Preparing your home for market

Preparing Your Home for Market

One Chance to Make a First Impression

Your home will only have one chance to make a first impression on a buyer, and that first impression must count. Market preparation is vital. How much should be done to prepare the property for the market? As much as you are willing to do!

Most staging experts will tell you that sellers must do three things to prepare their home for the market:

  • Declutter (and clean)
  • Depersonalize
  • Accessorize

There's often a fourth: Repair. If any repairs are needed (e.g., broken windows, broken steps, doors that don't close properly), these should be taken care of right away.


To ensure your understanding of what it means to declutter, a little playacting is in order. Enter your home as if you were potential buyers seeing it for the first time. What stands out as cluttered, crowded, dirty, or distracting? These are clues as to where changes should be made. Remember that unwanted items you jettison now will mean less to be packed later. If the task of decluttering seems overwhelming, take one room at a time and don't bring anything new into that room while working on the next room. Some organizing experts recommend labeling three boxes:

  • Give away
  • Throw away
  • Stow away

When a box gets full, it should be moved to a staging area. The “give away” box can go into the trunk of a car for a trip to a charity or a friend. The “throw away” box can go in the trash or recycle bin, and the “stow away” box can wait until the room is decluttered, and then each item should be moved into the appropriate space. Or that box can be stored in the garage, basement, or offsite. It's fine to use the garage or basement for well-labeled, well-ordered boxes. Buyers will realize that you are in the process of preparing to move. Stacked boxes shouldn't impede an inspection of the property, however.


According to a recent survey by the National Association of REALTORS, 90% of buyers have trouble visualizing themselves in a home. Prospective buyers want to be able to visualize themselves in the home, not the sellers. So, the easier you can make this for the buyer, the better chance that the buyer will be in the mood to write an offer. Depersonalizing is a must, but remember - your bowling trophies and family photos need to be stored for moving anyway. The more a home can look like a “model home” devoid of your personality, the better.

Here are a few depersonalization tips:

  • Kitchens: Remove refrigerator magnets, children's drawings and photos, and any handmade decor items. Stow small appliances to keep counters clear.
  • Bathrooms: Stow various products. Refresh with new hand towels and a soap dispenser (no gummy bars of soap next to sinks).
  • Home offices: Declutter paper, books, and files. Stow as much as possible. Depersonalize by removing diplomas, trophies, photos, etc.

Stow and Stage

The most important personal items to stow away are guns and prescription medicines. Make certain these are locked up or kept off site. Unscrupulous individuals often “cruise” open houses specifically looking for these items. Other valuables, such as expensive artwork or jewelery, should be removed as well.

Staging can be minimal or major. Some clients hire stagers who move in furniture. Others make a trip to the department store and return with fresh linens, artwork, clean new trash bins, etc. Setting a place setting (for two, even if it's a family home) with styling table linens and quality china and glassware can help buyers imagine how stylish they'll be when they live there. It's all smoke and mirrors, of course. A month in their new place, and the buyers will have their own clutter issues, and the idea of living like a page from Architectural Digest will be a distant memory. But for now, for the sale, it's important to keep the dream alive.

Smells, Lighting, and Curb Appeal

Odors turn off buyers faster than you can say, “outta here”. If you have any home odor issues, such as animal odors - a dog with significant dander odor or a cat litter box that emits a pong - they should be eliminated immediately. While there are many products that remove animal odor, one inexpensive solution is to open up a bag of charcoal briquettes lengthwise for several days. The charcoal absorbs the odor.

It may be best to have the animals removed from the home during the listing period. This has the added benefit of making showings easier. You may also want to consider the safety and comfort of your pet(s) and liability. Provided the animals have been removed, the odor should not return.

Lights, windows, and curb appeal are also important considerations. You'll never hear a buyer say, “I really like homes with a lot of dark.” Buyers like lots of light, which should be pouring in from the windows and from the light fixtures. The highest wattage bulbs should be used that are safe for the fixtures, and no lights should flicker or buzz. Windows should be professionally cleaned inside and out; buyers want to see the view, and a dirty window is a turn off. Not only that, it will make buyers think of how much work it will be to maintain the house. The house should look effortlessly chic, stylish, and sparkling clean.

Curb appeal is crucial. Walkways should be cleaned, trash bins should be stowed away, and the lawn should be mowed, edged, and weed-free. A wreath on the front door or a flower box at the entry can provide a welcome first impression. The front door should be free of marks; the lock and latch should work efficiently and be free from paint and scratches. The porch light should work. Even the mailbox matters. It should be or look new: no dents, no scuffs.

Repairs Should Be Made First

Sellers who can't afford the required repairs are often willing to sell properties as-is at a reduced price to avoid spending money on repairs. Most sellers, however, would be well advised to take care of any repair needs first, before listing and marketing their homes. The repair issues will show up in any inspection and may turn buyers off. Because offers likely won't be coming in once an agreement is signed, if repairs can't be negotiated during the inspection phase and the buyer backs out, the seller has lost market time.

To avoid this issue, you may want to have a pre-emptive inspection to determine if there are any issues that should be resolved prior to listing. (It doesn't mean the next inspector won't call out additional items but it may prevent unwelcome surprises for both parties.) Armed with the knowledge of the inspection, you may choose to drop the price accordingly or offer a buyer credit for repairs to be made after closing. Sellers who obtain pre-listing inspections that detect any material defects must be disclosed to prospective buyers.

Source: The CE Shop

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