Step 4: Preparing Your House for Sale

You’ve thought it through, reviewed your finances, and found the right agent. It’s time to sell! But first, how does your home look? When was the last time you assessed your home with a critical eye? Take a walk around the outside of your house, then through each room. Try to see it as a potential home buyer might see it. You may think that leopard-print wallpaper is glorious, and the chips in the kitchen cabinets add character, but when selling your home, you want to appeal to as many buyers as possible. Therefore, neutral paint colors and basic repairs may be necessary, along with decluttering and depersonalizing your home. You don’t want potential buyers to feel like guests in your house; rather, you want them to be able to imagine themselves living there, and that’s much easier to do if they aren’t looking at your family photos or your great-grandmother’s tchotchkes in every room.

Cleaning and Decluttering Your House

Before you can see what needs to be done to your home, you’ll want to clean, organize, and declutter. While your house is on the market, it’s best to only keep the bare minimum of furniture, appliances, and decoration. You may want to pack and store some items and sell others by hosting a garage sale or using an online marketplace.

You may be surprised at how much you’ve accumulated – especially if you’ve lived in your home for many years. Pulling out all the clutter will force you to inspect those hard-to-reach cabinets, the crawlspace, the garage, and the corners of the basement. All these spaces need to be cleaned (and later, inspected), so get a head start on these areas now.

As you go through items, try to resist the sentimental trap of wanting to keep something just because of the memories the item evokes. If it was sitting on a shelf in the basement for years without anyone taking any notice of it, is it something you truly want in your new home? Will you display it prominently or will it end up once again forgotten on a shelf? Is it something you are willing to pack, carry, and unpack? If it isn’t, then add it to your sell or donate pile.

Consider getting a storage unit to hold all your belongings while your home is on the market. This will free up the space in your home and give you a head start on your move.


stage your home to sell

Making Home Repairs

Give yourself plenty of time to tackle repairs, pack and store personal items, and get your home staged. Depending on how much work needs to be done to your house, you may want to start well before you put your house on the market. For example, if you want to list your home in spring, you may want to tackle some of the outdoor projects during the fall before cold weather arrives.

Before doing any major remodeling, talk to your real estate agent. They will be able to tell you if an upgrade is worth it or not. While you may think a fully renovated kitchen with high-end appliances would be a huge selling point, it may not pay off in your market. Also, since your agent never lived in the home, they’ll likely see things you stopped noticing years ago, such as the stain on the basement ceiling or a cracked tile on the kitchen floor. While every home is different, here are some common basic repairs:

  • Flooring: How does the carpet look? Are there noticeable stains, or does it look worn? Consider replacing older carpet. If there are hardwood floors underneath, consider removing the carpet entirely.
  • Walls: Paint the walls warm and neutral colors, such as beige or gray. If you have children and their bedrooms are painted a bright color, pain those walls as well. While the home buyer might also have kids, they may prefer something completely different. Remember: you want home buyers to imagine the space as they would want it, and that’s much easier to do when a space isn’t filled with another person’s style and personality.
  • Ceiling: If you have a textured ceiling, consider getting rid of it. While it’s inexpensive and will have a huge impact, it is messy and time-consuming. If you are going to do it yourself, consult with a professional to make sure you aren’t releasing asbestos.
  • Kitchen: New cabinet doors, new appliances, and new faucets can impress potential buyers, but kitchen renovations can get expensive, fast. Talk to your agent about how far to go without going overboard. The main things to avoid are dripping faucets and an outdated or worn look.
  • Bathroom: If any part of your home is worth the investment, it’s the bathroom. As in the kitchen, fix any drips from the faucets or shower heads and replace any tile or glass that has lime build-up. Painting the bathroom a light color can make it feel larger.
  • Roof: If your home needs a new roof, potential home buyers may decide to pass on your home altogether, so consider getting it re-shingled now.
  • Exterior: The importance of curb appeal can’t be overstated. First impressions are everything, and you want home buyers excited about your home when they arrive. Fill any cracks in the driveway, prune back any overgrown shrubbery, paint the fence or porch railings if they need it, and consider getting new knobs and locks for the front door.

Unless you’re aware of some major structural issue with your home, most of the updates you’ll want to make before putting your home on the market are cosmetic – it’s all about making a good impression. You’ll probably face additional repairs after the home inspection. While the home inspector is likely to find issues you hadn’t noticed, there are some things you can take care of now. Make sure the heating, air conditioning, and any appliances you’re leaving behind are in good working condition.

How to Stage Your Home

While it’s important to clean and declutter your home, you don’t want it to be completely empty, which will make the rooms look smaller. Some strategically placed furniture will give potential buyers a frame of reference for a room’s size, and it will help buyers picture themselves living there.

If you want to make the most of your home’s space, consider hiring a professional stager. According to real estate experts, professionally staged homes sell faster and often at a higher price. Statistics have shown that 95 percent of professionally staged homes sell in 11 days or less and at a sale price 17 percent above homes that aren’t staged.

The cost of a home stager is small when compared to the overall sale of the home, but it’s one more up-front cost among many. If you decide to save the money and stage your home yourself, remember to get rid of as many of your personal belongings as you can. Aim to have a single item of furniture with an accent piece for each room. Leave plenty of space around the furniture so home buyers can easily walk around.

While you’re at it, go ahead and remove or secure anything of value. This is out of an abundance of caution, but you’ll be allowing strangers to enter your home, and you don’t want something expensive or important to turn up missing. Make sure your computers require a passcode and remove any mail that might contain banking or credit card information.

What to Expect When Marketing Your Home

Hopefully, you asked your real estate agent about their marketing plan when you first met with them. All agents should have a solid plan in place that includes social media, and they should have a predetermined amount of money they’re willing to spend on advertising. Part of that budget may include a stager or a photographer. Make sure your agent is using drone video and 360-degree images as well as photos. Homes without good imagery are less likely to attract buyers online, which is where most home purchases begin.

Preparing for the Sale

Whether it takes a few days or a couple of months, you’ll soon sell your home and will have to move out. It’s a good idea to plan for this now, especially if you’re in a hot real estate market where homes are snapped up quickly. You don’t want to be caught without an exit strategy. Consider the following:

  • Utilities: Once your home closes, the new buyer will likely want to take possession as soon as possible, and they’ll want water and electricity when they do. The buyers will likely request a list of providers before closing so these can be transferred.
  • Insurance: If you decide to move out before the closing is completed, check your insurance policy first. Insurance companies don’t like homes to be left vacant, so you could face penalties if you move out before the new owners take possession. Also, make sure you insure any big-ticket items you’ll be moving. If you aren’t sure of the value, consider having these items appraised to make sure you get the correct coverage. Be aware that many insurance policies reduce coverage for personal property in transit. If the movers drop an expensive piece of furniture in the driveway, it might not be covered.
  • Mortgage: Be sure you’ve sorted everything out with your mortgage and all your papers are in order. If you’re selling and buying at the same time, make sure your mortgage company knows so they can time it out for you. If necessary, it’s possible to borrow against the money you’ll receive at the close of the sale.

Get Organized

Selling a house can be a whirlwind. There’s so much to do, from making repairs and cleaning to having your house photographed and marketed to showings and offers. Take some time now, before the whirlwind begins, to get everything organized. Make sure you have the title, the deed, and a survey of your property. Having this paperwork ready now will save you time later. The title and deed are the documents that make you the legal owner of the property. The survey determines the size of your property.

If you’re still paying a mortgage, the company who owns the lien has these documents. If your mortgage is paid off, they should have been sent to you. If you can’t find them, you may be able to get copies from your county records office. In very rare cases, someone else may hold the deed to your home, which could be why you never received it. While this is extremely unlikely, it’s better to find out now rather than later.

Things rarely go according to plan when selling a home. Make sure you have a plan B (or even a plan C, D, and E) in place. For example, what if you put your home on the market and it sells within a week? Will your new home be ready? If not, where will you go for the interim? On the flip side, what if your house is on the market for much longer than anticipated? Will you stay in your home or move out and leave it vacant? Could the sale of your new home fall through because you didn’t meet the terms of the home sale contingency? If you have a general idea of what you’ll do in each scenario, you won’t be caught off-guard when things don’t go according to plan. Now that you and your house are ready, it’s time to list!