Getting Your Home Ready for Sale: A Step-by-Step Guide

Roll up your sleeves before you hit the MLS. Here's nine steps to get your home ready for market in no time.

1. Find an Agent

I know, I know. I started this post by saying these are the steps you need to take before listing your home, so why should you start with finding an agent? First, your agent can help guide you in this process. He or she will likely see things that you don't and can make recommendations based upon current market trends.

But most importantly, your agent will make sure that you get a return on all your elbow grease with professional photography and a strong marketing strategy.

2. Check Your Curb Appeal

First impressions are everything. If the exterior of your home is lackluster, why would potential buyers want to see what lurks behind closed doors? You definitely don't need to invest big bucks into landscaping - neat and cheerful will do the trick.

  • Clean up. Store toys, ditch any past-its-prime lawn furniture, mow the lawn, prune hedges, weed garden beds, edge driveway and pressure wash everything.

  • Touch up. Touch up any chipped paint on railings and consider painting the front door for a mini face lift.

  • Final touches. If the season permits, plant some colorful blooms in the garden and put a pot by the front door. If you struggle to keep plants alive, try boxwoods in matching pots on either side of the front door. They look fresh and beautiful all year long and can tolerate sketchy gardeners.

3. Declutter

Now that the exterior is looking fresh, it's time to move inside and get down to business. Decluttering is often the most time-consuming part of the pre-listing process but, when done right, will set you up for an easier move.

  • Start with the least sentimental items in your home, like in bathrooms and the kitchen, and work your way towards more emotional items.

  • In every space you work in - whether an entire room or a single drawer - make three piles: Keep, Toss (or donate), Pack. Then get sorting.

  • Keep only the things that you either use every day or will work for final staging.

  • Anything you plan on keeping but don't need for staging (see: knickknacks) should be neatly packed away, ready for your move.

  • Don't skip closets or cabinets. Buyers will look and an overstuffed closet screams, "there's not enough space!" - not a great message.

4. Depersonalize

Take decluttering one step further and depersonalize. Pack up family photos, kids' artwork or anything polarizing - think political campaign signs. The goal is to create a clean, neutral space that potential buyers can envision themselves living in.

5. Neutralize

Repaint any bold colored walls to something more neutral. If your home already boasts a spa-like color palette, still consider a fresh coat of paint if the walls are marked up. This relatively small investment will pay off in spades.

6. Make Repairs

No home is perfect and a good inspector will be sure to remind you of that. Put your best foot forward by taking care of any small repairs before the home inspector shows up. While your buyers likely aren't expecting a clean report, minimal issues reads as a well-maintained home.

7. Get Squeaky Clean

Scrub grout, wash windows, wipe down doors and trim and make everything sparkle. A clean home is inviting, smells great and, again, keeps up a well-maintained appearance.

8. Final Touches

You're almost there. Take a look around and edit down a little more if you can. For final staging, stick to a few beautiful books, a well-placed throw and some fresh, green plants. If your furnishings have seen better days, especially if you don't plan on taking them with you, it might make sense to find a new home for your well-loved sofa and rent a few furniture pieces while your house is on the market. If your budget allows, a professional stager can work magic in just about any space. A fresh pair of eyes can help create the best flow from space to space and highlight your home's best assets.

8. Showtime!

Bring on the buyers! You're still living in your home and living comes with normal life things that your potential buyers don't care to see. Keep an empty basket at the ready to load up anything unsightly and take it with you when you clean out for showings. And there will be many after all your hard work. Think laundry, toothbrushes that normally sit on the counter, dog toys. Toss it in the back of your car and wait for the offers to roll it.

And because a checklist makes everything better, here's a handy dandy little list. :)

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