Use this Straightforward Guide to Get Your House Ready to Sell

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

There’s so much to do when you’re getting your house ready to sell. So many decisions to make: “Should I paint? Should I clean? Should I hire a roofer to put on a new roof? What about a plumber? How important is a good real estate agent, anyway? Where do I start?”

Don’t panic!

It’s possible to sell a home without losing your mind. We’ve put together this simple guided walk through that you can use to go step-by-step through the entire process of preparing your home for sale.

Back Up: Let’s Do Some Market Research

A house can’t go up on the market without a reasonable asking price.

Go dig up the median home prices in your city and neighborhood to get a better understanding of what your house is worth. Forgoing this step could lead to some unwanted complications when listing the home and negotiating the deal. Nobody wants those.

Take San Francisco for example. The city’s real estate boom is famous but the market might actually be cooling down. “Somebody who might have pulled the trigger at $5 million last year now might be a bit more cautious,” said Josh McAdam, a top producing real estate agent in San Francisco, told CNBC this April. “It’s not the same environment.”

Start by researching home prices on sites like Zillow but keep in mind that these sites may not always have accurate data. According to The Washington Post, sites like these offer an automated model that can be wildly inaccurate.

A better strategy is to contact a few real estate agents who sell property in the area. The agents are out there in the local housing market day in and day out so they’ll have a good handle on how much similar properties go for in the surrounding area.

Get the following housing market stats:

  • Average Price Per Square Foot
  • Median Home Price for the City
  • Median Home Price for the Neighborhood
  • An answer to whether or not homes tend to sell below or above asking

Pick a Good Real Estate Agent

Your first thought might be to call up your third cousin, the part-time Realtor, when it’s time to sell your home. The thing is, an experienced real estate agent– someone with a history of selling in the neighborhood– is essential if you want to get the best price for you home.

Here’s how to tell a good agent from a bad one:

1. Good agents will have a history of sales in the area

At HomeLight, we’ve found that by analyzing the historical home sales data in a state we can identify agents who are better at covering specific neighborhoods or metro-areas.

Picking an agent with actual sales in a neighborhood can, depending on the area’s housing market, result in a 1 to 20% higher selling price for the home.

Real estate agents who have sold other properties nearby will be able to price your home better, understand price trends, point out good local schools, and likely show your property to buyer’s agents they trust.

2. Good agents can move a property fast

When a home sits on the market for too long it loses the appeal and can cost you money. Just like with sales prices, we can use the frequency of sales and compare agents by how long their listings sit on the market.

We’ve found that some top real estate agents can get homes sold in half as much time as the average real estate agent.

find a top real estate agent
Source: (Matthew Addington / Death to Stock Photo)

Get the House Ready: The Real Work Begins

Home prices aren’t merely a reflection of raw square footage. Appraisers take into account recent updates, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and a variety of other factors that may or may not be in your control.

Getting a house ready to sell isn’t about remodeling the kitchen, putting in brand new appliances, or adding a pool. Nor is it just about cleaning and primping. It’s about finding clever ways to emphasize the best features of the house and shoving the less than marketable traits under the rug.

As you prepare the house, try to think about every detail from the buyer’s perspective.

Buyers need to imagine themselves living in the home but visualizing a comfortable life in a new home is tough when the house is filled with someone else’s tchotchkes and family portraits.

You’ll want to make as many cosmetics improvements — paint, wallpaper, landscaping — as is financially feasible, take care of those once postponed mechanical repairs, and find the best way to stage each room so that it looks livable without looking lived in.

staging a cozy and comfortable living room
Source: (David Sherry / Death to Stock Photo)

Let’s take it one step at a time:

1. Say goodbye to clutter

After living in a home for a long time, everyone starts to accumulate a fair amount of stuff. All those hobbies, cute furniture pieces, and personal knick-knacks can really add up. The problem is that when a prospective buyer walks into a home, any clutter will immediately turn them off.

The first step to staging your home is to get rid of as much “stuff” as possible. If you’re unwilling to sell it off, go rent a temporary storage unit for the items you want to keep.

Here are a couple of options for finding temporary storage space in your area:

Rent a mobile storage container that sits outside of the house until you’re ready to move.

Search for available storage space in your area and get some moving help too.

An interesting new mobile app start up that lets you send stuff into storage on demand. Take a picture of something and a pickup truck will show up and take it away.

Making room is essential because the next step is to organize everything in the cabinets. Throughout the showing, prospective buyers will come through the home and open every cabinet and closet.

organize and declutter the closet and cabinets
Source: (Roberto Nickson / Unsplash)

If they see that your cabinets are organized, clean, and full of available space they’ll think two really positive things:

  • Your home has more closet space
  • You’ve taken good care of it over the years.

2. Put away mementos

Every home is filled with family photos, vacation souvenirs, and assorted personal items. These give the place a personal touch and make it feel like a home but they can also make it harder for a prospective buyer to imagine making your house into their home.

According to Roslyn Ashford of ra ra rooms, Inc. 87% of people can’t visualize their things in someone else’s home. “That’s why it’s important to depersonalize the house to make it easier for the prospective buyer to see himself or herself in the space,” she said.

Top real estate agents are split when it comes to this piece of advice but many of them recommend that sellers pack away family photographs, souvenirs, and wedding save the dates into boxes.

Mementos are precious to you but not to a potential buyer.

Don’t just leave the walls empty and full of holes though. The trick is to depersonalize the house without making it look bare.

3. Paint the walls in neutral colors

Almost every time someone walks into a room on HGTV’s “House Hunters” they’ll say “this paint color is hideous.” Paint color, wallpaper, and carpeting are often an expression of someone’s unique taste but they’re the first things a buyer sees when they walk into a room.

Go through the house and paint all the walls in neutral shades of white, eggshell, and beige. Painting the walls in neutral colors is another way to effectively depersonalize each room.

Need a good painter to give the house a once over?

First, read through this Consumer Reports guide then check out a few of these services:

Probably the cheapest option. Find someone looking for odd jobs and get it done quick.

Fill out their quiz and find a painter who is used to painting similar properties.

Find certified, vetted, and consumer approved painters at any price point.

Find A Painter:
Search specifically for painters in your area.

4. Double check that all of the appliances work

No one wants to buy a house with broken appliances, even if they plan on replacing them. Make sure all your appliances work and are as clean as possible.

Take special care of the following appliances:

  • Kitchen appliances (dishwasher, oven, microwave, stove, refrigerator)
  • Laundry machines (washer and dryer)
  • Bathroom appliances (sinks, showers, toilets, and baths)

5. Make minor repairs

Everyone lives with a few things that need repairs like bedroom locks that don’t work or those pesky wall cracks that haven’t been painted over. Now is the time to make those minor repairs, as prospective buyers will latch onto anything that isn’t repaired and up to date.

Pay particularly close attention to repairs on doors, entryways, bathrooms, and kitchens as they’re likely to be the most trafficked areas during the open houses and showings.

6. Check your curb appeal

During staging, the focus tends to go towards the inside of the house but a home’s exterior is arguably even more important.

curb appeal for selling your house
Source: (Leslie Archard / flickr, via Creative Commons)

Mow the lawn, trim unruly hedges, and take the time to weed. Your house has to look warm and inviting when prospective buyers pull in. Curb appeal is important to 71 percent of home buyers when choosing their house, according to a 2013 National Association of Realtors survey.

We’ve seen that taking the time to do a little curb appeal landscaping can potentially increase a house’s property value by upwards of 12%.

7. Clean like you’ve never cleaned before

It’s not enough to take out the 409 and spray off the kitchen counters. Your home needs to be as clean as a five-star hotel.

Each room will need to be vacuumed, all furniture should be shined and cleaned, and all of the following needs attention:

  • Spray down sidewalks, exterior, and driveway with a pressure washer.
  • Wash windows inside and out.
  • Dust all services and clear cobwebs.
  • Re-caulk tubs, showers, and sinks.
  • Polish chrome faucets and cabinet pulls.
  • Rent a carpet cleaner.
  • Dust ceiling fans, and other hard to reach places.
  • De-odor musty areas.

8. Be prepared for the inevitable house inspection

An inspection won’t happen until an offer has been accepted, but it can happen very shortly after. You want to be prepared at a moment’s notice for an inspection.

  • Clean up – You’ve probably already done this to show the home but clean and clutter-free rooms will make it easier to inspect.
  • Consolidate paperwork – Have a folder handy of all the paperwork that details your home’s history of repairs, so this can easily be passed off to inspectors when the time is right.
  • Clear the entrances – An inspector will check to make sure people can easily get up and down staircases and into rooms. Make sure all doors and windows are cleared in your home.
  • Replace all light bulbs – The inspector will flick on and off every light switch in your home, so make a good impression by ensuring that every light turns on.

    guide to selling your house
    Source: (Alexandra Gorn / Unsplash)

Be honest: Would you buy the house?

In order to sell a house, you’ll have to detach yourself from it. It’s not your home anymore. It’s a house. A piece of property with objective value that will demand tender love and care.

Go into your house, and assess it as though you were a potential buyer. Are the rooms overflowing with furniture? Are the colors neutral? Is there mail all over on the kitchen table? Are the closets and cabinets organized? Do your best to detach, invite a friend or coworker to take a look, and assess things as a skeptic observer.

Find a trusted real estate agent with a proven track record in your area, do what you can to maximize the property value, stage each room to persuade buyers, and get the house sold for a good price.