U.S. homeowners have no shortage of reasons to sell their homes fast: a job transfer, an imminent foreclosure or even the chance to downsize into your new dream home. But when you need to act fast, you’ll need a sharper game plan that includes a few critical steps.

First off, let’s change the definition of a "quick" sale. In years past, a quick sale meant you popped a for-sale sign into your front yard and you had a deal a week or two later. Nowadays, with ultra-choosy buyers proceeding with caution and with new government rules that increase the amount of paperwork needed to cut a home purchase deal, a quick home sale may mean 90 days or so. (If you doubt that number, ask any neighbor who’s had that sign in his or her yard for the past six months).

Obviously, there are some no-brainers involved in selling a home fast. Those include keeping your home immaculate, completing any needed repairs, both big and small and putting a rational and realistic sale price on your home. Once again, ask any real estate agent what the biggest hang-up is on a stalled home sale, and they’ll tell you it’s unrealistic expectations from a homeowner on what the house is worth.

Emotionally, it’s hard to let go of the 20-year housing boom cycle, where home prices rose year-to-year no matter what. Now, with home prices down by 30% or 40% in some U.S. regions (most notably California, Florida and Arizona) it’s difficult for homeowners to accept the fact that their homes are worth $35,000 less than they think they're worth.

So lesson number one is this — if you want to sell your home fast, list it at a reasonable price. Otherwise, expect to play the waiting game.

Other key tips:

Focus on local “sold” prices. Too many home sellers target neighborhood list prices, and not the actual final sale prices of homes in their neighborhood recently. Web sites like Zillow.com can help with ballpark figures, but a site like Listingbook.com, which publishes contract home sales across the U.S., is more helpful if you want to sell your home fast.

Get a pre-sale inspection. A good home inspection can ease the anxiety of a potential buyer. That’s why it’s a good idea to get one before you put your home on the market. Have the inspection paperwork available during your open houses and show them to potential buyers. That takes one more roadblock away from an otherwise skittish buyer. It might cost you $350 or so, but having a good inspection report for buyers to see should help your home sell much more quickly, and closer to the price you want.

Stage your home effectively. People are proud of their homes and are prone to leaving knick-knacks they’ve accumulated around the house when showing it off. That’s especially true for family pictures, which can clutter living room and hallway walls. The experts say to take those down and make the rooms in your house look as spare as possible. Homebuyers like to see the house as they would be living in it — not you. So clean up the clutter and you will sell your home quickly.

Focus on the front yard. While pristine landscaping is a must, take particular attention to your front yard — especially your front walk. It’s the first thing buyers see when they pull up to your house so you can’t afford any chipped paint or weedy cracks. Clean them up and watch your home sell faster.

Pre-qualify buyers. This one is another no-brainer, but it happens all the time. You get an offer on your home, only to find out your buyer isn’t pre-qualified for the home loan. Opt for established lenders, too — some online lenders may pre-approve a buyer using more lax financial criteria. When it comes to old school pre-qualifying, the brick-and-mortar lenders are more likely to reject a questionable buyer.
Selling your home on the hop isn’t easy, but it is doable. Just follow the tips above and you’ll have that for-sale sign off your lawn in no time.

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