I’ve sold quite a few houses and, oddly, I think it’s a fun project. Each sale presented different challenges and opportunities, and each taught me something along the way. I know most people dread putting their house on the market because they know there’s a lot of work that goes into getting the house ready.
Yes, you can hire people to do it all for you; but if you are a true Do-It-Yourselfer (DIY), you can pay attention to the details, make your list and get busy. Read on for some tips on what has worked for me (and how you can DIY too).
Depending on the condition of your home, you may have a long or short list. Either way, if you set your goals and do the work in phases, you won’t get as overwhelmed. It’s nice to see progress, and each item you cross off your list motivates you to do the next. You want your house to stand out favorably in a competitive market, warmly welcome and entice buyers, and capture the best price. Below is a helpful guide for home sellers on how to get your house ready to sell:
Table of Contents:
- Here are steps to prepare for that outcome:
- Here are a few examples of what to look for in each setting:
- a) Exterior of the house
- b) Interior, make notes for each room on a separate page
- c) Mechanical (do you have manuals?)
- d) Garage
- e) Condition of other structures on the property
- 2. Color code and prioritize your projects.
- 3. Create welcoming spaces.
- 4. Clean, organize, dust and vacuum.
- 5. Prepare for showings.
Here are steps to prepare for that outcome:
1. Assess the condition of your home and property.
- Check all aspects of your property. Look at each area from a visitor’s perspective.
- What do you see? Is it inviting?
- Does it make you smile?
- Is there anything that looks worn out, dingy or in disrepair?
Sometimes it’s good to have someone look at it with you. Choose someone who will be objective and give you an honest opinion, but in a nice way. This is not the time to deal with brutally judgmental remarks. (You know who those people are, and you can tell them about your project after everything is done.)
Make notes for needed improvements, each on a separate page, for:
2. Interior, room by room,
5. Other buildings on the property.
You can take in the general view and make comments, then start digging a little deeper and make notes on the condition of each space or feature. You’ll decide later how you will deal with each item.
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Here are a few examples of what to look for in each setting:
a) Exterior of the house
1. Condition of the siding, trim, shutters, gutters
2. Condition of the shingles and any rooftop vents, satellite dishes or accessories
3. Windows and doors, paying special attention to the front door
4. Driveway and sidewalks
5. Lawn, landscaping, trees, gardens, retaining walls, sprinkler system and water features
6. Porch, deck, patio, fireplace and outdoor living space
7. Electrical outlets, lighting, faucets and hoses
8. Pool or hot tub
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b) Interior, make notes for each room on a separate page
1. Walls and ceilings (holes, cracks, condition of paint or wall treatments)
2. Ceilings (water stains, cracks, texture problems, condition of paint or plaster)
3. Doors, door knobs and windows
4. Window treatments, woodwork and trim
5. Lighting and fans
6. Cabinets, cupboards, drawers (organized, condition of handles and drawer pulls)
7. Appliances (do you have manuals?)
8. Sinks, tubs, showers, toilets, vanities
10. Electrical outlets, switches and remote controls
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c) Mechanical (do you have manuals?)
1. Furnace (new filter, when was it last serviced?)
2. Air conditioning
4. Water heater
5. Plumbing, sump pump
1. Garage door, remotes, keypad
2. Condition of floor
3. Condition of walls
4. Built-in storage, shelves or cupboards
5. Lighting and electrical outlets
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e) Condition of other structures on the property
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2. Color code and prioritize your projects.
Let’s assume at this point that everything can be repaired, renovated or replaced. However, once you prioritize, you can decide which projects must be done and which can be minimized or dropped from your list. You can also talk with your realtor about which items are necessary and which won’t make a big difference.
If you hire a home inspector, that person will give you a checklist on the condition of your home, with opinions on what should be done before the sale.
Use colored highlighters and color like items on each page. For instance, if yellow designates painting (including prep and repairs), highlight items on each page in yellow that need painting, touch up, drywall repair, etc. If blue is used for plumbing, mark all of that work in blue, like leaky faucets (inside and out), faucets that need to be replaced, a toilet that seems to run constantly, a showerhead that drips, etc.
Create your own system for color coding and you will soon have projects highlighted by type of work needed. Spread your pages out and look at the colors. Make a list on another sheet that indicates your color code and which categories you feel comfortable tackling on your own. You can then prioritize these projects and efficiently work at one type of project at a time.
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If you feel capable of managing the plumbing issues on your own, check your tools and supplies and buy what you need. You can then wear your plumber’s hat and repair all the “blue” items on your list. You’ll feel inspired by having that entire category under control. You can then move on to the next category, by priority.
When you get to the painting projects, some areas might only need a touch-up. If you have some rooms that need a fresh coat of paint, it’s a good time to remove your personal pictures and accessories from the walls, patch the holes, and choose a neutral, warm color. (You’ll do more de-personalizing and decluttering later.)
We know you are a Do-It-Yourselfer, but if there is a category that you are not comfortable managing on your own, you can enlist the help of a friend who is qualified or hire that segment out. This could be anything from painting to electrical or mechanical to landscaping.
While you are prioritizing your work, you might also decide that some things are just not worth the effort. In that case, do your best to clean it up and make it look presentable, then let it go. The new owners can make their own decision about it.
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3. Create welcoming spaces.
When buyers visit your home, you want it to be as welcoming and visually pleasing as possible. You’ve made the repairs and improvements on your list, and now you can work on making it attractive and appealing to the buyers who will visit. On the exterior, wash the windows so they sparkle. Trim trees and shrubs. and place the trash bins out of sight.
Inside, study each room. If the furnishings make it look crowded, remove some until you can move freely and the space looks open and airy. Put the extra pieces in storage. Then remove all clutter and unnecessary accessories, leaving only a few, fresh colorful items.
If you are in snow country and selling your home in winter, display some photos of the trees, landscaping, gardens and lawn. These will help buyers get a mental picture of the yard and how much they would like to make it their own. You can even display pictures of the birds and butterflies that frequent your backyard. These details generate more interest, and people will start to imagine what it would be like to live there.
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4. Clean, organize, dust and vacuum.
Most of us have our rooms and closets jam-packed. It’s time to clean them out and organize. You’ll be moving soon anyway, so it’s a great time to get rid of what you no longer need. It’s better when buyers look into a closet (and they will) and see things hanging neatly and organized in baskets, etc. You don’t want them to think that there isn’t enough room for their clothes. The same is true of cupboards and drawers. Be sure to look at everything and tidy up. Less is better.
If this wasn’t on your list, you can now look at the bathrooms to see if you need to deep clean tile and grout, showers and tubs, and re-caulk if necessary. You want your bathrooms to look and smell clean and fresh. Envision a spa. That’s what a buyer wants to see.
You’ll soon be showing your home. It’s now time for serious cleaning. You need to clean every room from top to bottom. Make sure to clean in the corners, behind the furniture and all those little-unseen areas. Dust everything, including overhead fan blades and window blinds. Clean the mirrors and windows. Vacuum—and this you’ll need to do every day when buyers are visiting.
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5. Prepare for showings.
Once you have an MLS listing and your realtor arranges showings, you’ll need everything to be ship-shape before leaving the house. Make sure your bathrooms are immaculate and that there are fresh towels on display—the nice fluffy ones, not the ones that are wearing out. You can place some potpourri or flowers on the vanity for an added touch.
Same advice for your kitchen: clear your counters, run a lemon in your garbage disposal, take out the garbage, and make sure there are no dirty dishes in the sink. Have a clean floor and a clean refrigerator (yes, they will look).
Throughout the home, turn lights on and open blinds so the natural light comes in. Put all personal items away, out of sight or in storage or a safe deposit box. This includes expensive jewelry and keepsakes. Make sure all beds are made and each room looks ready for the Queen, or maybe your mother-in-law.
If you have children, minimize their toys while you are opening your home to prospective buyers. Keep it neat. The kids can still have fun, and you can rotate their toys and books as needed. If you have pets, keep everything clean and tidy.
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The yard should also look great, with lawn mowed, weeds pulled and shrubs trimmed. You can make the outdoor seating look inviting, and don’t forget to water your lawn and plants so they look green and healthy. In the winter, if you’re in the snow belt, shovel the walks and driveway, throw out some ice melt so surfaces are safe for everyone, and turn on the outside lights. You’ll also want to place a clean mat or rug inside for shoes and boots.
You can use scented candles (maybe lavender or vanilla) or even bake cookies before a showing. We all know that bad odors will not help sell a house. Keep it fresh! A few healthy plants are a nice touch, as are fresh flowers.
Out of necessity, you’ll be a neat freak during this season of your life, but it will be worth it. The better your home presents itself, the quicker it sells. You might even decide to adopt some of your new behaviors on a permanent basis (and others, not so much). Have fun and enjoy the experience.
We hope you’ve gained the confidence to begin your preparations step by step. It’s easier when you have a plan, and you can now break it into manageable mini-projects. If you have enjoyed this article and gained some new ideas or inspiration, please share it with a friend who might also be interested in DIY preparation for selling a home. Thank you and best of luck with your sale.