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Preparing Your House for Selling

You only get one chance to make a first impression. So does your house. And for most potential home buyers, that first impression often determines whether they will seriously consider a property.

Your home may have all sorts of wonderful features ó after all, you bought it for a reason. But if your home doesn't make a good first impression, potential buyers may never see the most appealing aspects.

Your first challenge is to step back and look at your house the way a potential buyer would look at it, seeing it for the first time. Remember, you live there, you are comfortable. You don't notice the stained siding anymore or the chips in the paint. You have learned to step over the crack in the sidewalk; you know just how to jiggle the latch so the gate opens.

Start right out at the street. What impression does your home make as you approach it? Is it neat and tidy with a well-kept lawn and gardens? Is the paint fresh? Is the siding clean? Does it look inviting or, does it look a little tired? Are the eaves sagging? Does the front porch need touching up? Do the shrubs and bushes need trimming? Are the flower beds sparse and weedy?

Using those same "first impression" eyes, take a tour of your home as though you were seeing it for the first time as a potential buyer. Go slowly, take notes as you go.

Look at your home at three levels: housekeeping, minor maintenance, and major maintenance.

Housekeeping issues are the easiest to fix. Minor maintenance ó like painting, repairing marks on walls or replacing damage baseboard take a little more effort, but are relatively low-cost and can add significant first-impression value to your home. Major maintenance can take a lot more effort, and in some cases can be a lot more costly. You need to consider carefully whether the improvements will add enough value to your home to be a good investment. A basic rule is to do the cosmetic things which will improve your chances of selling, but avoid the major projects unless they add more value to the home than they cost.

Some things may be unavoidable such as repairs for structural soundness. Others, such as new flooring or a major bathroom renovation, might better be left to the new owner so they can do the work to their own taste.


Let's talk about housekeeping first. Ask yourself if your housekeeping inside and out is doing everything that can be done to help you make your sale - neat and tidy sells. Potential buyers look at housekeeping as an indication of how well other, less visible maintenance is looked after, so a neat, clean property makes a very strong first impression. Here are some time-proven tips:


Keep the lawn mowed. An application of fertilizer and regular watering will create a lush-looking lawn.

Trim or prune any unruly shrubs, especially those that block light into the house or that hang over the driveway or porch.

Weed and cultivate the flower beds and use an edging tool to make a nice, neat border. A few minutes with a hoe or rake on a regular basis can keep the flower gardens looking their best.

If you don't have flower beds, consider creating some. Or, consider putting planters near the front door. Flowering plants are relatively inexpensive, are generally available throughout the growing season, and add significant appeal to any property.

Keep the walks, porches, steps and driveway swept clean of dust and debris. Edging the grass along the walks and driveway and getting rid of any grass growing up through minor cracks will also dramatically improve the appearance.

During the winter, make sure walks, driveway, steps and porches are always kept clear of ice and snow.

Look at the yard for clutter. Pick up bikes, toys, sports equipment and the like and store them neatly. Storing them in the garage or shed is preferable, but if that isn't possible, gather them together and make them look organized rather than having them scattered across the property.

Get rid of broken or abandoned toys and generally police the yard for trash and debris.

If you have a garage or a shed, clean them up. Sweep out the garage or shed and store things neatly to create the appearance of as much roominess as possible.

If there are oil or gas stains in the garage or driveway, clean them up.


The entrance

Look carefully at your foyer or entrance hallway. Do everything you can to make the entrance way feel roomy and welcoming.

Store boots and shoes out of site, or if you must have them by the door, store them neatly. A mat, boot tray or shoe rack will work nicely here. The same applies to coats and jackets. Store them in the closet if possible. If not, hang them neatly.

If your entrance space feels confined, consider removing any unnecessary furniture you might have that is just taking up space. Hang a mirror, an attractive picture, or other creative decorations that give a homey touch. If you have a mat on the floor, make sure it is clean and in good condition.

The kitchen

This may be the single most important room in the buyer's mind. Make the kitchen look roomy by clearing the counter tops of all unnecessary items.

You may be comfortable working in your kitchen - you've gotten used to working around the coffee maker, microwave and blender; however, if a potential buyer "feels" that the kitchen is cramped or short of working space, it may leave a negative impression. Even if the kitchen is small and counter space is limited, you can make it "feel" comfortable to work in by opening up as much space as possible.

Look at the whole room for a feeling of roominess and comfort. If you have extra chairs around the table, do they make the room feel crowded? If so, remove a couple of them.

Look in the cupboards, too. Like most people, you have probably accumulated lots of dishes and utensils over the years and your cupboards are full. However, a potential buyer opening cupboards and seeing them crammed full might get the impression that cupboard space is limited. Go through the cupboards and remove many of the things you don't use very often. You can pack these things away now - after all, you are moving soon. Make your cupboards look neat and roomy and your kitchen will make a good impression.

The importance of cleanliness in the kitchen can't be overstressed. The condition of your kitchen will create an impression that will carry throughout the house.

Wash the walls and ceiling to remove accumulated cooking vapors. Clean the hood over the range. Make sure curtains are clean and fresh and the counters and sinks are spotless. Clean the stove, oven and fridge even if they aren't going to be included in the sale. They are part of the overall impression.

A small rug or carpet in front of the sink is a nice addition. It should be clean and not worn.

A bright plant or some fresh flowers will be a nice finishing touch.

The living areas

Again, clean and tidy are the two key words. Clean all floors and vacuum all carpets. Wash walls, woodwork or trim.

Ensure all windows and window coverings are clean and in good working order. When you show your home, open drapes and curtains to brighten rooms. Well-lit rooms appear larger so make sure all light fixtures are clean and all lights are on. If necessary, put in brighter light bulbs.

Use an air freshener to eliminate any musty or offensive odors and lubricate any sticky or squeaky doors and windows.

Remember the closets. Like the kitchen cupboards, you don't want to create the impression the closets are small and cramped. Installing closet organizers and arranging articles in the closets will give the appearance of roominess and adequate storage.

Arrange each room for the appearance of maximum spaciousness. It might mean storing a chair or table out of sight or rearranging furniture so the rooms show to their best advantage.

Generally, tidy up newspapers and magazines and remove any excess knickknacks and memorabilia that you have collected over the years.

Personal or family photos should also be packed away at this time. You want potential buyers to envision their own belongings in this house ñ not constant reminders that this house belongs to you.

Basement and attic

These two areas also make a strong impression on potential buyers so it is important not to neglect them. You will soon be moving, so now is a good time to get rid of anything you won't be taking with you. And it is a good time to pack anything you won't need before you move. Giving your storage areas an organized appearance will make them seem roomy and easy to work in. They will also be easier to clean. Make sure there is good lighting on the stairway to the basement and in the entrance to the attic, if applicable.

A general note

As you prepare your house for potential buyers, remember that it is your home. It should look comfortable and lived in, and it should look like it is easy to maintain. Try to find the middle ground. A showcase home may feel cold and just as unwelcoming as a crowded, cluttered home.

Minor Maintenance

When you went through your home looking at it as a potential buyer, you made notes of the things that needed attention. Your notes should include all the minor maintenance items that, although they will take a little more time and effort than housekeeping, will be relatively simple and inexpensive. These are often the best investment you can make in the value of your home.

Things like simple repairs, fresh paint, patched cracks and mended screens take little time, are not very costly, but add hugely to that first impression.

Let's go back through that same tour now looking for the minor repairs.


Paint is perhaps the best individual investment you can make in improving the value of your property, inside or out.

Fresh paint will add considerable drive-by appeal. If you can't do the entire house, look for options. Trim, shutters, windows, doors and the front porch are all places where fresh paint will make a significant difference. Covering up all those hockey puck marks and scuffs on the garage door can help, too.

Look at the house from the top down. Is the roof in good repair? If not, replace missing or damaged shingles. If it is time for a new roof, you will have to decide whether the investment can be recovered by an increased sales price. Probably it cannot, but you will have to take the condition of the roof into consideration in the final price you are willing to accept.

Look at the eaves troughs and downspouts. Are they in good condition, or are they sagging? Refasten any loose connections and replace any damaged or missing pieces.

Repair any broken or badly worn steps. Fill any sidewalk or driveway cracks with concrete or asphalt repair materials. If you have a paved driveway, a fresh coat of blacktop sealer will make a big difference.

Look at all the windows and screens and make any necessary repairs.


The entrance

Once again, paint is your best investment here. Repaint any walls that are looking faded or marked. At the very least, repair any cracks or holes in the walls and do touch ups. Repair or replace any damaged baseboards.

The entrance area makes a big impression. It is also the area that takes most of the everyday wear and tear. Just as the outside of your home makes an important overall impression, so does the entry hall. This area should be a priority for any necessary repairs.

The kitchen

Make the kitchen (and the bathrooms) high priorities for paint and repairs. Kitchen cupboards can take a beating, but a coat of paint can make them look renewed. Repair any broken or missing handles or hinges, and make sure all the doors close properly and all the drawers slide easily.

Paint will eliminate any stains from cooking vapors that have accumulated, especially on the ceiling, and will brighten the room considerably.

Consider the flooring. Replace any loose, cracked or broken tiles and repair any other damage. If it is badly worn, consider replacing it.

The bathrooms

Repair any plumbing problems. Put fresh caulking around the tub, shower and sink. Repair any problems with the cabinets. Bathroom flooring is especially important. Repair any damage caused by water and consider new flooring. Again, fresh paint works wonders.

The living areas

Ensure all your wall fixtures have proper covers and that all your electrical outlets and switches work.

Throughout the house, look at walls, ceilings, flooring and trim. Repair any cracks, nail pops or visible seams in the drywall. Look for water stains on the ceilings. Fix the cause of the stain and repair and paint the ceiling.

Repair or replace any damaged trim. Refinish or replace worn flooring wherever possible. In small rooms, a carpet remnant can be inexpensive and easy to install. Whenever you decide to paint, light, neutral colours are best. Check all the windows. Make sure they all open and close properly. Replace any broken or cracked glass and mend any damaged screens.

Basement and Attic

These are areas that often get the least attention, but they can be important, too. In the attic, make sure that any vents are working properly; that any exposed wiring is in good condition, and check for signs of small animals or birds that can cause damage. Make sure there is good lighting and that the flooring is sound.

In the basement, repair any signs of water damage or leaks. Often a coat of light color paint on the walls will brighten things considerably and make the space appear more usable.

Major repairs

This is an area that is much more difficult to deal with because the repairs are usually much more costly and you are less likely to recover your expenses in the increased value of your home.

In most cases, unless the problem seriously affects your ability to sell your home ó structural soundness for example, or a septic system that won't pass an inspection ó doing major repairs or renovations isn't recommended. Instead, acknowledge to potential buyers that you know you will soon need a new roof or that the kitchen cupboards need replacing and that you have taken that into consideration in your asking price.

Final thoughts

After you have gone through your home as though you were seeing it for the first time, you may feel overwhelmed because all those little items may suddenly seem like a huge project.

Don't panic. Prioritize. Identify and do the most important items first, and work your way through your list methodically. You will find that many of the things you have identified can be dealt with quickly and easily and your home will be ready for a buyer before you know it.