Preparing Your Home to Sell

For most people, listing their house for sale isn't a spur of the moment thing. People often think about selling their house for years before ever actually selling it.

Yet, given how much time and thought people tend to give it, many people don't do enough to prepare their house for sale (or prepare themselves for what's to come). They just get to a point where they decide it's time to sell and they pop a sign in the yard.

This often leads to people not selling their house for as much, as quickly, or as smoothly as it could have. Or at all.

On the other hand, there are people who do too much and spend way more time and money than they should.

They may very well do things that help their house sell as quickly as possible and for as much as possible, but they don't net as much as they could have because they put more money into it than they can recoup from the sale.

It's a fine line. You don't want to do too little or too much...

Which is why I created this Guide — to help you prepare for the sale of your house just the right amount.

The more time you have, the more leisurely and thorough you can be. At the same time, don't worry if you're in a rush. Much of what you'll read here can be done in a pinch. Whether you have a few years, a few weeks, or a few days before you put your house on the market, this guide will help you put your best foot forward.

As you read through it and as you prepare your house for sale, feel free to reach out to me if you're ever in doubt about something you're considering doing (or not doing). I'll be glad to give you my thoughts on whatever you're considering!

Try on Some Shoes

The first thing you should do doesn’t require much work, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing for everyone to do...

Leave your house.

Go for a ride, go run some errands, or just go to work. Pretend that you have an appointment later on to see a house you might want to buy...and that house is your house.

When you return home, you’re going to look at it through the eyes of a buyer. It sounds easy enough, but it’s hard to look at your own house objectively. It’s easy to get used to things that might turn a buyer off. So your task is to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and try to think and feel how they would about your house when they see it for the first time.

As you head back home, pay attention to what you see as you drive up…

  • How does the landscaping look?
  • How about the exterior?

Now walk up to the front door (or whatever door a potential buyer will walk through)...

  • Was the pathway in good shape?
  • Beyond that, was it actually appealing?
  • Is the front door striking or just blah? Or worse, is it in bad shape?

Walk inside…

  • Stop. Look around. Don’t just go through the motions of walking where you normally walk when you come home. Buyers won’t just rush in; they’ll pause for a moment or two.
  • What do they see in those first moments?

Walk around the inside…

  • If you didn’t know the house, which direction do you think you would walk as the buyer? Go that way. Look through each room with fresh eyes. Make sure you open up closet doors because buyers certainly will!

If you have a garage, check that out too…

  • Make sure you take a peek around the garage because most likely that’s the way you (and a future buyer) actually leave and come into the house.

Walk around the outside…

  • Buyers won’t just see the exterior from the front if they’re interested. They’ll want to take a walk around the entire house and property. So make sure you head outside. You might want to use a back or side door since that is how many buyers will go outside when they come see your house.

OK, you’re done. Are your feet sore? (It can be tough walking in someone else’s shoes…)

Now be honest: How’d it look? Would you buy your house? Would you be willing to pay top dollar? Would you be worried that if you don’t hurry and make an offer someone else will come along and scoop up your dream house right out from under you?

If you’re being honest, there’s probably at least a few things you made note of that you should do something about. But before you go knocking things off that list, let’s take a look at a few of the most common things sellers overlook.


The image most people have from watching TV shows is that most people live in pristine houses where everything is orderly and in its proper place.

However, if you were to randomly pick 100 houses to go into on a “normal” day, without warning, you’d find that most people live with a decent amount of “clutter” in their homes...not like Martha Stewart or a Pottery Barn catalog.

We’re not talking “hoarder” level clutter, but most people have a certain level of clutter they live with. Which is fine. Most people truly live that way. In fact, the buyer and future owner of your house will probably live that way. But before you put your house on the market, it pays to give the clutter you’ve accumulated some attention.

One of the first (and most important) things you should do is declutter.

Go room by room and get rid of anything you don’t want, use, or need. This is the best time in life to rid yourself of stuff you never even realized you still owned. Then put away whatever stuff you still want or need (but don’t actually use on a daily basis). Yes, that includes the pile of mail bills on the kitchen counter!

And I don’t mean stuff it all in a closet or the garage! Remember, buyers will look in those places. If you have too much stuff and not enough room to keep it all in a tidy manner while you sell your house, rent a storage unit. You can reunite with all your stuff once your house is sold. This is just temporary.


Ok, “de-smell” probably isn’t a real word. But just hang with me for a moment...

Does your house stink?

Whether it does or not, it’s unlikely that anyone would actually say yes. We get used to how our house smells, so it’s hard for most people to honestly answer that question.

The best way to determine if you need to address an odor is to ask someone who doesn’t live there. Try not to ask someone who visits your house regularly though.

The best suggestion I could give is to ask a real estate agent to come by and give it the sniff test. We’re in houses all the time, so we know when something just doesn’t smell right.

The most common smells homeowners are often unaware of are:

  • Pet odors
  • Pungent or distinct food odors from cooking
  • Teenage sons
  • Cigarette or cigar smoke

Even when people are aware of an odor they should deal with, they often think that masking it with candles, potpourri, or air fresheners is a good solution. It isn’t. Even though they smell nice, doing this can trigger curiosity from buyers about the smells you might be trying to hide.

The best thing to do is to eliminate the source of the smell (if possible) prior to putting the house on the market. Obviously this isn’t easy to do with pets or teenage sons, but if and when possible, get rid of the source. Like, stop cooking tuna fish and onion sandwiches while smoking cigarettes. And maybe convince your stinky son that camping outside in a tent with the dog would be loads of fun for a while. (I kid, I kid.)

You should also give your house a thorough cleaning. This is probably a good idea even if there’s no distinct smell. If you’re a good cleaner, this involves just a little time and elbow grease. If not, this is a great reason to splurge and hire a cleaning crew to come in and freshen up.

If that doesn’t work, sometimes people have to replace carpeting or repaint in order to eliminate extremely foul odors. Hopefully you won’t have to go to that extreme. But if you do, it’s worth the money because a house with a smell will not sell least not for as much or as quickly as it might have.

Don't Take it Personally

Most people have heard that you should “depersonalize” your house when you’re selling it. That term gets thrown around a lot. Most people think it just refers to pictures of themselves or family.

But taking down some pictures isn’t the whole picture; it also means removing any decor that’s more of a personal taste.

For instance, you might be super proud of your hunting skills, but displaying your taxidermy trophies on the wall might be off-putting to buyers. Or you may just have some really interesting or artsy furniture. While it may be hip and stylish, it could be distracting to the average buyer.

Buyers need to be able to come in and focus on how their own furniture and belongings will look. If they can’t overlook your personal flair, they could be less likely to make a strong offer (or one at all).

As proud as you might be about what makes your house your home, make it as easy as possible for them to feel like it could be their home.

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Preparing Your Home to Sell Part 1 of 5