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The Complete First Time Seller Guide: 30 Days to Selling Your Home

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

As a first-time Seller, there’s a LOT you need to know. And do.

Below, you’ll find a step-by-step process to selling your home. And don’t worry if you don’t have a 30-day lead-time…we often accomplish all of this in just a few weeks.

Note: Some things have changed (temporarily, we hope) during the pandemic. For the latest on what to expect when selling during COVID-19, click here.

Don’t feel like reading this whole guide? That’s OK – get in touch and we’d be happy to take you through everything you need to know. We love working with first-time Sellers!

Day 1: Get to Know the Real Estate Market

You’ll want to start the process by getting an understanding of the real estate market.

  • How much do homes like yours sell for?

  • How long do they usually take to sell?

  • Have interest rates changed recently?

  • Are there any new government or bank rules affecting Buyer motivation?

There are tons of great online resources to help you understand the current market conditions (including this website and blog, of course).

Day 2: Research REALTORS

Being a first time Seller can be stressful, and it helps if you’ve got an experienced REALTOR by your side. You’ll want to engage an agent’s help ASAP, to make sure you can take advantage of all of the services they offer. When it comes to picking your REALTOR, you should:

  • Ask your friends and colleagues. There’s nothing like having first-hand knowledge about an agent’s services and expertise.

  • Search online. Before you schedule any appointments, take the time to visit the agent’s website. It’s a great reflection of the kind of marketing you can expect when they sell your home, and you’ll be able to see what services they provide and how they’re different than the other 55,000 agents in Toronto.

  • Read reviews. You’ll find real estate agent reviews on Google, Yelp, Zillow, Real Satisfied and Facebook. If you’re like most people, you already research restaurants, hotels, cars and appliances, so you already know what to look for: the number of reviews vs the competition, overall ratings and trends in reviewer comments.

Once you’ve short-listed the agents you think you might want to work with, it’s time to schedule the interviews. Most agents will want to meet at your home and will spend 45 minutes to one hour touring your home, asking questions and discussing their experience and approach to selling a home.

Day 3: Talk to Your Mortgage Lender

Didn’t expect to see this in a First Time Seller Guide, did you?

Talk to the bank or lender who currently holds your mortgage. Ask about:

  • Mortgage portability – It’s unlikely that the closing date of the sale of your existing home will match the end of the term on your mortgage. For example, three years ago, you took out a 5-year mortgage at 2.8% and still owe $600,000. Are you able to take the $600K mortgage at that rate for two years and apply it to a new home purchase? What if you now need an $800K mortgage and interest rates are 3.5%? (Pro tip: most traditional banks allow you to port your mortgage for 90 days and ‘blend-and-extend’. They essentially combine the $600K mortgage for the remaining two years at 2.8% and add in the $200K at 3.5%.)

  • Penalties – What penalties will you have to pay if you have to break your mortgage early? If you aren’t buying another home or aren’t allowed to port your mortgage, the penalty can be substantial.

  • Mortgage assumption – If interest rates have gone up considerably since you took out that 5-year mortgage three years ago, the new Buyer for your home might be interested in taking over your mortgage (assuming you don’t want to port it). Mortgage assumptions can save you penalty fees and if rates have changed enough, assuming your mortgage might be an attractive option for the new Buyer. If you’re selling and buying another home, now is the time to find out how much extra mortgage you can afford and get pre-approved for a mortgage. There’s no sense in preparing your home for sale if you aren’t going to be able to afford the upgrade you want to make.

  • Bridge financing – Can you take possession of your new home before your existing home closes? Do you qualify for bridge financing?

Day 4: Hire a REALTOR Experienced with Helping First-Time Sellers

It’s time to interview REALTORS to help you with the sale. Make sure to ask about:

  • Their experience and expertise

  • Their track record with helping first-time Sellers

  • Any staging services they provide or recommend

  • How they market a home online and offline

  • Any additional inclusions: cleaning, pre-listing home inspections, handyman services, free furniture rentals, etc.

  • What kind of help they can provide during the home preparation phase

  • Commission rates

  • References

  • If you’re also buying: what’s their experience in your new target neighbourhood?

Remember…you get what you pay for. The REALTOR you choose to hire will impact how much you sell your home for and the experience you have as a Seller. It’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a first-time Seller.

Once you’ve picked your REALTOR, you’ll likely be asked to sign some initial listing paperwork. The contract will confirm the commission rate and inclusions and will solidify your relationship so that your agent can get to work.

Day 5: Decide If You’re Going to Buy or Sell First

Now that you’ve talked to at least one REALTOR, you should have a better idea of whether to buy or sell first. You’ll want to consider:

  • If you sell first, where will you live if you can’t find another home to buy? Where will you store your things?

  • Will the bank let you buy if you haven’t sold your home?

  • If the closing dates aren’t the same, will the bank give you bridge financing? How much will that cost?

  • In the current market, will it be easier to sell your home or buy a new one?

  • How much emotional uncertainty can you handle?

  • What’s your worst-case scenario?

Related: Read more about whether you should buy or sell first.

Day 6: Prep Your Paperwork

Your REALTOR is going to be doing a lot of prep work before your home hits the market and will be asking for:

  • Utility bills

  • Tax bills

  • Details of any renovations or improvements

  • Rental contracts

  • Warranties

  • Mortgage details

  • Survey (if you have one)

  • List of any ongoing issues with the home (or past issues you might need to disclose)

If you own a condo, you’ll also want to:

  • Gather details about maintenance fees and what’s included

  • Read the minutes from the last AGM package and any correspondence you’ve received from the board. Are they planning an increase in maintenance fees? Are they considering a special assessment? Are there any pending lawsuits? Planned maintenance or renovations?

Day 7: Pick the Rest of Your Team

Selling your home is a team effort. In addition to hiring a real estate agent, you may also need to hire:

  • People to help get your home ready for sale (handymen, painters, gardeners, etc.

  • Stagers (this might be provided/paid for by your REALTOR)

  • Professional cleaners

  • Home inspector (if you’re planning on providing a pre-listing home inspection)

  • Real estate lawyer

Day 8: How Much Will It Cost To Sell?

Make sure to plan for ALL of the expenses related to being a first-time Seller:

  • Home preparation costs (home service pros, cleaners, Stagers)

  • Off-site storage (if necessary)

  • Pre-listing home inspection (if your agent isn’t paying for it)

  • Status certificate (if you live in a condo – many agents pay for this so check first)

  • Real estate commission (plus HST)

  • Legal fees (plus HST)

  • Mortgage penalties or bridging costs

  • Moving costs

Good news: the Buyer pays all of the land transfer taxes in Toronto/Ontario.

Related: Read more about costs to sell your home.

Day 9: Make a Copy of Your Keys

Most agents use lockboxes to be able to securely provide the key to your home to the agents who will be showing it to potential Buyers. Make a copy of your key! It’ll come in handy for coordinating cleaners and Stagers too.

Day 10: Make a List of The Little Fixes

I know, you’ve been avoiding the Honey-Do list for a long time…now is the time to get it done. Make a plan to fix that leaky faucet, repair the crack in the ceiling, re-caulk the bathtub and replace that missing doorknob. First-time Buyers can be easily scared off by the little things and tend to exaggerate how much the fixes will cost. Make a list of all things that need fixing and talk to your REALTOR. Pro tip: It’s easy to go overboard on this step, so always get guidance from your agent before you spend any money.

Looking for an expert opinion? We’d love to help sell your Toronto or GTA home and the sooner we get involved, the better. You can contact us here.

Day 11: Make a List of The Bigger Things You Need To Tackle

To make your home look its best, you might be planning on painting a few rooms, changing out some light fixtures or changing out the icky carpet. Make a list of and check in with your REALTOR.

If your agent is bringing in a professional Stager, this is around the time they’ll come in to perform a staging consultation. They’ll give you a very specific list of what to declutter, depersonalize and update.

Shameless self-promo: our staging team is one of the best in the city and staging is included in our core services.

If you aren’t bringing in a professional Stager, you’ll want to make a plan to make the most of your current furniture and accessories (but recognize that you might be leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table).

Day 12: Closets, Cupboards, Decluttering and Depersonalizing

Now it’s time to get real about preparing your home for sale.

Today: empty one-half of the items in your closets and cupboards. The last thing you want to communicate to a potential Buyer is that your home has a shortage of space. Potential Buyers will look in your closets, so hang and fold anything that remains. Bonus points for organizing by colour. They’ll also look in your bathroom and kitchen cupboards, so get rid of anything embarrassing and aim to reduce the contents by half.

Foyer, bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, den, basement…they all need a solid decluttering. You’ll also want to put away any personal photos and mementoes: the goal is to get the Buyer to see themselves living in your home..not for them to look at your vacation photos.

I know what you’re thinking…I can’t possibly get my house prepped in a day! You’re probably right. But don’t worry…there are still a few weeks left before your home gets listed for sale.

Day 13: Get a Storage Locker

You might be able to store your clutter and closet contents in your basement or garage but remember: Buyers will be snooping there too. Consider renting an off-site storage locker for a month or two. Better yet: rent a portable storage container that you fill at your existing house. Portable storage containers then get carted offsite and delivered to your new home. Easy peasy.

Day 14: Donate and Sell Unwanted Items

You’ve likely accumulated things in your current home that you don’t want to move to your new home. Host a garage sale, sell your unwanted items on Facebook or Craigslist or donate to a charity.

Related: We prepared a guide for donating unwanted items here.

Day 15: Make a Plan For The Pets and Kids

I know you love them, but cats and dogs find the home selling process stressful. What dog wants a bunch of strangers in their house? How many cats will be ok if their litter box gets relocated to the closet?

Having to get out of your home on short notice to accommodate showings is never any fun, but that gets exponentially worse if you’ve got kids. Read more about selling with pets and kids below:

Day 16: First Time Seller Education: The Paperwork

It’s Day 16 – you’re more than half-way there! I know you’re probably still busy getting your house or condo ready for sale, but it’s time to start your education. Ask your REALTOR to send you copies of all the forms and paperwork so you can start becoming familiar with them. Your agent should be able to provide you with the non-legalese English versions of the paperwork too. In Ontario, you’ll be signing:

  • Working with a REALTOR (explains the ways that real estate agents can represent Buyers and Sellers)

  • Listing Agreement (contains all the terms of your agreement with your REALTOR)

  • FINTRAC (government-mandated ID verification form for the prevention of money laundering)

  • MLS Data Agreement (contains all the details about your home for the MLS)

  • Agreement of Purchase & Sale (this is the boilerplate agreement – the actual offer you sign will contain additional clauses, so make sure to review it again carefully before you accept an offer)

  • Confirmation of Cooperation (this outlines the commission agreement between your agent and the agent who represents the Buyer)

You might also be asked to sign:

  • A Staging Contract (if staging is provided by your agent)

  • Seller’s Direction Re: Offers (your preferences regarding offers – for example, an offer date)

  • Lockbox Authorization Form

  • Open House Authorization Form

  • SPIS (Seller Property Information Statement) – these aren’t used in Toronto much anymore

Day 17: First-Time Seller Education: Current Market Conditions

As a first-time Seller, it’s probably been a while since you’ve paid attention to the real estate market.

Talk to your REALTOR: What’s happening in the market right now? Are homes like yours getting bidding wars? If so, how much over asking are they selling for? How many offers did the house 5 doors over get on Monday? Are homes stagnating on the market? How many days will it likely take you to sell? Ask your agent for an updated list of homes in your neighbourhood that are for sale right now and those that have sold in the last two weeks.

Day 18: Keep Going With The Home Prep!

I know this isn’t fun, but the effort you put into preparing your home for sale will pay off with money in the bank. Don’t forget to:

  • Ensure all the light bulbs are working

  • Clear off your kitchen counters

  • Put away grooming products in the bathroom

  • Organize the basement and garage

  • Get the windows cleaned

  • Have the carpets professionally cleaned

  • Remove scuff marks from your walls

Day 19: First-Time Seller Education: Showings, Appointments & Offers

Talk to your agent about what to expect when agents make appointments to see your home. How much notice will you get? How long will showings be? How many showings should you expect? Will your agent be hosting open houses?

While your REALTOR should carefully walk you through the offer process and what to expect, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how it works. Research:

  • In-person offers vs. offers over email

  • The process for a normal offer, a bidding war and a bully offer

  • The negotiation options (accept/counter-offer/decline)

  • Your own agent’s style and preferences

Also: If you didn’t familiarize yourself with the Agreement of Purchase & Sale on Day 16, do it now.

Day 20: First-Time Seller Education: Conditions

Come offer time, you’ll also need to be familiar with the types of conditions an offer might contain. These are the most common conditions you’ll see as a first time Seller:

  1. Financing Condition – a condition that allows a Buyer to back out of the sale if they don’t obtain financing (usually 3-5 days long in Toronto).

  2. Home Inspection Condition – a condition that allows the Buyer to perform a home inspection and back out of the sale if it isn’t satisfactory to them (usually 1-5 days, depending on market conditions)

  3. Status Certificate Review Condition – a condition that allows a condo Buyer to have the condominium status certificate reviewed by their lawyer – usually the certificate must be provided within ten business days, and the lawyer has 1-3 days to review.

  4. Sale of Property Condition (very rare in Toronto) – allows the Buyer to back out of a sale if they aren’t able to sell their existing home within a certain period.

Day 21: First-Time Seller Education: Closing

Closing day is the day the new Buyer takes possession of your home (and you get paid!). Things to be ready for:

  • Leaving your property clean

  • Removing all your belongings

  • Ensuring your appliance, furnace and air-conditioning are in good working order (unless otherwise specified in your agreement)

  • Providing your home to the new Buyer in the same condition it was in when they purchased it

  • Leaving all your keys with your lawyer

  • Disconnecting your utilities and cable

Some REALTORS (including us) provide a Moving Concierge to help you organize your move, including dealing with utility and cable companies on your behalf.

Day 22: Front and Back Yards

Buyers make quick assessments of a home, and the condition of the front and back yards is critical. You’ll want to consider:

  • Cleaning the soot, moss and grime from walkways and decks

  • Freshening up the paint on the door, railings and front porch

  • Making sure your front steps are in great condition

  • Replacing the mailbox and house numbers

  • Cutting the grass, weeding the garden, planting some flowers, investing in some planters

  • Cleaning the outside of your BBQ and getting a new cover for it

  • Cleaning your patio furniture and investing in some new throw pillows

Remember: a Stager’s job extends beyond the inside of your home. Staging front and back yards is one of our Stagers’ favourite things to do (and remember: we include staging in our commission).

Day 23: First Time Seller Smart Strategy: Staging

Your home will get staged up to one week before it’s listed for sale. You’ll need to have all of your prep work done before the Stagers arrive, and it will need to be generally clean. Plan to be away while the staging takes place and take your pets with you.

Seeing your home for the first time post-staging is emotional. Some people fall back in love and wish they could stay and some people miss all of the things that made their house or condo feel like home. Both are okay. Remember: eye on the prize.

Related: A Staging FAQ

Day 24: Cleaning

Many REALTORS (including us) will send in professional cleaners for a final clean before photography. The goal is to make the home as bright and shiny as possible.

Day 25: Photography/Floor Plans

Hopefully, you’ve hired an agent who is bringing in a professional photographer vs taking the photos themselves. Photos will almost certainly be the first thing potential Buyers see when they are searching for a home online and are your first opportunity to wow them.

Hopefully, your agent is also getting floor plans completed. Floor plans are highly desired by Buyers and help in marketing your property.

Day 26: Pre-listing Home Inspection

If you’re providing a pre-listing home inspection to potential Buyers, make sure to schedule it a few days before you plan to be officially on the market. That’ll give you time to fix any small things that the home inspector identifies and will help you account for any big things in your asking price.

Day 27: Weigh-in On The Marketing

If you’ve picked a great REALTOR, they should be excellent marketers. The best agents work with professional designers and copywriters and invest in digital marketing. If you haven’t already, ask your agent for the specific details of how and where they will be marketing your home. It’s OK to ask to see the photos and copy for the feature sheets and MLS description.

Day 28: Decide On Pricing Strategy

Should you price high and negotiate? Price low and plan for a bidding war? Price at market value and hope for the best?

As a first-time Seller, you’ll want to have a conversation with your agent about pricing strategy a few days before your listing goes live on the market. At this point, you should know which homes you’ll be competing with and what’s been happening in your neighbourhood during the last few weeks.

In addition to pricing strategy, you’ll need to decide on the asking price, which will set an anchor for potential Buyers.

Day 29: Sign the Final Listing Paperwork

You’re almost there! If anything has changed since you first signed the paperwork (for example, the asking price), you’ll need to sign/initial the listing agreement. You’ll also need to sign off on the MLS Data Form. Read it carefully! Mistakes in MLS can hurt your sale. Make sure:

  • Your home is listed in the right neighbourhood

  • The lot size is right

  • The parking situation is correctly indicated

  • The listing includes the right number of bedrooms, baths

  • There aren’t any feature errors (e.g. ‘granite counters’ instead of “butcher block” or “hardwood floors” instead of “laminate”)

Day 30: Last Minute Overview

You’ve worked hard this month…congrats! Take a final tour through your home and try to picture it through the eyes of a Buyer. Do you love it? Did you miss anything? Now take a deep breath and get ready to sell your home!

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