What To Do When Selling a House – 7 Things To Get it Ready to Sell

What To Do When Selling a House

After looking at potential houses to buy over the last month, it AMAZES me how many people simply don’t get their house ready to sell.

Don’t people realize that I don’t want to see all of their junk? Don’t they realize clutter makes their house look darker and smaller?

If you understand that it’s important to put your best foot forward, here are a few things we did to get our house ready to sell.

7 Things to Get Your House Ready to Sell

1. Declutter

One of the first steps you should take when selling a house is decluttering!

We went through all of the rooms in our house and removed everything that wasn’t necessary. We had a large desk and some other large furniture in a few rooms that we sold and gave to Goodwill.

We went through closets and removed a majority of our clothes and shoes – if we weren’t going to keep them we sold them in our garage sale. We removed towels and blankets from our linen closets that we wouldn’t be using, boxed them up, and moved them to the attic.

We removed all personal pictures from the house. Any good realtor will inform you that home-buyers don’t want to walk into a house and see all of your personal belongings. It’s quite psychological, but when somebody walks into a house and there is a bunch of personal belongings everywhere, then the potential buyer often gets the sense that they’re invading somebody’s privacy and they’re unable to picture themselves living in that house.

I often relate looking at new houses to visiting a new hotel. I don’t know about you, but I love walking into a room in a nice hotel the first night that I get there. It feels so clean and fresh. Everything is tidy and in order. There are no pictures, dog toys, or children’s toys lying around. It just feels warm and welcoming.

Isn’t that how you want people to feel when they walk in your home?

The more you declutter the larger your house looks and the more the potential buyer will be enable to envision themselves in “your” home.

2. Wash Down All Walls & Baseboards

If you have children or pets, it’s likely you have markings, drool, or hair that has clung to your walls. Furthermore it’s likely that your walls have collected dust over the years that you’re unlikely to see.

It may sound weird, but dust your walls and then take a wet wash cloth and wash down all of the walls in your house.

3. Paint – Touch Up All Walls, Doors, Door Frames, Decks, and Baseboards

This step is pretty standard and one that you may have already thought of but it’s important nonetheless.

Take a little bit of time and patch any holes with Spackle, and then paint over them as well.

Inspect your doors to see if dirt or hand prints have collected over the years from not using the doorknobs.

Another step that really helped brighten up the appearance of our interior was touching up all of the wood trim and crown molding that we have in the majority of our house. We found this awesome product called Restor-A-Finish that basically made all of the scratches and fading on our trim and cabinets disappear! We had never heard of it before but the interior designer we hired recommended it to us and it worked like a champ!

4. Spruce Up the Curb Appeal

This is another common recommendation you hear when selling your house, but don’t underestimate the importance of this step!

I’m pretty anal with the outward appearance of our home. I’m not sure why, but I enjoy having a freshly manicured lawn. We have a 5-step yearly fertilizing and weed-prevention program that we follow and despite the lack of rain lately our grass is the nicest on the block!


Saying all of that, if you have a yard with dead spots and/or a lot of weeds, I’d suggest that you lay down some seed, fertilize, and work on getting rid of the weeds a few months prior to selling the house. Then, hopefully by the time you’re ready to list your house your lawn is looking healthy!

A first impression is everything and I cringe every time I look at pictures of a home we’re considering buying and see a yard that hasn’t been taken care of. I always wonder, ‘if these people don’t take care of their yard then how well have they taken care of the rest of their house?’

If you’ve ever watched any of the great shows on HDTV then you’ll know that planting flowers is also plays a major role in curb appeal.

If you lack the space for planting additional flowers, consider buying some pots instead of ripping out the old stuff.

5. Declutter again – Kid Style

While we don’t have children, nearly EVERYBODY I know does. Anybody that has been around a family with kids knows that toys pile…and pile…and pile up. I know families that have entire ROOMS dedicated to all of their children’s toys; many of them of which rarely, if ever, get used!

The best suggestion I heard from a couple selling their house was that they gave each of their children 1 large box. The kids were required to go through ALL of their toys and they could keep what was most dear to them…as long as it fit in that box of course.

Whatever was remaining was sold in a garage sale and given to Goodwill.

While this may sound cruel, the catch was that the parents gave the proceeds to their kids and they could buy new toys once the house was sold and they were situated in the new place.

6. Air Out the House

One of our biggest challenges was making sure our house didn’t smell like DOG.

Once you’ve cleaned the house, open up the windows for a few days and let everything air out. We also used some of the Airwick Scented Oil plugins and it really helped eliminate/mask any further odors that may have been looming.

We even had a few people come into our house just to test them to see if they could tell we had a pet. We passed with flying colors.

This step still applies even if you don’t have a pet. Make sure your house smells fresh, but be careful to not overdo it. You don’t want anybody passing out or getting a headache because you went overboard and put fresheners in every room! Those oil plugins are strong!

7. Consider Hiring a Professional

The BEST advice my wife and I received was hiring a professional interior designer and stager to come check out our house when we were getting it ready to sell.

While this may sound expensive we found it to be quite affordable: she only charged us $60 to come out and visit for about 1.5 hours!

We were able to get a professional opinion on our curb appeal, furniture placement, and decorations from an unbiased opinion.

To put things nicely, some people out there have particular tastes and often have things in their home that they think are “nice” or cool. However, you’re certainly biased and you’re trying make your house appear warm and welcoming to the masses (not to you).

After looking at hundreds of homes over the past few months, there is a noticeable difference in the sellers that took time to get their house ready to sell and the ones that just threw it up on the market. Some just scream that they had no idea of what to do when selling a home.

If you want to ensure your house sells as quickly as it’s able and for the highest possible price, then take a few weeks and follow these 7 steps. It may take a little bit of time, but it will certainly be worth it.

About the Author

By , on Jun 25, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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  1. Richard Sash says:

    I wish I had seen these tips earlier. I would have sent them to him along with an eighth tip stating ‘do not drink and party at the house you are going to move out of the next day’. Needless to say, the letting agent of his property was not happy to see the state of his house the next day… especially when showing the property to a potential new tenant! haha

  2. Katie says:

    I look at houses online all the time to see if there are any good deals available. When I see a cluttered, poorly decorated home with a big asking price I wonder “what are they thinking?” It’s crazy for anyone to expect to get a good offer without doing a little work. As for the kids toys, they lose interest so fast that there is no need to have a ton of toys. My kids and I go through there toys every couple of months and get rid of a few. I try to keep them down to one big toy box. No need for a toy room.

    • Andy says:

      I love this idea, Katie! I have told people I know about this but I WILL HAVE A toy system for our eventual children. The deal will be they’ll be limited to a certain number of toys (say 30)….and when they get new toys (either via bday or Christmas or my mom wants to spoil them) then they’ll be required to choose if they want to get rid of one of their old toys or keep one of the new ones.

      If all goes right I’m really not going to allow my family to buy toys though. They can either buy clothes or donate to their college fund.

  3. For all of the houses I have walked through that have been for sale I am still amazed at the number that dont put away all the animal items. Were talking dog beds, dog toys litter boxes. We have animals but that is one thing that most people don;t want to see when walking into a home.

    • Andy says:

      Good point, Sean. We were told to put away all of our dog stuff for showings and that’s what we plan on doing! The dog bowls and toys have been boxed or moved to the garage and all we have left is his bed and 1 toy. 🙂

  4. Selling a house is one of the largest sales in your life. I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to maximize the money you get. I could understand if it was a short sale or bankruptcy but other than that people should realize this is a huge deal.

    • Andy says:

      That’s a very good point, Lance. It is the largest sale unless you’re selling a business or something.

      There is thousands to be made or lost simply depending on how the home looks and how much prep work you put into it.

  5. Clutter makes me run the other way. It could be the nicest place, but if you can’t take care of the clutter when you have potential buyers, who’s to say that you took care of the little things around the house that needed to be done.

    • Andy says:

      The longer I coach people and the more I see other people’s homes the more I’m convinced that there are very few people that really take good care of a home. Most people simply can’t afford to do so. They budgets are already strapped and they can’t pay (or allocate the time) to paint the house, get new carpet, re-stain the deck, etc.

  6. CultOfMoney says:

    This one really hit close to home… I spent a large portion of my weekend helping my parents move boxes in an effort to de-clutter my grandmothers house for a week rental for some neighbors. Not quite the same level as you mentioned above, but then again we were moving 40 years worth of stuff. Great points!

  7. Michelle says:

    First of all, I had just taken a drink when I read the part about hair and drool on the walls and baseboards. Totally true and totally gross! Yes, please wash it all down before someone views the home! Second, the kid-declutter part had me cracking up! Again…SO true! Our living room often looks like a daycare….that happens to be having a garage sale! We are having a party next weekend and I’m trying to decide what to do with all this stuff, because I know it can be distracting and annoying to people when a room is cluttered.

    • Andy says:

      If you’re just having a party then I wouldn’t be too concerned with moving stuff. Sure, it might be nice to tidy up but I wouldn’t go boxing everything up or something. If you were selling your house though then I think it’s a different story.

      If your friends/family can’t handle the clutter though, then tough for them.

  8. We have been searching for a home for over a month now and we have come across some really special places.
    I really don’t know what some of these people are thinking. It’s so easy to make your home more presentable—perhaps the subconscious doesn’t want them to sell it.

    • Andy says:

      I love the term “special places.” LOL. I like how you try to be polite about it. 🙂

      I agree though, it’s AMAZING how many “special places” we’ve seen too. I never thought that they really might not want to sell it deep down but my guess is that they have other things going on. Maybe laziness, attachment to all of the junk they own, etc.

  9. All really great tips! I hated condo hunting because people had no idea how to set up their homes to sell. I have seen so many disgusting homes..part of me wonders what else have they done in there if they can’t even bother to clean it up. This leads me to believe that there are more repairs to be fixed that are not noticeable right now. It just causes stress for the buyers.. If people want their homes to sell, they need to follow this list..seriously!

    • Andy says:

      It’s interesting to hear it’s the same out in the West as it is here. I do agree with your thoughts though…I get nervous every time I see a cluttered house. They could be hiding holes in a wall or stains on the carpet. The more junk there is the less you can actually see of the house and just have to hope everything is fine when you actually get to move in. Saying all of that, I mentioned this to Anythony too but I’ve seen that you can buy some of the cluttered homes at a discount because they’ve been on the market for so long. Most people have trouble seeing past all of the junk, but if you can do it then you might be able to find a decent house at a good price.

  10. Good tips. And I agree – why do people not do these steps if they really want their house to sell? If we ever get to that point, we’re going to struggle with the cat and dog smell. Both our pets have been very bad to our house!

    • Andy says:

      We’ve been lucky in that our dog has never done anything to the house. The only complaint I have is the minor amount of hair and the occasional drool that he gets on the wall. Other than that he’s been great.

      I really don’t know why people don’t do these steps. It really can only come down to a few things though (1) they don’t know to do them, (2) they don’t have the money to paint or make any modifications, and/or (3) they just don’t care or are too lazy to go through the work.

  11. We had to get a storage unit when we decluttered to move. Almost half our house disappeared. It is a bit of shame to make your house super-spiffy right before selling it because it creates that feeling of “why didn’t we do this while we lived here?” I guess that’s part of the sacrifice on the ladder to success.

    • Andy says:

      We’ve felt this exact same thing John. Our house feels so homey now and we’ve been relaxing more on our back porch (now that we have comfortable chairs out there from “staging it”), and we’re a little sad we have to leave. Ultimately we know it’s in our best interest though.

  12. Michelle says:

    This is all good to know! We are thinking about possibly getting a new house soon. And we just recently started to actually care about our house and doing more maintenance. I know, bad us!

    • Andy says:

      I would just focus on getting a few things done each week over the coming months…that way you don’t have to do ALL of it a week or two before you try to sell. It’s nice to ease into it that way you don’t feel overwhelmed when you’re rushing to get everything completed.

  13. Great suggestions Andy. When we prepared our house for sale 3 years ago, we chose a realtor partly based on the “team” he could bring to the project. Handymen, stagers, photographers–they all did their part, and our house looked so good in the MLS listing and when we were ready for an opening weekend, 2-day open house, I almost didn’t want to move! Even though the real estate market had tanked, we priced our house to reflect current reality at the time and we had two offers–one at the asking price–by the end of the second of the 2 consecutive days of open houses. We still consider this a miracle, given market conditions, looking back on it. But all the credit goes to PREPARATION, as you suggest.

    • Andy says:

      Wow Kurt, that’s an impressive story! Two offers in two days?? We haven’t gotten one and we’ve been sitting here for 13 days. It’s nice to see the open house actually worked for you. Stats show that only 2% or so of houses are bought by people that came from an open house.

  14. Anthony Thompson says:

    Absolutely, Andy. Selling a home takes a lot of work, and it begins with preparing it to be sold. No potential buyer is ever going to consider buying a home that looks cluttered and sloppy, and smells like dog. It’s always a good idea to hire a good realtor who will instruct you on how to prepare your home for sell.

    • Andy says:

      Anthony, it’s good to point out that there is a great buying opportunity when people do have their houses filled with clutter and looking sloppy. We’ve noticed that the houses that have been on the market the longest (and the ones that have dropped in price the most) are filled with clutter that most people obviously can’t look past. However, if you can envision the house without all of the crap in it, then you might have an opportunity to buy the house at a reduced price.

  15. Daisy says:

    I’d definitely say it’s important to remove personal items. I can’t fathom why you’d want random strangers to see family portraits anyway, and it just deters people from putting in offers. When house hunting last year, we only really saw empty houses, but I remember house hunting with my mom when we were little and that was always a little bit of an uncomfortable experience.

    • Andy says:

      It’s shocking how many houses we’ve seen that have all of the personal photos up. At least the ones you visited were smart enough to know better.

  16. Keith Moyer says:

    Great post! You are exactly right. When we sold our home 2 1/2 years ago we had to really work at this. But when we were done, our house looked like a model home and we had a contract in 4 weeks. And that was in the height of the housing slump!

    • Andy says:

      I’m still a little jealous that you sold your house in 4 weeks. I’m not sure we’ll have the same fate. :/

  17. Great Post Andy! Airing out the house is something that I am sure no one really thinks of. You always notice that ‘smell’, whether good or bad, when you walk into a new home. Airing it out will give much more of a ‘neutral’ tone to the potential buyers… great tip!

    • Andy says:

      Thanks Jeremiah. It’s important for everybody to air out the house as many people don’t open their windows during the year and the house becomes “musty” smelling. That’s especially the case if you have a bunch of “clutter” where dust could have been piling up for years.

  18. AverageJoe says:

    These are crucial tips for anyone selling (or even renting) a house. I don’t think many people have ever been in a competitive situation before. If you realize that EVERYTHING matters, you you will never know what the potential buyer is looking for, you’ll make sure and work on everything.

    By the way, I think people who refuse to hire a stager are insane. We did the same thing and for a tiny fee she helped us turn our house into the flippin’ Pottery Barn.

    • Andy says:

      I agree AJ…it was pretty impressive to see her whip around our furniture in the living room and get it looking cozy. I was shocked at how inexpensive it really was and she was certainly worth every single penny. I probably would have paid her $100 and still be completely happy with the service.

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