Written by Melissa Arndt, Principal Broker for Simplicity Real Estate Solutions.
Selling your house can be a stressful and busy time, but by preparing yourself and your house in in advance you can ease some of the burden while your house is on the market and while you are preparing to move. In addition, the prep work done on your house prior to listing oftentimes results in more showings and better offers, which can mean more money to you at the closing table.
Preparing your family
When your house is on the market and showing, you may find yourself needing to leave on short notice several times a day. If you are in a very busy market, or if your house is highly desirable, you may find that showings for the first couple days may overlap and you will find yourself needing to be away from home for the whole day. Talk with your agent about what you should expect regarding the number and lengths of showings and prepare yourself and your family for someplace to go while you have to be out of the house. Some sellers find it best to plan a short trip so they are away from home during the first couple days their house is on the market and showings are happening one on top of the other. You will also need to plan to be available via phone or email to your agent while your house is on the market so you can answer questions and respond to offers in a timely manner.
Pets will need to be considered during showings. While your big lovable oaf of a dog may be gentle and kind, some potential buyers and/or agents may have allergies or fears that will not allow them to be in the house if your pet is home. It is not always feasible to remove your pet(s), but at a minimum they should be confined to a crate/room/yard for showings. If your pet(s) will have to be in the home during showings, leave detailed instructions on the door for the agents and potential buyers stating where the pet(s) are, their names, how they will likely react, and any restrictions on touching the pet(s) you have. If you have no option but to leave your pet(s) loose in the house, leave instructions on whether they are allowed to go outside and who to contact if they escape the home/yard. Oftentimes pets will try to run out the door when strange people are going in and out and it is not always possible to keep them from escaping or for the showing agent to get them back into the house. Alternatively, if you have an outdoor pet that should not come in, please leave a note regarding that as well.
If you have children, you should do an age-appropriate explanation of the what the process of putting the house on the market, showings, and moving will involve and what their involvement will be during all of those steps (such as keeping toys put away for showings, packing their own room, carrying small boxes, etc.).
Finally, you should have a solid plan in place for what to do once your house sells. If you are planning to purchase a home to move into, speak to your lender before putting your house on the market to ensure you are able to qualify for a loan in the amount you desire and to see if you will have to sell your house before buying your next home of if you would be able to purchase your next home without selling your current house first. Your agent should be able to give you a timeline for how long they expect it to take for your house to sell based upon market conditions, and coupled with the information from your lender you can make a plan with your buyers agent for when to begin looking for your next home. You should also have a contingency plan in place for what you will do if your current house sells and you have not been able to identify your next home; will you be able to get a short-term rental, stay with family/friends, or do you have an alternative such as an RV to stay in for a while? If you are not planning to purchase a new home, ensure you will be able to get a rental that will fit your needs prior to putting your house on the market. For example, if you live in a college town and are plan for your house to sell at the end of summer, you may run into problems finding a rental home unless you change your selling time frame.
Preparing your yard and exterior
Good curb appeal will help sell your house. While it is not necessary to go out of your way with plants and décor, at a minimum you should ensure your yard and home exterior are clean and free of maintenance/repair concerns. You should also ensure that any safety hazards are addressed prior to putting your house on the market. If you are unable to resolve a safety hazard, a warning sign may be advisable, consult your homeowners insurance agent or an attorney if you have concerns about liability issues that may results from any hazards on your property that cannot be remedied.
One of the first things buyers see if the front door, so if the paint/stain is faded and chipped you should consider re-painting/re-staining the door. While some buyers may appreciate the hottest trend colors, you will appeal to a much broader audience with a more traditional door stain or paint color. Other exterior doors, while not as prominent as the front door may also need new paint/stain if they are overly faded or chipped. It is also important to look at the trim for all the doors and windows and replace/repair any water damaged areas and repaint areas that are overly faded or chipped. Whether you have brick, stone, or siding a good pressure wash can do wonders the outside of a home. If you are not familiar with how to use a pressure washer, this may be something you hire out to ensure damage is not done to the home. Other items on the home that should be addressed prior to listing are: gutters should be clean, clear of debris, and any loose areas should be addressed; the roof should be in good condition and if there has been wind or hail storms, calling the insurance company to inspect the roof prior to putting your home on the market would be a great idea; soffit and facia should be clean and in good repair; any items on the exterior of the home that appear to be in disrepair should be addressed.
The yard of your home should be mowed neatly with necessary edging done for a tidy look. If you have flower beds, a fresh layer of mulch can make a huge difference along with removing weeds. Sometimes outdoor clutter can be unavailable (bikes, outdoor toys, lawn equipment, firewood, etc.), but try to make it as neat as possible and remove as much as you can. If you have wooded areas around your house, while clearing out undergrowth may not be possible or advisable, so make it as neat and accessible to potential buyers as you are able. Driveways, sidewalks, and other walkways should be free of obstacles and clean. Concrete that looks dingy/dirty can be pressure washed easily with great results. The exterior of outbuildings should follow the same guidelines for the exterior of your home above.
Preparing the inside of your house
Now that you are personally prepared and your yard is ready to go, now begins one of the hardest parts of preparing your house for the market, your inside living space. Houses that are uncluttered and clean typically sell quicker and for more money than those that have overcrowded living spaces and are dirty/cluttered. Spending time on clearing things out and cleaning in advance of listing will also help you once it comes time to move!
In advance of listing your house, it is often advised to purge items you no longer want/need, pack up as much as you can (i.e. items that are rarely used/seasonal or that you can live without until after your move), and thin out décor to a few accent pieces. Purging can be done a couple different ways: selling items via an online forum such as Facebook marketplace, having a yard sale, giving away to family/friends, or donating. For items that you pack up in advance, you will need a space outside of your main living area to store it in. Many sellers choose to stack the boxes up in their garage, but if you are willing and able to get a storage unit to place items in until after you are moved that would be best so potential buyers can see the full garage. When choosing items to place into storage, don’t forget about the items stored in your closet, a closet that isn’t stuffed to capacity will look larger to potential buyers than one that is overflowing! The same goes with kitchen cabinets, if you can pack away some of your dishes and cookware, you can space the remaining items out more which is neater and makes cabinets seem larger than they may be. Finally, thinning out your décor to a few accent pieces can make your house more appealing to potential buyers by making less clutter which can make spaces feel larger, and it is also less visually distracting to potential buyers.; you want the buyers to look at the house, not your stuff!
You will also want to do a deep cleaning of your house prior to putting it on the market, and you should pay special attention to areas that may not be cleaned very often: dusting light fixtures, tops of cabinets, wiping baseboards and light switch plates, cleaning ceiling fan blades, etc. Oftentimes sellers find it worthwhile to hire a cleaning company to come out to deep clean their house a few days before photos are taken or putting the house on the market. One bonus of the purging, decluttering, and elimination of décor is that is will be easier to keep your house clean and tidy for showings once you have listed it!
During this time, you should also work on correcting as many deferred maintenance concerns and repairs as possible. Items that are in need of maintenance/repair that are very visible to the average person when walking through the house will often result in lower offers, even if the repair is very easy or inexpensive. Some of the maintenance/repair items that are often seen and easily remedied prior to listing are: ensuring all light bulbs in the house are working, changing HVAC filters, replacing cracked outlet/light switch covers, and resealing around tubs. If there is an items that needs replaced (worn carpet, outdated appliances, walls need painted, etc.) that you are unable or unwilling to do before listing, speak with your agent about whether offering a credit at closing for a buyer to make the change would work in your situation.
Safety hazards should be a top priority in addressing prior to putting your house on the market, and if you are unable to address them prior to listing, please ensure your agent is aware so they can ensure agents that show the property and their potential buyers stay safe. You are very likely going to have to remedy any safety hazard prior to closing, so preemptively doing so before listing can save you time, money, and headache later on.
It may be a lot of work, but getting your family, your property, and your house ready before listing is well worth it!