Once you’ve decided to list your home, getting it ready for the market requires preparation. But where do you begin? We asked local real estate and design experts for advice on what sellers should know so that both the preparation process and the sale go smoothly.
First Things First
Before jumping in, it’s important to take stock of the condition and appearance of your property.Realtors, who routinely do an initial walk-through with clients to specify what needs to be done before listing a house, begin at the front of the house where first impressions are made.
“Doing a walk-through with an agent is a great idea,” said realtor Mat Berenson of Latter & Blum. “A good realtor will tell you what to do.”
Berenson and partner Maddie Lazar recommend sprucing up the front yard with plants, exterior or pressure washing (depending on the type of house) and paying attention to the front door to ensure curb appeal.
“The front door is the first and last thing you see,” said Lazar, who notes that front door fixes include everything from painting to adding planters, the latter being an investment that can go with the seller to their new home.
Interior designer and realtor Jennifer Kelly with Christian Shane Properties says that a pop of landscaping color in the front yard or a bold choice of color on the front door can provide a wow moment from the get-go. Since the front of the house is the first thing prospective buyers also see online, Lazar notes that readying the façade is essential before photography.
“If buyers don’t get past picture number 1, they won’t move on the pictures 11 and 12,” Lazar said.
Clean and Declutter
“Clean sells,” said Jennifer Kelly of Christian Shane Properties, summing up the across-the-board recommendation that you clean your interior well before listing your house. Clean also conveys the message that the home is well-maintained. A thorough cleaning includes appliances, floors, bathrooms, ceiling fans, bookshelves, cabinets, closets and anything else that needs a refresh. And cleaning goes hand-in-hand with decluttering. At the top of the clutter-clearing list are counters. But don’t forget cabinets, drawers and closets. Berenson suggests a storage facility for things that aren’t in daily rotation (for example, your grandmother’s china), and a box placed out of sight in a cabinet for stowing daily-use items. She and Lazar recommend keeping closets only half full so that buyers can see that ample storage space is available. Sofas, built-ins such as bookshelves and entertainment areas, tabletops, vanities, bathtubs, showers, office areas and nightstands should be curated with a less-is-more approach that eliminates personal photos, personal mementos, personal care items and other clutter that will distract the buyer away from the house itself.
If budget allows, Terrence Davis, a realtor with Keller Williams and a consultant who advises builders and developers on floorplans, materials and other design considerations, recommends hiring a professional cleaning service to get a house in tip-top shape. Organizing and depersonalizing a space by removing things can be left to the seller or done with the help of a professional organizer. Reve realtor and home builder Joe Robert recommends reducing furniture and belongings by 30 percent and says to think of the process as if you are preparing for a magazine photo shoot. Kelly offers a similar piece of advice.
“Think of what you would do if preparing to entertain,” said Kelly. “You want to put your best foot forward.”
Removing the source of any odor is preferable to masking it according to most agents. Cleaning trash and recycle bins, appliances, vent hoods, carpets and pet areas such as litter boxes, changing air condition filters, and washing slipcovers are all good ways to rid your house of odors. Reve’s Robert also recommends an ozone treatment for houses where a smoker has lived.
Sellers should repair anything that is noticeably broken or damaged on interior surfaces such as water stains (the source of water intrusion should first be identified) and nicks in drywall, as well as sticking or broken doors or gates, a dripping faucet or showerhead, clogged drains, a broken window pane or floor board and the like. They should also make sure home systems such as HVAC and electrical are working properly. Think of necessary repairs as those things that will help a house show well and that will help inspections go well.
“The best way to make sure a buyer isn’t spooked is to make necessary repairs,” said Robert, adding that sellers should always disclose deferred maintenance — fixed or not — and that pricing should always be based around the condition of a home.
Preparing a house for sale usually requires simplifying the presentation so that it appeals to the broadest possible customer base. But selling also involves highlighting a property’s best-selling points.
“There is a trend that buyers are gravitating to unique properties,” said Davis, who notes that standout features such as wallpaper or lacquered walls need not always be eliminated – they might even cinch the deal — and that architectural features such as mantles can be accentuated with subtle staging.
Sellers are not expected to renovate. And technically, upgrades are optional. But a few simple upgrades, such as changing a dated kitchen faucet, swapping out cabinet hardware, or adding a new mirror to a lifeless half bath, can go a long way toward making a house more marketable.
Because changing cabinetry hardware, a favorite hack recommended by realtors, is an easy DIY upgrade, the only cost involved is the hardware itself.
“It’s inexpensive and you can do it yourself,” Davis said.
Kelly and Davis both recommend staying away from the trendy when installing upgrades and opting instead for classic or transitional styles that will have a longer life.
“Ask yourself whether something is going to be out of style in a year or two,” Davis advised.
Call a Professional
While there are plenty of DIY ways to ready your house for the market, some things are best handled by a professional. Deep cleaning, carpet cleaning, window cleaning, painting, landscaping, kitchen and bath upgrades, carpentry, roof repairs, packing things for storage or moving, and staging are just a few of the things that can be handled by professional services and realtors keep a list of contacts for recommendation. Berenson always supplies more than one referral and advises sellers to get multiple bids.
“Agents have tradesmen for all areas,” Robert said. “It’s not just about the investment. It’s also about making the house the most marketable possible.”
“If you’re not handy or simply don’t have time to do things yourself, then I would recommend leaving most repairs to a professional,” advised agent Eleanor Hohnstein of McEnery Residential. “But as a rule, I think it is always best to use professionals in the following trades: electrical, plumbing, HVAC, foundation, structural.”
Shift into Neutral
In general, the more neutral the color palette, the easier it is for buyers to picture their own version of a listed property. It’s usually wise to tone down colorful rooms and freshen worn walls and ceilings with neutral colors such as white, beiges and grays or taupes, which provide flexibility in design.For the seller, a fresh coat of neutral paint may lead to a faster sale, and for the buyer, it may mean that painting again won’t be necessary. On the other hand, some realtors offer wiggle room on this point.
“Neutral does not need to be white or beige, but it is definitely NOT bright red or hot pink,” Hohnstein said.
“Accent colors can create a dramatic effect that draws someone in,” Robert said. “You may shrink your market, but you may get the right customer.”
Showing a house “in its best light” is key to selling a house. Berenson and Lazar emphasize that not only should all lamps and fixtures have fresh, working bulbs, but all bulbs in a room should be the same type for consistency and even lighting. Davis suggests replacing dated lighting fixtures with alternative selections that lend a higher-end look. And Robert recommends that interiors with a lot of natural light look best with bulbs that create a warm glow while darker interiors get a lift from bulbs that mimic daylight.
“Agents typically carry light bulbs in the trunk of their car,” Kelly said, underscoring that lighting should not be overlooked.
Make it Inviting
A space should be clean and edited, without looking abandoned. Accessories such as a few accent pillows, a throw, a scented candle add warmth and help a space to look lived in. You’ll also want to revitalize unused and seldom used spaces. Just because you don’t use your porch or pool doesn’t mean the buyer won’t. The goal is to help the buyer envision themselves using it. One of Berenson’s favorite ways to heighten the appeal of an unused pool or patio is to add a table and chairs.
Pare Down the Pet Accessories
Remove dog kennels and crates, cat litter boxes and other pet accessories. If you can’t store them, move them to an outdoor area before a showing. Minimizing pet items will depersonalize the space, remove trapped pet odors, and allow buyers to imagine their own use of spaces occupied by pet wares.
Remove Holiday Decorations
Keeping Holiday décor to a minimum and a short time frame (limit them to a week says Berenson) is the best way to ensure positive viewings – both online and in person. Removing all exterior and interior holiday items is a must before photos are taken for sales materials. Freeing closet and attic space by moving decades of holiday paraphernalia offsite will also show your storage to its best advantage.
Fresh cut greenery from the yard, potted house plants and fresh flowers appeal to buyers for several reasons. They tap into the indoor/outdoor living trend that exploded during the pandemic as we spent more time at home, and the biophilic interior design trend, which incorporates natural elements to enhance health and wellness. Something green and living also keeps an edited space from looking sterile.
Don’t Forget the Details
Looking beyond the basics can help set a listing apart. Kelly points to window cleaning as a way to really make a house sparkle and a good opportunity to check for leaks and rotting sills. She also recommends small details like emptying trash cans and putting toilet lids down. Berenson recommends easy DIY staging techniques such as investing in white towels for the bathrooms and folding them neatly in a uniform manner. Robert advises sellers to open the curtains and blinds before a showing to let in light. And Davis notes that a good realtor will keep an eye on details such as yard maintenance (he recommends hiring a yard service for weekly upkeep) and accumulating mail when sellers have already moved.
Easy Hardware Store Hacks
Grout pens are a quick and easy way to cover grout stains that don’t disappear with cleaning.
Magic Erasers remove grime from counters, walls, baseboards, and cabinets.
Wood repair filler sticks help hide scratches on floors and furniture.
Pumice stones scour away stains on toilet bowls, sinks, tile and other similar surfaces.
Caulk that matches grout in a bathroom or kitchen refurbishes vertical grout seams that are broken or peeling.
For sellers who are living in a listed property, staging may involve editing, rearranging and/or styling an existing interior to add extra oomph. For a vacant or poorly decorated property, staging (typically through a professional stager) means bringing in a few key pieces to help buyers visualize the potential of a space.
“This is especially true if there are rooms or spaces that are unusual or that have multiple uses,” Hohnstein said.“In my experience, I have found that investing even a small about of money in staging has been worth the expense.”
Virtual staging, which allows houses to be digitally staged from a library of furniture and decor, is another option for vacant listings and according to Robert, it provides good bang for the buck. It’s less expensive than traditional staging, which involves renting furnishings. Photos of empty rooms are taken, and three-dimensional furnishings are then added to the photos. To avoid misleading prospective buyers, it’s important to disclose that such marketing images are virtually staged.
Lastly, for sellers who want to go the extra mile, a pre-inspection will help identify upfront things that need fixing – small or large —and can be a helpful measure for homeowners who are trying to sell quickly and avoid surprises.
“With a pre-inspection, you may locate something you can correct fairly easily and in a timely way,” Davis said. “If the buyer finds it, it may be more costly.”
With or without a pre-inspection (which is not required to sell) and whether or not you opt to do repairs (a property can always be sold “as is”), disclosing any issues that affect the health and safety of the residents or the longevity and value of the home is a must.
“A pre-inspection is one of the best things you can do to alleviate a lot of stress,” Robert said. “It’s better to be mentally prepared than to be hit with it during a [buyer] inspection.”
“You know the saying ‘location, location, location,’” added Davis, “the other important thing is disclose, disclose, disclose. You cannot over disclose.”
At the end of the day, putting the extra prep work into your home before listing it will benefit seller and buyer.
“You may recoup your investment and reduce the time on the market,” said Davis, whose number one recommendation for sellers is this:
“Make your interior move-in ready.”