Now that you’ve decided to sell, you should de-personalize and remove the emotion associated with your house and think of it as the marketable commodity that it is, real estate. You want potential buyers to easily visualize the house as their home.
This is where potential buyers get their first, and arguably most important impression. So, pretend you’re the buyer -- step out on the street in front of your house. How does it look? Take a look at your neighbors’ houses and landscaping -- how does yours compare? For selling purposes, it should look at least average in comparison. But here are some tips to spruce up the landscaping.
If your house appears to lack plantings in comparison with your neighbors, consider putting in a few bushes, annuals, and mature flowers. Don’t bother with trees since they are expensive (you will not recoup your investment) and are a long-term decision for the new buyer. Don’t bother with bulbs since they will not have time to develop. You want to add an immediate splash of color. Overgrown trees and shrubs should be pruned and dead or diseased plants should be removed or replaced.
Your lawn should be freshly cut, well-edged, and devoid of brown spots. Use fertilizer, grass seed, and/or sod to remedy any unsightly patches. Rake up loose lawn clippings and leaves; think of the lawn as your outdoor carpet. Edge and remove weeds growing in planting beds. Consider adding a new, neat layer of mulch to dress up the beds, making it more inviting for the buyers to envision adding their own personal touch. Walkways and/or pathways should be neat and in good shape. Consider adding stepping stones to dress up the pathways.
How does the entranceway into the front door look from the driveway? And how does it look around any doorway into the house? If it appears sparse, consider adding some potted and/or hanging plants along doors, stairs, edges of decks/patios/porches. Again, a splash of color, to frame and accentuate the entrances to the house, helps make for a very inviting impression. If you have potted and/or hanging plants, make sure to keep well-watered.
How does the exterior painting of your house look? How does it compare with your neighbors? Does the paint look faded, cracked, or chipped? This is a major expenditure, we know. You might want to ask your friends, neighbors, and a real estate agent for their impartial opinion. If your conclusion is that it does indeed need painting, then consider neutral tones, not too different from your neighbors’ houses. Take comfort in that indeed some of your painting investment will be recouped, in that this first, fresh, clean impression to the buyer is very important.
Now, walk to the very back of your yard, how does it look? Try to remove “stuff,” and give it the appearance of being as spacious as possible. If you can’t remove things, then move them to the perimeter of your yard. If you have animals, be sure to remove any clutter from them as well. If you have a pool or spa, keep it cleaned and well maintained. Also, make sure you have all of the needed “pool-tools,” manuals, and warranties handy.
Now, go to the opposite perspective -- at the back door of your house looking to the back of your yard. If you have a deck or patio, try to create the transition from the interior to the exterior. The deck or patio should feel like a natural extension to the back yard.
Inspect your roof. If you can’t do it, it’s worth a professional inspection. The buyer will be paying for one anyway, so it’s good not to have any surprises. If it leaks, repair it; it’s one less potentially contentious issue. If it doesn’t leak, then we suggest leaving it as is. Whatever the other potential repair issues, they can be negotiated after the buyer has a chance to understand the inspector’s report. After all, it will be the buyer who has to live with the repair conclusion.
Check the front and all entry-way doors. Do they open easily and are devoid of creaks? Do the keys for each door work well? This is especially important as your extra keys will be used by the real estate agents to let buyers into your house. Having your key not work or not work well makes for a bad first impression. Do the doors need to be painted? Are the windows clean around the door? Remove any personalization around the entry-ways, such as name plates. Also, consider new door mats.
At night, turn on all of your outdoor lighting -- porch, lamppost, walkways, etc. Make sure all are functioning, straight, and clean. Some buyers will drive around, looking at the houses at night, so keep up the good impression even then.
Again, the main point is to depersonalize your house, increase the sense of spaciousness, and make it look inviting, bright, and clean.
Thus, we suggest you put away family photos, trophies, personal memorabilia, etc, and remove clutter. You’ll have to pack these items for your move at some juncture anyway - might as well get a head start.
Box your personal memorabilia and store out of the way. Remove unnecessary items from shelving -- accentuate the clean, clutter-free horizontal lines. Clear off your kitchen counters & clear out rarely used dishes, pots, and pans. Clear out extra clothes & shoes so that closets don’t look cluttered. Extra furniture and all those extra things you store in the garage, attic, basement, and shed should all be cleared out and cleaned up. For all of the knick-knacks that survive the garbage man, sell them at yard sale, temporarily store them with family/friends, or rent a storage unit temporarily. The key issue is to accentuate the amount of storage and space your house possesses.
Next, it’s time to fix up your house. Ensure everything actually works. Does the hot water valve actually dispense hot water? Is the water pressure satisfactory? Pretend that you’re the buyer and turn everything on & off. Check that all sink fixtures look shiny and new. Check the ceilings and walls - are there any water stains? If so, correct the problem which caused the water leak and paint the spot. Painting can be the best investment, both in terms of time and money, to make your house look fresh and appealing. Off-white color tones help make rooms appear bright and spacious.
Check your flooring and carpeting. If there are any tiles cracked, replace them. If the carpeting looks soiled, steam clean it. The key thing here is not to invest a lot of money -- you’ll never get your investment back. You want to make the house look clean, spacious, and inviting. You want to leave the buyer with as few negative impressions as possible.
Check all of your windows and doors. Do all of the windows open and close easily? Are all of the components of the windows intact, functioning, and clean? Do all of the doors open and close easily? Are there squeaks in the hinges? Do the doorknobs turn easily? A shot of WD40 goes a long way to improve matters. And of course, clean the doors, hinges, and knobs.
Check for house odors. This may be difficult as we get accustomed to them and usually don’t notice. But if you smoke or have pets, chances are odors indeed exist, which might make a negative impression on a buyer. Try to smoke outside. Regularly change cat litter and use odor-control cat litter. Try to keep dogs outside temporarily. And use carpet deodorizer regularly when vacuuming.
We recommend you complete the “Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement” at this time. Given all of the inspecting, repairing, and cleaning of the house you just endured, you might as well complete the form while these issues are fresh in your mind. You are required to complete the form anyway, per Pennsylvania law, as the buyer is required to review it before signing the sales contract. Click here to read and/or print the “Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement.” Keep this completed form handy for your real estate agent to review.
Whew! That's a lot of suggested work. But if you want top dollar, you'll need to invest top effort.