11 Things to Do Before Listing Your Home That Are Worth the Effort

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A few months from now, or maybe sooner, you plan to sell your house. And you can think of a million things to do before listing your home that might lead to a better offer: swap out the damaged laminate for tile, repaint certain rooms to match the rest of the house, fix the landscaping. The more you think about it, the more the mental to-dos mount.

It’s important to know which projects are worth tackling and what to leave as-is. We’re here to help you prioritize the big stuff with these recommendations for impactful pre-listing tasks that will resonate with buyers and ensure a smooth home sale process.

Connect with a Top Agent

If you’re starting to prepare your home for sale, hiring a great real estate agent is an important step to take. HomeLight data shows that top-performing agents sell homes faster and for more money than average agents.

1. Purge the house of clutter

As early as a few months before you list, start decluttering your home. If you consider your kids’ toys and art projects, old bathroom toiletries, and stacks of mail — you may realize that you’ve been storing many items that you could re-home or discard to prepare for putting your house on the market.

A tidy house presents well in listing photos and in person, and entices buyers to make a strong offer. According to HomeLight’s Summer 2023 Top Agent Insights report, decluttering adds an average of $8,000 in resale value to a home.

“Buyers are usually looking forward to a new lifestyle, not just new walls and doors,” says Kendall Rodesiler, top real estate agent in Toledo, Ohio. “So, if we show them a lifestyle that just feels like clutter and chaos, they’re not going to be interested.”

Follow these steps to get started:

  • Clear countertops and miscellaneous items on the floor.
  • Pare down the items on display on open shelving, mantels, and walls. Store family photos in a safe spot and remove sports memorabilia and knick-knacks.
  • Sort through old stacks of mail, paperwork, and pens and notepads cluttering up places like the kitchen and home office. Shred sensitive documents you don’t need.
  • Pack away small appliances that you don’t use daily, like the air fryer, along with seasonal items such as the turkey roasting pan.
  • Get a few plastic containers for stashing away toiletries. Store them in bathroom cabinets and use them to hide your everyday makeup, toothbrush, hairbrush, etc.
  • Rifle through the nightstand, toss the items you don’t use. Use the space to hide your nighttime reading or other bedtime items. Leave just a lamp on top.
  • Ditch expired food from the pantry and refrigerator.
  • Reduce closet items. Consider whether to donate excess towels, linens, or clothes you haven’t worn in awhile.
  • If your house still looks cluttered with the items you plan to take with you to the next residence, rent a storage unit as an interim solution.

2. Deep clean forgotten areas

If you plan to live in your house while you sell it — as most sellers do — you’ll need to get into a routine of regular cleanings and quick spruce-ups before buyers pop in for showings.

However, these tasks will be a lot easier if you deep clean as one of the top things to do before listing your home.

Focus on these often-neglected areas:

  • Dust ceiling fans. Use a step ladder and cleaning spray to complete the chore. Swap your rag for a pillowcase to prevent particles from falling to the floor.
  • Wipe down the doors and interiors of closets and cabinets. Use a microfiber duster in the corners.
  • Clean under appliances. You can attach a tube sock to the end of a yardstick with a rubber band to sweep in the crevices. Vacuum up debris.
  • Clean baseboards using the vacuum cleaner brush attachment. Follow up by applying a sponge dipped in warm water and dish soap. Use a cotton swab for dirty corners.

Consider what other areas of the house haven’t been cleaned in awhile and tackle those places now. According to HomeLight’s research, deep cleaning can add $3,731 in resale value.

3. Tackle neglected maintenance

Whether you should take care of major repairs — such as replacing a 25 -year-old roof before selling — is a conversation to have with your real estate agent and evaluate according to your budget. But you can get a head start on making small repairs around the house to make sure everything is in good working order before buyers come through.

Start off with the following repairs:

  • Have the HVAC serviced if it’s been more than a year.
  • Patch holes in the drywall.
  • Change all air filters.
  • Replace burned-out lightbulbs.
  • Make sure the windows open and close, and repair any that stick.
  • Fix that leaky faucet or water heater.
  • Make sure the basics such as major kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures such as toilets, baths, and showers all function correctly.

4. Gather repair and renovation records

If you’ve lived in your home for a significant length of time, chances are you have the records or receipts for appliance repairs and upgrades, renovations big and small, as well as services to your HVAC and fireplace. Collect those now to have them ready for your real estate agent, home inspector, and property appraiser.

“I always want a list of everything they’ve done since they’ve moved in, or the big things that they’ve done over the last 10 years,” says Rodesiler, who provides potential buyers an itemized list of upgrades and repairs.

Unless they’re buying brand-new construction, buyers consider your home “used” and wonder how soon they’ll have to replace or repair something, such as a major appliance.

If you can prove that you’ve already spent the time and money to upgrade your home or keep it in top working order, you’re crossing chores off a buyer’s to-do list, making your home more attractive.

5. Hire a stellar real estate agent

On the list of things to do before selling your home, put hiring an agent near the top. When to contact a Realtor® varies depending on how fast you want to sell and the condition of your home, but generally, reaching out about three months in advance will give your agent enough time to prepare your home for sale.

Contacting an agent in advance will help you in a number of ways:

  • You’ll get access to data on your home’s value through an agent’s comparative market analysis.
  • You’ll receive tailored advice on what updates or repairs your home needs to sell — and what you can skip.
  • You’ll better coordinate steps such as a pre-listing inspection and preliminary title report before your house hits the market (more on those below).

“I like to be the starting point for clients when they’re considering listing their home,” Rodesiler says. “A lot of times, if they don’t do that first, now they’ve done a bunch of things that weren’t necessary, so it might have wasted time or wasted money.”

Companies like HomeLight have made the search for a Realtor or real estate agent even easier and faster by introducing free agent-matching services that elevate top-of-market performers. However you find your agent, be selective in who you pick. Our internal transaction data shows that the top 5% of real estate agents sell homes for as much as 10% more than average.

Top Agents Know What Sells Homes

If you’re thinking about selling your house, partnering with a top real estate agent early in the process can be a great move. They have the experience to know how to get you through the process, from prepping your house for sale to getting to closing day.

HomeLight takes just two minutes to match clients with the best real estate agents — who sell houses faster and for more money — who will contact you and guide you through the process. To connect with an agent, simply tell us a little bit about your property and how soon you’re looking to sell.

6. Consider a pre-sale inspection

You might feel like you’re intimately familiar with your home, but there may be issues brewing that you aren’t aware of. Rather than hear about them for the first time from the buyer’s inspection, consider ordering a pre-listing home inspection, so you aren’t gobsmacked after you’ve accepted an offer.

An inspection will cost you an average of $281-402, depending on your local real estate market, your home’s size, and the home inspector’s experience, but it can give you peace of mind if you’re concerned about deferred maintenance or big problems lurking. Jennifer Smeltzer, a top real estate agent in Jackson County, Missouri, suggests obtaining a pre-listing inspection no sooner than two months before listing to be as current as possible while still allowing time for repairs.

If you don’t have enough funds to cover repair bills upfront, talk to your agent about selling the home as-is or consider requesting a cash offer on your home instead. You can start with HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, which provides cash offers for homes in almost any condition and allows sellers to close in as little as 10 days.

7. Obtain a preliminary title report

A preliminary title report, or “prelim,” is a summary document that tells you, the seller, if there’s anything outstanding on your property before you put your house on the market. In other words, it’s a precautionary report.

If you find any liens against the property for unpaid property taxes, HOA fees, child support, another lender, or other reason, you won’t be able to sell the home until you’re settled up and clear the lien.

Title issues can take a while to resolve, so it’s best to start that digging as soon as possible.

A preliminary title search also reveals deed restrictions, or any limits to the property’s use, such as the type and amount of vehicles allowed on the property — all valuable details that an agent needs to know before listing your home.

8. Do selective light remodeling

You’ve likely heard that buyers like turnkey homes or those that are move-in ready. That’s why agents may recommend light renovation projects. “Most buyers have just done all of this work to get their home ready for sale. The last thing they want to do is walk into another set of chores,” says Rodesiler.

In general, Rodesiler suggests small updates to make a home feel fresh, such as:

  • Replace dated faucets, light fixtures, ceiling fans, and hardware.
  • Install new bathroom and kitchen faucet fixtures if yours are dated.
  • Remove wallpaper and paint over the walls in neutral colors.
  • Paint dated kitchen cabinets a fresh shade of white.
  • Re-stain aging hardwood floors to bring them back to life.
  • Steam clean carpets or replace unsalvageable carpeting with a neutral, durable, and affordable selection.

However, don’t go overboard. Check with your agent about whether you should, say, replace the crown molding in the living room based on your home’s price point, the neighborhood, and comparable sales. “If it isn’t typical for the neighborhood, then it’s a waste of money,” Rodesiler says.

9. Boost your curb appeal

Turn a critical eye on your home’s exterior, as 92% of top real estate agents say that great curb appeal adds resale value.

Focus on the most impactful outdoor projects:

10. Estimate your net proceeds

It costs money to sell a home, so it’s helpful to have an idea of what those expenses will be prior to listing the property for sale.

Sellers typically pay between 6%-10% of the final sale price in closing costs to cover:

  • Agent commissions
  • Transfer or excise taxes
  • Prorated property taxes
  • Recording fees
  • Escrow fees
  • Seller concessions

You won’t know exactly how much you’ll take home until you receive your estimated settlement statement at closing with an itemized breakdown of fees and credits. But to get a ballpark idea of your costs and payout, follow these steps:

11. Plan your next move

Due to a low supply of housing inventory, it could take you longer to buy a home than it does to sell your current one, so it’s best to get ahead of where you plan to move next.

“Is it a short-term rental, staying with family or friends? We have a lot of people living with family and putting their things in storage,” Rodesiler says. “If a seller doesn’t have a contingency plan, they’re just not putting their home on the market until they can get one.”

While it takes time to calculate those next moves, knowing what’s ahead — much like preparing your home before listing — can relieve some stress from the process.

Make every pre-listing task count

There’s plenty to do and consider before listing your house on the market. Yet, not every project is worth the time, effort, or money. Focus on the most impactful tasks: decluttering, deep cleaning, addressing key maintenance issues, enhancing curb appeal, and hiring a knowledgeable real estate agent who can guide you through the process.

Header Image Source: (Jonathan Borba / Unsplash)