Have no illusions: this is a big job. But it's also crucial. How your house looks to prospective buyers has a major impact on how quickly it will sell. Why? Because, frankly, most buyers have no imagination. They lack the power to see around your stuff to what the house actually looks like or might look like with a little spiffing up.
Essentially, you need to make your house look like no one lives there while all the time living there with your family and pets. This is no small feat but it's not impossible, either. Use these tips to help you plan your strategy.
Examine your house with a critical eye.What are its high points? Emphasize those. What are its detriments? Eliminate or downplay those. For example, our deck was in awful shape, and we knew it'd be a big black mark against our house. So we bit the bullet and had a new, larger deck built. It looks fantastic. We also had some landscaping done to make our backyard more useful and attractive. And we hired a handyman to make some repairs.
Start with a major clean out.This takes the most time and energy. The object is to clear out as much as possible by donating or trashing non-essentials and boxing up other things you can do without for a few weeks. Moving boxes aren't cheap, so look around for used ones if you can. I found free moving boxes on Craigslist and made the drive to pick them up.
Pick a place to start and hop to it. It will seem like an insurmountable task -- at least it did to me -- but I lived through it and so can you.
We started with our bedrooms and the playroom. The girls and I went through all their clothes and possessions and sorted them into three types: keep, donate, trash. As we sorted, we bagged up all trash and donate items. The donation bags we loaded into our minivan. We boxed up as much of the keepers as we could: winter clothes, toys, knickknacks, special possessions, books.
In the bathrooms, clean out all cabinets, drawers, and linen closets. Put down new shelf liner. Box up extra towels, sheets, and blankets. Get rid of old toiletries and medications. (I was amazed at how many hair products languished in my cabinet! Now that I'm on my new curly girl routine, I don't need these any more.) Then neatly rearrange what remains.
In the kitchen, ruthlessly edit the pantry and cabinets. I boxed up some things, threw away others, and recycled hundreds of plastic food storage containers. (Okay, maybe not hundreds, but it seemed like it.) Consider boxing or hiding away small appliances, like toaster ovens, slow cookers, blenders, etc. Keep your countertops clear. In my kitchen, the Red Steel Beauty still enjoys pride of place on my counter, of course, as does the coffee maker.
Minimize your personal decorative items, including framed photos and even books. You don't want your rooms to look vacated and naked, but you don't want your personal tastes to overwhelm unimaginative prospective buyers, either.
Put things in storage.What do you do with all these boxes? Rent a storage compartment at a nearby facility. You do not want to leave heaps of boxes all over the place while you're house is on the market. Not even in the garage.
Store extra furniture so your rooms will look uncluttered and spacious. We removed a rocker and ottoman and a chest of drawers from Tiny Girls' room, and a bookshelf and desk from Miss Priss's room. We took out a leaf from our dining room table and stored two of the eight chairs.
Deep clean.After you've cleared out, it's time to really clean. Polish all doors and baseboards. Clean the top of the fridge. Wash the walls where it's needed. Magic Erasers will be your new best friend. Clean the windows. Vacuum thoroughly and consider cleaning the carpets. Scrub tile floors til they're sparkling. Clean out the fireplace. Eliminate all cobwebs. Dust light fixtures. Sweep. Mop.
Clean the carpets. You can easily rent a machine to do this yourself. Or you can buy your own for a decent price these days. To make it even more affordable, see if a friend or two would like to share in the purchase. Most people would only use a carpet cleaning machine once a year, so sharing one is a viable option.
Once you get everything just so, it's easy to keep the place clean. Sweep regularly, wipe down counters, shine faucets and mirrors with a microfiber cloth. Swish the toilets. Spray a cloth with furniture polish and dust quickly every day. That way, you're good to go when an agent calls and asks, "Can I show your home in the next hour?"
Spiff up.Do you baseboards need a little touch-up painting? Ours did. I used a small sponge "brush" for that. What about wall dings? A little spackle, some sandpaper, and a touch of paint will do the trick. Could you replace any outdated light fixtures? We did in our master bathroom.
Think about curb appeal.How does your house look from the street? Aim for an inviting and welcoming entrance. I bought two ferns and set them on our front stoop. I also potted some petunias and set the pot on an old ladderback chair. I pruned all our Knock-Out rosebushes and ruthlessly weeded our flowerbeds. Plant some colorful annuals. The lantana and verbena from last year came back, so I didn't have to plant anything new. Wash and re-caulk (if necessary) your front door and its surrounds. Our red door looked good after a cleaning, but we decided to re-paint its surrounding woodwork. Buy a new welcome mat and hang a pretty wreath on the front door.
In my next post, I'll talk about inexpensive touches you can add to update or warm up your home. Really, you don't have to spend a lot to make a big impact. There are several things you can do to show your home in the best possible light and make a favorable impression on prospective buyers. Think about it: even in a fast market, you are competing against other homes on the market, so start strong and stay strong.