Home Buying and Selling: 20 Low or No-Cost Tips to Prepare a Home for Sale
Updated: Oct 5
Across the country the real estate market is red-hot! According to a Google report from earlier this month, the search term “When is the home market going to crash?” spiked 2,450% in the past month. In many locations across the country, new listings are selling in less than a week with many offers coming in above asking price. Many buyers are being forced to waive contingencies to get their offer selected. There is no doubt that it is currently a seller’s market, but that doesn’t mean sellers can skimp on their preparations. While this post won’t attempt to provide future market predictions, it will give some low and no-cost tips for sellers to bring in the best offers.
State of Mind: The first step is to change your state of mind. Begin the emotional and physical detachment of how your home has functioned for you. Be prepared to pack 25-30% of your stuff and store off-site before anyone even walks through your home. It’s no longer your home, it’s a house for sale. Quite often, the longer you have lived in the home the harder it is to see the difference between the two.
Study Online Listings: Look through your home with a critical buyer’s eye. Spend time looking at other home and vacation rental listings, both in and out of your local area, to see what kind of listings have the most views and saves. What can you emphasize about your home to generate online clicks?
Photography: Quality photography has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have. A quick walk-through by your agent with their phone simply won’t cut it. Quite frankly, I’m shocked by the number of so-called “professional” agents who still don’t have their act together in this area. Here are 10 tips for getting quality photos without hiring a professional, although that can definitely be a solid investment on higher priced homes.
1) Wide Angle Lens: A wide-angle lens makes a dramatic difference. You can buy one for your phone for less than $50. A wide-angle lens makes rooms look more spacious and avoids needing to post several photos of the same space.
2) Kitchens: I know you still have to live there, but for photos, clear almost everything off the counters. Remove everything and only put back the items that make for a magazine-worthy photo. A few items that rarely make it back on the counter are toasters, utensil crocks, dish soap and fruit bowls. Coveted coffee makers generally get to stay, but make sure that the coffee arrangement looks cozy and inviting. Take everything off the top of your cupboards and pack it away.
3) Bathrooms: Again, clear the counters except for curated accessories. Carefully fold the fluffiest towels. Consider removing rugs. Put on a full roll of toilet paper. Stash all the shower stuff. Try photos with the shower door or curtain both open and closed to see which looks best. And for goodness sake, close the toilet lid.
4) Bedrooms: Put extra blankets under the quilt or comforter to make it look extra fluffy. Ensure that the bed is perfectly made as you don’t want an online shopper to first see that your duvet isn’t on straight! Open the shades for natural light. Clean the nightstands. Take out any extra furniture. Remove personal photos. Have kids pick their favorite items and move out the rest. The two photos below provide some examples from what I expect are both bedrooms of teenagers. They have both been nicely cleaned and decluttered, yet the blue room falls short by still having that cardboard man (should I know who he is?) and the shade closed.
5) Living Areas: Living areas tend to get crowded with extra furniture. Consider removing and/or rearranging to increase the physical and visual flow of the space. It’s perfectly fine to re-angle furniture specifically for a photo.
6) Front Entry and Outside: Curb appeal matters. Wash the exterior, get some new potted plants, refresh outdoor furniture with new cushions, replace your entry rug, and hang an attractive wreath on the door. For less than $100, it’s easy to boost the initial appearance of the home. The exterior image on the left is clearly the winner despite it showing less about the home than the image on the right. A few ways that the home on the right could be improved include a different angle, removal of the trinkets in the landscaping, addition of brighter cushions and pillows on the bench, and pruning back the bushes for a uniform appearance.
7) Give Each Room a Purpose: Many households have an extra room that is multi-purpose and used for guests/office/hobby/storage/dumping ground. Pick one specific purpose, preferably not dumping ground, and run with it. This image is from the acreage home my mother recently sold and for over 30 years had mostly been a cluttered catch-all type of space. With the purchase of a small rug and some used farm toys, it was perfect as a play area that eventually marketed to farm-loving families.
8) Neutral Paint: It’s not necessary to repaint every room, but if you have chosen some more exciting colors, it’s worth the effort to strategically repaint to on-trend neutral colors. Buyers know that paint isn’t expensive or difficult, but it can be hard to look beyond if it’s too bold.
9) Time of Day: This is part of the reason that a 20-minute agent photo session doesn’t work. Take photos at different times of day. Use the sun to your advantage for the best natural light. Exterior photos may look best when taken in the evening with exterior lights on.
10) Editing: It seems obvious that photos may need to be edited. Don’t go crazy with filters, but minor cropping, light or color adjustments can prove effective.
Preparing for a Showing: Great photography gets you to this point and now it’s time to continue the wow. This part of the home sale can be incredibly painful as keeping a home show-ready is challenging, especially if you have small children. You may need to adjust the way you live in the home. (Remember how I said it all started with a change in state of mind?) Use paper plates, order take-out, go on picnics, let little kids sleep with you, limit bathroom usage to one bathroom; just do what you can to make showing a home less stressful.
1) Closets: Get some boxes and start packing. Storage areas absolutely must appear organized and spacious. It is far better for a closet to be nearly empty than mostly full. And it should never, never, never be totally full. Store holiday decorations, out-of-season or wrong-sized clothes and extra toys or hobby supplies off-site. Arrange by color the clothes that stay.
2) Cupboards: Clear out bathroom and kitchen cupboards. Pack half your dishes and towels, donate pantry and freezer items, give away duplicate cleaning supplies and neatly organize anything that is left.
3) Appliances: Especially if appliances are included, it’s time for the nitty-gritty work of making them seem new. Scrub all the crevices of your washing machine and refrigerator. Make the oven and stovetop sparkle. If you don’t have time or energy, hire a housecleaner to help.
4) Garage/Sheds: Garages and exterior sheds can easily become a nightmare. I’ll say it again, store everything that isn’t absolutely essential off-site. This will likely only last a few weeks, so it will be a nice break from all the stuff.
5) Floors and Carpets: Wall-to-wall carpet is not on the top of most buyer’s lists. If you have wall-to-wall carpets, shampoo it before even a single showing takes place and then vacuum before leaving the house. The best method of making hard floors shine varies from a traditional mop to name brand products to a steam mop. Just find what works for your flooring type and do it.
6) Walls: Personal photos should have been removed for photography, but if they weren’t, now is the time to remove them. Buyers should leave with a sense that this could be their new home, not someone else’s used home. If taking everything down makes it seem too empty, lean on friends to lend you some pieces that work.
7) Windows and Doors: Unless you are specifically trying to deemphasize a particularly unpleasant view, open the shades and let the light in! Ask your agent about whether they will come through before the showing to turn on lights or if you should leave some lights on when you leave. It’s best not to have the house feel too empty as buyers enter. Close all closet doors and open the rest so it invites a natural flow.
8) Pets: While you might get a buyer who loves pets as much as you, it’s wise to have them out of the home. I’ve had personal experience with opening a mudroom door to find five dogs that immediately started barking at full blast. It was obviously less than pleasant. In addition, pets pose a financial liability if they behave in unexpected ways and cause harm to anyone touring your property.
9) Scents: Every home has a scent. Talk to your agent about the use of any scented products and if you decide that you need something, keep it both discrete and mild.
10) Trash: Finally, as you make your way out the door before a showing, take the trash with you. Buyers will obviously know if someone is living in the house, yet they don’t need to be reminded of it with an otherwise perfectly prepped home.
What additional low or no-cost tips do you have for preparing a home to sell? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series: Financial Tips for Home Buying and Selling.