Preparing Your Home For Sale

Making your house shine

Your home – the place where you relaxed, slept, worked, ate, raised kids, and cuddled pets – and maybe let dust bunnies accumulate in in the corner – will slowly become a commodity, a house.  And if you get top dollar for this house, you’ll be in a better position to buy a great home.

It’s time to take a good hard look at your house, to determine what needs to be done to improve it, and what improvements are unnecessary.

Home improvements

As a seller, renovations mean more to you than just making the place look great.  Hopefully you are increasing the resale value of your home.  However, one of the most common selling mistakes is to make major renovations before a sale.  Pouring thousands of dollars into renovations doesn’t result in an equivalent increase in the market value of your home.  Some renovations are good, others not so in terms of a return on your investment.

Improvements that save your buyer money as the new owner of your home do increase the value of your home to some degree and increase the desirability of your home.

Good improvements

Inexpensive improvements:

  • Repainting
  • Updating lighting and fixtures
  • Lighting and electrical face plate covers

Attracting buyer improvements:

  • New shingles
  • New furnace
  • New hot water tank
  • New windows

Creating curb appeal

Making a good first impression is crucial to selling your home.  Potential buyers don’t walk up the driveway blindfolded; their first view of your property is from the street.  Your home has to look good outside as well.  You never know who is going to drive by your front yard, so consider it part of the marketing strategy.

Take a cold, hard look around the exterior of your home.  Is the hedge over grown?  Is the window sills peeling paint?  Is the garage jam-packed to the rafters?  If you don’t have room to park your cars, your potential buyer will assume you don’t have enough storage space.  Curb appeal means that when a buyer is driving down your street checking out all the houses on the block, they suddenly see your house and desperately want that to be the one for sale, then they cant wait to go inside and check it out!

Alluring interiors

Just clean and tidy is not just fine, inside your home you must be concerned about two extra qualities:  neutrality and ambiance.

Being organized and spotless isn’t enough.  Buyers who are touring your home need to be able to see themselves living in it, and that means you have to erase, as much as possible, your personality from the interior.  A neutral setting lets buyers start to think seriously about your house as “my new home,” and this is the first step towards an offer.  This neutrality doesn’t just mean toning down personal touches; it also means removing family photos, and all the finger paint master pieces from the refrigerator.

After you have visibly neutralized your house, you need to take care of all of the other senses that ambiance – the smells, sounds, and feels that make your home comfortable and inviting.

Clearing out your clutter

De-cluttering is a combination of cleaning, clearing, and organizing before showing your house.  With each item, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”  Be honest.  If you don’t need it, get rid of it.

If you do, figure out exactly where the item should go and then keep it there.  Clutter-free rooms look more spacious and make the house more appealing to interested buyers.

Here are some tip for clearing clutter:

  • Face the skeletons in your closet.  The first place we put things that have no place for is in the closet and cabinets.  Pack, donate, or chuck it.
  • Recycle all that paper.  Paper clutter is almost inevitable.  Invest in a small filing cabinet to store what you absolutely need.
  • Clear off surfaces.  Almost everything should be off the kitchen and bathroom counters.  Leave out only what you need in a pinch.

Home staging

You’ve seen them on all sorts of TV shows, and you may want to take advantage of one yourself.  Home staging professionals prepare your home to be shown, making sure to show all its finest qualities in the best possible light.  And the better the house looks, the better price you’ll get.  If the market is a little low when you list your home, home staging can speed up the selling process by making your home the star attraction among the others on the market.

The process enhances your home’s best features with appropriate colors, furnishings, and props to make it all the more alluring to potential buyers.  You may find it difficult to see your home as a product.  But when its up for sale, it is indeed a product.  You need to figure out ways to show that it’s better than all the other products out there.  Sometimes doing this requires professional help, even if you think you have a flair for decorating.

Home staging…aka fluffing….professionals will evaluate ever room in your house and make recommendations on how to make the rooms look bigger and better, highlighting the good and hiding the bad and ugly.

Feng shui

Now, before you start rolling your eyes, let me assure you that I won’t suggest burning incense or memorizing any ritual chants to help ensure a successful sale.  There is something interesting about feng shui, and it’s worth exploring a bit as you work to sell your house.  Who’s to say there’s no benefit to designing your home for optimal energy flow and spiritual well-being?

What is feng shui?  Literally – it translates as “wind water.”  It’s an ancient Chinese philosophy based on achieving harmony with nature.  It’s a set of guidelines for how to live optimally within the natural world.  You can achieve this ideal state in two ways:

First, you need to harness the power of the energy that is all around us, known as chi, which is thought to carry the life force.

Second, you want to achieve a balance between the natural opposites of yin and yang, which you see all around you in the forms of male and female, hard and soft, hot and cold and so on.

Here is one that applies directly to home sellers:  According to feng shui, the direction south governs fame and fortune, and the color red is lucky and associated with heat, life, and happiness.  So, if you want to make sure that your house is a “hot property,” place something red on a south-facing wall.

With feng shui, you remove clutter to allow chi to flow more freely throughout the house.

Where to begin

So now that we have an idea of what is needed to get your home prepared for sale, let’s get started!  The first thing you should do is take a look at your own abilities.  If the property needs updates, upgrades, or repairs (major or minor) what are you capable of doing…well!

Keep in mind that near the end of this whole painful process of selling your home, more than likely an inspector will be hired by the buyer to go through your home and be checking everything plus lenders have requirements that might stop them from approving the loan.  After negotiating the offer, you don’t want more money coming off the deal, the lender declining the loan or worse, the buyer walking away.

Now…what is everybody looking at?

The bones of the structure

The maximum life expectancy of any element of the home is 25 years, and of course some thing retire earlier.  Let’s take a look at what buyers and lenders want:

Shingles:  Life expectancy 20 to 25 years.  Lenders may not lend the transaction if these need to be replaced.

Electrical:  100 amp service.  Lenders may not lend if 60 amp service or if wiring is knob and tube.  Aluminum might pose an issue for insurance companies.  Buyers always like a little extra room in the panel.

Furnace:  Buyers want a newer upgraded furnace in good working order.

Foundation: Buyers do not want to see cracks or signs of water penetration.  Make repairs accordingly.

Windows:  Buyers are looking for vinyl, energy efficient, double or triple pane.

Hot water tank:  Life expectancy maximum 20 years.

Air conditioner:  In good working order.

Eavestrough and downspouts:  Clean, attached, and operating.

Weeping tile, back flow valves and sump pumps:  In working order, and please keep in mind a sump pump’s life expectancy is 7 years.

Attic:  R40 insulation and proper fresh air venting.

Chimneys and fireplaces:  Cleaned, proper tubing and capped at the top.

Fencing:  Complete and firmly set into the ground.

Decks and porches:  Level, rotten boards replaced, and on proper piles.

Landscaping:  Good ground slope and grading.

Sheds and other buildings:  Legally placed and in good order.

Driveways and sidewalks:  In good shape and not sinking into the ground or leaning crooked.

Pools, hot tubs and ponds:  In good working order.

Lawns, trees, shrubs, and plant beds:  Trimmed, weeded, and not touching the structure.

Permits and Code

Things change over time.  If you have made any structural changes to the property like added a deck or changed the original one that was there, you will need a permit.

Code might also have changed over the years.  You should be aware of these changes as well before putting the house on the market.

If you have been in the dwelling for a very long time, or if your not sure about what could hurt your sale structurally, then I highly recommend getting a House Inspection.  Then you have an accurate, up to date snap shot of what could be a possible problem area for your sale and what you really need to focus on to repair.


Cosmetics as well have a life expectancy of 25 years.

Today’s buyer is coming into the market place, with a pre-approval in hand, and most have intent of spending the maximum to get into a dwelling they are happy with.  This does not leave a lot of extra money left over in their jeans to come in and cosmetically update every square inch of your home so it doesn’t look like 1970.  This might be something you are interested in doing to help you with the salability of the home.  Before you begin, make sure to do some research on what today’s buyer is looking for as far as fixtures, color schemes, and flooring preferences.

If you choose to do these cosmetic upgrades yourself, please make sure the quality of your work is nice and accurate.  Many a house gets overlooked if painting is poor, flooring is installed incorrectly or color schemes are not trending.

Up keep

Yes.  You should spend some time walking through your house with a screwdriver and wrench and tighten things up!  Fix the leaky faucet, stop the doors from squeaking, make sure all the face plate covers over light switches and electrical outlets are straight and clean.  Check all your cabinets to make sure they are aligned.  Make sure the drains are draining and not leaking and that the toilets are in proper working order with good seals.  Flush Draino down the lines to get rid of any clogs or odors from your plumbing.

Another area that gets overlooked is the utility room.  Give those a clean and make sure there is no dripping or staining.  You should make sure your sump pump is working and clean.


If you have started any major projects, like putting another bathroom in the basement or building an additional layer off of the existing deck; finish the project before you put the house on the market.  Buyers see half finished projects and think that’s how they will be buying the project, half finished.

It’s also wise to do any major repairs or update before coming onto the market.  You might say your having new shingles put on the roof, but the buyer see’s and remembers it in the snap shot of their showing.


All of your appliances should be in good working order.  Nice appliances attract the buyer as these can be a large out of pocket expense if they are all old and need updating.

Go about this two ways:

  1.  Replace all of your existing appliances.

2.  Offer an allowance to a buyer to replace them themselves.

Appliances get used daily, and at least should be clean and have all of the elements working.

Bones and repairs are in check

Ok.  All the major work is done, everything is in check, now what?  I suggest going through the property room by room, area by area, and give it a good clean, de-clutter and organize.

There are always trade-offs

First of all, I totally understand that each seller’s situation is unique, and some people simply cannot follow most or any of these recommendations for preparing their house.  That’s fine, but to preserve your sanity throughout this process, make sure your goals reflect this.  For example, sellers who, for whatever reason, need to put their house on the market as-is cannot possible expect to get the highest price.  There are always trade-offs, and you have to be honest with yourself and realistic in your expectations.  Buyers as well, do not want to inherit your mess or problems.  They simply will pass on offering on your home.

If you truly don’t have the time or energy to fully prepare your house for the market, at the very least you should remove as much of the clutter as you possibly can and shine it up like a new penny.

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