Before selling your home, it is good to go over the home and look for improvements or repairs that should be done. Have your real estate agent assist you in finding things that should be improved or repaired.
Your first step in preparing your home for sale is to create an overall list of things to fix or improve. Consult with your real estate agent. If you are still trying to decide which real estate agent to list your home with, please see our list of tips on choosing a real estate agent. Involve the agent as you make your list, since the agent should be familiar with homes in your neighborhood. He or she is the most qualified person to tell you how your home will be perceived by potential buyers. They should be able to identify things within the home that potential buyers might have a problem with. The real estate agent is objective and will see your home through the eyes of an outsider, just like potential buyers. Ask the real estate agent to be candid with you. Any advice that the real estate agent gives you is to help you, not insult you. Don't take anything they say about your home personally.
Below are some major factors which should guide you when you are inspecting your home for possible improvements. You can systematically develop a list of what needs to be done and why. Your real estate agent can help with the details and help decide how far to go with each project.
One of the most important issues in determining the salability of your house is how inviting potential buyers find it from the street or curb. Your real estate agent, as a newcomer with no special emotional attachment to your house, is in a better position to evaluate your home's appearance in a way that approximates what a prospective buyer sees. Curb appeal is critical because many prospective buyers will only drive by your home. If they decide to go on without stopping, they're no longer a prospect and your odds of selling at a good price just dropped. Ideally, you want every person who stops and looks at the house from the curb to be sufficiently enamored that they want to come in and see more. Curb appeal is made up of three primary components: the front entrance, the rest of the front of the house, and landscaping.
First among the considerations for curb appeal is the front entrance. The front door, porch and any surrounding windows and structures form the focal point for the eye and for the heart as well. The door needs to look sharp. A fresh coat of paint is usually a good idea. If the door does not have a small roofed area, the addition of one can sometimes dramatically improve the overall look of the house. Freshly painted or polished door hardware also makes it more attractive. Other useful ideas include: easy-to-see house numbers, a freshly-painted mail box, and attractive, functioning porch lights.
After checking out the entrance way for possible improvements, look at the rest of the front of the house. Is the siding clean? Is the paint in good shape? Are shutters in good condition, freshly painted and hung straight? Are the windows clean, free of spider webs and vines and in good repair? Are the gutters clean, sharp looking, and hung securely? The third major component of curb appeal is the landscaping.
The landscaping includes the lawn, plants and such structures as retaining walls, walks and steps. Getting the lawn in shape usually takes the better part of a year, depending on when you start, so planning is important. The lawn doesn't have to be perfect, but you want it to be one of the nicer lawns among homes that are competitors to yours. Your real estate agent can help you figure out how far you need to go. The trees and shrubs need to be well trimmed. Many older homes have overgrown shrubs that hide the house and make it look smaller than it really is. This is rarely a plus to buyers. Garden beds need to be well defined and freshly mulched. Walks, steps and walls should be in good shape. If the front walk is starting to break up, sometimes the best bet is to have a mason apply a top layer of brick or flagstone over the old concrete. In this way a minus gets converted into a substantial plus.
Once you've checked out those factors that drive curb appeal, you need to look at any major deficiencies in the rest of the home. A leaking roof or wet basement should be dealt with in advance. Often, part-way solutions aren't enough. If a discerning eye can tell that the roof is at the end of its useful life, a repair on a leaking portion probably won't suffice. Some people will rule out your home because they just don't like dealing with such things as roof replacements, or wet basements.
Today, disclosure requirements and the associated liabilities make it mandatory not to hide current and potential problems. Kitchens and bathrooms present their own problems. As a general rule, a kitchen perceived as a negative when compared to other houses on the market needs to be addressed. If it's not completely up to date but is on a par with the other houses in the market, no major changes need be made. If you do need to fix it up, your real estate agent should be able to guide you as to what is really necessary. Often a fresh coat of paint, a new countertop and a new floor are sufficient to bring a kitchen up to speed without great expense. Bathrooms are generally the same way. People often contemplate adding a bath or making a half-bath into a full bath, but this only makes sense if your lack of baths is likely to be perceived as a marketing negative. Again, your real estate agent will likely know what other homes on the market have or don't have and how buyers perceive that.
The next major issue to consider when getting your house ready for sale is often the least expensive and the most troublesome: getting rid of clutter. Most people are totally convinced that their homes aren't cluttered, so the advice of an honest outsider is critical. Because people tend to acquire furniture, knick-knacks, and doodads over many years, they aren't even aware of the accumulation of these items. The effect of clutter, whether caused by expensive art, luxurious couches, classic books, or any other kind of stuff, is to make rooms look smaller and darker. Getting rid of all the stuff is difficult because most people typically become quite attached to it. What can you do?
Reducing the clutter in your home pays off. Nearly all homes will show better if 30% to 50% of the clutter is removed. Your home will appeal to more buyers, which could result in a higher selling price.
Some solutions to the clutter problem are: putting things into storage until you're ready to sort through them or move. Or, have a yard sale, an auction, or even donate it all to charity and take the tax deduction. You will be surprised at how much money it's all worth. The most organized and disciplined home sellers often realize enough money from their yard sale to pay for many of the other improvements and spruce-ups necessary to get the home ready for sale. You save again with reduced moving expenses later on! Be careful in your cleaning, on rare occasions, people get carried away with clutter reduction. If rooms are so barren that they feel cold, sterile or unlived in, prospective buyers will have a hard time relating to them.
The next area of concern in getting your home ready to sell is all of the interior surfaces. Walls, carpets, floors, countertops, and ceilings should all be reviewed with a critical eye. Regardless of the surface, if you are going to refurbish it, choose neutral colors. It doesn't really matter whether you like the color. What does matter is that as few people as possible will dislike the color. With paint, that nearly always means an off-white. When dealing with floors, use lighter colors in the most popular patterns. If you are unclear about what direction to go in, go to a couple of open houses in new home developments and see what patterns and colors they have used. They usually spend a lot of money determining what sells.
In most cases, if you haven't done much painting recently, it makes sense to repaint the entire inside. Sometimes it is hard to anticipate what a difference it will make. Even white walls become yellowed over time. The process is so gradual it is hard to see. After a fresh coat of paint the wall becomes much brighter and cleaner. Don't make the mistake of planning for piece-meal painting--a wall here, a ceiling there--because when you repaint one surface in a room, the contrast makes the old finishes look much worse and you end up needing to repaint everything anyway.
If the carpets are in good shape, a thorough professional cleaning will usually suffice. If they are old and ratty, stained or musty smelling, you are better off either replacing them or removing them and sprucing up the floor underneath. Hardwood floors are quite popular again, so if you are lucky enough to have those under the carpet, consider removing the carpet and refinishing the floors. If the hardwood floors are in good shape, a simple refinishing will usually do the trick. If they are stained and worn, they will probably have to be sanded and then refinished.
In bathrooms and kitchens, replacing a tired old vinyl floor can really brighten things up. Use good quality materials, and avoid patterns and colors that are overly exciting to you. In general, if you get really excited about a color or pattern, it is a color or pattern you should avoid.
In checking all of your plumbing and electrical fixtures, a systematic approach is best. Go through each room and try every electrical outlet by plugging in a portable lamp. Test every light switch, replacing bulbs when necessary. In general, you want the maximum wattage bulb permissible for the fixture. Light sells!
In each bathroom, check each faucet. Don't forget the shower and bathtub. Note any that are leaking or otherwise in need of servicing. Also note any tile or caulking problems. Caulking deserves special attention. If a prospective buyer comes into a bathroom and sees layers and layers of caulk, he or she will assume that you have a frustrating leak (and who wants to inherit frustration?). Your best bet is to remove all the old caulking around the shower or tub and re-caulk. If you use masking tape to assure even edges and your finger for a smooth finish, you can make the tub look sharp, turning a liability into an asset.
As you form your list of projects to prepare your home for sale, make sure your home ends up with a couple of distinctive features. Perhaps you already live next to a park, have a nice wooded lot, or have a Victorian gazebo in the back yard. These become talking points that help your real estate agent entice potential buyers to your home. If your home is lacking in talking points, and you are doing a number of repairs, look for opportunities to expand one or two of the repair projects into something distinctive. Freshly refinished hardwood floors would be a good talking point. If you have to replace a rotted back porch, consider enlarging it to a small deck at the same time.
You have now identified everything that you will need to do to prepare your home for sale. Look at your overall list and decide which things you want to handle yourself. Keep in mind that sorting through the clutter will take a lot longer than you anticipate. For that matter, nearly all do-it-yourself projects take longer than you think, so be realistic about what you can accomplish on your own. In general, you will save if you do it yourself, but things like roofing and floor refinishing are almost always better left to the pros. You want to avoid a lot of last minute hassle and expense having pros coming out to do things that you never got around to, and you don't want to risk putting yourself in the position of having to show the house before it's really ready.
Your next step is to group projects by type. Group all plumbing things together. Sometimes plumbing companies also deal with heating issues, so they can be grouped together as well. Then group electrical to-dos. Don't forget phones, doorbells, thermostats and outside lights. Small carpentry and drywall repairs can usually be handled by either painters or anyone doing major repairs or remodeling for you. Roofers can usually handle exterior caulking and anything to do with vinyl or aluminum siding or gutters. It is often difficult to find someone for a very small job. If you can't do it yourself, try to pair it with a larger project or group of projects to make an attractive overall job for a contractor. Grouping things in this manner will usually also save you money and time.
These tips will help make your home more attractive to potential buyers. The money you invest in fixing up your home will help raise offers given by potential buyers. Good luck in the sale of your home!