Whether you’re dressing for a big job interview, plating a $40 steak, or getting your house ready for the market, presentation is key.
Prospective buyers decide within seconds whether or not they like your home, so you should make sure that it’s in the best possible condition before showing it.
This guide covers everything from optimizing “curb appeal” to hiding your family photos (there’s a good reason for this, which we’ll go into below).
Your home is your most valuable asset. Here’s a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to get the best possible price when you sell it.
Do: Clean Deep
Potential buyers are going to be looking at every inch of your home with a cold, objective eye, so make sure it sparkles. Many sellers hire a professional cleaning crew to give their home a deep cleaning, but you can do it yourself, if you have the time. A deep cleaning goes beyond just wiping down floors and surfaces. You’ll want to wash your windows (inside and outside), polish hardwood and chrome, recaulk your bathtub and sinks, and dust and wipe under and behind all the furniture and kitchen appliances.
Don’t forget to consider all the senses; a great-looking home can give a poor impression if there are questionable odors present. Open all the windows and use fans to circulate air through areas with poor circulation. If you have pets, consider deodorizing the carpets and litter box area.
Do: Organize All Storage Spaces
When you start to seriously consider a place, one of the first things you do is investigate the closets and the cupboards, to see if there’s room for your sneaker collection or the fine china you inherited from your grandmother. Sake sure you declutter and organize your closets and kitchen cupboards before you show your property, so you don’t alienate buyers with your mess.
This includes the refrigerator— throw out any old or spoiled food, scrub and wipe down the interior, and put a fresh box of baking soda inside to absorb any remaining odors.
Don’t: Sell During Winter Months
Homes sell faster, and for more money, in warmer months. In the winter, people are more reluctant to go to open houses, and the holidays are emotionally and financially stressful for a lot of people. The best times to sell are in the spring and summer— if you can wait until then, you’ll almost certainly have a much easier sale. Your home will also reveal flaws like drafty windows and loud furnaces during the winter months, which can hurt your home value.
Note: This rule doesn’t apply if you’re selling in a tropical climate like Florida.
Do: Paint the Walls
Paint is, hands down, the most cost-effective way to boost your home’s value. A fresh coat of paint makes a house look cleaner, brighter, larger, and more appealing; it can also be done in a weekend, for a few hundred dollars. Try to stick to softer, neutral tones like off-white or light grey; white may seem like a good choice, but it can seem harsh.
Do: Optimize Your Curb Appeal
Experts say a prospective buyer decides if they like or dislike a property within eight seconds of laying eyes on it. The implication? Your home’s exterior appearance is of utmost importance. That’s where curb appeal comes in. Curb appeal is a term for the impression your home gives to someone who just drove or walked up and is looking at your home from the curb; it’s the big picture, gut feeling, first impression. And that’s how you should think about your home’s curb appeal when you’re preparing it for sale.
Have your front yard meticulously landscaped; if your sidewalk and driveway are heavily trafficked, consider renting a pressure washer to blast them clean. Pay attention to details, too; maybe your mailbox could use a new coat of paint, or the front door. Your home should make an enticing first impression— one that persuades a prospective buyer to come in and take a look around.
Don’t: Hide Big Problems
If your home has a leaky roof or a flawed foundation, some homeowners may be tempted to omit this information from the sale. This is a bad idea; whatever they’re hiding will almost certainly be discovered during the buyer’s home inspection, and it could imperil the entire sale.
Each state also has strict disclosure rules; even if you sneak a problem past the inspection, you could find yourself in court, years later, when the problem eventually surfaces.
Do: Stage for Success
When you stage your home, you want to present the space as warm and welcoming, but you don’t want to overwhelm buyers with your personality. A useful general rule is to start out by removing half your furniture; if the remaining furniture is worn or old, consider buying new furniture for the showings, or renting furniture from a professional staging service. (Professional home staging services can provide a huge boost to your home’s appeal, but can cost over $2,000 a month).
You’ll also want to arrange the furniture in a dynamic manner. Placing it all against the wall can counterintuitively make a home look smaller, so move it away from the wall and into the center of the room. Arrange chairs and tables into small, social areas — aim for aesthetic appeal instead of practicality. Just don’t forget to leave large, well-defined paths for movement through the rooms. To add an extra bit of flair, place fresh-cut flowers in the main rooms on the day of the showing.
Don’t: Set Your Price Too High
When you start the process of selling your home, you’ll probably have a number in mind for how much you want the property to sell for. That number may or may not align with what the market thinks your home is worth. Don’t let emotions dictate how you price your home; use a good comparative market analysis to find out what similar properties sold for, and price yours accordingly. The longer your home sits on the market, the lower the chances of it selling, so make sure you set a solid, realistic price.
As we mentioned before, you don’t want your home’s style and personality to overwhelm the buyer. A serious buyer will want to be able to look at your home and project their own tastes and belongings onto it. Decluttering is one way to help them do this; depersonalizing is another.
Unique art or furniture may be appealing, but too much of your personal style can be a serious impediment to a buyer’s imaginative process. Put your quirkier belongings into storage, or swap them out for more neutral pieces. And put away your family photos; they can make buyers seem like they’re intruding in someone else’s personal space.
Do: Use a Top Agent
A good agent has a robust professional network, and an intimate knowledge of the local market. They know exactly what buyers are looking for, how much your home could fetch on the market, and when to list it. The numbers are clear: agent-assisted sales are much higher, on average, than homes sold without an agent.
If you’re concerned about paying a 6% commission, there are some excellent discount options that offer a full service selling experience for a flat fee, which can save sellers thousands of dollars in commission.
Dr. Francesca Ortegren, Ph.D. is a Research Associate at Clever Real Estate where she focuses on helping people understand complex data, real estate, finances, business, and the economy by researching various topics, analyzing data, and reporting useful insights for general consumption.
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