10 Essential Things to Do Before Selling Your Home

Take care of these 10 things before listing your house for sale, and it'll be primed to sellI’ve moved too many times to remember off hand growing up, and toured literally hundreds of houses in my lifetime. I’ve also bought 6 properties of my own, and sold 3.

Every time I’ve gone house hunting, either for myself or with someone else, I’ve been struck by just how many people neglect basic things that could help them get top dollar with only a week or two’s worth of effort.

Here are ten things to do before listing your home that can make all the difference. Skip them, and you may get less for your home or have a harder time selling it, since many prospective buyers can’t look past easily-remedied issues. Take care of them, and your home will be primed to sell.

1. Declutter

You may not notice the pile of papers on your desk, the stack of newspapers next to the couch, or the 8 small appliances on your kitchen counter anymore, but prospective buyers will. And they’ll think, geez, isn’t there any room in this house to put those things away? Or, geez, if they can’t even clean up a mess, I bet they didn’t bother to maintain the house.

Don’t just cram your things into a closet or cupboard either, because people look in there. (In fact, you should declutter those too.) Get your clutter out of the house if it’s at all feasible (either by trashing items, storing them with a family member, or renting temporary storage space.)

You want to convey light and airy, with lots of well-maintained room for belongings. Plus, this way you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes time to actually move.

2. De-personalize (to a certain extent)

I don’t agree with the idea of removing all personal touches from a home (because to me those touches are what makes a home look livable) but I do believe in removing some of them. If you’ve got a collection of action figures taking up 3 bookcases, a wall of family photos lining the hall, or posters of your favorite 80’s big hair bands plastered on the ceiling, those personal touches should go.

Think understated and conventionally tasteful. You want to appeal to a broad audience. To get an idea of the kind of personal touches to leave in, flip through a home furnishings catalog.

3. Make more room

Unless people regularly comment about the sparseness of your furnishings, consider removing about 1/3 of them. Ever look at the bedroom of a model home? They don’t have a bed, dresser, two nightstands, a chest, a chair, a standing mirror & a hamper in the master bedroom. They’ve got a bed, a dresser, and a few tasteful pieces of artwork. Maaaybe a chair. A child’s room might have just a bed, with a neatly decorated closet with a few items of clothing hanging in it. Generally speaking, the smaller your room, the more minimal you’ll want to go.

4. Repair any broken items

Got a closet door that falls off its track? Buy a new one if necessary, or fix the track. Do your cabinet doors squeak when you open them? Oil the hinges. Have you been using a brick as a kick plate in the kitchen to replace the hole your cat made? Buy a real kick plate. Notice that your water heater is rusting? Replace it. Chances are you’ll be repairing or replacing all of these things anyway after a buy has a home inspection — you may as well leave the inspector with little to find.

5. Call an exterminator if necessary

The sight of a bug scuttling across the floor is not appealing — even if there’s just one. Call an exterminator if you need to.

6. Repaint

Consider painting the interior a more neutral color if you have unusually bright colors or dingy paint. (And avoid painting things yellow — it’s been my experience at least that many men dislike yellow.)

7. Make the inside of the house sparkle

Don’t just clean, DEEP clean. Use a Q-Tip to reach into crevices. Bleach the grout, wipe down the walls & baseboards, and steam clean the carpets. You do not want a prospective buyer to associate the word “gross” with your house in any way.

8. Freshen up the exterior

Give your trim & front door a fresh coat of paint, or power wash them if the paint is still in good shape. Wash the windows. Hang a relatively plain floral wreath on the front door & plant a few seasonal flowers in flowerpots or flowerbeds. Mow the lawn, rack the leaves, or clear the snow. Trim the shrubs. Sweep the sidewalks. Pull all the weeds! (Nothing says neglect like an unkempt lawn.)

9. Find pets & pet supplies a temporary home elsewhere

You love your pets, but prospective buyers may not, so it’s ideal if you have family or friends that your pets can stay with while your house is for sale. Remove all pet-related equipment such as litter boxes, cat trees, and dog beds too. You don’t want prospective buyers wondering if there are pee stains under the carpet or if mysterious odors will arise when it gets warm. (Of course, if there ARE pee stains under the carpet or mysterious odors that arise, get them taken care of FIRST.)

Housing pets elsewhere is also good to do for your own peace of mind — that way there will be no worries about someone touring the house and accidentally letting them out.

10. Explore your options

Research various real estate agents before choosing one to list your home. Don’t just go with someone you or a friend knows — go with someone that has a track record and who sells real estate as their full time job. Be sure that they will list your house on the MLS, and that they do not want an exclusive listing. (You want as many people as possible showing your house.)

If you decide to sell on your own, be sure you do enough research that you understand the process and are able to hire anyone you’ll need to assist you. Be sure that your potential asking price is in line with the comps and the market.

Improving your chances

If you can do all 10 of these things, chances are you’ll get many thousands of dollars more out of your home. If you can only do a few of them, be sure to at least declutter, deep clean, & freshen the exterior. Those three items alone will help you stand out from a large portion of the competition.


  • We plan on putting our current home on the market sometime in the spring of 2015. We definitely need to declutter and do a few little repairs. Hopefully our home sells quickly!

  • Becky Law

    Awesome tips! Decluttering alone is a big help in selling the house faster. Will keep these tips handy, might use them in the near future.