Even in the best housing market selling a home is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through, especially if you have children, pets or both. We sold our last home right after the housing market started to crumble. It was in an area that had seen a lot of foreclosures, the neighborhood was looking a little seedy and the city was about to start construction on an outer belt loop that would cut right behind our house. Not exactly a promising scenario, but we sold our home in eight days for several thousand above our minimum acceptable offer.
Our home sold so quickly because we followed a basic five-step process to get it ready for market. First, we packed up all of our personal belongings and moved them to a rental storage unit. After moving everything out, we scrubbed our home from top to bottom. Next we painted and did a few minor repairs and finally we staged our home so that it looked like a model home.
Step One: Remove all personal items
- Clear out attics, basements and garages so prospective buyers can see how much space they have for their belongings.
- Remove personal pictures, collections, books, papers and all non essential items from counters, tabletops, dressers and shelves.
- Pack up and move out all out of season clothes.
- Have your children pick a few of their favorite toys and let them help you pack the others off for storage. This can be traumatic for some children, so make sure they know they can visit their toys and switch them out so the toys get to take turns living at home. The important thing is to get the clutter out.
- Clear out all but essential pots, pans and dishes in the kitchen and organize drawers and cabinets.
Step Two: Scrub your home from top to bottom
- Wipe down woodwork, dirt smudges on walls, moldings, doors and paneling. Once it is clean you may find rooms that don’t need paint or you might be able to paint walls and leave the woodwork alone.
- Wash windows inside and out. Clean out the window sills making sure to get rid of all bugs and webs. Hose off the screens.
- Freshen your closets. Stored clothes gather dust and stale smells. Add a brighter light bulb in your closet if possible.
- Vacuum and shampoo carpets.
- Clean dust and bugs out of light fixtures.
- Clean dust off of ceiling fan blades.
- Scrub tile floors and walls in bathrooms.
- Clean all toilets, sinks and tubs until they shine. Replace shower curtains or liners if there is a hint of mildew.
- Wash curtains and other window treatments.
- Remove or replace worn or stained area rugs.
- Clean dirt stains from light switch plates, door edges, stair handrails and other places where fingers touch frequently.
- Clean tops of kitchen cabinets and plant ledges where dust tends to accumulate.
Once the cleaning is finished, it will be a lot easier to see which rooms need to be painted and which rooms need their flooring replaced.
Step Three: Paint walls and replace flooring
This step can be costly. By cleaning first, I realized that most ceilings and all of the woodwork did not need to be painted. I painted all six rooms and did all the work myself. The cost was under $300 for the paint, disposable tarps and other supplies. I used the same neutral color to help the house appear bright and clean. It also kept the cost of the paint down and allowed me to use the same brushes and rollers for the entire house.
Our upstairs carpeting wasn’t in wonderful condition, but after being cleaned twice it looked presentable. If we had replaced this carpet we would not have recovered the cost in the sale of the house. We made the decision to replace the two rooms downstairs. Our total cost for the downstairs carpet, labor and other supplies was around $800.
Step Four: Make all necessary repairs
If you’re working with a real estate professional, part of their service will include offering suggestions on things that need to be done to help sell your home. Before you agree to hire one of the many contractors that your agent or broker has available, take a day or two to honestly assess the condition of your home. Ask a friend or relative to come over and do a walk through with you. Pretend you’re the buyer and list everything you see. Next group the repairs and improvements into three categories. Repairs that must be done for the home to pass inspection. Repairs and improvements that should be done to help the house sell. Repairs and improvements that might help the house sell more quickly or for a better price. After you’ve sorted your list, get the best cost estimate you can for each project. The lower the price of the home, the less likely it is you will see a return on expensive improvements, so don’t jump in without doing some research.
It is also important to do as many repairs as possible yourself. There are plenty of guides available on the Internet and most aren’t going to require special tools. I repaired small sections of rotted wood around our front door surround and we hired professionals to power wash the house and to do minor roof repairs. We spent about $1000 on this stage.
Step Five: Stage your home like a pro
Staging your home and yard is extremely important. This is the process that helps prospective buyers see the house, not as your home, but as their future home. Make sure your lawn is cut and any shrubs and trees are in good shape. Keep fresh plantings to a minimum. Allow the buyers to see where they can make their mark on the beds and planting areas. When setting up the inside of your home put back only the furniture that is essential. Move as much as possible to storage. Most of the rooms in our home could only be arranged in one way because of the doors and windows. The sofa and loveseat we owned were too big for the living room, so we put the sofa in storage and used the loveseat, club chair and ottoman. That’s not enough seating for a family of four, but the room looked huge.
Finally, at this stage you can add just a few decorative items. Make them as impersonal as possible. If you aren’t sure what to do, go visit a model home in a new neighborhood to get ideas.