When to Contact a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your House

As you start thinking about selling your home, you begin building a mental to-do list: repair the backyard fence, scrub down the bathroom tiles, declutter the garage, arrange your next living situation… There’s a lot to do — you know you’ll need to reach out for some professional help. But when should you contact a Realtor® to sell your house?

For that initial contact, “There’s no such thing as too early,” said Daniel Del Real, a top real estate agent in Modesto, California, who sells homes 65% faster than the average agent in his area.

“For our clients, we tell them as soon as you start thinking that this is something you might want to do… that’s the time to contact us, whether it’s a month in advance or two years in advance,” Del Real says. “Our initial conversation just gives them more information so they can go deeper into discussion to see if it’s even the right time for them to do it.”

After that, then you can start thinking more seriously about how long it will take to get your home “show ready.”

In most cases, agents like to have at least three months to prepare everything and ensure the job isn’t rushed.

“That’s good timing,” shares Carmen Gonzalez, a top real estate agent in Orlando, Florida, who works with 76% more single-family homes than the average agent in her market.

However, much of the timing depends on the condition of the home and the needs of the client.

“If someone is a minimalist and they live like their home is a showpiece,” they could contact an agent in as little as a week or month before putting their home on the market, says Greensboro, North Carolina agent Beth Sauer.

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The best time to contact a Realtor® depends on these factors

Is your home in top shape and camera-ready? Are you starting a new job across the country in a few weeks? Your unique selling scenario will influence whether you should contact your agent several months or weeks before you put your home on the market.

Your home’s condition

Homes that need TLC require extra preparation time for agent-recommended repairs and updates. If you think your home falls in this category, consider getting in touch with your agent early.

Speed of the market

The housing market’s condition is a key indicator to keep in mind when determining how soon you should connect with an agent.

In a stable or slower market when homes tend to linger and prices don’t fluctuate much, it doesn’t hurt to contact an agent months in advance. They’ll be able to provide you with a home value estimate that won’t drastically change by the time your home is ready to list.

Conversely, in a real estate market like the one we’ve seen in much of 2022, where property values change quickly, a home value estimate from a Realtor® may only be accurate for a very short amount of time.

“These days, it’s like two-to-three weeks now,” Del Real said in mid-October. “We saw prices come down 3.3% in our market over the last 30 days and we saw days on the market increase by seven, so a lot of the comparables and values from 30 days ago are really irrelevant right now.”

In this instance, it’s better to wait until you’re closer to listing your home for sale for an up-to-date market value.

Your selling timeline

Sauer suggests starting the selling process with your agent relatively early if you aren’t crunched for time, particularly if you’re planning to buy another home at the same time.

“If you’re not in a rush and you don’t have a really tight timeline, I would say that’s when it would be beneficial … to meet a month or two, or even three, before.”

And if you need to sell right away? Make a conversation with your agent a top priority. “If you have a tight timeline, then the first thing you want to do is call a Realtor® and meet with them so that they can start getting things scheduled … photography and that kind of thing.”

Your comfort level

Start the process with your Realtor® early if you’re feeling anxious about selling. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with the amount of work to do, or you’re unsure about the real estate market. An experienced Realtor® can give you tailored advice and guide you through every step of the process from the start.

On the other hand, if you have experience selling a home in the past and you’re ready to tackle basic pre-listing tasks on your own, you may only need a few weeks before you meet with your agent.

Contact a Realtor® 12 weeks before if …

  • You’re selling your home and buying at the same time.
  • You feel overwhelmed with the home preparation or selling process.
  • You need to complete home renovations or updates.
  • You have a flexible selling timeline.
  • You’re in a slower or stable real estate market.

Contact a Realtor® 6 to 8 weeks before if …

  • Your home has a few minor maintenance issues to resolve.
  • You feel fairly comfortable about the selling process.
  • You’ve already started decluttering your home.

Contact a Realtor® 1 to 4 weeks before if …

  • You’re in a rush to sell.
  • Your home needs only minor cleaning.
  • Market conditions are changing quickly.

A HomeLight infographic about contacting a Realtor before selling a house.

Need to sell in two weeks or less?

Del Real says it’s certainly possible for an agent to sell a home in as little as two weeks, but the home’s listing price will almost always have to be clearly reduced to achieve that deadline.

“In this market, the average days on the market is 37 here, so if you want to sell the property in two weeks, you’re going to have to price the property 5% under what market value would be based on buyer terms,” he says.

If you need to close the sale in less than two weeks, an instant offer from a cash buyer could be an alternative solution. HomeLight’s Simple Sale program lets you bypass the home preparation, open houses, and negotiation of a traditional home sale. Instead, you can receive a convenient offer on your home and close on the sale in as few as 10 days with no additional fees or commissions.

If you’re thinking about doing any kind of renovation or anything like that, I would talk to an agent right away, just because they’re going to have a better feel of how the market will respond.

Before you contact an agent, do this

When you’re starting to feel the home sale bug, there are a few steps you can take to initiate the process before you reach out to a real estate agent.

Review your finances

Selling your home requires some financial commitment. Ideally, your home sale price should be enough to pay off your remaining mortgage and cover these additional expenses:

  • Repairs and renovations: These costs depend on your home’s condition. For instance, painting a room a neutral color can cost as little as $350, while replacing an old HVAC system sets you back $5,000 to $11,000.
  • Closing costs: For sellers, closing costs range between 9% to 10% of the home sale price, including real estate commission fees.
  • Seller concessions: These are closing costs that the buyer would normally pay, but the seller has agreed to cover to sweeten the deal. Del Real said these are almost necessary in today’s market given how quickly interest rates are increasing. “We have 31 properties in contract right now and I would say maybe 60% to 70% of those have some form of closing concessions, whether it’s 2%, 3% or 4%.”
  • Moving expenses: This figure can range significantly depending on how much and how far you’re moving. On average, moving costs $1,688 for a local move to $4,750 for a long-distance move, according to HomeAdvisor.

Declutter your home

Before you contact a Realtor®, start decluttering as soon as possible, especially if you’re downsizing.

When the market was red hot in 2021, sellers were able to present their homes in just about any condition and still get a premium price for them. Now that everything is cooling down, buyers are becoming less forgiving.

“We’re in a beauty competition,” Del Real says. “There’s a lot more that you have to do now that you didn’t have to do even a year ago.”

According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Report for Fall 2022, the second biggest blindspot for overconfident sellers when preparing to sell their homes is too much clutter.

Start deep cleaning

Similar to decluttering, a deep clean adds marketability and value to your home. So go on, detail those french window frames, scrub the basement floors, and dust every lighting fixture. Give your home that new house smell.

Attend to necessary repairs

Fix anything that’s broken or in a major state of disrepair before you contact a Realtor®, but hold off on starting any changes or improvements.

“If you’re thinking about doing any kind of renovation or anything like that, I would talk to an agent right away, just because they’re going to have a better feel of how the market will respond,” Del Real says.

Given the current market volatility, Del Real suggests sticking to simple touch-ups, like quick paint jobs and light landscaping to improve curb appeal. Avoid anything that might take too long or cost too much, like a kitchen remodel.

“Time is more crucial than upgrades right now,” he says. “If the kitchen is gonna cost $25,000, I’d rather give that in the break of a buyer or dropping [the home’s price] $20,000 to get it on the market sooner, because the market is shifting downward, so we need to move a little more diligently. Where in another market we would have a little more time to do some of the repairs.”

Get preapproved for a mortgage

If you’re selling your home and planning to buy at the same time, you’ll want a general price range in mind while you shop for your next home. Exploring available loan options while you’re getting ready to sell “gives more time to plot out the entire move,” explains Sauer.

But don’t panic if you don’t have a preapproval in hand before meeting with your Realtor®. “Sometimes we connect [the homeowner] with a mortgage lender or a bank around the same time that we meet with them [about selling],” explains Sauer.

When you’re ready to contact a Realtor®, compare candidates to find the best match

Finding the right agent is one of the most important steps to take in the home-selling process. Start by searching for agents with extensive experience selling homes in your particular area.

Reach out to your network for referrals and compare agents online with HomeLight’s free Agent Match platform. Our system analyzes millions of real estate transactions to compare agents based on years of experience, transaction volume, average price point, speed of sale, specialties, and client reviews to match you to the best agents to sell your home.

Interview at least three candidates before you commit

Your choice of real estate agent directly impacts the speed and final price of your home sale, so take time to screen multiple agents to find the right one for the job. Reach out to at least three real estate agents for initial screenings. Gonzalez recommends conducting interviews over the phone rather than over email or text to better gauge the right match.

“The initial contact over the phone is much more personal. People can get their questions answered quicker, they can get a better idea of the process, and a better impression of the agent that they are talking to,” Gonzalez explains.

Share your objectives for your home sale with each agent and ask them important questions, including:

  • How many homes have you sold in my city or county?
  • How many clients are you currently representing, and how many will you work with at one time?
  • What kind of properties do you mostly sell — single-family homes, condos, townhouses?
  • Who else on your team will assist with our home sale?
  • What does your typical marketing plan look like? How does your team use social media to reach potential buyers?
  • How much experience do you have working with first-time sellers?
  • What are the top three things that separate you from the competition?
  • What kind of guarantees do you offer?
  • If I pick you, what’s the first thing we do to get started?

Choose the real estate agent with experience you trust

After the interviews, compare your top Realtor® candidates based on their experience, relevant network, and personal connection. Go with your gut, even if it means letting down a referral or friend in your network.

“It is very common to have a friend or a friend of a friend or someone in the family who has a license, but they’re not necessarily going to be the best person for the job,” shares Gonzalez, emphasizing that sellers need to choose an agent with proven experience selling their property type (condo, single-family home, luxury home, etc.) in their area.

This advice is especially relevant in times such as these when the housing market is rapidly shifting.

Take the next steps in your home sale with your newly hired agent

With a top real estate agent hired, it’s time to tackle pre-listing tasks. Your agent will kick off the process with the following:

Conduct an initial walkthrough

Your real estate agent will walk through your property with you, noting your home’s best features and opportunities for improvement.

For an even deeper dive into your home’s condition, consider hiring a home inspector to conduct a full pre-listing home inspection. A pre-listing home inspection provides you with a list of needed repairs upfront so you can tend to them before pricing and listing your home.

Suggest home improvements

Depending on your home’s competition and your budget, your real estate agent will suggest renovations to improve your home’s marketability. With their expertise and objective eye, agents will evaluate what needs replacing or just refreshing, which improvements can bring a high return on investment, and which blemishes are better left untouched.

Connect you with reputable local contractors

Agent rolodexes are full of reliable contractors and designers. They’ll put you in touch with whatever specialist you need to get your home into top shape and assist with scheduling to ensure jobs are completed before your target listing date.

Set you up with staging services

If your home’s interior could benefit from cleverly curated interior design, your agent may recommend staging. According to the NAR 2021 Profile of Home Staging survey, 49% of buyers’ agents said that staging increased offer amounts when compared to similar homes that were not staged. And 39% of listing agents reported faster marketing time with staged homes.

Some agents even cover the cost of staging in their commission fee; 26% of agents surveyed stated they’ve offered to personally stage their client’s home, while another 26% said they may pay for staging depending on the situation.

Perform a comparative market analysis

Your real estate agent will conduct a comparative market analysis (CMA) to set the most important piece of the puzzle: listing price. CMAs analyze the sale prices of comparable homes taking into account everything from square footage and neighborhood location to listing photos and unique features. The objective behind CMAs is to help determine the market value of your home in order to price it competitively against other homes in your market.

Too late to contact an agent? Consider selling for cash to a direct buyer

If you have a deadline to sell your house fast, it may be too late to contact a real estate agent to manage a traditional home sale. Even in a seller’s market in which homes can sell quickly, closing the sale can take weeks or months.

In such a situation, consider selling directly to a cash buyer. Instant buyer programs such as HomeLight’s Simple Sale help homeowners sell quickly — in as few as 10 days. Simple Sale doesn’t charge commissions or fees, and sellers benefit by receiving a convenient offer for a swift home sale without the high stress.

Writers Gina Rodrigues and Presley Attardo contributed to this story.

Header Image Source: (PhotoMIX Ltd. / Pexels)

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