For Sale: Get Your Home Ready for the Market

Prepare Your Home for Sale

Want to be the seller who goes to market instead of the one who stays home? The difference might be a few of the things you do before you plant that "for sale" sign.

It's a buyer's market. Your house has competition, and that means you have to do some work to get it ready to sell. So, while your home looks great compared to the neighbor's foreclosure, it might not quite compare to that house a block over where, rumor has it, the owner clips the lawn with an electric razor.

You don't have to spend a ton of time or money. A few simple tricks can get you market ready in time for the start of the spring selling season. Especially if you start now.

Here are tips from top agents to give your home the edge.

Make it Shine

Step one to getting your house market ready: Break out the cleaning supplies.

"Give it a really good cleaning," says Jeff Wiren, immediate past president of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors in Oregon.

The problem: "A lot of sellers might not have the same perception of 'deep cleaning' that a buyer would," he says. For that reason, "it might be worth spending a couple hundred dollars to have professionals come in and clean."

Two places where clean can be critical for buyers are kitchens and bathrooms, says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors. Having those rooms clean and sparkling can make a huge difference in the perception of "whether a house is kept up or not," she says.

Windows and baseboards are crucial, says Mark Ramsey, broker with The Ramsey Group at Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, N.C. If you're not replacing carpets, have those cleaned, too, Wiren says. The potential outlay for a cleaning service and carpet cleaning is likely in the neighborhood of $300 to $500 total, he estimates. "It has a much greater impact than most sellers think."

Add Square Footage -- Free!

Ditch junk and clutter to make your house look more attractive and spacious.

"This is now a showcase," says Patricia Szot, immediate past president of the Dallas-based MetroTex Association of Realtors. "You are no longer living in it; you are showing it."

A couple of pro tips:

  • Laundry room: Make it neat and orderly, Szot says. Your goal is to make it look like the room is plenty big enough for the job.
  • Pantry: It's for food only, Ramsey says. Using the pantry for general storage screams, "Not enough cupboard space."
  • Garage: If it's a two-car garage, make room for two cars, Szot says. For a lot of men, if the garage "looks small because of the clutter, there's an issue."

"And while you're decluttering, you're depersonalizing," Wiren says. "You really need the buyer to be able to picture your home as their home." A picture of your kids on the nightstand is "not a big deal," he says. But you don't want the family portrait gallery lining the hallway.

Color it Neutral

With paint, stick to neutrals, several agents say.

"I have had people who painted some of their rooms and picked the colors themselves" in shades of pink and purple, says Combs, who is vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt Realty in Grand Rapids, Mich. "And it was more of a negative than a positive when they put their homes on the market."

Their mistake wasn't DIY painting but color selection, she says. Opt for neutrals, which have a broader appeal.

"Then consider the flooring. If the carpeting is old and stained, put in new carpeting," says Szot, operating principal with Keller Williams Realty, Lake Cities at Firewheel.

Keep Plans Practical

Keep any planned changes to the house reasonable and in character with the home and the neighborhood.

"Don't lie to yourself," says Wiren, a principal broker with Re/Max Equity Group. If the house has areas that show wear, get that work done before offering the home.

Seek a second opinion from your agent or a potential agent. A real estate professional can advise you on what repairs or upgrades will give you the most bang for your buck.

"The price of your house is going to determine what things you should do," Combs says. One client spent $10,000 putting in hickory cabinets and granite countertops in the kitchen of a home that listed in the $100,000 range, she recalls.

"In that price range, it wasn't necessary," Combs says. "And we couldn't get any more money for the house."

See With 'Buyer's Eyes'

View the house from the buyer's perspective. "Pull up and stop right in front of it, just like a buyer's going to do," Ramsey says. Then "let yourself in the front door, like a buyer's going to do."

How does your home compare to others on the street? Is it inviting? Does it make you want to see more?

"Walk through the home with the eyes of a buyer," Szot says. If you're buying another house, think about what you want to see in your new home, she says.

Pay special attention to the entryway, Ramsey says. "You want it to be open as much as possible," he says. Look at the furnishings you have in the area, and err on the side of less-is-more. "When in doubt, get it out," Ramsey says. "You want it open and bright with neutral paint."