agent to take more than 2-4 photos. Most sites will allow 6-12. I am a firm believer in more is more when it comes to photos... if they are good photos. Take pictures of the areas of the house that people care the most about - kitchen, family room, back yard, etc. Obviously you want to high light the positives in your house. If you don't like your agents photos, don't be afraid to ask them to use some you have. This is especially true if you list your house in the cooler months of the year. Take a picture of your house when every think is in bloom (if possible), even if you don't plan on listing your house for several months and don't have an agent yet. It's better to be prepared.
5. Let Your Agent Work for You: Don't forget that your agent works for you. The more they do for you, the faster the house sells, the faster they get paid. The agent we had when we sold our last house was TOP NOTCH! I would recommend her to any one. Not only did she come in and help me stage my house, but she was even willing to change the cat box when we were out of town before a showing. She was pretty out going and out spoken, so a lot of her help was offered, but she told me that it's not out of line to ask for the help. Not that most agents would be willing to clean out your cat box, but they should be able to give you advice in staging your house. Just be prepared to take their advice once you've asked for it. Her suggestions on furniture arrangement were not what I would choose for daily living, but I figured she knows best. It's a short term sacrifice (hopefully) in order to get your house sold.
6. Depersonalize: This is some thing that you here often. When staging your home for open houses and showings, it's important to depersonalize the space. Limit the number of family photos, pack away knick-knacks, try to make the house as neutral as possible. As important as it is for the buyer to be able to see themselves in your home, it's equally as important for the seller to stop thinking it of it as their home. Home is where the heart is, and this is just a house you are selling. Let go of the personal attachments. An over personalized house can not only make it hard to sell, but it can cloud your judgement in list prices and contract negotiations. People aren't buying your memories.
7. Downsize and Declutter: This is one I'm sure you've heard before. Prior to listing your house, go through with your 3 bags or boxes - toss, donate, pack. Any thing that is non-essential can get packed away. If you have a lot of extra furniture and items that you want to take with you to your next house, see if you can store them with family or friends. Or, if you aren't lucky enough to have that option, consider renting a storage space for a few months. The price of a home is based on the square footage. You want yours to feel as big as possible while people are walking through. Less really is more!
8. Think Outside the Box: This is probably not the best time to be selling a house. Not only are you competing with a much larger pool of homes, but you also have to stay competitive with foreclosures. I'm sure this will change soon, but in the mean time it's important to think outside the box. Just recently Dave answered a question on his show about realtor incentives. Right about the same time, my neighbor mentioned that he added one to his house. He put a note in the confidential section (only visible to agents) of the MLS that he would pay a $2000 bonus to the agent when sold. His house has been on the market for quite some time and had sort of gone stale. He got 3 calls within 24 hours and had 2 showings. They don't have a contract yet, but now the buyer's agent has a little more incentive to try to sell the value of the house to their client.
Also, be sure you listen to your feedback from showings. They repeatedly have heard that they don't have enough storage. I've talked to them a lot and convinced them to pack a lot of stuff away at their parent's house. He's also added a note that the seller is willing to install a pull-down stair to the attack. This will make a whole other section of storage easily accessible and attractive to buyers. The large attic over the garage is now an asset to the property.
9. Be realistic: While our house may be very valuable to us, at the end of the day... it's just a house. Be sure you know the comps in the area. Go look at houses in your area that match your criteria (# of bedrooms, baths, etc) and in your potential price range. Make sure your house is realistically priced to start with. We'd all like to make money on the sale of our homes, but if you price your house too high to start with you'll eliminate potential buyers and just hurt yourself in the long run. If you have to keep reducing your price over time it will just make your house look weak and you seem desperate.
10. Take it for a trial run: If you aren't sure you're making the right choices with staging or pricing, give your house a trial run. Find a friend (or maybe even a coworker) that will be perfectly honest and ask them to walk through as a potential buyer. Search the internet to see how it looks on the internet and how it shapes up against your competition. Then, let them walk through your house and give you feed back. Tell them to be picky. Your buyers will be, so the more honest they can be now the better prepared you will be when you have showings. Remember people will probably look in your closets and drawers, so don't leave any thing out that is valuable or you may not want them to see.