The ‘Glass Bubble’ and Joy of Decluttering: Getting a House Ready to Sell

“Getting a House Ready to Sell” is part three of our six part “How to Sell a Single Family Home” series. Check out Part 1: How to Find a Real Estate Agent and Part 2: Pricing a Home for Sale. 

There’s a remarkable difference between what your house looks like day to day and what your house looks like when you have people coming over. Day to day it’s probably got some clothes on the floor, toothpaste in the sink, bread left out in the counter, kids’ toys spread everywhere, dishes in the dishrack. When you throw a party you sweep all of that away like it was never there, light a few candles, buy fresh cut flowers for every room, and place an orchid on the bathroom sink.

When you prepare your home for sale, you have to live like you’re throwing that fancy party every day, and you’ve got to up the stakes. While your friends understand that you didn’t have time to vacuum or clean stray marks off the wall, prospective buyers won’t. An un-prepped home gives them the leverage to negotiate the price down, make a lowball offer, or walk away from your single family home altogether.

If that’s not enough to persuade you to take the time to prepare your home, look at the upside: Consumer Reports says there’s a 3-5% value increase for a clean, decluttered house.

Preparing your house for sale isn’t an easy process: there’s a lot to be done and you have to do it on top of working, spending time with friends and family, and doing all of the other small tasks you need to take care of. Preparing your home is worth it, though, and we’re here to help you.

We put together an all-inclusive guide for how to declutter, then clean, prepare the exterior of the home, and then stage and show the house.

A Quick Single Family House Decluttering Guide: The KonMari Method

When we sold our single family home 15 years ago, our real estate agent told us that the buyer had gone to two open houses and then, having forgotten to inspect the closets, joyfully attended a third just to check them out.

People get excited about closet space. Haven’t you ever enjoyed looking at a beautifully organized rack of clothes in a little boutique? Your closet, and the rest of your house, should look like that rack of clothes. It needs to be decluttered and feel minimal yet homey, sparse yet comfortable, clean and welcoming.

The best way to declutter your single family house is with the KonMari method. Getting rid of your possessions can be painful, especially if you attach emotion and memory to them. The KonMari method recognizes those emotional attachments and teaches you how to know when to hold onto something and when to let it go.

What is the KonMari Method?

The KonMari method is a decluttering process developed by Marie Kondo. The process is acclaimed by millions of people because it works. It’s based on the Japanese philosophy that every single item you own should bring you joy. Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a #1 New York Times bestseller. Time also named Kondo as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Are you paying attention yet?

KonMari plays on your personal intuition, and because of this it tends to work faster and easier than other decluttering methods. The initial gut feeling you have when you pick up your stuff drives you to keep or discard it. Gut reactions mean quick decisions.

While the idea may seem more emotional than the traditional, “throw out what you don’t need,” you know as well as I do that you have items you’re hanging onto because you think you should keep them.

While it’s unreasonable to ask you to empty your entire closet while you’re still living in the home, know that prospective buyers are going to snoop. You can’t just stuff your collection of shoes and cat pillows in there. Buyers will judge (even if we won’t).

3 Steps to a Clutter-Free Single Family Home

1. Carve out an afternoon to start the process.

Start with the room that needs the most TLC. Maybe your living room is stuffed with kids’ toys or your t-shirts or clothes spill out all over your bedroom floor. Grab several trash bags and locate everything in the house to (at least) its proper room.

2. Recognize the mess before it gets better.

Take out everything from its proper place. Then, you’re literally going to hold everything and recognize if 1. It brings you positive energy 2. You legitimately need it. If there are items you already know you need to get rid of, by all means–put those in the donation pile first.

3. Now, organize your decluttered space.

The goal is to pare down everything you no longer feel joyful about, want, or need so that everything you own fits into its own space. You should then artfully fold and hang everything (rainbow order looks best) as if your drawers and closet were the racks of that designer boutique.

Don’t get discouraged if the process takes longer than you thought it would–it’s a big job. Set a deadline for yourself, and do your best to stick to it.

Now that you’ve decluttered, it’s a prime time to clean your house. We’ll walk you through the supplies you need and what you should do to conquer every nook and cranny of your single family home.

How to Deep Clean and Maintain A Spotless Single Family House

In addition to clutter, buyers pay attention to how clean your house is. As Jennie Moshure and her team of top single family home sellers in Atlanta say, “It’s a beauty pageant and a price war.”

Dale Chandler, a top 1% agent for selling single family homes in Phoenix, Arizona, told us about his personal experience selling a single family home.

“I just sold my mother’s house. She’s 81 years old, and I couldn’t tell her she needed to clean. So I just called in a professional cleaner to come in and do it. You don’t want to offend somebody, and what I tell people is, “You’re going to be living in a glass bubble for 30 days.”

The “glass bubble” phenomenon is real: buyers expect a home so clean it feels like a five-star hotel room in Paris you checked into this morning. You’ll need to deep clean the house to remove dirt and grime from years past, any caked in odors, and the general wear and tear of living in your single family home for years. Then, you have to maintain that clean, as buyers will come in and out for showings at all hours, sometimes without little notice.

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How to Deep Clean Your Single Family Home

If you don’t have the time to clean your home yourself, you can opt to call in the professionals. Be warned, however, that the cost for a team to come in and clean your house really adds up. Depending on the service, you could spend anywhere from $25-$45 per hour, which means you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a task you could do yourself.

1. Collect Your Cleaning Supplies

You’ll need to invest in some deep cleaning tools if you don’t already have them. Check out our list of cleaning supplies for a full and extensive list. In short, you’ll need:

  • Gloves, sponges, microfiber cloths, paper towels
  • Environmentally friendly tile and grout cleaners like Method Tile and Grout
  • Soft scrub for the nitty-gritty details
  • Swiffer duster/pledge all surface spray duster
  • Toilet bowl cleaner and toilet brush
  • Vacuum
  • Mr. Clean magic eraser for wall marks and surface stains
  • Swiffer for quick floor cleaning

2. Go Room By Room

You’ll go room by room and literally scrub from top to bottom. Pay attention to small crevices that collect dirt, crumbs and dust. This includes the inside of cabinets and even drawers because buyers will open them to check out the space.

3. Clean the Extensive Floor Space in Your Single Family Home

You’ll need to polish, clean, and shampoo your carpets, tile, and hardwood floors. According to large company Stanley Steemer, having carpets cleaned costs around $99 per room, hardwood costs around $145 per room, and tile costs around $149 per room. These are estimates as prices vary area by area, but as you can see a proper floor clean costs big bucks. There are machines you can rent and clean your carpets, tile, and hardwood floors yourself for a fraction of the cost. Sites like the Home Depot offer all of these tools for as little as $20-50 per day for each.

Make sure you take on the floors after you’ve scrubbed down each room in order to keep them as clean as possible. You’ll need to keep all surfaces sparkling for the duration of your home sale

Get the House Ready to Sell: Keep the Clean

As Dale Chandler says, you’ll be living in a “glass bubble,” so once you deep clean the house you have to keep it clean. This is difficult, especially with pets and kids, but you’ll need to go through and maintain the clean as often as possible. While it would be easy to say, “Just give the home a wipedown before showings,” showings can happen at unexpected times and you need to be available and prepared at the drop of a hat.

If you have the time, go through and vacuum and scrub surfaces every night before you go to bed or every morning before work. The more often you can do laundry to keep piles of dirty clothes at bay, the better!

Here’s Your Before Bed Cleaning Checklist:

  • Wipe down bathroom surfaces with your all-purpose cleaner
  • Put away any clean laundry and make sure dirty laundry is off the floor and in the hamper
  • Wipe down kitchen surfaces
  • Dust bookcases, nightstands, and dressers
  • Use your Swiffer to take a quick pass at floors and collect any dirt from the day

The interior of your home sparkles (nice work!) and now you need the exterior to feel the same way.

Tackle the Exterior: Essential Curb Appeal

Most likely, because you live in a single-family home, you have a lawn, driveway, and a ton of potential for great curb appeal. The best change you can make to your curb appeal is to fix any existing issues like a bad roof, peeling paint, cracked pavement, bad drainage, or bushes higher than windows that will put the home inspector on high alert. Then, you’ll need to make just a few cosmetic updates and you’ll be all set!

Maintenance Fixes to Address:

  1. Cracked or Peeling Paint: Peeling paint is a huge problem, especially because the home inspector will mark it on her inspection report. If the whole exterior is peeling, you may have to get it repainted, but check in with your real estate agent first before you make such a major change. If only a few sections are peeling, you may be able to fix the peeling paint yourself.
  2. Overgrown Bushes: You may be surprised to hear that home inspectors check to see if exterior bushes have grown above window height. Overgrown bushes limit the light that enters your home and also impact the ease of evacuation in case of a fire.
  3. Drainage Concerns: Does your lawn slope down towards your house? If so, you might have poor drainage. Get this checked out as soon as possible.
  4. Roof Problems: Roof damage is definite cause for concern, but you (hopefully) won’t have to replace the whole thing. Most roofing companies can switch out tiles and repair damaged sections for a much lower cost than fixing the whole thing.

Small Cosmetic Upgrades to Make:

  1. Mow and Fill Out Your Lawn: Take a look for any signs of damage, wilting blades, bald patches, or overgrown weeds. Most likely you’ll need to do some work. Seeding the lawn is the best way to add color and fill out the grass. This project, if you’re curious, has a 317% return on investment. The lawn is also the first thing buyers see when they pull up, you need to get it right.
  2. Power Wash the Exterior: This fix is much more affordable than repainting (if you don’t have any peeling paint) and brightens the whole exterior of your home.
  3. Make the Front Door Stand Out: Painting the front door is pretty affordable (it costs around $100-$300 to get it done professionally) and makes a big statement to buyers. Go bright or go neutral here–it’s up to you and your agent.
  4. Plant Seasonal Flowers: Flowers in bloom add a pop of color and vibrancy to your exterior and shouldn’t take long to put in. You can also opt for pots on either side of the front door.

Now that both the interior and the exterior of your home are clean, decluttered, and ready to go, it’s time to get the house ready for photographs. We’re venturing back inside to stage the house and prepare it for buyers to walk in.

Getting a House Ready to Sell: Staging Your Single Family Home

You can stage the home yourself with the advice and assistance of your real estate agent, or you can call in a professional stager. Either way, you’ll need to create functional space in every room. You do not want a buyer to see a room in your home and not be able to imagine a use for it.

We asked Karen Parziale, a top staging professional in New Jersey, for some expert advice.

Karen said, “Most people don’t create focal points in each room and they don’t relay the emotional benefits of the house. What I try and do is create little lifestyle vignettes.”

You create these “vignettes” and functional space by arranging the furniture around a focal point. You’ll want white or cream walls, neutral furniture, and pops of color with flowers, art, or throw pillows. The home should feel cohesive and consistent.

Since you’ll market your single family house to growing families or families with children, this could mean that you make the spare bedroom a kids room, hint that the family room could also function as a playroom, or show off great tree-house space, climbing trees, or a pool in the backyard.

Quick Tips for Single Family Home Staging Success

  1. Clear all clutter from every room
  2. Give the walls a fresh coat of paint–but stick to shades of beige
  3. Leave only furniture and small details like a candle and vase of flowers out on empty surfaces
  4. Small details should add color and texture but should not overpower the space

Getting a house ready to sell for showings.

How to Prepare Your Single Family House for Showings

Chris Bessette, top 1% agent for selling single family homes in Orlando, has small children. He also has his own single family home listed for sale on the Florida market right now. Chris felt your pain when he had a couple show up early for a showing.

“For showings, it can be a challenge. There was one weekend morning where we were getting the house ready. I’ve got little kids, so we’d put stuff away and they’re dragging it back out, so it’s a little bit more of a challenge, especially with kids.

And the people showed up half an hour early. I could see them walking up, and we needed that half an hour. So I walked out and said, “Can you give us a few minutes?” and they stood there for ten minutes, and we did as well as we could.

So I have a little more empathy, I think…It can be stressful, and that’s why having a great agent who can guide you through that process can certainly help.”

As Chris’s situation exemplifies, preparing your single family home for showings with little (or even a lot of) notice is challenging, especially with children or pets. The best strategy you can have is to make sure that you’ve decluttered so much that all of your items have their own place in the house and are placed there when you need to let prospective buyers in.

Here’s a list of the things you need to address when your real estate agent calls you and asks to show your house.

  1. Is the home clean? Take a look at your “Before Bed” cleaning checklist, and add a quick vacuum in if you have time.
  2. Is all clutter put away? Put any items that have strayed away from their designated spots in the house back. Make sure the kitchen doesn’t have any dirty dishes in the sink, you’ve run and emptied the dishwasher, and remove toothbrushes and toiletries from the bathroom.
  3. Do I have a place for my pets? Make sure dogs and cats are secured and safe in a kennel or you take your pets with you.
  4. How does the place smell? Take out all trash. Then, give the house a good sniff. You’ll want to deodorize right before a showing. We’ll show you how (and why) below!

Getting a house ready to sell: be sure to deodorize with candles, natural fragrances, or reed diffusers.

Deodorize Your Home for Showings

Preparing your single family home to sell means that it should smell as fresh and clean as the inside of a Williams Sonoma store. There are several ways to deodorize your space and make it smell amazing. Good news: when you cleaned your carpets and hardwood floors during your deep clean, you got the stink out from spills, odors you tracked into the house over the years, and pets. Now, especially for the open house and private showings, you need to eliminate any day to day odors and leave the place smelling awesome.

  • Keep all trash outside or in bins with lids inside an enclosed space.
  • Invest in reed diffusers or candles for most rooms. You should not overpower the space–the sent should be subtle but present. This means that your deodorizers do not need to go in every room.
  • You can also DIY a simple deodorizer on the stove with lemon, rosemary, water and vanilla extract.

Smells like fresh baked bread or cookies can actually be too overwhelming for the buyer, so don’t worry about baking before every showing.

How getting a house ready to sell impacts marketing efforts

How Preparing Your Single Family Home for Sale Impacts Marketing Efforts

Your real estate agent needs to take professional photos of your single family home in order to market it most effectively. The cleaner it is, the less clutter it has, and the better the furniture is staged, the more amazing your photos will look. Spending time at this point of the process makes a big impact later on.

The National Association of Realtors found that 46% of buyers were more willing to visit a staged home they saw online over a non-staged single family home. In addition, NAR found that 81% of buyers felt that it was easier to imagine themselves living in a staged house. This is why all of the work you did is so crucial: the photos will draw buyers in. Let’s dive into how your real estate agent markets your property, and what you can do to help.

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