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10 Steps to take Before Selling a home | Homes for Sale

10 Steps to take Before Selling a home

I’m not going to sugar coat this: Selling your home is exhausting! It is a MUCH harder than buying a home because the person selling it to you has done the exhausting work of preparing for the sale.  My experience is recent in that after 20 years in the same house, we recently went through that process!!! Unbelievable !!!

The preparations included finishing up of ALL those years long “projects” that we should have completed, 5, 10 years ago, but lost stamina along the way and convinced ourselves we could live with it. Realtors aren’t immune, it happens to all of us.

So now you want to sell and those projects have to get finished.

In addition to completing the unfinished projects, you must also set the Right Price for your home and navigating the contract and negotiation process. But first things first, let’s focus on the steps required to prepare your home to present the best product possible.  This is just a quick reference guide, but the best approach is to engage your REALTOR® to work with you through the process, answer all your questions and give you pointers related to navigating issues in your particular case.

1 (2)Personal Decorations should be packed and stored off-site.

It is hard for most people to picture themselves in a new home, if you leave your personal items on display it will remind the buyer that this isn’t their home. Ease the transition for the potential future owner of your home by removing these personal items, and at a minimum, box them, and better yet, take the boxes away to off-site storage. Remember, the goal is to sell your home to every potential buyer who walks through the door, we don’t care about their personal taste, family size, profession, favorite alcoholic beverages or religious or political affiliations and if they are reminded of yours, it might be difficult for them to visualize themselves and their family in the same physical space. The idea is to create a neutral and inviting space for all to enjoy.  If someone asks, “Was this house staged” considered that a compliment, you have done your job

2 Hire a Home  Inspector before putting the house on the market

Once you have a contract the buyer will hire THEIR own home inspector to inspect your house. That home inspector’s job is to find deficiencies. And some are just ruthless, I have seen very long reports and listings of deficiencies in homes for sale, even more so in those historic homes in Old Town Alexandria.

One of the main deal killers in residential real estate transactions is the home inspection contingency. Home buyers, especially first time buyers,  are always very weary of the condition of the home, even the smallest details, in an effort to avoid buying a “lemon”.   Your job is to remove all deficiencies or at a minimum make the list as short as possible, with only small deficiencies.

By performing a pre-sale home inspection yourself, you will be able to pinpoint those deficiencies ahead of time and be able to solve those issues with time.A home inspector in the Northern Virginia and DC area run between $250 to $600 depending on the size of the house. This is money well spent, because you can repair the issues at the lowest cost, issues that will surface at “contract”, where the cost of repair will significantly increase.  Besides, it will make the buyer a lot more at ease if you show your good faith in solving problems before they arise. 

3Do a thorough Cleaning.

There’s nothing that says “buy me” like the smell of a clean house, way better than fresh baked cookies, trust me.  If you are not sure about How clean it should be?, clean enough to satisfy a germaphobe, one who wants to buy your your house. Hiring a professional cleaning crew is also money well spent. Spend time cleaning not only the obvious places like the kitchen and bathrooms but also baseboards, closets, inside cabinets, windows, screens and everything else you could possibly think of. 

Look at your house from the outside too, do not neglect the outdoor appearance. Any cobwebs should be gone, the porch light should be clean of bugs, power wash the driveway.  Top to bottom, everything needs to be scrubbed!

4Remove Kid’s and Pet’s toys and related items.

We all LOVE our own children and pets, but the person buying your home might not necessarily be fond of children nor pets. Just as discussed earlier, any evidence of personal taste and inclinations is not the best foot forward for selling your home. 

A buyer does not want to walk around toys (or any clutter) or be concerned about tripping on them. Best approach: All toys packed up and stored, next best approach: Keep the pile of toys to an absolute minimum. 

Pets are a little harder problem to solve, because though the owner has grown accustomed to the smell (doesn’t notice it usually), a potential home buyer entering the house for the first time will take notice immediately. The best thing is to either have a trusted pet sitter take your pets at least a few weeks before listing and keep them out throughout the listing period if possible. And, as you might imagine have the house thoroughly cleaned  after the pets have been taken to the new location.  Cats are particularly tough issue due to the propensity of cat dander to cause allergic reactions in a greater part of the population.

I had a buyer so sensitive to cat dander that he could immediately get a reaction as soon as he entered  the front door. We had to remove that home from consideration although in all other respects it was a perfect choice.

Remember you want to remove all objections


5Replace outdated fixtures if you can

Nothing dates more a house than its interior and exterior fixtures. Think avocado green refrigerator so common in the 50’s. 

The appliances do not have to be top of the line, but new ones are better if your budget allows. Look for sales at your local home improvement store and don’t forget to check online. 

Another consideration are the bathroom fixtures; lavatories, mirrors and light fixtures. Those again don’t need to be top of the line, just new, simple and clean fixtures do the trick. REMEMBER, if in doubt always talk to your REALTOR® to get ideas on see which fixtures are a MUST to replace and which ones you might be able to leave as is.

6Replace old carpets or at least shampoo them

If you have carpets in your home do a thorough inspection looking for stains, buckling and dirt along the edges before putting you home for sale. If your carpets need to be cleaned you can rent a commercial grade carpet cleaner from your local home improvement store and do the job yourself.   If the stains are particularly nasty you might need to call in a professional carpet cleaning company. 

This is especially true in long-term rental properties. Most carpets, over time, will start to show a dark edge along the baseboard, this is almost impossible to remove. Also, the least expensive ones can show some bucking along walking paths, re-stretching the carpet can help.  Dirty carpets make a buyer question the overall condition of the home and might also divert their focus from the beautiful view out your living room window. Remember we want to remove objections.

Carpet is not a large expense, if you can’t get the clean or they are in bad physical shape you should think about replacing them altogether. Your REALTOR® will be able to help you and give you ideas regarding where to go for specials. 


7Paint inside and outside if you can

Nothing smells better than a coat of fresh paint, or has a better return on money invested.  A thoroughly cleaned and painted home implies a well-maintained home and makes yours feel and look like a New house.

If your house was recently painted (a year or less) you might just need to touch up the places where there are smudge marks and the like. Hopefully, you have the same color stored somewhere. If not, get a piece of painted drywall from inside a closet or other inconspicuous place and take it to your local home repair big box store and get a batch of touch up paint mixed to order.  If you can’t get a match, find something close and at least point corner to corner (top and bottom), basically one wall or as required.

About colors, if you have a room in a maroon color or purple or some other strong color you probably need to neutralize to something lighter. One of our bedrooms was painted a really rich orange color, which I had done to match some decorations I had for that room.  It looked quite bold and impressive, but equally might be a strong negative for a potential buyer.  I painted over the entire room before selling our own home, and I’m glad I did, its one less distraction for the buyer.  A lot of little distractions can add up and be equal to a lost buyer.

The exterior is just as important. if you have siding that needs to be power washed and painted and don’t forget window frames and sashes  and door trim. Don’t forget the picket fence !

8Storage Bin or Unit

Remember you’re moving on so better to start packing now and start putting away 50% of your belongings either in a storage unit or rent a storage bin, the ones you can park in your driveway. That same company that drops off the driveway storage will also pick it up and stack it in a warehouse until you are ready to move. 

If you are like most people your closet space is probably not too big and you have it packed with clothes – a potential buyer will not take this as a positive sign for their storage prospects in that same closet. Clothes on hangers should be easily discoverable with lots of room between pieces. This approach gives the impression of openness and plenty of storage space and its about impressing the potential buyer! 

My rule of thumb is pack at least 50% of everything you own. When in doubt, pack it. Start with the personal items, and those that you have not used for a long time. 

When I went through this same exercise myself I thought, well this is going to be easy. We really do not have too much stuff, or so I thought. Well, it amazed us but as soon as we started opening drawers and closet doors things start to appear and expand, I was finding things I forgot I had. We packed more than 50% of our house contents and it still looked crowded so I kept going.

We had 3-yard sales the weeks prior and got rid of an LOT more of the other 50%, donated quite a few and gave a lot of things to friends and family as well. 

It was worth it. We came into our new home ready for a more lean and efficient space and had room now for a “new look”. We love it!

9Landscaping or Flower Pots

Weeding and mulching go a long way. If you are listing your home in the spring, buy colorful flowers and plant them in groupings. You might like the look of a wildlife preserve, which is perfectly ok if that is your personal preference. Remember your goal of making your house appealing to the most buyers and not just those that share your taste.

If you do not have a yard but have a patio or balcony don’t forget to liven those up.  If you do not have any plantings, purchase a few and decorate and arrange those at the front door or create a nice grouping or seating arrangement on your balcony.

I remember one of my sellers lived across the street from a house that needed some landscaping (to put it mildly).  When I called several Real Estate agents that had showed the house a few expressed their clients objection to the neighbor’s yard.  They did not want to have to walk out of the house and look at that yard everyday. This was a shame because on all other levels the house was just lovely. My client finally convinced the neighbor to do some minor yard upkeep and the house sold quickly.



10Get advice specific for you house from a REALTOR®

We, Realtors are constantly touring homes for sale with our buyer clients, and we hear the buyer’s objections on all different topics so we are very attuned to those objections that buyers always bring up and that are important to them (and that’s what matters).  These objections might change according to the price point and location as well. Get advice from your REALTOR® and spend your money wisely. 

You may not always be happy with what your Realtor will discuss with you but know you have a partner who is a licensed professional and who has a fiduciary responsibility to tell you the facts and help you make a decision that you will keep you happy for many years  to come.

My Final Thoughts

We recently moved from our home of 20 years. Of course, just like any long time homeowner, I did not immediately felt it was necessary for us but I knew the guidelines above have been tried and known to be bullet proof when it comes to selling a house. I just had to implement the guidelines to maximize my return, so finally my turn came up to performed those tasks that I tell all my clients every time.

We spent a lot of time going through stuff; packing, storing, donating, cleaning, painting, remodeling, finishing projects, plus staging. And it definitely paid off, I received an offer within a day for a lot more than I had it listed for.  Moral of the story, no one wants to do go through the pain, but in the end you will be very happy you did.

No Pain No Gain.

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