The real estate market tends to slow way down in December. That makes this the perfect time to plan ahead if you want to sell your home or investment property next year.

Here are few tips for getting your house in order so you’ll be ahead of the game:

1. Gather your documentation

Mortgage documents, lease agreements, receipts for landscaping and home improvement, HOA documents.

If the property is in a trust, you will need a copy of the trust documents. If you are successor trustee, ask the attorney for an affidavit indicating you have the right to sell the property. If the home is in probate, you will need permission from the probate court to sell.

If you are married, even if your spouse is not on title, you likely will need his or her written acknowledgement of the sale.

If there are loans, liens or leases on the property, those will have to be cleared before closing on a transaction.

Some solar leases, for example, must be paid off; others can be transferred to a qualified buyer. IRS liens usually take precedence over everything except the mortgage.

Usually liens will be paid off with your proceeds from the sale. Having your paperwork in order prevents unnecessary delays.

2. Create a timetable

While many homes sell quickly these days, most homeowners spend weeks preparing their property before it ever goes on the market. You may also need to get inspections, consult with your tax adviser, or get title on the property cleared.

If you are hoping to move in the spring, you’ll need to be on the market early in the year. If you don’t want to move until later in the year, you probably have a bit more time to get things in order. Either way, it’s smart to give yourself extra time.

Homes have gone into contract quickly the last few years, but we don’t know what’s in store for 2020. Your home could take weeks to attract the right buyer.

Once in contract, timing will vary according to the finances of the buyer. Cash buyers may be able to close a transaction in 7-10 days, most buyers need time to complete appraisals and secure a mortgage. That means 25-45 days from acceptance of an offer to closing the transaction.

If the buyer’s offer is contingent on the sale of another property, or if unexpected setbacks arise, it could take a lot longer.

And if you are purchasing a replacement home, should you sell first or buy first? That depends on a lot of factors. Your Realtor can help map out a strategy that makes sense for your circumstances. Which brings us to our next tip.

3. Find the right Realtor

Maybe you already have an agent you know and trust.

If not, friends, family members and neighbors who have recently sold or purchased homes can be a great source of referrals. Ask about their experiences and if they would recommend their agent.

Professionals in related fields, such as mortgage specialists, attorneys and contractors, often know most of the local agents.

Interview before you hire. Agents have individual styles and varying levels of experience, and may offer more or fewer services. It’s not all about commission.

You’ll want an agent who tells you honestly what you need to hear about pricing and changes you may need to make to the property.

The agent who proposes an unrealistic asking price in order to win your business is probably not the best agent for you.

You can check out an agent’s history through the California Bureau of Real Estate’s website, www.dre.ca.gov/licensees.

4. Show the property to its best advantage

Hiring stagers used to be reserved for high-end properties. Now, most buyers expect the homes they look at to have been professionally staged. Unless your property is a true fixer upper, hiring a good stager is probably an investment worth making. Some Realtors include staging as part of their service. Most have stagers they refer clients to. Whether you work with a stager or go-it alone, start by decluttering the property. Potential buyers should be able to imagine their photographs on the walls, their trophies and collectibles on the shelves, their hobbies filling the rooms. But they can’t if yours are everywhere. Do the extra stuff: Wash windows inside and out. Buff cabinets and wood trim with a good wood-care product. Clear out the junk that’s piled up in the side yard.

Deep clean carpets and rugs. Weed the garden. Replace burned-out light bulbs.

Make all those repairs you intended to get to “someday”: tighten loose faucets, replace ripped screens, repair broken sprinkler heads. You may even want to order inspections and have necessary repairs completed before putting the home on the market. Bring in a professional cleaning service, if you really want to make the home shine.

Lock up valuables such as jewelry, cash, collectable coins and stamps, and firearms. Hide medications or keep them with you when you leave the house.

You don’t need to totally upgrade the property before putting it on the market – in fact that rarely pays off, but cleaning, staging and a fresh coat of paint can do wonders.

5. Figure Out Your Finances

Your agent will likely prepare a “Seller’s Net Sheet” outlining costs and how much you can expect from the sale, based on an estimated sales price. He or she can refine this once you have a purchase offer. But you may also want to consult your tax advisor, especially if you have a lot of equity or have only lived in the home a short time. If you plan to finance the purchase of a replacement property, consult with a mortgage specialist. He or she can get you pre-approved for the loan you’ll need. If you don’t have a trusted loan officer, ask your Realtor to refer you to someone.

If you are thinking about selling property in 2020, contact your local Realtor today.

Cher Wollard is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties in Livermore.