It can be enormously stressful preparing yourself to list your home. From concerns about where you are going, to the move itself, to regrets about leaving where you are, even contemplating preparing the house can cause the best of us to just ignore the whole subject.
Preparing yourself is well worth the time and thought. Becoming conscious of any ambivalence, conflict, fear, or grief surrounding the impending sale and move will allow you to be efficient and proactive once you begin readying the home for showings.
Each action you take can have huge symbolic import. Just sorting through the years of collected stuff in the garage or attic can bring up grief at eras gone by or a sense of being overwhelmed at how to sort through all the forgotten items.
There never was a better time for lists. Categorizing what needs to be done, from the touch-up paint projects, to the “needs to be fixed”, to the “needs to be sorted,” enables you to tackle the project one bit at a time.
Of course this means that the farther in advance you begin considering these variables, the gentler the lead up time can be.
It is never too early to interview realtors. While you can’t determine your listing price before you are ready to put the house on the market, you can learn from realtors what you need to do to prepare your property.
With changing demographics, certain locations have a glut in housing inventory, while other places have high demand but an absence of inventory. You should be realistic about the market for your home and its location.
Taking photographs is a great way to see your home with fresh eyes. It is amazing how many things you stop registering in a familiar environment. In order to present your home in the most positive light you need to be the one to spot and address anything that might jump out at a buyer or distract a buyer from seeing the house you want them to see.
You should not count on your realtor to point out these issues. Ideally (if it is true), you can let your realtor know you are open to any suggestions about what needs to be done to make the house as marketable as possible. Do check with your realtor before doing anything that involves significant expenditure.
Start looking at your house like a buyer would. Put yourself in a buyer’s shoes. Here are some things to consider:
Is there anything a potential buyer would have to ignore or overlook? Examples: a leak, a cracked step, a dead tree, a loose hand rail (all of these go on your lists of items to be addressed).
Care has an effect. Buyers feel your care for your home while it is on the market. The trick is to separate from the house enough to be able to represent it as a buyer would want to see it, while caring for it as a place deserving of another caring owner.
The space should be as impersonal as possible. The colors should be neutral, and the decor and objects should not detract from the ability to feel the spaces and the house. You want the buyers to be able to imagine themselves living in that space. You don’t want them distracted by the signs of your life there.
Remove signs of use. Toiletry items and cooking items should be cleared from countertops.
All spaces should be odor-free. Are there pet smells in the house?
The house should be clean, clean, clean. Cleaning includes the physical space, the energy of a space, air quality, smells, the furniture, walls, and picture frames. Even items that will go with you need to be clean; if they are not, the buyer will get a sense of a place that is not well maintained.
Make sure you have cleaned the floors, carpets, windows, curtains, lights and fans, cabinet doors, doors and door handles, window trim, attic, basement, and porch, and dusted off the hot water tank and furnace. If cleaning bathrooms does not make them spotless, paint the walls. When you have done this once, you will develop a basic routine of what needs to be cleaned on a regular basis for showings.
Small things that make a difference: Make sure clocks are set correctly and there are no blinking automated coffee units or other items blinking because they are not set. Remove all political signs or signs of political leanings from within the house. Put away bath mats. Any mats or towels that are visible should be clean. Toilet paper rolls should always be neatly displayed and toilet seat covers should always be down. Showers and bath stalls should be as empty as possible of all personal items. Curtains should hang neatly. Built-in cabinets should be neat. Fix any leaks, and replace any tired toilet seat covers or shower curtains.
All trash receptacles should be hidden. Empty or hide the recycling, garbage baskets in all rooms, animal food bowls, and cat boxes for showings.
Clean out the closets. Organize all built-in cupboards and closets. Remember, anything that conveys with the house is a place a buyer may investigate.
The goal is to address anything that will catch a buyer’s eye or contribute to a sense of neglect. Remove, replace, and organize anything that is not neat or catches the eye. Before you list the house, address piles of clutter, paint discoloration, chips, and other irregularities. Make sure switch plates match and outlet covers are consistent. Replace any dead light bulbs. Make sure all smoke detector batteries are working. Change air filters.
Are there objects that display too much daily wear and tear, doormats, for example? Consider removing or replacing those items. It does not matter that the objects in the house will depart with you. A cracked table, stained carpet, worn lampshade or broken mirror gives an impression of a tired and uncared-for environment. Eliminate any objects that detract from the message that the house is up-to-date and well maintained.
Don’t forget the outside of the house. Once you have finished preparing the inside, look out of the windows and notice what a viewer will see. Are there shrubs that need trimming?
Walk around the house and view it from all angles. Clean up any outdoor debris. Yes, this includes piles of pots or garden items without a home. This is the time to do the organizing you never got to before.
Clean off any shutters. Clean out gutters. Clean mildew from surfaces. Sweep up leaves. Sweep the steps.
Clear out the garage. Clear out the basement. Sort things into plastic containers.
Make sure all spaces are mildew-free.
Outdoor maintenance includes plantings, trash receptacles, cleanliness of the windows, heat and air conditioning sources, drainage, hardscapes, parking areas, mailboxes, signage, and lighting.
When you are selling your home you want the listing photos to be as compelling as possible. Ideally you have chosen a realtor whose website and visible presence in the community impress you. Unfortunately, many realtors do not have a good eye. If they are smart, they have a professional photographer take their photographs. Some realtors have someone stage the house for photographs. This can be hugely useful when the natural state of the home is too personal to be appropriate for the listing photographs. The more you can do to view your house as a stranger would, the better choices you will make that show your house off to its best advantage.
When it comes to photographs and showings:
- Where possible, loud prints on drapery or furniture should be withdrawn.
- Personal items like photographs and refrigerator art should be kept to a minimum.
- Animal beds and dishes should be hidden.
- All closets should be neat. They should not be packed to the gills.
- Any cabinet or object that is sold with the house should be considered a space that will be viewed and should be neat. This includes the space under the kitchen sink. Stoves should be clean.
- Windows should be clean and glass doors free of fingerprints.
- Towels should all be neat and matching.
- All personal items should be stored (this includes candles and boxes of Kleenex).
- Bathrooms should never be visible in photographs of other rooms.
- A house should only be photographed in the snow in an emergency (unless you are located at a ski resort). If you plan ahead, you can have photographs taken of the exterior of your house at the most flattering time of year for the house, even if it is not when you plan to list the house.
- Consideration of natural light enables photographs to be taken without the blinds drawn. This may entail two visits for photographs.
If your house has been on the market for a long time it is important to be diligent about removing any visual signs of the ‘DOM’ — or days on market. Shrubs around a ‘for sale’ sign should be trimmed and mildew on a sign should be cleaned off. A buyer will know the house has been on the market, but their experience of the house should not include any cues that remind them of the fact.