What to Do to Sell Your House Successfully: 12 Universal Tips Virtually Every Homeowner Can Use

Mention to anyone who’s sold property that you’re planning on selling too, and you’ll be inundated with advice on what to do to sell your house.

Completely overhaul your outdated kitchen. Let the new owners handle the remodel. Install brand new carpeting. Just steam clean the old carpeting. Chuck the carpeting altogether and install faux wood flooring instead.

When everybody and their uncle is telling you the “best” things to do to help your home sell, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So, how do you decide which suggestions are right for your home?

Before you go making rash decisions that actually hurt your chances for a fast sale check out our recommendations for “must do” pre-listing tasks that apply to virtually every home seller.

We’ve compiled the definitive list of home prep advice most frequently given by top real estate agents—including the reasons why they’re so important and links to guides to that will help you do each job right.

Older couple listening to real estate agent explain what to do to sell their house.
Source: (VGstockstudio/ Shutterstock)

1. Sign on with a stellar real estate agent—STAT

Hiring the right real estate agent should be first on every home sale to-do list—because you need agent expertise to double check the rest of your home prep plans.

Your home’s condition, the neighborhood it’s in, and your competition are all unique. With your agent’s knowledge of what buyers want and what features are helping homes sell in your area, your home will sell for the best possible price—if you follow their advice.

“I beg my sellers not to spend any money before I come over because they usually spend too much money on the wrong stuff,” says Chris Pappalardo, one of the top 2% of agents in Greensboro, North Carolina ranked for successfully selling homes fast.

“I had a seller who wouldn’t let me in the house until after it was ready and the poor guy replaced his master bathroom shower with brass fixtures. Even though he’d just spent all this money, I had to tell him that brass is outdated.”

2. Use the ‘invade your space’ test to make sure you’ve decluttered enough

What’s on your nightstand?

A box of tissues, important mail, your phone charger, your current book—all of those essentials jumbled together just looks like junk to buyers. Decluttering gets all signs of your everyday routine (and excess knickknacks, too) out of sight so buyers can focus on your home’s assets rather than your mess.

Unfortunately, you can’t go shoving it all in closets, as buyers will likely be peeking inside to check out your home’s storage potential. So empty out and organize your closets as well.

Decluttering isn’t just for the little stuff—it also includes big ticket items like furniture.

“You want your rooms to feel big. So if you have an overcrowded arrangement of extra furniture that leaves literally only an inch of space between the buyer and their agent, it’s uncomfortable,” explains Pappalardo.

“So I do a fun test with sellers called the ‘invade your space’ test. You walk around the house with your partner to make sure that there’s no walkway or room that forces people tight together.”

Check out these amazing before and after decluttering transformations from Simply Spaced for inspiration.

White mud room that is de-personalized to sell house.
Source: (Douglas Sheppard/ Unsplash)

3. Transform your house into the buyer’s future home with depersonalization

While you’re decluttering, think about ways to depersonalize each room.

Your family photos, your scrapbooking craft corner, your heirloom Art Deco armchair, your collection of vintage coca cola memorabilia—anything that reflects your personality, hobbies, interests, or family needs to go before you list your home for sale.

The same goes for signs of your political and religious affiliations—and your sports fan memorabilia, too.

“In North Carolina, a lot of people are UNC Tar Heels fans and a lot are Duke fans. Believe it or not, if you leave UNC memorabilia up, you might have a Duke fan who literally will not buy your home because of it. I am not even remotely kidding,” explains Pappalardo.

Remember, it’s going to be somebody else’s house soon. Depersonalization makes it easier for prospective buyers to envision themselves making your house their home.

4. Protect your privacy and valuables nosy buyers

Decluttering and depersonalizing aren’t just about helping your home sell—these seemingly mundane tasks are about protecting you and your possessions while your house is on the market, too.

Grandpa’s prized coin collection, your collection of heirloom china, that one-of-a-kind rug you bought on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation—almost everyone owns items they consider priceless.

But if you leave them on display while your home is on the market, chances are those valued possessions are going to be trampled, jostled, or handled by complete strangers.

“A buyer’s agent can’t be with every single person, every single second. And people, especially kids, are gonna want to touch stuff. That’s just human nature,” advises Pappalardo. So never leave anything out that you’re concerned with somebody touching or getting near. Lock it away where people can’t get to it, period.”

Privacy is a concern for that reason, too.

You never know who’s going to be poking around your house who might take advantage if you leave personal data out for prying eyes to see. So, once you’re done decluttering and depersonalizing, take one last look around the house for any items that might be revealing too much.

After all, that needlepoint family tree grandma gifted you may look adorable on your wall, but it’s also sharing your kids’ middle names and birthdates to complete strangers.

White door with copper knob that has been cleaned to sell house.
Source: (Annie Spratt/ Unsplash)

5. Dive into deep cleaning from floor to ceiling

No matter how much junk you get rid of, that won’t help your house sell if you list it dirty. However, when an agent asks you to clean before listing your home, they’re not talking about tidying up for company.

They’re recommending a deep clean so thorough, your home doubles as a cleanroom for assembling delicate technology or conducting environment-sensitive science experiments. You’ll need to clean areas you’ve never thought to clean before, like door frames, baseboards, and underneath every piece of furniture a buyer might possibly move.

Basically, anything that could accumulate even a speck of dirt needs a thorough cleaning. And your interior isn’t the only area that needs attention.

6. Eliminate foul odors that could stop a buyer in their tracks

If your home has an ongoing funky odor, chances are you don’t even smell it anymore—but potential buyers will. Luckily, your agent’s nose knows when a house has an odd smell that might prevent the offers from pouring in.

How you get rid of the stench all depends on what type of odor it is and where it’s coming from. Stinky drains, pet smells, cigarette smoke, musty upholstery—each pungent scent has different techniques that work best to deodorize your house.

Some can be solved with deep cleaning, but removing other foul smells require more drastic measures.

You may need to rip out all carpeting, repaint every room, replace any odor-absorbing furniture, or even board your beloved pets in a kennel until after you’ve accepted an offer.

Handyman's tool belt at a house for sale.
Source: (Jesse Orrico/ Unsplash)

7. Buckle on your tool belt to tackle minor repairs

One downside to deep cleaning is that you’ll be getting up close and personal with every inch of your home—which means you’ll likely discover a laundry list of minor repairs that need fixing.

As tempting as it is to leave all of those repairs you’ve been letting go for years to the next homeowner—doing so may sink your shot at a top dollar price.

“If you’re not willing to do the $5 caulk job, or buy a $20 gallon of paint to fix flaking paint, then what other maintenance items aren’t you addressing?” asks Pappalardo. “So repair the caulk around the tubs, fix flaking paint, make sure every window works properly. There’s so many little things you can fix.”

Little repairs left undone send warning signals to buyers that you’ve probably neglected major home maintenance projects, too. And when buyers doubt the condition of your house, they’ll only make lowball offers.

You don’t need to go nuts trying to restore your home to like-new condition, but there are a lot of little fixes that are relatively easy and inexpensive to DIY.

Tap into your inner handyman—or hire a handyman you can trust if you’re a home maintenance dummy—and get to work fixing the small things like squeaky doors, leaky faucets, and replacing caulk around tubs, sinks, windows and doors (removing the old caulk first if necessary).

Unfortunately, if your home has some major flaws like faulty wiring, leaky roof, or a bad HVAC, those big ticket, must-fix before listing items will require assistance from a professional contractor.

8. Make repairs pull double duty by prepping for inspections (and appraisals)

All of those little repairs aren’t just “should fix” projects that’ll help increase your asking price—most of them are probably “must fix” repairs if you want your home to pass its home appraisal and home inspection.

A home inspector is mainly interested in the big picture of your home’s condition. They report on how issues like water damage, roof condition, electrical problems, or structural issues could negatively impact the future health of the house.

Even on brand new houses, inspectors will find something wrong to put in their report, but if your failure to fix things results in a long repair list, buyers will either walk away from your house or ask for repairs to be made before the sale closes.

And that can cost you.

“The more of those things you do up front, the less it’s going to cost you,” says Pappalardo. “If you address them yourself or hire a handyman, it’s going to be far less expensive than when the buyer demands that a contractor do the repairs.”

The home appraisal looks at many of the same things as the home inspection, but for a different purpose.

It’s the home appraiser’s job to estimate your home’s current market value for the buyer’s lender. If you’ve left too many little repairs undone in your home, that could delay or derail your home sale.

“If the house has flaky paint, missing railings, holes in the walls, or things of that nature, then it probably won’t get approved by an FHA appraiser,” explains Pappalardo. “For example, even if you disclosed that your home needs a new roof, they may demand a new roof be put on before approving that FHA loan.”

A white bathtub replaced with new silver fixtures to sell the house.
Source: (ErikaWittlieb/ Pixabay)

9. Increase your bottom line with a handful of inexpensive upgrades

Some worn out items in the house aren’t worth the time, effort and expense to repair, especially when replacing them is cheaper and easier.

Why go to the hassle of repairing leaky brass faucets? Installing new shower and sink faucets in a modern brushed nickel finish will solve the leak problem and add dollars to your home’s value.

The same goes for dusty, dated light fixtures, too. It’s much simpler to pay a handyman $88 to $222 to install a less than $40 light fixture from your local home improvement store.

Swapping out light and plumbing fixtures aren’t the only little upgrades that increase your home’s value in a big way. A fresh coat of paint in a neutral hue not only brightens rooms, but it’s also an easy way to update your kitchen cabinets without a complete remodel.

Just don’t get carried away with these upgrades or you’ll wind up spending too much.

10. Save cash by skipping those pricey (and unnecessary) home improvement projects

The whole point of making those mini renovations is to increase your list price by the thousands. But you’re unlikely to keep boosting your home’s value simply by spending more money on flashy renovations.

Eventually you hit a point where you’ll be spending more on the remodel than you’ll make back.

Take this wish list of interior projects that most excite buyers from the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Remodeling Impact Report:

Infographic explaining recommended interior projects to help sell your house.
Source: (nar.realtor)

A complete kitchen renovation tops the wish lists of most buyers—but they aren’t willing to pay for it in increased home value. That same report shows that the average complete kitchen renovation costs $65,000 but it only increases the home’s sale price by a maximum average of $40,000.

Infographic explaining percentage of Realtors who recommend kitchen renovations to sell your house.
Source: (nar.realtor)

That’s why it’s so important to consult your agent before beginning any upgrade projects to make sure you’re spending your remodeling budget wisely.

“Some of my clients will want to install hardwood floors where laminate, vinyl, or faux wood flooring would be just fine,” says Pappalardo. “Plus, we have great relationships with vendors, so we can usually get better deals.”

When homeowners contact vendors for a one shot job, they’re going to charge a premium rate, whereas an agent who sends lots of business their way can usually get a better rate.

Orange couch with throw blanket staged to help sell a house.
Source: (Stephanie Harvey/ Unsplash)

11. Create an inviting, ‘buy me’ vibe with staging

Working to get your home’s structure in tip-top shape is only the first leg of the journey to make your home a high value listing. The next all-important, oft-overlooked step is: home staging.

Each room needs special attention to create an inviting atmosphere throughout the house.

In the dining room, toss the tablecloth aside (unless you have unsightly water rings to hide) and breakable place settings, too. Instead, create a gorgeous tablescape that’s easy to clean and maintain—like an array of potted succulents or an assortment of fruit in a tall vase or compote.

Cleanliness is key in the kitchen and we’re not just talking about well-scrubbed. Keep countertops clear of everyday utensils and small appliances so that your staging can stand out. Brand new hardware on the cabinets (hinges, knobs and drawer pulls) will also give your kitchen a like-new look.

The living room is all about family time. Even though the clutter needs to go, keep throw pillows around to create a cozy atmosphere. Warm the room up even more with a colorful rug and good lighting to help buyers envision hours lounging around together.

Peace and serenity is the preferred mood for the master bedroom, which is most easily achieved with bedding in soothing blue, gray, or white hues. The pattern and style of your bedding and decorative accessories is just as important as color. Skip overly feminine or severely masculine designs and choose neutral patterns, furniture, and decor that appeal to all.

It might seem like there’s not much staging to do in the bathroom—since you can’t really rearrange the tub, shower, toilet or sink—but skipping this space is a staging mistake. The mirrors, the towels, and even the soap dispenser all make an impression—so make sure they all say “relaxing spa,” not “grungy locker room.”

If you’re overwhelmed by all the work good staging takes, don’t worry—just hire a professional stager to take this weight off of your shoulders. Your agent likely has a go-to stager who’ll know the kind of decor that appeals most to buyers in your area. And there are ways to find affordable staging on almost any budget.

12. Improve your home’s first impression by sprucing up your landscaping

Your home’s interior isn’t the only area in need of attention—in truth, it’s your exterior that gives buyers their first impression of your home. So making sure that your curb appeal is on point is a high priority home prep step.

After years of weathering blizzards, dust storms, hurricanes, thundershowers, high winds and more, cleaning your exterior is also a must-do. Once that’s done, groom your lawn, trees, and shrubbery with the proper mowing and pruning techniques.

Your outdoor areas can benefit from a few inexpensive upgrades, too. Give the place a fresh coat of paint, add attractive accents like a water feature, or add planters filled with colorful flowers.

Your backyard curb appeal deserves attention as well, especially given the rising popularity of outdoor living spaces. Place lounge chairs by the pool, or put out a portable fire pit—whatever it takes to create a vibe that says, “You’ll love hanging out in this backyard.”

Red coffee cup with steaming coffee in house.
Source: (Kyle Glenn/ Unsplash)

Home preparations for sellers: A lot of work (that’s well worth doing)

Just reading about home prep work is so exhausting, actually doing it can feel like an impossible challenge. But with proper planning, you can actually tackle it all in three weeks or less.

The saving grace is that no two houses are the same. What helped your mom’s sell may not be the smart move to increase the chances of your home selling fast and for the most amount of money.

So you probably won’t need to do absolutely everything on this list. Just take it one room at a time, and most importantly, get help narrowing down your must-do home prep list from a top real estate agent who knows which preparations, upgrades, and repairs help to sell homes successfully in your area.

Find a top agent in your area