A leaky faucet, creaky door, dirty gutters, weeds galore—as a homeowner, there’s always something that needs your attention. Ain’t it fun?
Studies show regular home maintenance can increase your home value by about 1% each year. But that 1% increase doesn’t account for costs. In 2017, repairs and general maintenance cost US households an average of $168 per month—adding up to just over $2,000 in a year. So for a home worth $200,000, the cost of upkeep negates any increase in value.
Home maintenance may not actively earn you money, but it will keep you from losing money when it comes time to sell. Home value can drop swiftly if you don’t take care of your investment.
We consulted with experts and researched standards from the American Society of Home Inspectors to create a handy, in-depth checklist that will keep your house in tip top shape through winter, spring, summer and fall without eating up precious hours. With limited time on your hands and a mile-high to-do list, pour your energy into these maintenance projects that buyers will notice.
A Tale of Two Home Sales
Real estate broker Julie Wyss, one of San Jose’s top 1% of seller’s agents, recalls two recent listings of hers that were in the same neighborhood:
“One had been completely maintained, but it didn’t sparkle. It didn’t look any better—the kitchens and bathrooms needed updating, the floors needed updating, the doors needed updating,” explains Wyss. The other listing was a “very similar home where everything had been let go. It had been a rental for years.”
Wyss says that first home sold well over asking price within five days, while the more neglected home didn’t sell until several months—and price reductions—later. “So buyers do appreciate when a home has been maintained,” Wyss says.
The difference came down to what real estate agents call the nuts and bolts: “things like the water heater, furnace, roof, windows, plumbing,” she says. If the more functional features in a house have been maintained, even if you’re working with dated countertops and linoleum flooring, then the home has good bones.
Your home maintenance priorities will shift depending on when you plan to sell. Homeowners with a longer timeline should look after the nuts and bolts of their home and make sure that those functional features do not fall into disrepair.
For homeowners with a shorter timeframe—who want to sell within a year or less, for example—that’s when the cosmetic details can come into play. In those cases, because buyers often make decisions based on emotions, it makes sense to prioritize the tasks that will boost buyers’ first impressions.
Home value comprises both the nuts and bolts and the more emotionally appealing cosmetics. So to cover our bases, we researched standards from the American Society of Home Inspectors to learn what nuts-and-bolts issues inspectors report to homebuyers. We also considered those issues that might not be covered in an inspection but could put off buyers concerned with curb appeal and charm.
From there we compiled a handy checklist that will ensure you are ready to sell your home whenever the time comes. We’ve broken down the tasks by how often you should do them, as well as the time of year.
- Vacuum the floors.
- Wipe down stove top and vent.
- Mow the lawn.
- Clean window sills.
- Wipe down kitchen appliances.
- Clean and replace your A/C filters.
- Test and replace batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector.
- Clean inside drawers and cabinets, and wipe down cabinet doors.
- Clean your drains and sink disposal.
- Add salt to your water softener.
- Replace light bulbs as needed.
- Clean out the rain gutters.
- Inspect and clean your siding.
- Trim unruly leaves, branches, and other vegetation.
- Fill cracks in your concrete driveway, sidewalk, and/or patio.
- Inspect your roof.
- Test your sump pump.
- Inspect your central air conditioning unit.
- Inspect and clean your exterior doors.
- Clean and stain your deck, stairs, and other wooden features outside.
- Check your pipes, water heater, supply line.
- Inspect your foundation.
- Give your garage door a 10-minute tune-up.
- Touch up paint on exterior walls as needed.
- Check your sprinkler system and make needed repairs.
- Clean your siding.
- Inspect your central heating system.
- Check and clean exhaust fans in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room.
- Add caulk and weather stripping to windows and doors.
- Clean out the rain gutters again before winter precipitation arrives.
- Inspect your electrical outlets.
- Inspect and clean your interior doors.
- Inspect your attic insulation and ventilation.
- Check and clean your chimney (if you have a fireplace).
- Touch up interior walls with fresh paint where needed.
- Winterize your water pipes.
Now let’s take a deep dive into each of these checklist items:
Weekly Home Maintenance Checklist
Vacuum the floors.
A neglected carpet can play host to dirt, dust, mites, and even mold. Buyers will quickly see—not to mention smell—whether you have regularly and thoroughly cleaned the floors. With your home value on the line, investing in a decent vacuum will be well worth the initial cost. Priced at $140 on Amazon, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is Wirecutter’s pick for affordability and flexibility.
Wipe down stove top and vent.
This item in your kitchen is designed to catch grease, so can you really blame it for looking a little nasty? The good news is you can prevent any truly horrific buildup by regularly de-greasing the vent. You will need to detach the filter from the hood, then soak it in a cleaning solution before brushing off any grease.
Mow the lawn.
An unkempt yard will turn off buyers from the moment they pull into the driveway. A good rule of thumb is to mow the lawn once a week. But when temperatures drop to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, most grass goes dormant—meaning it grows so slowly you won’t need to cut it until the weather warms up again.
Clean window sills.
Don’t forget the window tracks! Interested buyers are sure to glance out the window at some point during their walk-through, and if they happen to look down they will not want to see a collection of dead bugs. Don’t worry—most of the time a simple wipe-down with a microfiber cloth will be enough. If there’s a lot of buildup, you can sprinkle baking soda over the track and sill, then spray the surface with water and vinegar, coming back a few minutes to later to scrub it with a toothbrush.
Wipe down kitchen appliances.
If you plan to leave your appliances in the home after selling, they don’t need to be the most up-to-date models as long as they are clean and in working condition. With that in mind, make sure to clean them all—microwave, oven, refrigerator—inside and out at least once a week.
Monthly Home Maintenance Checklist
Clean and replace your A/C filters.
Changing your air filter can prolong the life of your A/C unit, make the unit work more efficiently, and maintain higher air quality in your home. If you regularly forget to check off this task, try signing up for a subscription service like FilterEasy, which sends you a new filter when it’s time to change out the old one.
Test and replace batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector.
Different types of smoke alarms will require battery replacements on varying timelines, but the U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing your alarm monthly. You should also test your CO detector monthly. If you don’t have a CO detector yet, SafeWise ranks the Kidde KN-COPP-3 as one of the 10 best options of 2018.
Clean inside drawers and cabinets, and wipe down cabinet doors.
Regular cleaning will keep you from having to tackle truly stubborn grime in your drawers and cabinets. Swipe your microfiber cloth along the inside of any drawers or cabinets to rid them of dust or dirt.
Freshen up your drains and sink disposal.
Old food can build up inside your garbage disposal and start to stink if you don’t clean it often. Grind up orange and lemon peels—their acidity will break down the old bits of food and, for bonus points, will leave the sink area smelling much fresher when buyers tour the house.
Add salt to your water softener.
Unsoftened water can corrode pipes, reduce the life of your appliances, and make cleaning more difficult because it tends to leave a grimy buildup. Each of these negative effects, in turn, can diminish the value of your home. Peer inside your brine tank about once a month—you want to keep it about half full as a general rule. Refill as needed.
Replace light bulbs as needed.
Having working light bulbs is especially important when you are showing your home to buyers. Light and space sell homes, so you should maximize the light in your home by replacing any burnt-out bulbs. If you don’t want to think about replacing bulbs very often, consider an energy efficient option like the Philips everyday A19 LED bulb, which can last up to 10 years.
Spring Home Maintenance Checklist
Clear out the rain gutters.
It’s a good idea to clear your rain gutters of debris at least a few times per year, especially before spring and winter precipitation arrives. Doing so will help prevent major water damage, which can account for some of the costliest home repairs.
Inspect and clean your siding.
Different types of siding will need to be treated or cleaned on different timetables, but all kinds will benefit from a good cleaning—probably with a power washer—once or twice per year. Consumer Reports suggests using a gas-powered pressure washer for siding rather than an electric one—and advises that renting is a valid alternative to buying for homeowners concerned about storage and upkeep.
Trim unruly leaves, branches, and other vegetation.
The National Association of Realtors ranks landscape maintenance as the top outdoor project likely to boost a home’s resale value—over features like a new pool or patio. So you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on extravagant landscape projects, as long as you keep your yard looking tidy.
Fill cracks in your concrete driveway, sidewalk, and/or patio.
Cracks in a driveway or sidewalk can grow over time and lead to more serious problems, necessitating bigger fixes later on if they go neglected for too long. To improve your home’s curb appeal and avoid those bigger fixes, try a product like Quikrete, which lets you make those quick repairs to small cracks.
Inspect your roof.
For a thorough inspection, you’ll want to actually climb onto the roof (or hire someone else who will do it for you). Check out all the various features on your roof including flashing, skylights, and chimneys; look for missing shingles, gaps where water could leak through, or signs of rotting wood. A roof at the end of its life expectancy might need to be replaced, but if you intend to sell your home and you know the roof still has a few years left, you can focus on quicker fixes.
Test your sump pump.
Rather than wait for a rainy day to discover your sump pump has stopped working, test it seasonally by pouring water into the pit and watching to see if the pump gets triggered. If the sump pump doesn’t work, it could get flagged during a home inspection and cause buyers to feel wary.
Inspect your air conditioning unit.
Not only will regular HVAC maintenance keep your monthly bills low, but it will also give you a better chance at a favorable result in the home inspection by prolonging the unit’s life.
Here’s a complete guide to cleaning and maintaining your A/C unit, beyond replacing the filter once a month.
Summer Home Maintenance Checklist
Inspect and clean your exterior doors.
One survey found 90 percent of real estate agents considered buyers’ first impressions of a home’s front entry an important factor in their ability to sell the home. Check your front door (as well as other doors) for signs of wear and tear, and address those problems before you list the house.
Clean and stain your deck, stairs, and other wooden features outside.
If you’ve rented or bought a power-washer to clean your siding, it will come in handy here too. You might be surprised what a difference it can make just to wash your deck—but if you want to take it a step further, you can also apply a fresh coat of wood stain to make it look brand new.
Check your pipes, water heater, and supply line.
Plumbing problems are a big no-no when it comes to selling your home. Buyers and home inspectors alike will not look kindly on corroded pipes. You may want to hire a professional for bigger problems, but you can catch many of those problems before too late if you regularly inspect the plumbing in your home.
Inspect your foundation.
Experts suggest that foundation problems can reduce your home value by as much as 15%. To catch and resolve any problems before it’s too late, look for holes or cracks that might indicate foundation issues. You should also check that the ground slopes downward away from your home to prevent possible water damage.
Give your garage door a 10-minute tune-up.
A faulty garage door can pose a safety risk to any visitors in your home, including potential buyers. It can also be just plain annoying to deal with!
Tuning up the garage door doesn’t have to be a time-consuming project, though; here’s a guide to checking it out in 10 minutes or less.
Touch up paint on walls as needed.
Just like you might freshen up your make-up on a first date, attracting potential buyers may require you to freshen up fading or chipped paint, both inside and outside. Fresh paint will lend a brighter, cleaner feeling to your home.
Check your sprinkler system and make needed repairs.
Not only will a home inspector note whether the sprinkler system is in working order, but vegetation in your yard will suffer if it’s not getting the water it needs.
Fall Home Maintenance Checklist
Clean your siding, again!
In many areas of the U.S., the beautiful fall weather means that winter is coming. Now’s your last chance to take a broom to to sweep away cobwebs, dust, pollen and dirt and check for signs of damage like mildew or rot before the cold sets in.
Inspect central heating system.
Be proactive about making sure your central heating system is in good working order before you’ll be relying on it heavily in the winter months. Angie’s List, an established home services website, says that having your furnace inspected annually can reduce your energy bills and prevent health risks. Getting a professional to check it out should only cost you $60-$85.
Check and clean exhaust fans in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room.
Some states require homeowners to disclose the presence of mold to buyers, so it’s a good idea to keep mold problems at bay, both for home value and your health. Bathrooms especially are prone to mold and mildew, but a clean and functioning fan can prevent those hazards by providing good airflow to the small space.
Add caulk and weather stripping to windows and doors.
Fresh caulk in your bathroom, kitchen, and other areas is one of the easiest, most affordable ways to boost your home value, and it makes a huge difference. She recommends digging out old caulk and re-caulking once a year to keep the house looking fresh.
Clean out the rain gutters again before winter precipitation arrives.
Prevent leaf build-up, clogged downspouts and water damage with a quick gutter cleaning in the fall—major home improvement company Lowe’s offers a great guide for gutter cleaning, maintenance and repair.
Winter Home Maintenance Checklist
Inspect your electrical outlets.
This might be a good task to hire a professional for, because there is some danger in meddling with electrical systems if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, you can at least take a cursory look at the outlets, cords, and panels around your home to decide whether it’s time to seek out an experienced professional.
Inspect and clean your interior doors.
Clean doors in the home will leave potential buyers with an overall impression of newness, cleanliness, and light. All you need to clean those interior doors is soap, water, and a rag, and you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to wipe them down.
Inspect your attic insulation and ventilation.
At least once a year, venture into your attic to do a quick check of the space and insulation. As a rule of thumb, your insulation should be at such a high level that you cannot see the attic joists beneath it. If the insulation is level with the joists, or below them, you’ll want to add more insulation. You’ll be keeping your energy costs lower and preventing a red flag during the inspection.
Check and clean your chimney (if you have a fireplace).
Failing to clean your chimney can cause a fire hazard, as well as put off potential buyers. If you prefer to clean it yourself rather than hire a professional, first check for animals that might have taken up residence there. Then you’ll need to invest in a chimney cleaning kit like this one from SootEater that will work for any chimneys up to 18 feet tall.
Winterize your water pipes.
Homeowners who experience cold weather for part of the year will want to winterize the pipes if they plan to leave the house vacant for an extended period of time. So before you take off on your holiday vacation, make sure to turn your water off at the source, and open all faucets to allow a slow, constant drip. Taking these steps will keep your pipes from freezing and bursting, leading to expensive repairs before you can sell your home.
Regular Maintenance Will Save You From Future Headaches
Home maintenance is a never-ending chore, and every house will come with its own unique challenges.
This checklist is vetted by top real estate agents across the country who know what matters most to buyers, but home maintenance gets easier when you can set priorities specific to your needs and location.
Talk with a local real estate agent today who’s sold many properties like yours in your area, and ask them to give you a list to work through depending on your timeline.
Your future self will thank you for the effort you put in now.