A lot more goes into selling a Chicago home than putting up a “For Sale” sign and hoping that potential buyers come flocking to your door. Getting top dollar for your home while protecting yourself from any future problems involves time and effort, planning and strategy, knowledge, and expertise.

The process of selling a house is a journey with many steps. Each one plays a vital role in the outcome of that journey. Knowing what is involved beforehand can help pave the way to success.

Here are the key steps to selling a house in Chicago:

Pick the right listing agent

Just like you can represent yourself in court without an attorney, you can try to sell your home without an agent. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. As with lawyers, experienced real estate agents have the training, knowledge, and insights to develop and implement the strategy most likely to accomplish your goals.

Your agent will be your ally, your advisor, and your advocate throughout the process. Ask your family and friends for their referrals based on positive selling experiences, or search online for top-rated Chicago real estate agents. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, interview at least three agents who have solid track records and who demonstrate that they know your neighborhood and the current market. In a city like Chicago where there are 77 distinct neighborhoods (soon to be 78!), it pays to work with someone highly familiar with your specific area. They will know exactly which neighborhood amenities to highlight, what buyers in the area are looking for, and how homes nearby compare to yours. You should also ask for your prospective agent’s track record in terms of recently sold homes – how fast did they sell and what percentage of asking price did they receive?

Most top producing agents will provide a portfolio of digital marketing services at no additional cost but don’t expect the same level of care when hiring a discount broker. No matter how low the commission is, move on if you encounter any cell phone photos on their previous listings.

After you select your agent, be prepared to sign a listing agreement that outlines commissions and listing fees, along with a series of disclosures (lead-based paint, real property, radon, heating/gas) that will eventually be signed off by the buyer.

Learn what your house is worth

As part of determining your home’s value, your agent will provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA). This is similar to an appraisal in the sense that the listing agent will often visit your home, evaluate its condition and upgrades, and then compare it to similar, recently homes sold in the neighborhood. We will do our best to get you the biggest return on investment, but we also want to be realistic as to avoid a stale listing from initially overpricing.

You don’t want to sell yourself short when selling your home, but you also don’t want to list it at a price that makes no sense in the context of comparable houses or the state of the market. Work with your agent to understand how much your home is worth now and how much you could sell it for after you make any needed repairs or improvements. That will give you a realistic sense of a good listing price range.

Prepare your home to sell

You want to put your best face forward when selling your home. The more appealing it looks to prospective buyers – inside and out – the higher the price you can hope to get in the least amount of time. If you have a specific sales price in mind that differs from our current valuation based on comparable sales, we might recommend several cost-effective, yet impactful, upgrades that can attract higher and better offers. If you don’t have the capital available for renovations and repairs, our Compass Concierge service will cover the upfront costs – you keep the profits.

Preparing your house for sale can involve repairs and structural improvements, anything from a fresh coat of paint to fixing cracks in walls to new windows to planting new flowers or laying sod. Focus on high-visibility and high-traffic areas where you will get the most bang for your buck. A pre-listing home inspection can help you identify problems likely to give potential buyers pause or reduce your listing price. You should also clean and declutter your home so it looks spacious and open when buyers visit virtually or in person.

Pre-market your home, if necessary

If you’re not quite ready to go on the market but want to test the market while upgrading, some agents will premarket your home. The benefit of an off-market listing is to get the word out about your listing early on without increasing your days on the market, and potentially selling faster to expedite the selling process. Many agents in Chicago list pre-market homes on the Private Listing Network (PLN), a section of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Z Chicago specifically also lists pre-market homes on Top Agent Network (TAN), a database restricted to the top 10% of agents in Chicago.

Put your home on the market

Your listing is your home’s introduction to the world. It is the first thing most buyers and their agents will see when deciding which homes they will consider further and which they will cross off their list. In fact, 50% of homebuyers in 2018 first found their home online, according to the National Association of Realtors.

A good agent will know the best selling points and craft a listing with powerful and appealing descriptions designed to attract the largest number of buyers. In addition, they should provide professional photography and virtual staging as part of their commission. Our team’s professional photographer can create Instagram-worthy images to make your listing stand out among the thousands of others that are just a click away. With our virtual home selling services program, we’re also able to create 3d Matterport tours so that buyers can walk through your home from the comfort of theirs, reducing unnecessary showings. This is particularly important right now when staying home is top priority for most Chicagoans.

Show your home

As great as your pictures may be, they are no substitute for an in-person visit. Be prepared for prospective buyers to visit your home. Your agent may suggest visits by appointment, open houses, a lockbox that buyer’s agents can use, or a combination of methods. Ultimately, the when and how of showing your home depends upon your schedule and comfort level with the process.

Evaluate purchase offers and negotiate

If you priced your home right, it’s possible to receive multiple offers that are close to, at or above list price. But in a slower market, many offers may be below your listing price. Other offers may be contingent on completing specific repairs or making other accommodations. Don’t hesitate to negotiate or make a counteroffer, and of course, your agent will advise on how to approach the offer depending upon several factors – your personal situation (how quickly you need to sell), the home’s performance so far (number of showings) and the time on the market.

Outside of price, there are other elements of the offer that you have to evaluate –

  • When does the buyer want to close? 30-45 days with financing is the norm, but you might need more time to find another home first.
  • How much is the buyer putting toward their down payment? The more the down payment, the more wiggle room the buyer might have in case the appraisal comes in low.
  • How much is the buyer willing to put down in earnest money? Too low of an earnest money deposit might not be enough to dissuade buyers from getting cold feet and walking away from the contract without reason.

Appraisals and home inspections

Once a contract is signed, the buyer will most likely want a home inspection, and if they are getting a mortgage, will require an appraisal. Prepare your home for both of these visits. If the inspector finds areas of concern, be prepared to address them.

Most home purchase contracts in Chicago stipulate that the inspection be held within a week of the contract execution date. From there, the buyer, their agent, and attorney will put together a list of repairs (if necessary) and request they be completed before closing or ask for a closing cost credit to recoup the money. You are of course not obligated to accept inspection items, but at that point, the buyer has the legal right to walk away from the contract with their earnest money deposit intact.

The appraisal comes later, usually a few weeks before closing, but is extremely important for the buyer’s financing. If the appraisal comes in at or above the agreed-upon sales price, the buyer will have no trouble getting their loan cleared. But if the appraisal comes in lower than the sales price, the buyer might ask you to re-negotiate the sales price. If they are confident in the original value, the buyer can request a new appraisal from their lender or make up the difference out of pocket.

Closing time

After all of the foregoing is resolved, you and your agent will get ready to close your sale. Along with your attorney, your agent will make sure that all of the necessary documentation, funds, signatures, and other items are properly taken care of before you hand over your keys. Meanwhile, the buyer’s lender will work on getting the “clear to close” and the closing will be scheduled with the title company. The day before or day of closing, the buyer will likely do a final walkthrough to ensure any inspection items have been met (if applicable) and that the home is still in the same (if not better) condition since the last visit. Sellers in Chicago don’t usually attend the closing and instead opt to sign off on the closing paperwork beforehand.

How to get started

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The first step on your journey to sell your Chicago home is to contact Z Chicago. Our knowledgeable and committed agents are ready to help you get from listing to closing at the best possible sale price.