Home sellers in the United States spend $20,851 on average to sell their homes, according to Zillow® and Thumbtack's 2019 Hidden Costs of Selling analysis. This includes closing costs, but also the improvements and other projects made when people are preparing their homes for sale.

More than half of today's sellers are doing so for the first time, and the costs associated with the process may come as an unwelcome surprise. Zillow and Thumbtack identified several common – but often overlooked – expenses to inform sellers as they prepare to list their homes this spring.

Despite recent rebounds in the U.S. homeownership rate, minority home buyers continue to struggle to recover from the foreclosure crisis.
Courtesy Adobe Stock/Sean Locke

The majority (79%) of sellers complete at least one home improvement project before putting the home on the market, which tends to pay off. Sellers who make improvements to their homes are more likely to sell for more than their asking price than those who don't – 22% versus 16%, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report.

Sellers who hire professional help for common home prep projects tend to spend, based on a national average, $6,570 on improvements like interior and exterior painting, staging, and carpet cleaning, as well as local moving costs to their new home. But with the cost of labor varying by market, sellers in different areas could see significantly different costs. Sellers in Sacramento can spend about $7,800 preparing their home for sale, compared with Phoenix sellers, who could spend about $4,000 for the same projects.

Closing costs are another big expense for home sellers, including agent commissions and transfer or sales taxes. Nationally, these can add up to $14,281, on average, but because they are based on the home's sale price, sellers in the nation's priciest markets pay much more. In the San Jose metro, sellers pay $76,015 on average in closing costs, the highest of metros analyzed. By comparison, sellers in Cleveland spend the least - $9,046.

The two biggest challenges for sellers were timing the sale with the purchase of a new home and selling it within the desired time frame. With some of the hottest markets cooling off, buyers are able to be more selective as they look for a new home, meaning sellers may have to do more to get their homes sale ready.

"Selling is often a complicated process that can sometimes require extensive prep work in order to put your best foot forward for a successful sale," said Skylar Olsen, Zillow's director of economic research. "It also comes with huge transaction costs that aren't necessarily top of mind to someone who hasn't sold a home in a while or never has had the pleasure. Selling was hard even in the sellers' market of recent years, and it's going to get harder as markets soften."

"While the costs of these touch-up projects can add up, particularly in high cost of living metros, sellers should remember that by taking care of these projects, they can get a really strong return on their investment and may be more likely to sell their home for the highest possible price," said Lucas Puente, Thumbtack economist. "As a first step, homeowners considering selling their home in the next 12 months should start doing research and budgeting appropriately to give themselves ample prep time."

Metro Median
Home Value,
Closing Costs
and state
transfer tax)
Basic Home Prep
Costs (carpet
painting, home
cleaning, lawn care,
staging and local
Total Hidden
Costs of
United States $225,600 $14,281 $6,570 $20,851
New York, NY $438,900 $28,090 $5,420 $33,510
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $652,700 $39,880 $6,180 $46,060
Chicago, IL $224,800 $13,825 $4,800 $18,625
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX $243,000 $14,580 $4,770 $19,350
Philadelphia, PA $232,800 $16,296 $5,200 $21,496
Houston, TX $205,700 $12,342 $5,135 $17,477
Washington, DC $405,900 $30,240 $4,400 $34,640
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL $283,900 $19,021 $5,220 $24,241
Atlanta, GA $217,800 $13,286 $4,770 $18,056
Boston, MA $466,000 $30,085 $5,495 $35,580
San Francisco, CA $958,000 $58,534 $7,620 $66,154
Detroit, MI $160,400 $11,003 $5,295 $16,298
Riverside, CA $367,100 $22,430 $6,245 $28,675
Phoenix, AZ $265,400 $15,924 $4,040 $19,964
Seattle, WA $491,500 $38,239 $7,570 $45,809
Minneapolis-St Paul, MN $268,400 $16,990 $5,020 $22,010
San Diego, CA $591,800 $36,159 $6,270 $42,429
St. Louis, MO $166,900 $10,014 $3,690 $13,704
Tampa, FL $213,300 $14,291 $5,220 $19,511
Baltimore, MD $267,900 $17,414 $4,350 $21,764
Denver, CO $406,700 $24,443 $5,630 $30,073
Pittsburgh, PA $144,200 $10,094 $4,715 $14,809
Portland, OR $397,000 $23,820 $7,520 $31,340
Charlotte, NC $206,500 $12,803 $4,275 $17,078
Sacramento, CA $409,000 $24,990 $7,840 $32,830
San Antonio, TX $193,000 $11,580 $5,075 $16,655
Orlando, FL $237,200 $15,892 $5,205 $21,097
Cincinnati, OH $168,800 $10,466 $4,955 $15,421
Cleveland, OH $145,900 $9,046 $5,195 $14,241
Kansas City, MO $191,800 $11,508 $6,430 $17,938
Las Vegas, NV $279,000 $18,163 $5,715 $23,878
Indianapolis, IN $164,300 $9,858 $4,965 $14,823
Columbus, OH $189,800 $11,768 $5,045 $16,813
San Jose, CA $1,244,100 $76,015 $7,755 $83,770
Austin, TX $308,700 $18,522 $4,965 $23,487

Zillow and Thumbtack's 2019 Hidden Costs of Selling report factored in closing costs (transfer taxes and agent commissions) and several basic home prep costs. Zillow computed transfer taxes by using the tax rate for the primary state within each metro area (in cases where metro areas cross one or more state lines), which were then applied to the median home value for that area. Zillow also assumed 6% for real estate agent commissions and applied it to the median home value for each metro area. For home prep costs, Thumbtack looked at tens of thousands of quotes from small business professionals around the country and determined the average cost for each expense within the selected metros. For the purposes of this analysis, carpet cleaning, interior and exterior painting, full-service lawn care, home staging, house cleaning and local moving costs were identified as seven of the most popular seller prep projects completed by Thumbtack during the selling a home sale process.