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Ready, Set… Sell! Preparing Your Home to Sell for Top Dollar

Back when I worked in the corporate world and was interviewing for jobs, I read something that said you will be offered a higher salary if you wear a suit to your interview. I mostly worked in academic and high-tech environments, so suits were not the usual dress code. And frankly, I don’t think I could ever work in an environment that required me to wear a suit on a regular basis — just not my thing. HOWEVER, if wearing a suit to my interview meant I’d command a higher salary, you can bet I was going to wear a suit!

Same goes for selling a home.

In this market, with high demand and very little inventory, yes, you could probably sell your house just as it is, assuming it’s properly marketed. But why miss the opportunity to make a little (or a lot!) more money by doing some pre-sale spruce up? To get back to my analogy, why not dress your house in its best suit?

My seller did a great job with this bedroom — it shows beautifully!

Following is my advice for maximizing your home’s appeal and commanding the highest sale price:

#1 — Purge! You have two goals here: (1) to maximize a feeling of spaciousness and (2) to clear out enough “you” to allow buyers to imagine themselves living in the space.

For me, the easiest way to manage a purge is to start big and then go small. In other words, first look at your furniture and determine if any of it is too large for the space, or if there’s simply too much of it. You’re ultimately going to have to pack and move it all anyway, so why not rent a Pod and put a few things into storage? Ask for your realtor’s advice and clear out as much as you stand. You’ll be amazed at how much bigger your home feels.

Now do the same for your basement, garage, and other storage areas. Anything you can live without for a couple months should go–camping gear, unused home gym equipment, extra bikes, boxes of holiday ornaments, out of season clothing, etc.

Once the big things are cleared out, start looking at the details. Kitchen counters are a good place to start: pack up or put away any small appliances you can live without. Now look at the other surfaces around your home–dressers, tabletops, bathroom counters–and declutter those. And do you really need five throw pillows on your sofa? Do your children need ALL their stuffed animals arranged on their beds? Think zen and go as minimal as possible.

While  you’re doing all this, also be thinking about depersonalizing your space. The occasional framed family photo is okay, but a wall-to-wall montage of your wedding photos is not. And your fridge should be a blank slate–no one needs to look at your shopping lists, magnet collections or motivational sayings. You may feel like you’re parting with pieces of yourself as you’re removing these items, and that’s exactly the goal! You want your home to appeal to the widest pool of potential buyers, which means it should be *neutral.*

#2 — Let there be light!

Light is one of the top things buyers tell me they look for in a house, so make sure your house is bright at all times of day. First and foremost, remove any extraneous window treatments that are keeping the light out–simple blinds or cellular shades will look the cleanest and should be kept open for daytime showings. Also move any furnishings or hanging plants that are blocking windows. And have those windows washed inside and out. It’s not very expensive and has a big impact.

If you don’t have a lot of windows, or don’t get direct light, you might want to add a few strategically placed mirrors to amplify the light you do get. And make sure you have enough lamps and light fixtures, and that all the bulbs are working and the appropriate wattage. When I list properties I generally put the lights on for all showings, day or night–makes a big difference! And be careful about the kind of bulbs you use–many of the compact fluorescents produce a blue, eerie kind of light that does nothing to make your house feel warm or homey.

#3 — Address any needed repairs and eliminate potential red flags for buyers. Walk through your home and make a “punchlist” of any items that need to be repaired or updated. Believe me, buyers will be doing this, at least mentally, and you don’t want to give them any reason to feel your house has been neglected or worry that if they bought the house they’d be overwhelmed with repairs.

We’ve all got a few home maintenance projects we’ve put off and learned to live with, and actually may not even notice anymore. Your realtor can help point out and prioritize things to take care of before listing: leaky faucets, cracked window panes, stained ceilings, etc.

Note that I’m talking about smaller projects. You don’t need to replace your roof or install a brand-new heating system–you’ll never recoup your money at the sale. But it might be worth replacing a few loose roof shingles, and having your boiler serviced and cleaned. These little things are well worth the effort.

#4 — Freshen & clean.

You can add a lot of new life to a home with just a little paint — remember to keep the colors neutral. Other details like new hardware for kitchen cabinets, a new shower curtain and hand towels for the bathroom can work wonders for short money.

And the fun part… cleaning. When you list your house to sell, it should be the cleanest it’s ever been. I’m talking *sparkling.* All surfaces should be dusted, grimy fingerprints wiped off woodwork and handles, floors swept, mopped and/or vacuumed. And kitchens and baths should look like they’ve never been used. I know this is hard to maintain when you do, in fact, live there and use these rooms, but the good news is that in our current market, you won’t have to show your home for long!

If you know you’re not a good cleaner or just really despise doing it, I recommend bringing in professional cleaners for a good once-over. But regardless of who is cleaning, try to stay away from heavily scented cleaning products–you don’t want your home to smell institutional.

And on the subject of smell… it’s generally bad, even when it’s “good.” Unless it’s freshly baked bread or cookies 🙂 That means no scented candles or plug-ins, which are a big turnoff for many people. And it goes without saying that if you smoke or have pets, it should NOT be obvious by the smell–bathe your animals, limit your smoking to outside, shampoo your rugs & curtains, air the place out and place open boxes of baking soda in any particularly tough areas.

#5 — Make the first impression count!

Approach your home the way a prospective buyer would and note your impressions. Does it look well-maintained, clean and homey? If not, you’ve got some work to do…

If you have a lawn, it should be freshly mowed, plants and trees should be pruned, garden beds weeded. Bikes, snow shovels, and the like should be put away. If you live in a condo, the hallways should be clean, bright and uncluttered. If your neighbors tend to keep strollers, piles of shoes, or whatever outside their door, ask them if they’d mind bringing them in while your home’s on the market. I always tell my buyer clients to make note of the common areas as a good indicator of how a condo association is run, and it should look organized and cared-for.

For the finishing touch, paint the front door and add a new doormat.

#6 — Before the buyers show up, don’t forget these last-minute preparations for showings and open houses:

  1. Empty the trash & recycling

  2. Open all shades and blinds and turn on all lights

  3. Make all beds, fluff your sofa cushions, wipe down all counters

  4. Put toilet lids down

  5. Make sure there are no dishes in the sink and no laundry in the machines

  6. In the winter, make sure your path and steps are cleared of ice & snow

  7. Add flowers — in vases for the inside, and in pots by the front door

  8. Remove any litterboxes, dog beds and other pet accoutrements — and take the pets with you when you go!

That’s it! Now get ready for the offers!


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