Find a top agent in your area

Get started

7 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale and Save Money at Every Step

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.

While you may need to invest lots of hours and elbow grease into prepping your home to sell, there’s one thing you don’t need to spend a lot of: money.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 things you can do yourself to get your house buyer-ready—and increase your asking price—without breaking your budget.

A lawnmower used to prepare your home for sale.
Source: (Rudy and Peter Skitterians/ Pixabay)

Tip #1: Step up your yard game

Buyers are a lot more judgmental about exterior appearances when they’re looking to drop their life savings on a property.

The first impression the outside of your home makes is so important that experts say curb appeal improvements increase a home’s value by 20%.

Luckily, DIYing your curb appeal doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg to add that increased value.

To-Do List:

  • Scrub dirt and weather-wear off the outside of your house (including the windows)
  • Clean up any yard debris (branches, leaves, and any dead plants)
  • Spray down your pathways and drive
  • Trim back any overgrowth on plants and trees
  • Weed and mow the lawn (or rake the rocks if you live in a desert clime)

It takes a pair of top-notch pruning shears to properly manicure your greenery, just make sure you don’t go overboard and do irreversible damage that will eventually kill all your shrubs and trees. Your buyer’s home inspector will definitely notice if you go wild, and that can cost you big time if they ask for a price reduction.

As for the lawn, anyone can fire up a lawnmower, and a nice clean, not-to-short cut is all any lawn needs. However, if you want that money-making, cut-by-a-pro-landscaper look without the expense, try out these lawn-striping techniques.

Money saver: Find free mulch

Mulch not only makes bare dirt flower beds look great, it also protects your plantings and improves the soil. Buying a bag of mulch will only run you $3 to $5 a bag—but one bag doesn’t go very far.

Luckily, you may be able to get mulch for free if you know where to look.

Landscaping companies have an overabundance of yard trimmings that they need to dispose of, and some use local yard trimming recycling companies to turn it into mulch that they give away to gardeners in need. Others mulch their own waste and offer it to anyone who asks.

Don’t have time to call all the landscaping companies in your area looking for free mulch? Relax—there’s an app for that! ChipDrop connects you with local arborists looking for local gardeners to take mulch off of their hands.

A mat used as a tip to prepare your home for sale.
Source: (Ida Damkilde/ Pixabay)

Tip #2: Spruce up your front entryway

First impressions don’t stop at the curb—buyers will have long minutes to rethink falling in love with your home while they’re waiting for their agent to access the lockbox.

Even the positive impact of a pristine front yard won’t help if your entryway, is dated, dirty, or downright damaged.

“We had a house that had a really off-putting front door with bubbled paint that needed to be fixed before listing, so that buyers wouldn’t notice it and wonder about other deferred maintenance,” says Bahareh Kamoei, a top agent with 10 years of experience running a boutique, family-run brokerage in Coachella Valley, California.

“We hired someone to sand it down, and then repaint it with a nice pop of color to make a positive first impression.”

To-Do List:

  • Sweep ceiling to floor—including those corner cobwebs
  • Clean or replace the welcome mat
  • Replace light fixture bulb (and replace the light fixture if needed)
  • Test your doorbell to make sure it’s in good, working condition
  • Polish up, repaint, or replace your house numbers
  • Add planters or container gardens to bring in some life and color
  • Clean and refresh patio furniture with exterior throw pillows

Money saver: Spray paint your door hardware

Nothing dates a home’s entryway like old hinges, handles, and door knockers on the front door—especially if they all have an outdated finish like brass or gold. But if they’re in good working order, you can change their look without spending a lot of cash.

All you need is a spray paint designed to adhere to metal, some steel wool and sandpaper to rough up the surfaces before painting, and some flower foam to keep the hardware upright while painting.

You can even paint the metal on your peephole without removing it, or getting spray paint all over your door. Just spray a little spray paint into the can’s lid and paint it on with a small brush.

Be sure to stick a little masking tape over the peephole lens and into the keyholes on your door handles to keep them from getting clogged with paint.

A home for sale that is prepared.
Source: (Jean-Philippe Delberghe/ Unsplash)

Tip #3: Declutter, declutter, declutter!

“The moment you decide to sell your home, it’s no longer your home. So you need to declutter and depersonalize to make it as neutral as you can, so you can appeal to as many buyers as possible,” advises Kamoei.

Decluttering and depersonalizing serve a similar purpose, but there are some key differences.

Decluttering simply reduces the amount of stuff sitting around so that it’s less of a distraction for prospective buyers who’ll want to focus on your house, not your belongings.

Depersonalizing takes decluttering one step further and removes all personal items that puts the focus on you, rather than your house. Your family photos, and your vintage toy collection all need to be packed away, but that’s not all.

You need to scan for home before every showing to make sure personal items are tucked away, like your toiletries in the bathroom, or your bills on office desk.

But before you start decluttering or depersonalizing, first grab a couple of boxes and go through the whole house packing every knickknack, heirloom, and personal favorite that you absolutely can’t live without in your next house.

Tucking treasured possessions securely away means they won’t get broken during showings or the move—or accidentally donated or sold when you’re so sick of packing you’d drop your own kidney off at the local thrift store.

To-Do List:

  • Clean and clear out your closets, packing or purging at least 50%
  • Clear clutter from kitchen and bath countertops
  • Pack and organize kitchen and bath cabinets (packing and purging 50%)
  • Declutter living and dining room surfaces
  • Declutter all bedrooms
  • Depersonalize the whole house

Money saver: Sell your stuff

This little money saver is actually a money maker that could easily earn you enough to pay for all the other spruces you want to do to get your home ready to sell.

Rather than just donating all those things not moving with you, sell them.

These days there are tons of places to sell your discards for dollars—and some items will sell better and for more money depending on where you put it up for sale.

For example, eBay is where you want to sell old electronics and vintage toys. But if you’ve got bulky stuff like furniture or riding toys that would be expensive to ship, you can still make bank on those by listing them on local sale sites, like LetGo and OfferUp.

And don’t forget the good, old-fashioned garage sale. You can make plenty of pocket change selling almost anything in your front yard if you deploy smart, money-making sales strategies.

Put a “Buy three, get one free” or “three for $10” signs up to get rid of lots of your old clothes fast—but skip price tags on the rest of your stuff. It’ll save you the time and hassle of pricing items, and you’ll likely get buyers offering more than you’d have asked for.

Once the sale ends, donate anything left that didn’t sell—but don’t forget to count and photograph everything before it goes to the thrift store. That way you can itemize all those donated items when tax time rolls around. (All those old clothes sure add up to a lot of deductions!)

A person caulking windows, which is a tip to prepare your home for sale.
Source: (veryulissa/ Shutterstock)

Tip #4: Make those minor repairs

Like every homeowner, you probably have a fix-it wish list of home repair projects for your house. And maybe you breathed a sigh of relief once you decided to sell, because now you can leave those fixes for the next homeowner.

Not so fast.

There’s no need to do any of those high dollar, dream house renovations, like a down-to-the-studs remodel of the kitchen, or cosmetic pet projects, like putting in a backyard gazebo. However, there are a number of repairs you must do before selling.

Any minor repairs left undone will be red flags to your buyer’s home inspector. Those easily-spotted obvious problems signal that the home hasn’t had proper maintenance, so then that inspector will look harder for less-obvious issues.

Soon you’ll have a laundry list of repairs that your buyers want done, or they’ll want to lower their offer because they aren’t done—or both.

So, if you’ve got one, some, or all of these following issues, you need to get them fixed asap.

To-Do List:

  • Electrical problems
    Faulty outlets, light fixtures, or switches; frayed wiring; damaged junction boxes; loose or missing wire nuts
  • Draining and grading
    Clogged or damaged gutters; inadequate downspouts; poor grading that causes rain or melting snow to pool around the foundation
  • Roof problems
    Leaks (and any water damage inside the home); missing or damaged shingles; wood rot; damaged or improperly sealed fascia boards; missing or damaged flashing, drip edge, or other finishings
  • Poor upkeep
    Dirty filters in the HVAC; cracked, dirty, or damaged caulk around windows and doors; peeling paint; cracked pavement
  • Plumbing issues
    Dripping faucets; calcium buildup on plumbing fixtures; leaky pipes; mold or water damage

The good news is that—thanks to all of the great home repair content online—you can DIY a lot of these little projects, even if you’ve never done them before.

Even hard-to-do jobs are doable if you do your research—like removing hard, white calcium buildup on faucets or replacing the caulking around all of your windows and doors.

Other jobs, like electrical or plumbing issues, require professional help to ensure they’re done right and to code—or you’ll have to spend more money later to fix them.

Money-saver: Call up a handyman

When you’ve got a long list of too-complex-to-DIY projects, hiring several specialists (plumber, roofer, electrician, etc.) to tackle them all gets super expensive.

Luckily, there’s a way to get the jobs done without breaking your budget: hire a handyman.

Most handymen are jack-of-all-trades, meaning they can handle a whole assortment of small projects, including minor plumbing and electrical work (like replacing faucets and light fixtures). And, they can do a number of small jobs all in one day—which means you only need to pay that mandatory service call fee, or minimum charge per project, once.

Just make sure that you verify that they can complete all the work within one day, and check their referrals to ensure they’re qualified to do a good job on the projects you want done.

Have the job site ready for them to work:

  • Move furniture out of the way
  • Clean out under the sink if they’re replacing faucets

That way you’re not spending money on them doing it themselves, or on waiting around for you to do it after they arrive.

Buying some of your materials ahead of time can help, too.

Most handymen arrive equipped with the basics like electrical tape, wood filler, and a variety of nails. However, if you’re having them install things like new patio pavers, light fixtures, or faucets, you can save time by having those items already purchased and ready for installation. Just be sure to recalculate, remeasure, and read the packaging until you’re absolutely sure you’ve got the right stuff.

Source: (JESHOOTS.COM/ Unsplash)

Tip #5: Deep clean every nook and cranny

“A clean home is the most important thing that’ll help it sell, and that doesn’t cost much because you can do a lot of it on your own,” says Kamoei.

Perhaps the most budget-friendly item on this list is DIY the cleaning—but don’t take this task too lightly, just because it’s cheap and easy.

You’ll cost yourself money in the long run if you do a half-baked job, like skipping the tedious task of dusting around all the windows and door frames, or wiping down every inch of wall and baseboard.

Since you’re used to living in your house, you’ll be tempted to think, “Even queen won’t look to see if I dusted behind the recliner.” But the queen wouldn’t be looking to purchase your property.

Buyers want to kick the proverbial tires of your house, so they’ll be poking their noses into every nook and cranny—and if they find dirt, they’ll suspect that you’ve deferred maintenance in other areas, too.

And now they’re no longer looking for reasons to love your house, they’re spying out potential problems with your home.

So, no matter how tempted you are to skimp on your cleaning efforts, you need to sweep, scrub, buff, and polish like you’re turning your house into a laboratory’s cleanroom.

To-Do List:

  • Whole house
    Sweep, vacuum mop; remove spiderwebs dust ceiling to floor (in that order, so you don’t mess up what you’ve already cleaned); scrub walls baseboards; deodorize as needed
  • Kitchen
    Wipe down cabinets countertops (including grooves, corners, crumby crevices and sticky hardware); scrub appliances inside out (even if you’re taking them with you)
  • Bathrooms
    Scrub down every inch of all fixture (don’t forget the dust bunnies around the sink and toilet bases); scour shower/tub grout caulking; polish shiny surfaces with microfiber cloth

Money saver:

There are several ways to shave off costs from your house cleaning efforts. For one you’ll save on average $167 each time you don’t hire a professional cleaning service. You can also:

  1. Buy generic brands of cleaning supplies.
    It’s tempting to default to buying Windex and Mr. Clean every time. You’re used to seeing these brands and you trust them. But go for the store-bought on certain items (with the exception of dish soap) you could find big savings—the generic household eraser costs 40% less than the name brand, the Spruce notes.
  2. Make your own cleaning solutions with household ingredients.
    Check out these DIY solutions for all-purpose cleaner, kitchen deodorizer, and glass cleaning solution. Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon are your friend!
  3. Use rags and towels rather than buy cleaning wipes. 
    Who doesn’t have a pile of old rags perfect for wiping down surfaces? Put them to work rather than purchasing Clorox wipes or the like.
Paint rollers used to prepare a home for sale.
Source: (David Pisnoy/ Unsplash)

Tip #6: Roll on a fresh coat of paint

After cleaning, top agents often suggest fresh paint as the next best thing to do, and for good reason. Almost like that “new car smell”, new paint has a way of making a lived-in home feel brand new—especially if you choose a cohesive, neutral paint color for the whole house.

But getting a professional paint job can be hard on the wallet.

It can cost an average of $6,900 to paint the interior of a 2,300 square foot house, with two coats of paint on the walls, and a second color for baseboards and ceilings. Add on painting the exterior too, and that’ll run you an extra $2,500 to $3,000 for a 1,500 square foot house.

If you don’t have an extra $10,000 to get that done, you’re in luck. Rather than spending thousands on a pro to paint the whole house both inside and out, you can tackle this big, but doable job yourself.

It’s especially doable if you brush up on the tips and tricks that pro painters use, like using blue painter’s tape to mask absolutely everything, invest in a painter’s rod to reach overhead areas, and use the right rolling techniques to get complete coverage.

Of course, the biggest secret to getting that pro painter look happens before the first paint can is cracked open. It’s all about how well you do the prepping and patching work.

To-Do List:

  • Remove all clutter and breakables from the rooms; move furniture away from the walls
  • Thoroughly clean walls and baseboards (otherwise you’ll see grime spots and dust motes in your fresh paint)
  • Patch nail holes, dents, cracks, and damaged drywall
  • Retexture bigger patches (that simply scream “there used to be a hole here”)
  • Protect floors and furniture with tarps and temporary flooring protectors
  • Tape off windows, doorframes, ceilings, outlet faceplates, and everything else where you don’t want paint
  • Paint everything, using time paint-saving techniques
  • Remove tape, tarps and protectors (using a putty knife to score the paint along the edges so pulling off the tape doesn’t pull up the paint)
  • Replace all furniture and décor

Of course it’s not always necessary to paint the whole place—especially if you’ve painted the place in relatively neutral colors within the last three to five years.

“You can get away with doing touch up paint in some cases, but make sure the color matches. Otherwise, you’ll just make it look worse than it already did. And I’ve seen a lot of paint jobs gone wrong,” says Kamoei.

The same is true for painting your exterior.

If your whole exterior needs repainting, this probably a job best left to the pros. But if all your exterior needs is a few touch-ups, this is something you can do yourself. Simply scrape, sand and paint problem spots—but sure you color test your new paint on some out-of-sight area to make sure it’ll blend well with the existing color.

Money saver: Use a primer and buy less paint

One of the most expensive mistakes newbie interior painters make is trying to cover dark or bright walls with a light, bright neutral paint.

Those original hues (like midnight blue or crimson red) are so intense and vibrant that they’ll show right through your new, neutral paint—making it look like you’ve painted them a pale blue or pink, rather than a neutral hue.

Things just get trickier when you’ve got just one vibrant accent wall to cover and you’re trying to get it to match the rest of the room.

It can take five, six or more coats to finally get those deep, or brilliant wall colors, which gets expensive when you’re paying anywhere $15 to $40 a gallon or more.

Pro painters avoid the unnecessary expense of extra coats by painting on a  primer paint like Kilz first. Primers are specially designed to blot out existing colors to create a blank canvas so your color goes on cleanly and evenly.

And that’s not all they do. If you’ve got walls that have absorbed odors, like smoke or pet smells, most primers are designed to block those, too.

A room in a home that is being prepared for sale.
Source: (Francesca Tosolini/ Unsplash)

Tip #7: Stage your house to help buyers visualize it as their own

It’s taken a lot of work to make your house warm, inviting, and filled with personality. Well, when you’re ready to sell, it’s time to pack up that charm and create a blank slate to help buyers imagine their own perfect dream home.

Staging your home with an appealing, neutral décor is how you get the job done.

“One house I recently sold had pink walls and original everything because the homeowners didn’t have the budget to fix it up. And it had been sitting on the market for eight months,” recalls Kamoei.

“Instead of spending money on painting it, we opted to use their small budget towards staging, because their furniture was dated, too. I’m happy we did because after we brought in a professional stager, someone bought the property the very next day. That’s the power of staging.”

According to our data, over 51% of surveyed agents found that staging power translated into a faster sale for 1% to 10% more money than your unstaged neighbor.

To-do list:

  • Remove bulky furnishings
  • Rearrange remaining furniture for better flow
  • Refresh worn out furniture with inexpensive slipcovers
  • Create vignettes to demonstrate the functionality of any awkward spaces
  • Add pops of color with rugs, throw pillows and vibrant vases
  • Warm up bland bathrooms with fluffy towels
  • Bring life into a barren kitchen with an arrangement of pretty succulents
  • Soft stage empty rooms with artwork on the walls

Money saver: Bargain hunt

Head to the thrift shop. Staging with new décor items is a great way to add people-pleasing eye catchers and pops of color, but it doesn’t need to be expensive.

Since there’s no need to keep these items after your home has sold, go ahead and pick up generic (and cheap!) items, like towels, artwork, decorative bowls and vases, throw pillows and rugs from discount home goods or even dollar stores.

If unable to your inner decorator and stage your house yourself, take heart and ask your agent for help. They’ll have great advice on décor ideas that help homes sell, and some even offer complimentary staging services to their clients.

DIY saves money—but only if you do it right…and well

Notice a trend throughout these money-saving tips? Doing the bulk of the work yourself rather than hiring it out will save you tons of cash, but only if you’re capable of turning out pro-worthy results.

“Homeowners can do a lot of cosmetic things themselves, like painting a wall, or boosting curb appeal with planters. But stick with projects that you know you’re capable of doing, or trying to save by DIYing will cost you money in the end,” says Kamoei.

“I once had clients who thought that they could tile their own floors and it did not go well. At the end of the day, all the grout lines were crooked, so they had to allow a flooring credit because they couldn’t afford to fix it.”

So before you begin: do your research, make sure you buy the right supplies, take your time, and if you need extra help, hire a handyman.

Header Image Source: (Erik Mclean/ Unsplash)