In the not so distant past, it was possible to make a fortune in real estate. It was all too easy to buy a home, wait a short while, sell it for a handsome profit, then do it all over again.

As you undoubtedly are aware, the real estate market has changed. As promising as the market is currently, home prices remain far below what they were at the peak. Buyers are more discriminating, have a bevy of information at their fingertips, and a large percentage of homes on the market never sell. It’s more critical than ever to avoid costly seller mistakes if you want to sell your home fast and for the highest price.

First, let’s consider the 7 deadliest mistakes most home sellers make:

      1. Not bothering to analyze their motivation to sell.
      2. Not preparing their home for viewing.
      3. Pricing their homes incorrectly.
      4. Selling too hard during showings.
      5. Signing a long-term listing agreement without a written performance guarantee.
      6. Making it difficult for potential buyers to get information on the home.
      7. Failing to obtain a pre-approved mortgage for one’s next home.

Not only are today’s buyers a discriminating lot, but a large percentage of available homes on the market don’t sell the first time around.

Selling your home is a significant life event. Keep reading to learn a 9-step system that will give you the tools you need to maximize your profit, maintain control, and reduce the stress that comes with the home-selling process.

1. Know why you’re selling your home in the first place

Your reasons to sell effect everything from your asking price to deciding how much time and money you’ll be willing to invest in getting your home ready for sale. Different goals will dictate different strategies, and it’s up to you to decide what is most important: the money you’ll get from the sale, or the length of time your property is on the market.

However, don’t reveal your motivation to anyone else, or the information may be used against you at the negotiating table. If you are asked why you’re selling, it is acceptable to say that your housing needs have changed.

2. Do your homework before setting a price

Determining an offering price should be taken very seriously. The average buyer looks at upwards of twenty homes at the same time they are considering yours, which gives them a basis for comparison. If your home is priced too high, or even too low compared with other houses in your area, your home will sit on the market for a long time, and new buyers on the market may think there is something wrong with your home.

3. Find a good real estate agent

Dissatisfaction with a real estate agent boils down to poor communication, which results in negative consequences for everyone involved. The stakes are too high to do anything other than extensive research to find an agent in your area that you can work with. Conduct interviews or office visits before hiring an agent for the crucial job of selling your home for you.

4. Give your agent some homework

Have your agent find out what homes in your area have sold for in the past 6-12 months and provide you with a list of current listings similar to your home. Your prospective buyers will be looking at the same information and will be using it to determine if your home is worthy of inclusion in their search.

5. Maximize your home’s aesthetic appeal

Appearance is critical when it comes to selling your home. While you can’t do anything to change your home’s location or floor plan, you can do a great deal to improve its appearance. The impression your home makes generates the most significant emotional response in a prospective buyer. Before showings, either hire a cleaning service that specializes in open houses or clean as you’ve never cleaned before. Pick up, straighten, unclutter, scrub, scour and dust. Showcasing your home as a clean, inviting place will get a “WOW” response from prospective buyers.

Throughout the showing process, always remember that the decision to buy a home is based more on emotions and not logic. Allow interested buyers to explore your home freely so they can imagine themselves living there.

6. Make it easy for prospects to learn about your home.

It may come as some surprise to learn that some of the most traditional marketing tools that most agents use to sell a home, like open houses, are actually ineffective. Increasingly, the most effective method to market your listing is to have your agent set up a prerecorded hotline available 24/7 with plenty of detailed, accurate information about your property. Ensure that every ad your agent places for your home includes the correct number for prospects to call. And don’t forget: the more people are interested in your home, the more leverage you have in the resulting auction-like atmosphere.

7. Know your buyer

Whenever possible, try to ascertain your buyer’s motivation to buy your home. Do they need to relocate quickly? Do they have the financing to satisfy the asking price? Knowing this information gives you the upper hand in the negotiation.

8. Confirm that the contract is complete

Smart sellers are proactive and go above and beyond legal requirements to disclose in writing all known defects to their home to their buyers. If the buyer is made aware of a problem before entering a contract, they cannot come back with a lawsuit later on.

Make sure all terms, costs, and responsibilities are detailed out in the contract and do not diverge from the agreement, regardless of any requests or suggestions from the buyer. This stage of the process is not the time to risk the deal falling through for preventable reasons.

9. Don’t move out before you sell

It’s a well-known fact that vacant houses are difficult to sell. A vacant home may look forlorn, forgotten, just unappealing. It could even cost you thousands. If you move out of your current home before it sells, you’re also informing buyers that probably highly motivated to sell as quickly as possible, which will cost you leverage at the negotiating table.