Getting Your House Ready to Sell: A Complete Guide

moving home

Buying and selling property is one of the most stressful experiences we go through. There are dozens of things to think about, such as legal costs, paperwork, logistics and financing, all while working to make your home as appealing as possible to prospective buyers. 

The icing on the cake is when you maximize your selling price and sell the property quickly, but simply getting through the basic process is a major challenge and can benefit hugely from detailed preparation.

This guide will help you get all your ducks in a row, and breaks down everything you need to do – inside and outside – to get your house ready to stand out against comparable properties.

Look at it From The Buyer’s Perspective

The first step in the home selling process is a shift in mindset. You’ve spent years improving the property and molding it to fit your taste. You’re attached to it and can probably forgive its minor flaws like that dead space next to the cupboard. But will a newcomer see it the same way? 

Perhaps think about a friend who has a completely different taste from yours. What changes would they make to your layout or furniture? 

The mindset change can even start out in the street, because that’s where potential buyers form their first impression, otherwise known as Curb Appeal. What will they think about moving into this neighborhood? Does your property have what it takes to otherwise swing their view?

Then inside, a good place to start is to depersonalize the property by removing personal photographs, souvenirs and articles that are close to your heart. This will help make the interior appear neutral, as well as making it easier for you to assess cleanliness.

It goes without saying that signs of dust and grime will negatively affect the opinion of a potential buyer. A deep clean is non-negotiable!

Maximizing Your Home’s Curb Appeal

Curb appeal can make or break your chances of people scheduling viewings, not to mention its role in adding significant value to the property, but improving it is just a matter of engaging in some fairly standard tasks:

  • Tidy up the yard: Mow the lawn, trim hedges, prune trees, weed flowerbeds, throw out old toys – But you’re already on top of that, right?
  • Add to the garden: At the other extreme, the yard may just be too bland. A narrow flower bed could add a splash of color, or even fresh flowers strategically placed – near the front door, for example.
  • Pressure washing: Something most of us do less regularly. Sidings, driveways and walkways are certain to be transformed if you go the extra mile to hire a pressure cleaner.
  • Front door: This is where a visitor’s gaze comes into focus. A fresh coat of paint, a new welcome mat, and maybe some potted plants can add instant appeal and make the entrance look inviting.
  • Check lighting: Make sure the illumination above porches and walkways is in good working order and the light bulbs and lamp housings are clean. Adequate lighting will make your home appear cozy and safe.

Extreme Close-up

With good curb appeal in place, you’re not going to throw away that advantage by neglecting the interior, are you? This is where it pays to go into much more detail in getting your house ready to sell.

  • De-clutter ruthlessly: This will help you view the property with new eyes, and will give prospective buyers mental space to visualize how they could make the space their own. Get rid of anything you don’t need or use. Excess furniture makes rooms feel cramped, so consider renting a storage unit to stash less-used items.
  • Deep cleaning: This means the ENTIRE HOUSE – top to bottom – but remember, it’s kitchens and bathrooms that visitors assess most closely. If the task feels daunting, consider hiring professional cleaners.
  • Depersonalize: Remove family photos and personal items. Potential buyers need to imagine their own lives in the home.
  • Neutralize décor: Repaint any brightly colored walls with neutral colors. This helps home buyers visualize their belongings in the space.
  • Maximize light: Replace old light bulbs, take down bulky curtains that may obstruct external light, and consider adding additional light fixtures in darker rooms.
  • Minor repairs: Most buyers will be on the lookout for small details like leaky taps or loose closet doors, and they may be accompanied by home inspection experts who will be even more vigilant.

Pricing Your Home Right

Before even visiting a property your potential buyers will have drawn up a shortlist based on key aspects, one of which is sure to be the price. All your prep work up to this point can prove useless if your chosen price fails to attract buyers, so accurate pricing is essential. 

We’ve all seen properties adorned with a For Sale sign for months and months, and the first thing we think is: Overpriced. This can happen even in a hot market, and if a house sits there for too long that in itself can be reason enough for buyers to strike it off the list.

Understand Your Local Housing Market

To arrive at the right listing price and strategize, you need to have your finger on the pulse of the local market.

There are websites that allow you to easily assess comparable properties in your area, including the asking price and proven selling price, which can help you determine your home’s potential market value.  

But you will almost certainly end up working with a real estate agent, an invaluable partner who can fine tune your market analysis and assist with pricing your home, marketing, and managing the selling process. Your prior analysis can help you decide when interviewing real estate agents, and the sooner you connect with potential advisors, the sooner you can start formulating a strategy – so start interviewing agents early.

Real estate agents are excellent contacts to advise on home-improvement projects that could add value to the property, such as newer floors, sound-proof windows, a more modern heating system, safety features or insulation.

A home inspector is likely to be involved later on, but they will be looking for faults and damage rather than considering esthetic or monetary improvements.

Staging Your Home

Another advantage of clearing the decks prior to cleaning is that it gives you a blank slate upon which to repurpose the living spaces. 

Now that you’ve eliminated your personal clutter you have the opportunity to superficially redecorate key areas in a more generic fashion, like the showcase apartments that construction firms often set up in the early stages of a housing project.

A good starting point is to make the rooms appear as spacious as possible, primarily by rearranging or removing furniture. You may need to rent a storage unit, unless you can offload excess items onto family or friends. 

Modest decoration can be a simple matter of distributing throw-cushions, books, candles, generic photos and flowers. You could even follow the example of stores and hotels by placing devices that emit mood-enhancing aromas.

Research has shown that staging the home – even if only key rooms, such as the bathroom, living room and kitchen – can significantly increase the value of offers and speed up the sale. In that case there can be a lot of value in hiring a professional stager or decorator.   

Now is the time to take the photos that the listing agent will use to promote your home online, but to really capitalize on the home’s new look it pays to hire a professional photographer. Sites like AirBnB are rife with properties that are showcased using smartphone snaps, which often distort the perspective or are prone to shadows at the edges. 

A professional photographer, on the other hand, will know how to make the most of natural lighting or to choose settings that bring out warmth in a photo – and they’ll have an eye for highlighting your home’s best features.

Supporting Your Case With a Home Inspection

While not always required, pre-listing home inspections are becoming increasingly common, because they can provide additional guidance to the seller as well as serving as a form of insurance for potential buyers.

For the seller, a home inspection can:

  • Minimize surprises: By revealing potential issues that might arise during the buyer’s inspection, giving you time to rectify flaws or factor previously missed positives into the asking price.
  • Streamline the closing process: By preventing delays or renegotiations that could result from said surprises.
  • Serve as a selling point: Which could tip the balance in getting the property onto the buyers’ initial list of properties to consider. It provides them with a rapid means of assessing your home’s condition.

Your listing agent can help you decide whether a pre-listing inspection makes sense for your particular situation.

While Your Home Is on the Market

Now that your home is ready to be shown, you may be tempted to leave everything in the hands of the agent. But they can’t be expected to prioritize your home above all the other properties in their portfolio.

You will be doing yourself and them a favor by checking the home daily and staying on top of minor tasks like cleaning and gardening, particularly if you used fresh flowers for staging – they soon lose their petals.

Of course, you will be doing this anyway if you are still living in the home, but be aware that buyers may request showings at short-notice, although your agent is sure to keep you abreast of their schedule and any upcoming showings.

It goes without saying that the more flexible you are in accommodating visits, the more potential buyers will view your home.

If you can’t always be there to welcome visitors, a great solution is to store the keys in a lockbox and share the combination with your agent. They will then be able to access the property at any time.

Handling Offers and Negotiations

Be sure to have a game plan for dealing with offers before they come in, bearing in mind that there could be multiple offers arising simultaneously. Real estate agents are key to helping you make informed decisions and are primed to engage in analysis as soon as an offer comes in. They are your first port of call when it comes to negotiating terms or counteroffers. Plus, they have experience in factoring in issues such as contingencies and timing changes that could color the true value of an offer. 

A good agent will have done the necessary groundwork to set the stage for handing the process over to your real estate attorney once you accept an offer. This should save time (and money!) when the lawyers verify  the paperwork in the run-up to finalizing the sale.

Tips to Help Your Home Sell Quickly and for Top Dollar

While some factors, like the state of the local housing market, are beyond your control, these strategies can help you sell faster and potentially for more money:

  • Time the listing strategically: Spring is traditionally the most active homebuying season, but your local housing market may have different trends. Consult your real estate agent.
  • Hold open houses regularly: Open houses increase exposure for your home and attract potential buyers who might not have come across your listing online.
  • Price competitively: The listing price is the single biggest factor in how quickly (or slowly) your home sells.
  • Sweeten the deal (if needed): In slower markets, consider offering buyer incentives like covering a portion of closing costs.
  • Home warranties: Offering a home warranty to buyers can be a good selling point and protect you from unexpected costs if appliances or systems break down after the home sale.
  • Be realistic: Selling a home can be a time-consuming process. Many sellers don’t get their full asking price. Focus on what you can control – getting your home ready to sell in its best form.

FAQs: Getting Your House Ready to Sell

Q: How long does it take to get a house ready to sell?

A: This depends on the size of your home, its condition, and how much work it needs. However, it’s wise to allocate at least a few weeks for your deep clean, for de-cluttering, removing personal items, repairs, and possible staging.

Q: Should I make renovations before selling?

A: Major renovations are rarely worth the investment, as you likely won’t recoup the whole cost in the final price. However, smaller updates like a fresh coat of paint or replacing outdated fixtures can offer a good return. Consult your agent about priorities for your area.

Q: Can I sell my house without a real estate agent?

A: Yes, this is referred to as “For Sale By Owner” (FSBO). However, selling without an agent means handling all the paperwork, marketing, negotiations, and legalities yourself. Most sellers find working with a professional saves them time, stress, and potentially a lot of money.

Q: What if my house sits on the market for a long time?

A: If your home isn’t attracting offers, have an honest discussion with your real estate agent. You may need to re-evaluate factors like pricing, selling points, photos and marketing strategy, or make additional improvements to enhance its appeal.

Q: How can I make my home stand out from the competition?

A: Here are a few extra ways to make an impression:

  • Offer virtual tours alongside listing photos
  • Bake cookies before holding an open house (the smell adds to the appeal)
  • Put together a ‘welcome packet’ with info on the home, neighborhood, and local amenities

The Takeaway

Selling your house can feel like a daunting task, but meticulous preparation is the key to a successful sale. By taking the time to get your house ready, both inside and out, you can position it to coincide with the right listing price, attract the best offers and sell faster with the least amount of hassle. Consulting a qualified real estate agent makes the whole process far smoother, helping you navigate key decisions and achieve your goals.