Seller’s Guide

Selling a home can be challenging, but it’s actually not that hard to do yourself, with a little guidance. OpenHomes has compiled the best real estate advice, tips, and tricks into this manual to help you sell your home like a pro – without the cost and hassle of an agent!

This manual’s sections, listed above will give you all the information you need to sell your home with OpenHomes, in easy-to-understand language. From competitive pricing to closing, we believe this process should be transparent.

And remember, with OpenHomes you will always have access to professional real estate attorneys if you need help.

My wife and I had a fantastic experience selling our McFarland home through OpenHomes. The cost savings are terrific if you're willing to put in a little work yourself. More people need to break from the norm of the traditional realtor route. I'm SO glad we did!

Rose & Travis from McFarland, WI

Deciding to Sell

Is it Time to Sell?

Life changes, such as a marriage, expanding your family, or retirement, often drive the need to sell, but your property is probably your most significant financial investment. Therefore, smart sellers will also research the current housing market to determine if selling now makes financial sense.

If you are planning on purchasing another property soon after selling your current one, you are likely to benefit either on the buying or selling end depending on your local market’s conditions. If you are not planning to buy another property, however, getting a good price may be more important as you won’t have the benefit of “buying low” after you sell.

Housing markets vary by city and even neighborhood, with prices fluctuating even within a season. Use online research tools to see the prices that houses similar to yours have sold for, as well as when and how long they were on the market before selling. This research will give you the best idea of the condition your housing market.

Price It Right

No homeowner wants her home to linger on the market. The most effective way to sell your home quickly is to price it right.

While it might be tempting to price high, assuming that buyers will negotiate down, or price low and hope for a bidding war, your best strategy is to price it at or just below similar houses in your area. A too-high price will limit the number of buyers who consider your home, meaning your house will likely remain on the market longer and require price drops to sell it. A too-low price will signal to buyers that something is wrong with the property, and will likely mean that you lose out on the true value of your home.

Set a price that is similar to, or slightly below, current sales prices for comparable houses in your neighborhood. You can easily research local pricing trends at the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s House Price Index. All you need to know is your location, when you bought your current property, and for how much.

Next, make a list of your home’s features and its realistic condition. Compare that with other homes for sale or that have recently sold in your area. Be careful not to fudge your data towards more expensive properties – an extra bedroom, finished basement, or updated kitchen really do increase the overall value of a home.

Think realistically about what you love about the home as well as your frustrations with it. Try to see it from a buyer’s perspective, since buyers are more likely to notice those scratched wood floors and single-pane windows that you haven’t thought about for years. Armed with this information, you can create a reasonably good estimate of the current market value of your home.

If you want additional help, consider hiring a professional appraiser to appraise your home. Your mortgage lender may have recommendations for you, and you may be able to offer that appraisal to prospective buyers as evidence that your home is well-priced.

Remember that pricing is an art – not a science. Many factors, including the real estate market, the condition of your home, your family’s financial situation, and the urgency of your need to sell, should all be considered when pricing your home.

Prepare and Repair

Start locating and organizing all the papers that are relevant to your home. Decide what appliances will be included with the sale and try to find the manuals and any unexpired warranties that pertain to them.

Average the seasonal electricity, gas, and water costs for your home and pair that data with the operating instructions for your HVAC system, furnace, etc. Most utility companies enable you to see your average usage online. That information can be used as a selling point, since energy efficiency is increasingly important to buyers, and energy costs can dramatically affect the true cost of owning a home.

Decide whether certain light fixtures, large furniture, or items like window coverings will be included in the sale, since you will need to make that clear to buyers. Prepare a “features” list that details any highlights of the home, when major repairs were made, and the cost of any upgrades, so that potential buyers can see the money and effort you’ve put into the home.

Get your home in top sellable condition by addressing any areas that need repair or maintenance. The front door area is a buyer’s first up close impression of the property, so make it a good one. All the door’s hardware should be in good working order and hinges greased for smooth entry.

Consider applying a fresh coat of paint to your front door in a shade that is eye-catching, but that matches the rest of the home’s exterior. Look around your neighborhood and at online design websites for inspiration and guidance on what colors are appropriate for your architectural style and community.

Make sure your lawn and plantings are trimmed, and consider adding a few seasonal touches (holiday greens, pumpkins, bright flower baskets, etc.) to make the front door area look welcoming and well-kept. A shabby roof is a major red flag to potential buyers.

Handle any readily apparent issues, such as sagging gutters or broken window panes. Prepare your interior spaces well by patching any nail holes, covering scratches with fresh paint, and repairing leaky faucets. Get carpets professionally cleaned and insure basement areas won’t turn off potential buyers by eliminating odors and cobwebs.

If you have the budget for it consider removing dated wallpaper, fixtures, or wood paneling. Rooms painted dark or bold colors can be polarizing. Repainting them more neutral hues is worth your time because they’ll appeal to more buyers. Everyone has different aesthetic preferences; you don’t want people saying no to your home because they can’t get over the orange shag carpet in the family room.

The Listing Contract

Now you should be ready to list your home for sale on OpenHomes. The listing contract enables OpenHomes to put your property on the market and make sure that as many potential buyers as possible see it. In Wisconsin and many other states the listing contract is a standard document created by the state and used by all agencies, including OpenHomes.

Listing your home on OpenHomes is an effective, affordable, and fun way to sell your home. You will be in control of the sale, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that OpenHomes’ team of professional real estate attorneys is ready to help you anytime you need assistance.


Staging Your Home

Why Stage Your Home?

Staging might seem intimidating, but basically it’s decluttering, cleaning, and arranging your house to maximize its appeal. With all the other projects on your list you might wonder if staging your home is really necessary. The truth is, in a crowded housing market staged homes are more memorable to buyers.

Buying a home is an emotional experience. By creating a welcoming atmosphere and showing the potential of your home, buyers are more likely to make that emotional connection with your home, to feel comfortable and be able to visualize themselves living there.

Finally, well-staged homes consistently sell for more money. Staging your home is an important part of selling your home, so OpenHomes has compiled the best tips for helping you take on this task successfully.

Train Your Eye

The best way to ensure that you are creating an optimally staged home is to sharpen your decorator’s eye. Take a “crash course” in home staging by touring a local model home (or if you can’t go in person, by watching some home design videos online).

Pay attention to the details that make houses feel charming: Are the rooms bright and spacious? Is the home’s temperature comfortable? Does the house smell good? Are there refreshments in the kitchen? What colors dominate the rooms and how are they used? Come prepared with a list of spaces you aren’t sure how to stage in your own home and jot notes on how a professional handled them.

For extra credit, snag a couple interior design magazines, then spend a bit of time flipping through and finding interiors you like. Examine how the designers arranged rooms similar to your own, then emulate the style using your own pieces.

Edit and Polish Your Space

This step may not be the most glamorous, but it is critical to a successfully staged house. Take this opportunity to donate or sell items your household doesn’t need anymore. This includes not only things like clothes and toys, but documents, furniture, cookware, and decorative items.

A good, aggressive rule of thumb is to try to think of getting rid of half the items you have or display, especially if you’ve lived in your home for many years. Go room by room identifying and clearing up areas that are cluttered. Tackle overstuffed closets and organize them. Half-empty closets look much bigger than overflowing ones.

Neatly pack up items you won’t need until you move into your new home and put them into storage. When you pack, include items that may be too personal or potentially controversial – no need to distract potential buyers with your family photos or an extensive taxidermy collection.

Next give your whole house a deep clean. Wipe down walls and consider giving them a fresh coat of paint. Shampoo carpets, wipe down baseboards, and dust forgotten surfaces like ceiling fan blades.

Don’t neglect the exterior: make sure all your windows are clean, walkways are cleared, and the landscaping is tidy. Cleaning will show the house at it’s best and make the space smell great. Be careful of using a lot of chemicals – many people are sensitive to their smells. Many natural cleaning products, like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda, work just as well or better than the chemical products and will not irritate potential buyers.

Arrange the Space

Arrange furniture in groupings away from the walls to make the space look larger. Open curtains and use lamps to create bright inviting spaces. Try to focus each room around one dedicated purpose, preferably the one the for which the room was originally intended.

A dining room that doubles as a home office may work great for you, but if it’s cramped it suggests to buyers that there isn’t enough space in the home.

Above all, kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. If yours are a bit tired, consider making quick inexpensive upgrades like painting the cabinetry and swapping outdated hardware and lighting. New towels, potted herbs, or an artfully arranged countertop can go a long way toward making the room more appealing.

Finally, think about your home’s curb appeal. Plant in-season flowers for a pop of color, and replace worn out entry mats. Arrange outdoor furniture in a seasonally appropriate way, like making cozy groupings around a fire pit for fall or hanging a hammock for spring & summer.

In the end, the hard part of staging your house is finding the time and elbow grease necessary to make it all happen. However, staging not only makes great financial sense in terms of increasing the value for your home, it also makes your home more pleasant to live in and gets you ready to really enjoy your next place.

This process has been so smooth and easy, so very different from the house we are purchasing. Thank you for all of your help. I have been telling everyone at work about how great OpenHomes is. Thanks again!

Tiffany from Stoughton, WI

Marketing Your Home

Some sellers worry that by not using a traditional agent they’ll miss out on secret marketing tricks. While in past generations traditional agents often spent money on print advertisements, glossy postcards, and the like, today the vast majority of buyers look for homes on the internet.

The internet is the most powerful marketing tool available to home sellers, and that is why OpenHomes is built to empower every seller to have the best marketing tools available to anyone, including professionals.

OpenHomes takes care of the heavy lifting – we ensure that your home is syndicated on your local multiple listing service and other key websites, including We provide a beautiful, professional yard sign and a lockbox so that buyers represented by agents can conveniently see your home.

We can even help you with photos, staging, and descriptions if you like. With that in mind, here are a few tips from the professional real estate agents at OpenHomes.

Think Like a Buyer

You may already be in buyer mode if you are looking for a new house while selling your current one, but chances are you are either moving to a completely different area, upgrading, or downsizing.

To successfully market your home you need to think like a buyer who will be interested in your home right now. Think back to when you purchased your home – what drew you to it initially? What stage of life were you in? Those questions will help inform your perspective.

Over 90% of buyers start shopping for their homes online, so to think like a buyer, just go to and spend some time looking at other homes for sale in your neighborhood, and those in comparable neighborhoods. Notice what pictures and descriptive words catch your eye, and how they might compare or contrast to your own home.

Make sure your home is priced competitively and see if it has attractive features that others don’t – or vice versa. By seeing your home through a buyer’s perspective you’ll be more able to effectively reach out to the people most likely to buy your house.

Pictures, or it Won’t Happen

Polished photos of your home are the most important marketing tool. An online listing with sloppy pictures is a turn-off to potential buyers. The first step to taking great pictures is to stage your home. A bright, clean and organized space is a pleasure to photograph and will show your house at it’s best. Although hiring a professional photographer is always an option for FSBO sellers, most people can take great pictures of their homes with the help of these five tips:

  1. Invest in a good digital camera and a basic tripod. The camera can be a basic point-and-shoot model, but make sure it has a reasonably high resolution.
  2. Open the blinds and turn on all lighting fixtures to create bright interior spaces. Move lamps into shadowy corners and take pictures during the brightest part of the day. For exterior shots make sure to shoot with the sun behind you to avoid dark shadows, or at dusk with all the interior lights on for a inviting look.
  3. Make sure to show depth and breadth of the rooms by avoiding taking pictures head on and try experimenting with heights other than eye-level.
  4. Take several photos of each area and review them on your computer to see exactly how they’ll look to web-surfing buyers. Use your computer’s basic editing tools to further adjust the exposure, color, and contrast.
  5. Ask interested friends or family members to look at the photos and give you feedback. A fresh set of eyes will help you pick out the highest quality shots and spot unflattering details.

In some cases less is more. You don’t need to show every nook and cranny of your home. The goal should be to provide enough detail to spark buyers‘ interest in seeing your home in person. So don’t take pictures of the laundry room or linen closet, unless they are impressive enough to delight Martha Stewart!

Think Holistically

Incorporate details about the area surrounding your home into your listing. Think about the highlights of living where you do: your walking distance to shops and restaurants, proximity to bike paths, parks, or hiking trails, or friendly neighborhood block parties and holiday parades.

Location is one of the most important factors when buyers choose a home, and the more you can do to paint a picture of the desirable aspects of yours, the better.

Engage with Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be leveraged as a powerful marketing tool for your house. OpenHomes makes it easy to share your home’s listing over these sites. Share the news that you’re selling with friends, family, and neighbors. Often those people know others who love your home or have been hoping to move into your neighborhood.

Using social media and email is also a great way to add additional content that won’t fit on traditional MLS-driven sites – like videos, extra pictures, and lists of upgrades you’ve made.

Ultimately, you can market your home just as well as any professional. And with OpenHomes helping you along the way you can do even more to sell your home quickly and affordably!

Scheduling Open Houses

The most important aspect of hosting an open house is to stay organized. Managing your calendar and arranging showings can be stressful, which is why OpenHomes has developed exclusive scheduling features that allow buyers and sellers to upload their availability and schedule showings online.

Hosting an open house is time consuming, but it can also be fun. Here are a few ways to ensure that yours is as successful as possible.

Time It Well

Timing is everything when it comes to maximizing the number of potential buyers at your open house. Weekend days are best, traditionally Sundays between noon and 4 PM. Be mindful of holidays, community events, and even big sporting games that might lower your turnout

Although it may seem like bad manners to plan your open house on the same day as others in your area, it’s actually extremely advantageous. Buyers are usually pressed for time and are far more likely to attend an open house if there’s another one nearby; all sellers in a neighborhood often benefit from increased traffic if there are several open houses that day.

Watch and Learn

If you haven’t been to an open house, go to one in your area. Pay attention to how the agent or host talks to the buyer and presents himself. Be aware of what you see when you walk through the house, and listen to the other attendees to gain insight on what buyers notice and are looking for.

Prepare for the Day

A week before your open house, put out a sign advertising your open house next to your OpenHomes yard sign. Make sure to wake up early the day of your open house to scatter directional signs throughout your neighborhood to guide potential buyers to the right place.

Convenient street parking may lure buyers to stop, so consider parking a few blocks away to make room. There should be only one person hosting the open house at a time.

Especially make sure children or pets stay safe and won’t divert your attention by arrange a play date at a friend’s home for the duration of the event. While you should have done this already when you put your home on the market, make sure you put valuables, personal items, and prescription medications away in a secure location.

Print out plenty of MLS data sheets, property condition reports, and any other information that will be helpful to buyers – OpenHomes can help you make sure all your documents are ready for buyers’ eyes.

On the morning of your open house, air out your house well (including the basement) so that it smells fresh. Make sure you close the doors and windows at least an hour beforehand if the house needs to be heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature.

Set the Mood

Think of subtle ways to appeal to your potential buyer’s senses. Play soft soothing music throughout the house to set a comfortable mood.

Gather flowers from your garden or pick up a couple of bouquets from a local florist shop. Arrange them in vases and place them strategically throughout the home so they drawn attention to the house’s best features. When a potential buyer compliments you on the flowers it gives you an opportunity to discuss the house’s lush garden or the wonderful shops near by.

Buyers will notice how the house smells, but using artificial sprays to scent the air can seem phony and can irritate those with chemical sensitivities. It’s better to rely on natural smells – cookies baking, coffee brewing, or fragrant flowers like lilacs or lilies. It’s a great idea to set out snacks, especially seasonal ones, to encourage buyers to linger and help them feel like guests.

Set out a sign-in sheet asking for the people’s names and contact information. Once the open house is finished, you can call or send a thank-you email to everyone who attended. Make sure no one leaves empty handed by placing a stack of informational sheets about your property on the kitchen counter or by the door.

When Buyers Arrive

Make each attendee feel welcome by cheerfully greeting them, briefly letting them know you are available to answer any questions, and then allowing them to tour the home by themselves, at their own pace. Buyers need freedom to imagine themselves in the home and to speak candidly with one another about their impressions, so avoid lingering nearby or offer your own opinions.

Think of difficult questions buyers may ask and prepare tactful ways to address them. Be prepared for people who’ll show up just to look without any intensions of buying – having buyers see lots of traffic at an open house is a good thing and will encourage the serious ones to make an offer quickly.

Remember that you are a reflection of your home, so be warm, inviting, clean, and ready to help your prospective buyers!

Managing Offers

Hooray! You’ve received an offer on your home! All that hard work may be paying off.

An offer is a legal document – a contract to purchase your house, with specified conditions and at a specified price. While the price is important, there are many other elements to an offer that sellers should consider before accepting.

Fortunately, in Wisconsin, all offers to purchase should come on a standard State of Wisconsin form called the WB-11, so it’s easy to review and compare.

When you get an offer, you have three options: accept it, counter it, or reject it. The experts at OpenHomes created step-by-step guide to help you think through those considerations and decide how to respond.

You Got an Offer, Now What?

Most offers have expiration dates. The first thing you need to look for is to see how long you have to respond to an offer (see Page 1, Line 28 of the offer’s WB-11 form). Basic offers have several components:

  1. Key terms: the price, what’s included or not (i.e., appliances, window treatments), the closing date, and who pays for what at closing.
  2. Contingencies: these are conditions that must be met for the buyer to move forward with purchasing the property. The most common contingencies are inspection, testing (for radon, mold, or well water, etc.), appraisal, financing, and sale of buyer’s home. Because each contingency allows the buyer to raise objections and cancel the contract generally, the more contingencies, the less solid an offer is. Each contingency should have an expiration date and should outline what either party must do to satisfy, waive, or invoke it.
  3. Additional documents: there are often additional documents that may accompany an offer. The most common ones are the following:
    • Lender’s letter: Buyers often include a letter or other documentation from a prospective lender stating that they are able to afford a house or obtain mortgage financing. This is one way a buyer can demonstrate that he or she is serious about finding a home, and if this doesn’t accompany the offer, it’s a good idea to request one. Read the terms of the letter, a buyer being “Pre-approved” or “Pre-qualified” mean very different things. Pre-approved means that the lender has verified the buyer’s income, credit score, assets and liabilities, where as pre-qualified only indicates the amount that a buyer might be able to borrow based only on what the buyer has told the lender.
    • Property condition report: in Wisconsin, buyers should ideally receive the seller’s property condition report before making an offer, and they should initial it and include with the offer. Anything that is disclosed in the property condition report cannot be raised later during the inspection as something the seller needs to fix., provided the offer was made after you provided the buyer with the report. If the buyer has not included an initialed property condition report, you must get it to him or her within 10 days, and the buyer may be able to rescind or modify their offer based on what is disclosed.
    • Lead paint disclosure: similar to the property condition report, if your home was built before 1978, you should have a completed lead paint disclosure that the buyer (as well as all agents involved in the transaction) sign. This becomes part of the offer.

Evaluating Multiple Offers

In some markets, or after a successful open house, it’s not unusual to receive offers from multiple buyers at once. You must avoid the knee-jerk reaction of looking only at the highest offer price.

If that offer has many contingencies (especially if the buyer has to sell her home), requires repairs or upgrades, or specifies an inconvenient timeline for closing, the deal may end up costing more than a simpler but lower priced one.

Go through each offer thoroughly and stay organized by creating a spreadsheet that will allow you to compare them easily. OpenHomes is here to help you weigh the pros and cons of each offer. Sellers can counter multiple buyers at a time using a special form called the WB-46.

Ultimately the hassle of handling multiple offers at once is a pretty great problem to have.

How to Negotiate

If you choose to counteroffer, it’s time to engage your negotiating skills. Again, OpenHomes can assist you in thinking through any aspects of this negotiation.

The first rule is that any verbal communications you have with buyers and their agents are not binding. When you are ready to counter you should do it in writing on the WB-44 or WB-46 form. It’s fine to include information about comparable sales in the neighborhood, or upgrades you’ve made, to strengthen your negotiating position and help the buyer see your home’s true value.

Sometimes buyers or agents will also make their case for a lower price by bringing up another house nearby that recently sold for less. If you know ways in which your house differs from that house (i.e., extra bathroom, finished basement, renovated kitchen), you will be in a solid position to ask for a higher price.

Remember that each offer and counteroffer should ideally bring you and the buyer closer to a fair compromise that will satisfy both of your needs.

Potential buyers may offer you far less than your home is worth with the initial offer, which can be insulting. But remember – it’s not personal. They’re trying to get the best deal, just as you are with your asking price. There is no “right price” for a home, so it’s often worth it to counter with a fair price to see if they’ll make an offer that is closer to your price.


Some homeowners may have fully paid off the mortgage on their current home by the time they plan to sell, but most still owe some amount on their property when they put it on the market. At closing, the title company will ensure that all the funds from the buyer and the buyer’s lender are disbursed properly to the seller, the seller’s lender, and anyone else who is owed money from the sale of the home (real estate transfer tax, closing fees, etc.). OpenHomes will guide you through the basics of mortgages and how they relate to selling your home.

Mortgages 101

When you bought your home, chances are that you put down some of your own money as a “down payment,” and borrowed the rest from a credit union or bank – a “mortgage lender.”

Over time, you’ve been paying off both the principal (the original amount you borrowed), and the interest that your lender charges on your mortgage loan. The longer you live in the house, paying your mortgage, the more you chip away at the principal, and the less you owe your lender.

When you decide to sell your home the first step is to contact your lender and ask for your current mortgage payoff amount. They will tell you the full amount you’d need to pay if you sold your home today, which is different from what you’d pay if you continued paying it off over your current amortization schedule (generally 30 years).

The payoff amount is how much you’ll need to “net” from the sale of your home to fully pay back your lender. If you sell your current home for less than that amount, you will owe your bank or credit union the difference. If you sell it for more than the payoff amount, minus costs of the transaction, you’ll end up with some profit.

Many people have more than one loan on their home. You may have taken out a second mortgage, a home equity loan, or line of credit, that either paid for home repairs, or to transfer some of the equity in your home into cash. Remember that you will need to pay off all of the outstanding loans which are secured by your home at the time of its sale, so include these in your calculations of how much you’ll need when you sell.

Rapid Relocation Economics

Sometimes homeowners need to move into their next property before they’ve had time to sell their first. While this arrangement has distinct benefits, it can be financially draining.

Before you begin looking for a home, talk to a credit union or bank in your area about whether you can afford another mortgage if you still owe money on your existing home. If possible, make sure to get pre-approved for a loan, since many sellers will only want to deal with buyers who are financially able to buy their home.

Second mortgages are more difficult to get since they are more fiscally risky for the lender. Remember, you will also need a downpayment on your next home, so think about what you’ll be able to afford if you don’t sell your home first.

Many lenders offer shorter term loans, often called “bridge” loans, that can help you finance a new home while you wait for your existing home to sell. These loans usually come with hefty interest rate and have dire consequences like losing your home if you default, so carefully consider the feasibility and costs before taking this route.

Even if you are approved for a second mortgage and have a downpayment plan, consider alternatives such as renting before moving forward.

Short Sales

One of the most stressful mortgage woes is owing the bank more money than the property is currently worth. Sometimes a seller can cover this cost if they’re financially secure and have the savings to pay the difference at closing. If not, some sellers may be able to qualify for a short sale, which is were the lender will discount the total amount needed to pay off the mortgage.

Short sales are generally preferred over foreclosures by sellers and lenders because they save both parties time and money. If you find you owe more than your property is worth, contact your lender to see what can be arranged.

How Much Can I Afford?

The most important rule of financing the purchase of a home is that you should never borrow more than you can afford. Remember that, although owning a home can be a great investment, especially over the long term, homes also cost money (not to mention time and energy) to maintain.

New federal guidelines aim to protect consumers from predatory or unfair lending practices. To qualify for protection against consumer lawsuits, lenders must follow new criteria outlined by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The criteria lenders must use in determining whether borrowers may receive a “qualified mortgage” are as follows:

  • Income and assets sufficient to repay the loan
  • Documented employment
  • Minimum credit scores
  • Able to afford monthly payments
  • Able to afford other debts and home-related expenses associated with the property
  • Consider other obligations, such as student loans, other loans, and consumer debt

If some of these criteria are not met, a buyer may still be able to get a qualified mortgage if the monthly payments are not more than 43% of the buyer’s income before taxes.

While these guidelines are a good starting point for calculating what you can afford, they are only meant to protect against the most dire financial consequences.

When you consider how much to borrow, you want to also consider your lifestyle and spending habits. Do you want all of your spare cash to go towards a mortgage? How much cushion do you need every month for smaller unplanned expenses?

Think about how your family would manage financially if an unexpected event were to occur, like a job loss, injury, or major unplanned expense. Home ownership shouldn’t strain your family’s finances to the point where you’d be unable to manage other financial priorities in your life.


Always Be Closing

Closing refers to the day when all parties gather to sign the final documents that transfer ownership of the house from seller to buyer. The closing process happens over a period of weeks or months, starting when the buyer and seller agree to a contract.

Both buyers and sellers have responsibilities during this period, and mistakes can delay the closing date, cost extra time and money, or even jeopardize the sale.

As always, OpenHomes’ attorneys are available to help you throughout this process, anytime you need it. But to give you a basic understanding of this process, here are the basics you should know about getting to closing.

Accepted Offer

When you and the buyer have both agreed to the same documents (usually an Offer to Purchase, with additional documents or a counter-offer), you have an accepted offer. It is a binding contract, meaning that neither of you can back out unless you have a valid reason set forth in the contract to do so.

The contract generally specifies a closing date, usually 1-3 months from the offer date, although the actual closing can always be changed by mutual agreement. While buyers are generally responsible for most of the tasks, there are a few things sellers can do to make sure everything is ready for closing.

During this period, if a buyer has included any contingencies in the offer, s/he must move to satisfy them or waive them by their deadlines. Most commonly, the buyer must get his or her financing commitment, which generally requires an appraisal, and sometimes additional inspections or testing, depending on the lender.

The seller must make the house available to the buyer and his or her representatives for these purposes. In most cases, if a buyer fails to act by the deadline, that contingency disappears. If the buyer has included any repairs or conditions in the offer, the seller must take care of those items during this period.

Title Insurance and Escrow

The seller is generally also responsible for selecting and paying for the title insurance company (although this is negotiable), which often acts as escrow agent and hosts the actual closing at its office. Basically, the title company acts as a third party that collects and holds the funds pertaining to the sale of your home.

OpenHomes can help you choose a title company and make sure that everything is ready for closing. For instance, OpenHomes will hold the buyer’s earnest money in our trust account, and we will forward it to the title company or escrow agent in time for closing.

In addition, the title company is responsible for checking the property records to make sure that property can be conveyed and that their are no outstanding claims or liens against the property. The seller is responsible for delivering proof to the buyer that the title is “clear,” generally done through a title insurance policy.

If you still have the title insurance policy from when you purchased your home, you can often get a discount on the new policy when you sell. Ask your title insurance company about this.

Inspections and Testing

These are the most common contingencies that buyers include in their offer. An inspector will conduct a visual inspection of the accessible areas of the house (no opening up walls or ducts) and will go through a checklist to see that things are in working order.

Inspectors may look at the roof, foundation, siding, windows, electrical system, plumbing, mechanicals, and other aspects of your home. Then s/he will produce a report for the buyer with his or her opinions about the condition of the home.

Following inspection, the buyer may give you a copy of the report and ask you to repair or replace certain items, or to lower the sale price. You can agree to some or all of these changes, but the buyer has the right to walk away if they provide notice of defect before the inspection contingency expires.

In some cases, the inspection may result in a smaller, secondary negotiation about who pays for what.

Similar to an inspection, some buyers request testing for particular substances or systems in their offers. Common testing requests include radon, mold, termites, water quality, septic system, or lead.

Any tests must be specifically agreed to in the contract, and like inspection, if a buyer gets an unsatisfactory result, s/he may be able to walk away or request remediation, depending on the terms of your contract.

Any changes that are made to the contract must be agreed to in writing, by both parties in the form of an amendment or a notice. As a seller, you can minimize the risk of buyers claiming defects or problems with your home in a few ways – first of all, make any needed repairs before listing your house, and second, disclose all defects or issues on the property condition report.

Buyers may not claim defects for things they were aware of when they made the offer.

Financing and Appraisal

The other common contingency in an offer is financing. The buyer has the responsibility to deliver a financing commitment to the seller by the specified deadline.

If the buyer cannot obtain financing at the terms set forth in the contract, s/he must provide documentation that financing was unavailable (generally, a rejection letter from a lender). In some cases, sellers may be willing to act as the lender and finance the deal themselves – but this is an advanced option that should not be considered lightly.

Along with the ability for the buyer to get a loan, most lenders require an appraisal (at the buyer’s expense) to ensure that if the buyer defaults on the loan, the lender will be able to sell the house and cover the loss.

Therefore, offers that include financing contingencies often contain separate appraisal contingencies – but they are independent of each other. If the appraisal comes back at less than the sales price, the buyer may try to get you to agree to lower the price.

Remember that the lender’s guidelines may not require that the appraisal be at or above the purchase price – it may only need to be at or above the amount borrowed. This situation is best prevented by making sure the home is priced correctly from the beginning.

Seller Preparation for Closing

Sellers often feel that their major task between an accepted offer and closing is to pack and get ready to move! While this is important, remember that every time a buyer comes to your home – whether to measure rooms, complete the inspection, or walk through, s/he is seeing it again and considering how much s/he wants to buy it.

That means keeping your home clean, organized, and attractive is important even during this period, especially while there are outstanding contingencies that a buyer could use to walk away from the sale.

Thirty days before the closing date notify all utility companies of the final date you’ll be paying for service. Don’t forget to cancel any service contracts you may have, such as lawn care or snow removal. Submit a change of address form to the post office, by mail or online, here:

Closing Statement

In the week or two before closing, you need to carefully review the closing statement (also called a HUD-1) from the title company or escrow agent. This document details the flow of money at closing – everything the buyer and his lender will pay, and everything you will pay, and what you will receive.

The responsibility for the various fees, costs, and taxes are outlined in the contract you have with the buyer. Make sure that the amounts are correct, and don’t hesitate to call your title company or your lender if you have any questions about this document.

OpenHomes receives our 1% commission for helping you sell your home at closing, so our fee will be included on this statement, as will all other closing costs.

Final Walk-Through

Generally within three days prior to closing, the buyer will schedule a walk-through of your home. This is the last step before meeting at closing. It is ideal, though not required, if you have moved out by this point, but in any case, you want to make sure that you have set aside basic cleaning supplies so that the house is “swept clean” for the final walk-through and closing.

If you have agreed to transfer certain items with the property (appliances, window coverings, etc.), make sure you have left them where they belong! If you have made repairs or upgrades, you can note that for the buyer.

Make sure you leave garage door openers and passcodes for the buyer, and if you have manuals or instructions or warranties for appliances or mechanicals, leave those as well. The more organized and thorough you are, the more confident the buyers will feel about their decision to purchase your home.

If there has been damage to the home or if the property is not prepared for closing, the buyer can delay closing. Although it is difficult for buyers to break the deal at this stage, you’ll want everyone to feel satisfied that the terms of the purchase contract have been met by the closing date.

Unless you and the buyer have agreed to a different occupancy date, you need to have fully vacated the property by the closing date.

The Closing

On the closing date, the seller and buyer (as well as their lenders or other professionals representing either party) meet at the agreed upon location to formally transfer title to the property. Your title company or escrow agent should give you a list of anything you may need to bring (such as a cashier’s check if you have expenses that exceed the sales price).

In general, bring your photo identification, the home’s deed, and all copies of keys or passcodes belonging to the property. Be prepared for plenty of signing!

When both the seller and the buyer have signed all the necessary paperwork to transfer the property and handle any mortgages or loans, the closing officer will distribute checks to any parties receiving funds from the sale, and make sure the buyer receives the keys to the property.

After the closing, the deed with the new owners’ names will be sent to the proper governmental authority for recording, generally the county Register of Deeds. Make sure to keep the records of the sale, closing documents, and any improvements you made to the property, in case you need them when it’s time to file your taxes.

Then take a deep breath, relax, and congratulate yourself on selling your home with OpenHomes!