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For Sale - Getting the House Ready

You may notice that when your Realtor is talking about a property you are interested in, they will use the word ‘home’, but when discussing the sale of a property it is commonly referred to as a ‘house’. This is no accident- there are powerful emotions in play during a home sale.

If you are the seller, you want to create emotional distance between yourself and the process of selling. This will serve a dual purpose. You will be in a position to make better, more objective decisions when you take emotion out of the equations. You also want to look at your house as an object to be sold, as opposed to the place where you live. It may sound silly, but by establishing that distance you can avoid subconsciously slowing down your sale.

To do this, you will need to depersonalize your house. In other words, you need to remove (or place out of sight) personal objects and items that would work against the feeling you want to create in a potential buyer. You want the person to picture themselves in the house, not feel like a visitor.

If you live nearby a newly developed neighborhood, drive by and visit the model homes. The furnishings and décor are comfortable without feeling lived in. The interior is sparse, without being sterile. You’ll see a similar approach taken for features in home and gardening magazines. The home should have personality, but without an overwhelming presence of the people who may still be living there.


The process of depersonalizing your house is also a good opportunity to prepare for your eventual move. Take down and pack away photos, trophies, and other mementos. Don’t simply relegate them to the back room or a garage. You should consider renting a storage unit for a short time, and as you pack your personal items you should bring them to the storage unit. This will save you some time and energy when you are ready to move out. This also puts you in the mindset of looking at the house as your former residence, rather than your current one.

Once you have packed up the most obvious personal items, you’re ready for phase two- eliminating the clutter. This can be surprisingly difficult to accomplish, and recalls the old saying about seeing the forest for the trees. Clutter can be books and magazines, little knick knacks, carelessly placed mail, and a multitude of other things that collect on counter tops, end tables, and in room corners.

It can be tricky to see this with an objective eye. The buildup of clutter occurs over a period of time that could be months, years, or even decades. To the homeowner, this means clutter blends into the surroundings, often so well that you won’t even recognize it as such. You might consider having a friend or relative (someone who doesn’t live in the house) help you identify clutter. Work through a room at a time, and when you’ve done the entire house, go back and do each room again. You may be surprised how many things you can remove on that second pass, as you train your eye.

The kitchen

A great place to get started is in the kitchen, if for no other reason than you’ll have a lot of cooking utensils and other items that are only used on an occasional basis. Specialty containers, appliances like food processors or deep fryers, and holiday glassware are some of the things that fall into this category. Keep a box or two of items you need to keep handy, like a toaster or coffee maker. Anything else, pack it up and take to your storage facility.

Clear off all your counter tops and table space. That means everything! Newspapers and magazines, mail and bills, shopping receipts, loose change, dry cleaning tickets- these are all things that have a tendency to ‘disappear’ from sight as you do your cleaning.

You should also empty out drawers and cabinets as much as you possibly can. This is a great time to do something about that ‘junk drawer’ that every house seems to have. Rarely used pots and pans, dry and canned goods, table settings, or anything else that is taking up drawer and cabinet space should be packed up and taken to storage.

Don’t forget about cleaning out the area under the sink, any storage under the stove, or reach in closet space. Remember- a potential home buyer is going to ‘try things on for size’ as they walk through your house. This means looking in drawers and cabinets, and thinking about how their own belongings will fit in those places. That will be hard to do if your things are still there. You want to make it easy for the buyer to see themselves in the house.


You might not consider the items in your clothes closet as ‘clutter’, but take a second look. If you are like most people, you only regularly wear a small percentage of the clothes you own. The lion share of your clothes will be seasonal items, clothes for special occasions, and maybe a slightly embarrassing fashion disaster or two from years gone by. Any clothes and shoes that you haven’t worn in the past month or two can likely be safely packed and stored.

Ample closet space can be a key concern for potential homebuyers. If your closets are packed full, it may send the wrong signal to your prospective buyer.


This can be another tricky area to address. It’s unlikely that you have too much furniture for your own needs. You may however have too much furniture to instill the feeling of ample space that you want your buyer to have. A comparison to a model home in a development is a useful example here. Notice how furniture is placed to maximize spaciousness without feeling like an empty room. Try and duplicate this as much as you are able, and store any redundant items that you can live without for a short time.

Storage Spaces

Attics, basements, garages, laundry and other utility rooms tend to accumulate junk and clutter even worse than other rooms in your house. You want your buyer to imagine the things they can do with those rooms, to mentally see their own car in the garage. They won’t be able to do that if you have stacks of old newspapers and recycling piled up. This might be a good time for that yard sale you’ve been thinking about!


When preparing your house for sale, one thing you should avoid is getting bogged down in costly repair projects. As you sell your house, you are also likely getting ready to buy your next one, and cash flow will be a concern. Don’t spread yourself thin with repair work. Certainly you should take care of minor, cosmetic repairs. Leave larger work to be negotiated as part of the sale. You may be better off to take a few thousand dollars off the price of your house, as opposed to having to spend that money out of pocket.


When someone is looking at a house, they are trying it on for size and inspecting it for potential flaws. That means opening doors and drawers, turning light switches off and on, and testing faucets and other plumbing fixtures.

You will make a better impression if those fixtures are shiny and clean. They should be tight and operate smoothly and without leaks. If they are old and rusty, you should have them replaced. They don’t need to be expensive, but they need to work well and look nice and clean.

This is also a good time to take care of any stains on porcelain tiles, sinks, tubs, or toilets. There are quality stain removers available at your local hardware store for everything from rust and hard water stains to lime removal. The investment of a new faucet and some elbow grease can bring a dingy sink or tub to life, and make a great impression on your potential buyer.

Clear out any junk from under sinks as well. Old sponges and wash rags, and infrequently used cleaning supplies can be safely packed away. Remember- you are preparing your house for sale. That means this should be the last time you need these supplies until you are in your new home!

Paint for ceilings and walls

One improvement that you should consider is a fresh coat of paint. As with plumbing fixtures, this is no place to go overboard on expense. A neat, simple paint job can take away years of smudges and dings. In terms of bang for your buck, few improvements will have as strong an impact as painting your house.

As you paint, consider the tones used in the model homes you’ve seen. Light beiges, off whites, and mild tones will predominate. Even if your own personal tastes run to more vivid colors, what you are trying to do is create a blank but appealing template that the potential buyer can see themselves in. Keeping that in mind throughout this process will help you sell your house quicker.

While you are painting, be sure to examine your ceilings for any water stains. If you have any leaks from the roof or upstairs plumbing, take this opportunity to have them fixed.

Floors and carpets

Painting your house is a great investment for selling, because of its low cost and big impact. New carpeting on the other hand is usually a poor investment. Unless your carpet has serious damage or is badly worn, a thorough shampoo and cleaning should be sufficient.

Along the same line, keep floor tile replacement to a minimum. Replace or repair any badly broken tiles, but beyond that you should generally just make sure that floors are clean and polished.

Doors and windows

Doors and windows should open and close freely, without squeaking. An inexpensive can of rust remover like WD40 should be enough to take care of your entire house, with plenty to spare. If you have a window that sticks, you can rest assured your buyer will find it!

You should also replace any cracked windows or torn screens, and make sure to clean windows and screens thoroughly. As people go through your house they will be peering through the various windows, you don’t want them coming face to face with fingerprints and cobwebs.

Dealing with odors

As you go through the process of depersonalizing your house, objectivity is the key. For people who smoke and pet owners, among others, that means recognizing and dealing with odors. If you smoke, try and get in the habit of doing it outside in a well ventilated area. Keep ashtrays emptied as well. If you are a cat owner, be sure to keep litter boxes cleaned and out of the way as much as possible. Make sure dogs are well bathed and kept to outlying rooms as best you can.


Once you have gotten the interior of your house presentable, you’ll be warmed up to the project and will have fine tuned your critical eye. You’ve got a solid understanding of the depersonalization process and are able to see your house as a commodity - now it’s time to tackle the outside.

Obviously the exterior of the house is going to be a very important factor in selling your house, it’s the first thing they will see when they do a preliminary drive by to gauge interest. Look at your house from across the street and try and imagine it through your buyers eyes- what will they see?


How does your lawn and landscape look compared to the houses next to yours? Are bushes and trees trimmed and grass cut? Do you have any brown patches or exposed ground? If you think you need to place sod or replant any grass, be sure to plan for ample time for it to grow in.

You can quickly spruce up landscaping by planting some mature flowers and bushes. Well placed, colorful flowers can add life and make a dramatic difference. Also be sure to rake up and remove any fallen leaves, weeds, or any other unsightly plants.


As with the interior of the house, one of the most impactful improvements you can make is by painting. Sun and weather can cause a paint job to fade and crack, something that will work against the favorable impression you want to make on potential buyers. Stick to plain, simple colors. Shades of yellow in particular have been demonstrated to make people react positively.

If you have a leak in the roof, you will want to have it repaired yourself. Otherwise you may be on the hook for the cost of an entire new roof. It’s a good idea to have your own inspection done to head off any last minute surprises.

The yard

Your yard should be neat and clean, and free of junk or debris. If you own a spa or a pool, make sure the water has been strained of any leaves or bugs and is freshly chlorinated. It’s probably a good idea to take down any children’s swing sets and other play areas. Remember your goal- create space and make the house appealing to as wide a group of people as you can.

The entrance

If the exterior of your house is where you make your first impression on the potential buyer, then the entrance might be considered the handshake. The front door should be clean, solid, and appealing. Brass handles and locks should be polished and well oiled, and chipped or peeling paint should be repaired.

If you have a personalized name plate or door mat, you’ll want to take them down while you are in the showing phase.

Ready to go

By thoroughly preparing your house for sale, you can speed up the process and improve your selling price. Careful attention to detail, keeping an eye on the cost/benefit ratio of the work you do, and having an objective, critical eye will absolutely pay off when it’s time to sell.

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