I am a former realtor and staging specialist who currently lends my expertise to sellers who are attempting to navigate the housing market.
1. Clean, Clean, Clean!
I can't stress this one enough. Before you do anything else; clean the house top to bottom, literally. Start at the ceiling and scrub everything, including windows, until you hit the floor and then scrub there too. Make sure there are no cobwebs, dust bunnies, fingerprints, or other unsightly remnants.
It might sound overboard, but it isn't. I can almost guarantee you that an eagle-eyed potential buyer will hone in on the one speck of dirt that you miss. If there is a dead fly left on a window sill, a red flag immediately is raised. Sometimes, it is the little things that stick in the back of a buyer's mind.
An incident occurred when I was showing a house to a young family that reminds me of how important it is to clean every inch of a home. The place was still occupied at the time by the seller who happened to be an elderly gentleman. I was not his realtor, but was acting solely as a representative of the buyers.
Things were going swimmingly and the couple was completely gung ho, that is, until they opened a storage cabinet and spotted a box of rat poison that the owner had neglected to dispose of. Well, needless to say, they couldn't get out of the place fast enough.
When I spoke with the listing realtor, she told me that the owner had used the poison to get rid of rats that had taken up residence in his work shed years earlier. He had forgotten all about the offending box. It always pays to clean out any area that buyers will be inspecting, including the insides of cabinets and cupboards. You never know what might be lurking in a back corner.
It is important to keep in mind when you are preparing to list your house that no area will go unnoticed by potential buyers and rightfully so. After all, they are about to make one of the biggest investments of their lives. It is up to the seller to insure that the property is clean and free of anything unsightly that might doom a sale.
Although a thorough cleaning is a must before showing a house; keep the harsh chemicals to a minimum. You don't want the people who show up for your open house to think that they've wandered onto a crime scene. Vinegar and water are sufficient for cleaning most areas. The smell can be a bit strong, but it dissipates quickly.
If you have pets, make certain that the areas they frequent are free from hair (as much as possible) and odors. It is also a good idea, especially with dogs, to take them out of the house or crate them while a showing is in progress.
The bottom line is to make your house appealing to potential buyers by cleaning everything over, under, sideways, and down. You won't regret it.
2. A Splash of Paint Is a Seller's Best Friend
One fairly simple, yet highly effective, way to spruce up a room is with a fresh coat of paint. There aren't many ways that you get more bang for your buck than with a paint job.
Like anything else, you need to be mindful of what helps the sale and what could, potentially, sink it. For example, I showed a house one time in which the sellers had painted both the living room and dining room before listing the property. It was their choice of colors that put a kink in the armor.
From the outside, the place was immaculate. It was when I escorted my clients into the house that their collective jaws hit the floor. The living room had been painted burnt orange. As an bonus, black trim had been added to accentuate the doorways. I knew that the combination had not gone over well with my clients when the smiles were completely wiped off of their faces in an instant.
Still hoping that the rest of the interior would be more impressive, I led them into the dining area. Again, the color scheme left something to be desired. Neon green is the best way I can describe the walls of the otherwise cozy room. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the sight was almost blinding.
Needless to say, my clients were turned off. I tried to talk up the positive aspects of the house, but they couldn't get past the paint. I know what you're thinking: didn't they realize that they could buy the house and paint the walls any color they liked? Of course they did; they just couldn't get the current state of the place out of their heads enough to see the potential.
If you are on a tight budget and can only afford to do one thing to a house before you put it on the market, choose this one. It's not terribly expensive and it's something that most people can do themselves.
As far as colors go, err on the side of neutrality. Choose hues that complement the area without overpowering the eye. Beige, cream, nutmeg, almond, and taupe are all winners. If you want a splash of color for bedrooms and baths, try sage, sea foam, and very light ocean blue. These are all inviting shades that provide a sense of relaxation and comfort.
Remember: paint is your friend; use it wisely.
3. If You Don't Use It, Lose It
Cleaning is only part of preparing a house for sale. Sellers also need to purge anything that isn't beneficial to the buyer, if only temporarily. This means clearing off countertops of items that are not essential. If you can live without it, store it until the house is sold and you are settling into a new place.
Before you call in a realtor or list the house yourself, walk through it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Would you want to see a stranger's toothbrush on the sink or a trash can full of used tissues? Do you want to be bombarded with an unknown child's drawings showcased on the refrigerator? Are scores of family portraits displayed on the walls and tabletops of any interest to you? If you answer honestly, you'll probably say "no" to all of the above.
In keeping with this vein, clear out any personal items that don't add to the property's appeal. I know that you love your family and want the world to know it, but potential buyers like to imagine their loved ones in the home, not yours.
To illustrate this point, I was listing a house for a perfectly lovely older couple who were ready to downsize. The finished basement boasted a full bar equipped with everything a connoisseur of spirits could ever want. The only problem was that the couple's grandchildren had plastered the entire area with stickers. It was cute and endearing, but not something that anyone outside of the family would have wanted to see in an area designated for adults.
When I mentioned to the lady of the house that we should remove the stickers, she wouldn't hear of it. Her beloved grandkids had placed them there and there they would stay. I didn't have the heart to tell her that whoever bought the house would be getting rid of them anyway. It wasn't something that she would have wanted to hear.
The place eventually sold, but several of the people who were shown the house commented on the stickers and not in a positive way. They wondered, out loud, why they had not been removed and the area cleaned. After a few complaints, the sellers got the message and the stickers miraculously vanished. All's well that ends well.
This isn't to say that you have to get rid of everything of sentimental value to you while you are still living in the house. It simply means that you need to keep it to a bare minimum, especially during showings and open houses. In those cases, it is ideal if you store all personal items someplace where potential buyers won't see them even if that means putting them in the trunk of your car for the time being.
In addition to the aforementioned, remove magnets and any other decorations from the surface of the refrigerator. Clear off the area around the bathroom sink. Be aware that, when the house is on display, so are the lives of the occupants. Don't leave anything lying around that you wouldn't want the world to see.
It seems like common sense, but always make sure that the toilets are flushed and sparkling clean before showings. As a realtor, I always arrived at houses early to make sure that there wouldn't be any embarrassing oversights, but it wasn't foolproof. Some sellers insisted on being present for showings which led to a myriad of potential problems, including unexpected bathroom visits.
On that note, as a favor to both the buyer and realtor, it is always best if the seller leaves during a showing or open house. Many people feel that, since they live in the house, they can share all of their knowledge with those interested in possibly purchasing the property. Even though that makes sense, it seldom works to the seller's advantage.
On more than one occasion, I stood by helplessly as a seller scared off a genuinely interested buyer simply by talking their ear off on every subject except for the house. Those who could stay on topic were so sentimental that the buyers felt bad about even being in the house. One woman told me after such an encounter that she was afraid that the owner was going to cry if we stayed much longer. Needless to say, no sale was made.
On this one, just keep in mind that your goal is to turn over ownership of the house to another party. They will love it just as you do; if given the chance.
4. Minor Repairs Mean Major Rewards
Although you might be used to that leaky kitchen faucet or toilet that needs the handle jiggled after flushing, potential buyers will be exposed to them for the first time. Believe me, they won't overlook the little things that you have come to accept as part of your home's charm.
Some repairs, such as the ones mentioned above, are quite common and not hard to undertake. I'm not particularly handy, but have found that minor fix-it jobs are within my grasp with a little help from online do-it-yourself videos.
If you don't feel comfortable tackling repairs, ask around for a trustworthy handyman. A few dollars spent on simple jobs will pay off in the long run. Keep in mind that this does not apply to big tasks such as heating and air conditioning issues, problems in the pipes and so on. Those require professional inspections and aren't for the layperson.
Likewise, try to find someone who can patch up gashes in the walls, floors, and doors. One house that I was asked to list had fist-sized holes in almost every interior door. The sellers were surprised when I told them that the doors would have to be repaired or replaced. It hadn't dawned on them that jagged holes in the bedroom doors wouldn't be appealing to outsiders.
I had another client who explained to me that some of the locks no longer wanted to turn. Since I carry in my bag of tricks a very popular product that is famous for stopping squeaks and unsticking locks, I put an end to that problem right then and there.
The moral to this story is that taking care of the small jobs is one less thing that a buyer has to worry about. Sometimes, little details like faucets that turn all of the way off can go a long way in making your house desirable to clients.
5. First Impressions Speak Volumes
Giving attention to the outside of your house is just as important as taking care of the inside. The first thing that a potential buyer will see is the yard and exterior of the property; make it count.
Ideally, a house that is being put on the market will be free from peeling paint, loose shutters, sagging gutters and the like. I realize that a new paint job is not always possible, but the other issues are easily rectified.
Besides the little repairs here and there, a well-manicured lawn is a must. Make sure that the grass is cut a day or so before a showing or open house. Keep weeds in check as well. If there are hedges around the house, keep them neatly trimmed.
If it is within your budget, invest in a couple of attractive potted plants to sit on either side of the front entrance. If they are flowering plants, all the better. A tasteful wreath hanging on the front door is also a nice way to introduce your house to potential buyers. A welcome mat is an inexpensive touch that can add to a home's curb appeal as well.
At the very least, make sure to pick up any litter that might have found its way onto your property. Sticks and other debris should also be removed. Keep the walks swept and free of weeds that grow inside the cracks and around the edges.
The same thing goes for the driveway. If oil stains are visible, try removing them with degreaser and a scrub brush. Cat litter can then be sprinkled over the area. Let the litter stay on the spot for a few minutes so that it can absorb any leftover oil then sweep up the mess. If everything goes according to plan, the stain should be nothing more than a nasty memory.
The most important things here are to keep the lawn mowed, stay on top of weeds, and fix any eyesores if you are able. If you lose buyers when they pull up to the house; you'll never get them back.
Let the Bidding Begin!
I hope that these tips have been helpful. A lot goes into selling a house, but with some careful planning and a bit of work, it can be a relatively painless process.
So, clean and de-clutter; paint; fix what you can; manicure that lawn and let the buyers behold your home in all its glory. With a little luck, you'll be moving on to bigger and better things in no time.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Boutique Property Management on August 27, 2020:
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Cindy Parmiter (author) from United States on November 17, 2019:
Thank you so much! I'm glad you mentioned the cookie connection. I, too, have heard that the smell of fresh-baked cookies makes a property more attractive to buyers. It's funny that something so simple can add to a home's appeal. We are planning to put our house on the market in the spring and I'm going to test this out for myself. The added bonus is that anyone who stops in for a look can help themselves to cookies, that is, if we don't eat them all, lol.
Thanks again for your always insightful observations,
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 17, 2019:
Excellent article, Cindy. I've read something interesting regarding the olfactory sense and trying to find buyers for your home: the smell of baking cookies helps houses sell quicker, according to one study. Overall, an informative article. We have seen the value of our home increase substantially over the last five years because we are in a hot housing market. We don't intend to sell, but your guidelines are exceedingly useful. Thanks.