When selling a home, there’s a lot of work just to prep your house for sale. However, real estate agents say it’s not uncommon for clients to forget something when prepping. We’ve assembled this list of the top things you can take care of to help your home make a great impression, entice buyers, and attract great offers. Some of these items may seem like no-brainers, but we bet there are a few that you never thought of!
Prep your house for sale: Common tasks
1. Declutter, depersonalize, and deep clean
Everyone knows that your home should be as close to a blank slate as possible when selling homes. You want potential buyers to look at the beautiful features in your home without focusing so much on your items or dirt and grime. You don’t want them to see crowded closets and cabinets, cramped rooms full of furniture, and piles of junk mail on the counter.
“I’ve noticed that people forget to empty as much as they can out of the home,” says Noe Favela, one of Illinois’ top-selling real estate agents with over 15 years of experience. Instead, pack what you don’t need for everyday life as you’re decluttering and depersonalizing. The more you pack up during this stage, the less you need to pack when ready to move!
Note: If you don’t have time to deep clean your home (or hate cleaning), a professional cleaner is a great option. Professional cleaners usually charge between $125 to $235 on average, but you could pay $600+ if your house is larger than 3,000 square feet.
2. Pressure wash the exterior
You work hard to keep the interior of your home clean, but you can’t forget to clean the exterior of your home as well! “From the moment I pull up to a house, I’m looking at the roof,” says Cheryl Bare, a top real estate agent in Waldorf, Maryland, who has sold 66% more properties than the average agent in her area. “Many people have mold growing on it, and it makes the roof look old, but it might just need a good power washing.”
Home improvement stores offer rental pressure washers at $40 to $100 per day. You can rent the pressure washer for the weekend and use it to clean more than just the roof. You can use it on:
- Exterior walls
3. Spruce up the front entryway
The easiest way to make a great first impression is to take a little time to spruce up the front entryway. Your front entryway needs to be welcoming and make the buyers eager to get inside.
Ways to make your entryway pop:
- Give the front door a new paint job (Homes & Gardens has some great color ideas)
- Use a sponge and soapy water to clean the mailbox (or replace it for less than $100)
- Place a new, yet generic, welcome mat in front of the door
- Update light fixtures for less than $100
- Decorate with potted plants
4. Check walkways for trip hazards
A cracked or uneven driveway or walkway isn’t just an eyesore, it’s a safety hazard, and you don’t want potential buyers to trip when they’re coming to see your home. For minor imperfections, you can repair the cracks yourself. However, if there are large problem areas, your best bet is to contact a professional contractor for estimates.
The cost of sidewalk repair depends on the size of the project, but leveling concrete slabs ranges between $550 to $1,300. To repair a driveway, the cost ranges from $750 to $2,300. The size and landscape of your driveway and the extent of the damage add to the cost of a repair project.
5. Clean and tidy attic, basement, or garage
The interior and exterior of your home look fabulous, but what about those spaces that aren’t used every day? Storage spaces like the attic, basement, or garage still need to be swept and dusted like the rest of your house. But thankfully, you don’t have to make these spaces sparkle (unless they’re used as a finished living space).
If you’re leaving the appliances with the home and still under warranty, be sure to have the warranty information and receipts ready to give to the buyers. You may also have warranties for landscaping, roof repairs, paving the driveway, and much more.
To cover any problems or malfunctions, sellers can also purchase a home warranty during the listing and escrow period. It can also be used as a marketing incentive because it gives buyers peace of mind knowing the condition of the house is protected when they submit an offer.
You can read more about home warranties here.
7. Refresh paint
Painting is a great way to revitalize any home, and neutral colors are the golden standard in terms of color. However, that doesn’t mean everything has to be white! “A common mistake [homeowners] have is that they think they should paint their entire house white,” a top-selling real estate agent from Illinois, Nicole Tudisco, who has sold 448 single-family homes, comments.
You can use white on the baseboards, crown moldings, and trim, but other great neutral paint colors are popular among today’s buyers.
8. Let in the sunshine
There’s nothing like walking into a room flooded with bright sunshine! The house will feel larger, cleaner, and more inviting than dark rooms that feel closed off. So do yourself a favor and always open all of the window treatments in your home.
A top real estate agent will always run a comparative market analysis (CMA) to determine how much your house is worth. Still, a pre-appraisal can be helpful – especially if you’re trying to sell your house independently. Taking this step can help you get ahead of any problems, so they don’t become unwelcome surprises just as you’re getting ready to seal the deal.
10. Neutralize foul odors
Homeowners who have pets or smoke tend to go nose-blind and cannot tell if their home is plagued with foul odors – but buyers certainly can! Unfortunately, despite what commercials for air fresheners say, you cannot simply plug something in or spray something into the air to eliminate odors.
To help remove tobacco odors, Tudisco recommends running a humidifier for a couple of days and opening the windows before a showing, though more aggressive steps may be needed requiring professionals.
Pet odors, especially cat urine, are a common issue that requires more than just opening windows. Cat urine, in particular, can be really bad. “You have to replace the carpet and make sure you replace the floorboards underneath because just priming the floorboards before laying new carpet down won’t hide it. I had a client who tried to cover the cat urine smell with Glade Plugin or something – so it smelled like flowers mixed with pee!”
Words of wisdom: “You don’t want to be overwhelmed by these plugins and candles, and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by pet odor. You want a nice neutral, clean smell,” says Bare.
Prep your house for sale: Tasks you may not have thought about
1. Look up your home address
In 2020, 97% of buyers began their house hunt online, so it’s important to know what buyers see when they come across your listing. First, search your home’s address and read through the property’s details to ensure they’re correct.
If your property shows up on Google Maps street view, look to see if it shows any new updates to the exterior of your home. If not, be sure to include the updates in your listing.
2. Pre-listing inspection
In most cases, home inspections are unavoidable. Porch surveyed 1,000 people who bought a home and revealed that 88% of buyers order home inspections before closing, and 83% of mortgage lenders even require it.
As a seller, pre-listing inspection is like an ace up the sleeve. Instead of waiting for the results of a buyer-requested home inspection and having to either negotiate or make the repairs, you’re well ahead of the game. A pre-listing inspection will reveal any repairs that need to be made, help determine a price point, encourage more substantial offers, etc.
3. Hire a professional photographer
The real estate agent you’re working with should have a few professional photographers in their network to call upon to take great photos of your property. However, in today’s age, pictures aren’t enough. If the photographer your agent recommends doesn’t offer it already, look for a professional photographer who can do a video walkthrough and aerial photography.
Since many buyers start their search online, the more they can see your property, the better it is for you. The video walkthrough can give buyers a sense of the flow of the house. At the same time, aerial photography can highlight your property and the surrounding area, thus giving potential buyers a full view of the property.
4. Boost curb appeal
You may have pressure washed the exterior of your home, spruced up the front entryway, and patched up any cracked concrete, but that’s not going to be enough to wow potential buyers.
If you have a little extra money, there are a variety of curb appeal projects that will give you a good return on your investment. For example, if you were to invest $3,467 on curb appeal before listing your home, real estate agents estimate that you could see a 238% return on your investment when you resell.
Curb appeal projects with high ROI include:
- Basic yard care: cut grass, fertilized lawn, and weed control (estimated cost: $340)
- Three cubic yards of bark mulch to be delivered and laid out (estimated cost: $275)
- Landscaping upgrade to include new walkway, flower bed, shrubs (cost: $4,500)
- Paint home exterior (estimated cost: $3,000)
- Install new garage door (estimated cost: $1,200)
“As the weather gets better, you want to take advantage of improving curb appeal. Just cleaning up your yard first and then decluttering would be the number one thing where I would start,” Favela recommends.
5. Think about small details
Small things like a bowl of bright fruit on the kitchen counter, a bench near the door, or a basket of fresh white towels may not seem like it makes an impact, but it makes a big difference to buyers. Small things like those examples can make a bland room feel lived in and welcoming.
6. Wipe down light switches, door handles, and outlet covers
Let’s be honest: how many times have you wiped down the light switches, door handles, or outlet covers in your home? Although they aren’t that noticeable, we come in contact with them regularly, and they can get pretty dirty! Fortunately, it doesn’t take time to wipe them down (just be careful when cleaning the outlet covers).
7. Adjust the thermostat
The ideal temperature range for comfortable living is between 68 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite what the US Department of Energy says, 68 degrees Fahrenheit may be on the cold side for some people coming to see your house, so you may want to increase the temperature a couple of degrees, the sweet spot being between 70 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to make sure potential buyers are comfortable, regardless of the season!
8. Take out the garbage and recycling
Before potential buyers arrive, make sure the garbage and recycling have been taken out. If need be, wash the bins to remove any lingering odors. No one wants to see your empty cola bottles or smell the leftovers from yesterday’s spaghetti!
9. No pets at showings
Although your house may not reek of pet odors, buyers may not harbor the same enthusiasm for your pets as you do. When possible, take your pet out on an outing or arrange for someone to watch your pet while potential buyers are at your home so they can tour your home in peace.
10. Consider professional staging
Staging a house may seem like an unnecessary added expense (the average range is $357 to $2,542), but it can make a difference. Although staging is just cosmetic, a well-staged home can help buyers envision themselves living in the home.
11. Be honest in the seller’s disclosure
If you choose to forego a pre-listing inspection, you still need to report known issues in the seller’s disclosure document. This is especially important if severe issues like a basement that floods, a leaking bathroom sink, or a hairline crack in the foundation because it lightens your legal liability.
You can find out what are your state’s mandated disclosures here.
12. Replace light bulbs
What do you do after you’ve opened the blinds and curtains, even turned on all the lights, but it still looks dark in your room? Switch out the lightbulbs, of course! Older bulbs produce a yellowish light, making everything look old and dated. Plus, buyers appreciate new LED light bulbs (both from an energy standpoint and not needing to replace light bulbs in the foreseeable future), but they produce a much brighter light.
Favela comments: “When you light up a home, it maximizes the space and light in your home – it just gives a different feeling. Changing the lighting can make [a house] sell so much easier.”
Breathe easier when you know how to prep your house for sale
You need to do so many things to prep your house for sale that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But with insight from top real estate agents and HomeLight at your side, you can breathe easier about what to expect every step of the way.
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- "Why You Should Offer a Home Warranty When Selling Your Home," Angi (March 2022)
- "What Is Nose Blindness And How Can It Affect You?" healthline (September 2020)
- "Real Estate in a Digital Age," National Association of Realtors® (September 2021)
- "Home Inspection Leverage," Porch
- "Programmable Thermostats," U.S. Department of Energy (2021)