Nobody decides to sell a home overnight. Getting the best price for your home, with the least amount of stress, takes time and planning. 

Here are the five steps you should follow as you prepare to put your home on the market.

1. Learn Your Home’s Market Value

Most homeowners have a relatively good idea of their home’s value. They get fliers in the mail, look at nearby homes for sale online, or even go to open houses. Maybe they recently refinanced and saw an appraisal.

But when it comes time to think about selling, you need a firm idea of your home’s “market” value. Market value is what a buyer is willing to pay on the open market.

Having a local agent look at your home is the first step toward getting a practical idea of your home’s value. Any good agent would welcome the opportunity to meet a potential seller and put together what insiders call a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). After touring your home, the agent will get back to you with some information about the market, recent comparable sales and an opinion of your home’s value. Even if you’re months or years away from selling, having an agent over early on engages you in the process and allows you to start gathering information.

2. Assess Your Home’s Physical Condition

Every homeowner thinks of their home as simply their home: a place to live and make memories. But when you look to sell, you should start thinking like a seller. That means seeing your home as a ‘product’ and its potential for sale on the open market. By looking at it this way, you’ll understand that the deep purple living room paint or the overly cluttered office, which doubles as a guest room, may not look enticing to buyers.

In most cases, you’ll have some work to do to sell your home. A good agent, along with a CMA, will give you ideas for home improvements to consider. This could be as minor as moving things into storage or as major as a full paint job with kitchen and bathroom renovations.

Additionally, you need to know your home’s overall condition. A property inspection could be an excellent investment. If you discover you need a new roof or that the furnace is about to expire, you’ll have time to address it before a buyer catches it. Ultimately, this can save you time and money. Knowing what your home needs, early in the process, will help orient you towards a successful sale.

3. Start Watching the Comps

The train to a successful home sale truly pulls out of the station once you’ve gathered all of the information. Armed with knowledge about your home’s current market value and what you would need to make it “market ready,” you should start watching the comps, going to open houses and fully engaging with the local real estate market. The more homes you see, either in person or via your agent (who should be keeping you in the loop), the better you’ll understand what it will take to get your home sold. Pay attention to how homes that go before yours fare on the market. Get a sense for what the highest and best price would be for your home in your neighborhood.

4. Do Your Homework

After speaking to a good local agent, you may have any number of assignments or things to do before you can list your home for sale. Start speaking to painters, general ‘fix-it’ contractors, landscapers, and stagers. Ask your agent for referrals. Get bids for what would need to be done. Start understanding how much work you’re willing to do, what needs to be fixed and how much you want to spend. Working with your agent, prioritize the work and get things lined up.

In this next generation of real estate, sellers need to stay one step ahead of buyers. Google your address, check your home’s records with the building department, check your title report and find out as much as a buyer would if they were about to make an offer on your home. Things come up, and it’s better to find and fix them now — before you get into contract with the buyer.

5. Set a Deadline and Get to Work

You and your agent should pick a date to get the property officially “listed” and then work back from there to plan the work. Your home should be “open house ready” for the photo shoot. Listing photos are people’s first impression of your home today. While curb appeal still matters, photos are the single most important part. Plan to get all the work done before the photo shoot. The hardest part for most sellers is these weeks and months leading up to a sale. Once the home is on the market, the home is out there, in its full glory for all the buyers to see.

No two homeowners or sellers are alike, of course. The process is filled with bumps along the way, and red flags can appear out of nowhere. Engaging with a good local real estate agent early on in the process is the best first step to becoming a successful home seller. Take your time and do your due diligence. The more you plan, the better off you’ll be and the quicker your home will sell — and for top dollar.

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Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling, the go-to insider’s guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. DeSimone is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage providing individualized services and a fresh, hands-on approach. Bringing more than a decade of residential real estate experience, DeSimone is a recognized national real estate expert and has appeared on top media outlets including CNBC, Good Morning America, HGTV, FOX News, Bloomberg and FOX Business. Consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.