Frequently Asked Questions About How To Prepare Your Home To Sell

What is the most important step to take when preparing my home to sell? 

You probably think I’m going to tell you to gut your kitchen or repaint the home, but in reality, the most important thing you can do to prepare your home for the real estate market costs nothing but time and elbow grease: deep clean the entire house, indoors and out.

When buyers come through your home, they are likely to open closets, peep in the garage, and look inside the refrigerator. You want every surface to be gleaming. The cleaner everything is, the more the buyer will trust that you have taken care of and properly maintained the home itself.

Clean inside the kitchen appliances, beside them, behind them, and under them. Wash the windows inside and out, including the frames, trim, and blinds. Clean out closets and storage spaces. You’re going to move anyway -- why not get a head start on packing up and giving away unwanted items?

If you have the budget, bring in a cleaning crew, have carpeting and flooring cleaned professionally, and have someone out to check for landscaping that’s in need of a trim. When you’re finished, your home should sparkle. Maintain it carefully throughout the process leading to the sale, keeping clutter out of sight and keeping it clean for any subsequent showings.

What is a deal-breaker for most buyers?

Odors are probably the number one thing that will kill a sale. Some buyers won’t even walk into the house if they detect an unpleasant odor. The most common odors are pet odors, smoke odors, cooking odors, and musty, mildew odors.

Besides a thorough cleaning, look into ways to mitigate odors, including repainting and replacing soft surfaces like rugs, drapes, and upholstered furnishings that can hold odors. If you are a smoker, smoke outdoors while the home is on the market.

What is depersonalization? Why should I depersonalize my home?

Depersonalization is the process of taking away identifying elements from the home’s interior, including personal photos, memorabilia, political and religious items, and distracting decorative items. Many people become offended when asked to depersonalize their space, but the process is necessary for maximizing the home’s appeal to buyers.

Psychologically, your goal when selling your home is to allow a buyer to picture him or herself in your home. It is difficult to do this if they are looking at pictures of you and your family on vacation or looking at decorative items that are highly unusual or those that are reflective of your personal taste or beliefs.

Please remember, your goal is to get your home sold. Since you are moving anyway, it makes sense to go ahead and pack up photos and other personal items. In order to make this process as easy as possible, go ahead and take this step early in the process. You will find that it helps you and your family as you begin to transition emotionally from your current home into your new home.

How important is the temperature of the house when selling?

If you are leaving your home vacant, you may want to save money by shutting off air conditioning or heating systems. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

First, many of your home’s systems depend on a fairly stable climate to work at maximum efficiency. It’s not good for pipes and appliances to experience large, frequent shifts in temperature. In addition, extreme heat can bring out unpleasant odors. Think about that stale smell when you first come back from vacation -- do you want buyers to encounter it when they enter your home?

Speaking of buyers, their comfort is the most important reason for keeping the home at a comfortable temperature. Whether the house is too hot or too cold, the uncomfortable buyer will be eager to leave and get back in his or her car rather than lingering to find out more about the house.

If you haven’t already, consider installing a smart home thermostat. Besides being a nice upgraded selling feature, it allows you to adjust the home’s AC or heat remotely so that you can ensure the house is always maintained at an optimal level, no matter the weather. In addition, you can set the thermostat higher or lower at night and on days when there are no showings, then adjust it for comfort when buyers are on the schedule.

Should I paint before putting my home up for sale?

A fresh coat of paint offers one of the highest ROIs (Returns on Investment) possible when it comes to preparing your home for buyers. If you are a careful and skillful amateur painter, paint it yourself to save even more money. If, however, you are not a good painter, hire a professional.

Why hire a pro? Having been in many homes with rushed, DIY paint jobs, the difference is striking. Bad color matching, sloppy edging, and drips on the trim or floor make a poorly completed paint job worse than no paint at all. Buyers not only have to repaint; they have to repaint and correct additional damage.

While you may be able to get away with just painting the walls and not the ceilings and trim work, be sure and paint ceilings if there are signs of previous water damage. Make sure that the water intrusion has been corrected and that the area has thoroughly dried out.

Should I remove wallpaper?

While some interior designers creating beautiful and dramatic looks with wallpaper, more often buyers think of wallpaper as old-fashioned and undesirable. Often, it is considered dated and, unlike an old-fashioned light fixture or other decorative elements, wallpaper is considered hard to remove as well. That means that buyers won’t want to deal with the mess and expense of removal, so you will probably have to do so for them.

Should I replace flooring before selling my home?

Outdated flooring or flooring that is damaged should be replaced. Often, sellers are afraid to choose a new flooring because they might choose something that buyers wouldn’t like. In that case, they will add a flooring allowance in the property description to attempt to entice buyers while bypassing the problem altogether.

Here’s why that strategy doesn’t work: most buyers do not have the vision to overlook ugly or old-fashioned flooring or carpet. They would rather have a move-in-ready home than worry about choosing and installing new flooring or carpeting. If you are unsure about what type of flooring to choose, we can help you with that.

Is it better to do the work or to give the buyer an allowance?

Just as with flooring, it is best to go ahead and do the work yourself. While it may sound like an added perk to give an allowance rather than choosing the “wrong” paint color or flooring, it puts the responsibility on the buyer. At the same time, it requires the buyer to envision the space with its updates -- something that most buyers struggle with.

In addition, buyers will often overestimate how much it costs to do work, so they may feel that your allowance is insufficient for the repair or improvement they have in mind. That can lead to even more negotiations and a higher cost than you would have had by doing the work yourself. On top of everything else, an allowance can create problems during the appraisal or mortgage underwriting process, further complicating the sale of your home.

Should I replace my furnace or central air before selling my house?

The first thing to understand is that buyers buy on emotion, not logic. It’s essential to put your time and money into home improvements that will appeal to a home buyer’s emotions. Your home is going to sell based on how it looks and makes a buyer feel.

Replacing a furnace or central air appeals to a buyer’s logic, not their emotions. Have you ever seen anyone get really excited about a furnace? For married couples many times the wife has more influence on the home buying decision than the husband does, and I have yet to see a wife get really excited about a furnace or a central air unit.

So, do not replace your furnace or central air conditioner if they are working correctly, even if they are old and inefficient. The furnace and central air should be in proper working order because most offers to purchase real estate are subject to a whole house inspection. The furnace and central air will likely be inspected as part of this inspection.

If the buyer is concerned with the age or condition of the units, another option is to purchase a home warranty. This is something that can be purchased by the buyer or the seller. I typically would not recommend that a seller purchase a home warranty, unless a buyer asks for it. When a buyer writes an offer on a home, they can ask the seller to purchase a home warranty for them as part of the purchase agreement. Most sellers are willing to do this if the buyer writes a strong offer.

A home warranty is usually between $500 - $600 and covers the major mechanicals for twelve months.

If you as the seller have a maintenance agreement contract with a local heating and cooling company, and your furnace and air are older, I would recommend that you provide those records to the buyer to give them more peace of mind.

Should I replace the roof?

Unless your roof is noticeably battered, leaking, or otherwise showing obvious signs of damage, do not replace it. Have the gutters cleaned and explore the possibility of cleaning the roof if it has been discolored by tree sap, moss, or other debris.

Should I replace the windows?

If windows fail to open and close properly, are cracked, or have broken seals causing clouding and discolorations, you may need to replace them. Otherwise, do not replace windows. Check to ensure that there are no missing or torn screens and repair or replace screens as needed.

Should I replace my driveway or sidewalk? 

In most cases, superficial cracks in a driveway will have little impact on a buyer’s opinion of the home. Unless there is a real safety hazard, do not replace a driveway or part of a driveway. If necessary, consider power washing the driveway and walkways to make it look better as buyers approach the home.

What should I do to my kitchen before selling my home?

As with all rooms in your home, deep cleaning, removing any offensive odors, replacing flooring and painting, if needed, are the most important things that you can do when preparing your home to sell. Besides that, the goal in the kitchen is to maximize space and give the impression that there is plenty of room for everything the buyer could possibly need to store or use.

  • Remove magnets, pictures, and other personal items from the front and sides of the refrigerator.
  • Remove items stored on top of the refrigerator including oversized bowls, serving pieces, or pantry items.
  • If you have a pantry, make sure it is clean and attractively organized. Remove any unneeded items to maximize space.
  • Remove everything but everyday necessities from surfaces, including blenders, mixers, crockpots, and other cooking utensils. You may want to leave a few decorative items out to enhance the space, but not enough to make it look crowded. Overall, the impression should be uncluttered and uncrowded.
  • Remove dirty dishrags, sponges, dish soap containers, cleaning brushes, and other unattractive, unappealing items.

What should I do to my bathroom before putting my home on the market?

Imagine walking into a spa-like bathroom in a hotel or inn. The space smells sweet. There is no mildew on the caulk or rust stains in the tub. Towels are dry and freshly hung or folded. No toiletries or personal items are sitting out on the countertop.

This is how you want buyers to feel when they walk into the bathrooms in your home. Clean, then clean some more. Put away personal items, even if you find it inconvenient to do so. If you don’t have sufficient space in the bathroom cabinet, consider storing them in a basket and leaving it under the sink or in a linen closet.

If you have multiple bathrooms, you may want to consider closing off one or more of the bathrooms in your home from daily use. That way you’ll have less bathrooms that you need to keep perfectly clean each day.

What are some tips to make my closets show better?

Consider storing or donating off-season, outgrown, or little-used clothing in order to keep closets from looking crowded and disorganized. If you are currently storing sporting equipment, toys, or other items in closets, consider finding alternate storage space or rent a storage unit until you are settled in your new home. You want the closets to appear as if they have plenty of space.

What should I do to my basement before selling my house?

While many buyers like the idea of a basement for storage or for later conversion as additional living space, they fear water intrusion in a basement. Evidence of water currently in the basement or past water damage will send buyers running.

There are three main reasons for water intrusion in a basement. The good news is that they are often fairly easy to correct. Check for the following:

  • Full gutters: have these thoroughly cleaned before putting the home on the market.
  • Improperly configured downspouts: Ensure these are cleared and long enough to funnel water away from the home’s foundation.
  • Improper grading: Ground should slope away from the home to ensure that water does not flow into the basement.

Once you have corrected these problems, paint the walls a neutral color and paint the concrete floor gray. This makes the space look clean and fresh and helps to cover up any prior mustiness from previous water damage.

Is it better to sell a vacant home or a furnished home?

This depends on a number of factors. If the home is attractively furnished and uncluttered, it is generally best to market it furnished. This helps buyers picture themselves in the home. However, if the home is poorly decorated, outdated, dirty, and cluttered, it will look better once it is vacant and thoroughly cleaned.

You know yourself best. Keeping a home thoroughly clean and buyer-ready is a commitment of time and energy. If you have pets, small children, or are otherwise unable to keep your home in tip-top condition, you may benefit by waiting until you have moved out of the home to put it on the market if at all possible.

Many buyers need to sell their home before purchasing another home. If that is the case, selling a vacant home may not be an option.

What is home staging?

Home staging is the process of optimizing a home’s interior design to make it more attractive to potential buyers. It seeks to minimize flaws and maximize the home’s selling points with the goal of a faster, more profitable, sale.

Is home staging effective?

According to the National Association of Realtors, 96% of buyer agents say that home staging has a positive effect on their buyers. Why? Well, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier -- vision. By helping buyers picture the home at its best, they are better able to accurately gauge its value and make better-informed decisions about its potential.

When considering whether or not you wish to stage your home, take into consideration how staging can improve the sale process, including:

  • Making it more attractive in online marketing photos and videos
  • Allowing it to spend fewer days on the market before going under contract
  • Resulting in a higher purchase price and fewer repair requests

In addition, remember that buyers make their decisions based on emotion more than logic. Don’t underestimate the emotional impact of greeting buyers with a beautifully designed and decorated space.

How much would it cost to stage my home?

There are different types of home staging depending on your home’s size, your budget, and your personal preferences. Some staging services optimize the home’s current decor by offering consultation on rearranging existing furniture, decluttering, and adding decorative accents. Other staging projects involve the installation of a whole house full of furniture, artwork, and accessories to optimize the home’s appearance.

If you are interested in staging and want to know more about the process and prices, visit the website of our preferred stager for more information.

How can I enhance the exterior of my home so that it’s ready to sell?

Whether they are driving by the home and notice the For Sale sign, looking online at homes for sale in your area, or visiting for an Open House or scheduled showing, it’s important to make a great first impression on potential buyers. Here are some easy and affordable ways to optimize your home’s curb appeal.

  • Park all vehicles in the garage and close the garage door.
  • Trim bushes and trees, especially alongside the driveway and walkways.
  • Keep the lawn mowed and fertilize and water as needed.
  • Remove weeds from flower beds and plant seasonally appropriate annuals in planters.
  • Refresh mulch or gravel around landscaping.
  • Make sure all exterior lights are in working order.
  • Store garbage cans, recycling bins, garden hoses, bicycles, and tools out of sight.
  • Pressure wash outdoor terraces, patios, and other hardscapes.
  • Remove flaking paint on deck and secure loose boards, spindles, and railings. Paint or stain as needed.
  • Power wash exterior and paint if needed. (Note: vinyl siding cannot be painted, though aluminum and wood siding can.)

Be sure to check out How to properly prepare your home for sale.