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Sellers often underestimate the time is will take to properly prepare their home for sale. For this reason, it’s wise to start home-sale preparations months before you actually want to put your home on the market.

For scheduling purposes, it helps to work backwards from the date that you’d ideally like to move. Let’s say you want to be in a new home by June 1. There are three big tasks that need to be accomplished in order to make this happen.

One is preparing the home for sale. The second is marketing the home to find a buyer. And the third is to work through contract contingencies and close the sale.

Most homes benefit from de-cluttering, furniture rearranging, cleaning, painting and updating outdated floor coverings and light fixtures. These improvements cost relatively little and offer a good return on the investment.

You can sell a home in any condition; there is always a market for fixer-uppers. However, buyers pay more for homes they can move right into without having to do work. With more competition from other sellers who want to take advantage of a low-interest-rate market, buyers will have the luxury of choice.

A good real estate agent can help you map out fix-up-for-sale projects. Your agent can also put you in touch with reliable inspectors, contractors and stagers to assist with these endeavors. As soon as you figure out the scope of the work, you can schedule a marketing date.

The next step it to figure out how long it will take to find a buyer. Ask your real estate agent to provide you with the listing and pending sale dates for listings similar to your home that recently sold in your neighborhood. This information should be available through the Multiple Listing Service.

The time it takes to find a buyer can vary significantly from one area to the next. Be sure to use the most recent comparable sales information. The market is in flux. In general, it’s taking longer for listings to go to pending now than it did a year ago.

The third element of the home-sale process is closing the deal. You have some control over this. The closing date is negotiable.

When interest rates are rising, you could find buyers who want to close quickly in order to protect an interest-rate commitment. Sellers often agree to cooperate with a fast sale in the interest of closing the sale. Sellers who aren’t ready to move out by that date should ask the buyer for permission to rent back their home after closing. Although the closing date is negotiable, a typical closing date is 30 days from contract acceptance.

After collecting the above information, you’re prepared to schedule your sale. Let’s say you estimate it will take 45 days to get your home ready to sell, 30 days to find a buyer and 30 days to close the deal. This means you should start the prep work by Feb. 15 for an April 1 list date, a May 1 pending sale date and a June 1 closing. It’s wise to build in a little wiggle room into your plan to account for unforeseen events.

Occasionally a home sale doesn’t make it to closing. Often this is due to disputes over who pays for defects that arise during the buyer’s inspections. This can set your schedule back while you find another buyer or work out the disputes.

THE CLOSING: You can minimize the risk of a deal falling apart by getting pre-sale inspections before you start the fix-up work. If money permits, it’s wise to correct some defects before marketing your home.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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