If you are planning to sell your home, you might be like many potential sellers out there and think that all you need to do is call a real estate agent, show potential buyers around, and sign some papers. But the fact is that there are some very important steps you should take before the first buyer steps foot through your door. Working with your real estate agent, you should prepare your home carefully before your listing goes live. In order to make selling your home as successful as possible, it’s important to assess the condition of your home carefully, make a detailed plan for any repairs or updates that are needed, and then decorate and stage the home to create an appealing look for buyers. While it is not always necessary to spend a lot of money on repairs, it is important to know which aspects of your property you should focus your time and budget on to get the highest possible return for your efforts. Likewise, knowing a few tips on creating a decorative look that buyers will like can help you to prepare your home for sale with confidence.

Assess Your Property

One of the first things you and your real estate agent should do is to assess the condition of your home as it relates to the market. It’s not just about the style or look of your home – your assessment needs to include an idea of how your home compares to similar homes currently for sale in your area. Ask your real estate agent to take you to look at some comparable properties. Observe the condition of these homes. Did the owner update the kitchen recently? How functional are the bathrooms? Is the flooring or paint recent, and have they installed new appliances? When deciding whether or how much to fix up your home before selling, it’s important to understand your competition. This can help you narrow down what you need to focus on in terms of making any repairs or updates to your home.

When you head back home, it’s time to take a step back and really give your property a critical once-over. Many people have strong emotional attachments to their homes, but this can create blind spots when it comes to looking at your home the way a potential buyer would. According to OpenDoor.com, allowing your emotional attachment to a place cloud your judgment is one of the top mistakes you should avoid when selling your home. Another is spending too much on the wrong things, like installing a gourmet kitchen in an area where few homes have them. Other mistakes to avoid include not making any repairs, not deep cleaning and staging your home before taking photographs for the listing website, and neglecting the exterior of your home. Knowing which mistakes to avoid when getting ready to sell your home can make the entire process much easier in the end.

Inexpensive Updates Your Home Needs

Fortunately, there are many easy, inexpensive repairs and updates that will help increase your home’s appeal. They key here is to know what to focus your time and money on to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. According to thebalance.com, most buyers are not looking for fixer upper-type homes. They want something that might need a few light cosmetic repairs, but nothing more. That means that it is up to you, as the seller, to decide what to fix now and what you might be able to leave for the buyers to do. With the assessment of your property in front of you, try to calculate the cost of any improvements you’re thinking of making and then weigh those against the home’s market value after the work is done. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with this. If an upgrade or repair won’t increase the market value of your home, you probably shouldn’t do it. Focus instead on improvements that will bring the highest returns.

At the very least, thebalance.com recommends that every home going on the market should be prepared by doing a few basic repairs. These include:

  • Repair any holes and cracks in the walls and ceilings
  • Paint dark or damaged walls in a neutral color (not white)
  • Repair or replace any broken appliances
  • Repair the HVAC system if it isn’t working
  • Replace leaky faucets
  • Replace any broken windows
  • Replace old or broken light fixtures and ceiling fans

Beyond the basic repairs, there are a number of inexpensive updates that you can do to your home to increase your chances of a successful sale. The DIY Network suggests one of the first things to consider is to repaint your front door or install a new one. When a seller comes to look at a property, their first impression is a huge factor in their decision whether or not to buy. A new or repainted door is relatively low in cost, but has a big impact on the appeal of your home.

Other inexpensive touch-ups for the exterior of the home include painting trim, replacing worn or missing house numbers, and installing new outdoor lighting. Outdoor lighting is important to consider because it is not just about aesthetic appeal. Updated exterior lighting offers increased safety as well as energy efficiency, making it a strong selling point for a house. The way the landscaping looks is another important thing to consider. According to doityourself.com, untidy landscaping can be a real turn-off for buyers. But there’s no need to spend a fortune on it, either. Simply removing dead trees and shrubs, adding mulch to your planter beds, and planting some colorful flowers near the front door can make a huge difference in curb appeal. Another detail to consider is to have your windows professionally cleaned. Sparkling windows can make any home feel bright and clean, outside and in.

On the inside of the house, the rooms that tend to bring the highest return on upgrades are the kitchen and bathrooms. In fact, “Remodeling Magazine reports that a seller will get back over 90% of the money spent to remodel a bath and 77% of the money spent on a kitchen.” For this reason, it makes sense to focus many of your renovations in these rooms. Water damage, leaks, curling floors or damaged walls can all make a bathroom unappealing. Old appliances, outdated cabinets, and insufficient lighting can really drag down the look of a kitchen. If you can’t afford to remodel, try a few simple updates to get things freshened up:

  • Deep clean the kitchen and bathrooms, including the insides of all appliances, or hire a professional company to do it for you
  • Refinish scratched or damaged wood floors
  • Add new cabinet and drawer pulls and accessories
  • Replace any leaking or outdated faucets and toilets
  • Update old light fixtures, or clean and replace bulbs
  • Paint worn or damaged walls in neutral colors

Outside of the kitchen and bathrooms, don’t forget to have your carpets and rugs professionally cleaned. With just a few minor updates and repairs, you can increase the look and appeal of your home with your buyer’s needs in mind.

Decorating to Sell

Along with the overall condition of a home, the interior décor can make or break a sale. The buyers who come to look at your house have probably already seen photos of it online. That is why one of the biggest mistakes you should avoid when preparing your home to sell involves photography. According to real estate investor Chad Carson, “People make their decision to fall in love with your house with pictures over the internet.” That is why it is important to do whatever you need to do to get great pictures of your home posted online.

Cleaning and updating selected features of your home before photos are taken is the place to start. After that is done, it’s time to start thinking about your décor. According to top real estate agents, there are a number of important things you can do to vastly improve the look and feel of your home décor. First and most important is to minimize clutter. Clutter is one of the biggest turn-offs for a buyer. Walking into a home filled with someone else’s stuff is not a good experience for them and can really hurt your chances for a quick sale. Experts suggest boxing up everything you haven’t used in the past year and either donating it or storing it elsewhere. This includes personal items, family photos, art collections, collector’s items, and so on. Forcing your favorite team, brand, hobby, or pop culture obsession on buyers is a huge mistake. Box it all up and clear it out.

Along with clearing out your clutter, don’t forget the closets. Buyers will want to see how much storage space your home has to offer, something that is hard to do when your closets are stuffed full. The experts suggest boxing up things you don’t need and storing them elsewhere.

When it comes to the décor of each room, the best idea is to keep it simple. The décor of the interior should match the style of the house. If you’re not sure if yours does, you might think about having a professional come in and give you some tips. Generally speaking, interior designers suggest keeping things light and neutral, avoiding lots of patterns, strong colors, or dated decorating themes. Rooms should look comfortable but clean, with balanced furniture placement. Other tips include:

  • Choose lampshades that complement the style of your furniture.
  • Add a houseplant or two to breathe life into interior spaces.
  • Organize or hide cords and wires.
  • Get rid of rugs that are too small - rugs should connect to the furniture and anchor the seating in a room.
  • Make sure your window treatments are properly hung. One rule of thumb is to hang the rod two inches above the frame of the window. Another option, to add drama and make a room look bigger, is to hang floor-length curtains just below the ceiling.
  • Avoid too many throw pillows, knickknacks, and fake flowers. Fresh or live plants are better.

Staging: What It Is & Why You Need It

According to doityourself.com, staging is “the art of moving and removing objects and furniture to make the space feel as open and roomy as possible.” But real estate experts will tell you that staging is a bit more than creating an open feel in a room. It is a process to present a kind of “blank slate” to the buyer so that they can imagine your home with their own personal touches. Staging is a bit different from decorating, in that it involves arranging the home in ways that are considered most appealing to prospective buyers. Staging a home might involve things as simple as cleaning all of the papers and random magnets off the front of your refrigerator (which you should definitely do) to more complex tasks like rearranging furniture.

So where’s a good place to start when staging a home? Clearly, your real estate agent will have suggestions for you that you should follow. But if you’d like to get a sense of what staging an entire home entails, one good resource is a recent Huffington Post article by Laura McHolm in which she offers room-by-room tips on how to make the most of the staging process.

Because first impressions are so important, it’s a good idea to start with the entryway and foyer of your home. Once the area has been cleaned and cleared of clutter, consider adding a pot of flowers by the door and make sure the doorknob is updated and clean. Mirrors are also a nice touch in an entry space, accented by a beautiful décor item (just one – when it comes to staging, less is more).

In the kitchen, McHolm says that countertops should be completely bare. This includes removing small appliances and other kitchen items. Go through the cupboards and drawers (yes, potential buyers will look inside!) and remove extra dishes and utensils, storing or donating anything you don’t use on a daily basis. The same goes for the pantry and food cupboards, too. Once everything is cleared out, create a decorative accent for the counter (a potted flower or a bowl of fruit looks nice) and set the table with some nice dishes and a seasonal centerpiece. Finally, think about baking some cookies the day of an open house; for buyers, the smell will create an unconscious association between warmth and comfort and the home they’re walking through.

Living rooms should also be clutter-free, and any bookshelves staged by arranging groups of neutral items in clusters, leaving space around each one. If you’ve got a fireplace, consider updating the old fireplace screen. Remove crowded or unnecessary furniture, keeping only what fits within a single décor theme. If your furniture is too big or doesn’t match, consider borrowing or renting furniture that will fit the space. Arrange the furniture to create a good flow and sense of space in the room. Add some fresh flowers or a seasonal accent for a finished look.

In the bathroom, remove all personal products from the shower and countertop. Clean out your medicine cabinet, too. These items can be stored elsewhere in the house. McHolm suggests placing one item as a focal point on the counter, such as a single flower.

Staging a bedroom can be a challenge, but do your best to remove any gender-specific features, especially in the master bedroom. All surfaces should be free of personal items and clutter, and closets cleared of extra items. If it isn’t already, arrange the furniture to emphasize the flow and function of each room. If your linens are a bit shabby, consider getting new ones. Think about how an upscale hotel room looks and try to apply that to your bedroom spaces.

Finally, if your home has a patio or deck, don’t forget to stage it, too. Patio furniture should be arranged as though preparing it for use, set with wine glasses, dishes, and an appropriate centerpiece.

Staging is a subtle but specific process that can make a big impact on buyers. Once you’ve gone to all the work of staging your house, you wouldn’t want to do anything to detract from the buyer’s impression – even you. When your house is ready, plan to leave the house during showings. You might think about your presence in the house as a distraction from the staging that you’ve done. You need to be “off stage,” so to speak, to allow the buyers to envision a future for themselves in the house you’ve prepared for them.

As a seller, doing everything you can to update, decorate and stage your home is your best course of action. It’s important to know what to do to make the process of preparing your home to sell as easy and affordable as possible. As you can see, preparing a home to sell is a bit of a process. But ask your real estate agent – they will tell you that the effort you put in now can really pay off when the offers start coming in.