When it comes to getting your house ready to sell, Maryland real estate agent Bob Lucido likens it to putting yourself on a dating site.
“We want people to fall in love with the house and that starts from the outside, every component,” says Lucido. “First impressions make a ton of impact to a potential buyer, so what we do is critique the exterior thoroughly but don’t overdo it.”
Lucido is a top-performing agent with nearly 7,000 real estate transactions under his career belt. He has advised thousands of sellers on how to get their house ready to sell — inside and out — with fixes and updates that are going to have the highest return on investment for the least amount of effort.
Drawing on his expertise and other proven best practices, we’ve created an easy-to-follow checklist that can help you get your home ready to sell quickly and for top dollar.
How to get a house ready to sell: Your best first step
1. Find a top performing real estate agent
This may not sound like it has anything to do with painting or dusting, but finding a top-performing listing agent is often the most important thing you can do to get ready to sell your home successfully.
Home sellers may get over-eager and jump in and spend time on preparations and renovations that are unnecessary, out of order, or at a higher cost than necessary. It’s crucially important to find someone who can help your house look like the best one on the block, but who also knows how to advise their clients not to overspend on repairs.
“People need to research and hire the best real estate agent in the marketplace to help them maximize their profits because maximizing profits is a byproduct of making the house look great,” says Lucido. “It’s all about getting the maximum dollar amount.”
Need help finding a top agent? HomeLight’s free Agent Match tool can connect you with the agents in your market who get the best results and fit your home selling needs.
Checklist for inside your home
The inside of the home is where you live, or have lived, and it will need a lot of attention to get it ready to sell to potential buyers.
2. Declutter every room and closet
Remove the clutter. Closets can still have clothes hanging in them to show people live there but do not have them stuffed full of clothes. When people open a closet and see it jammed full, they may look at it and not be able to visualize their own belongings fitting into the space.
Put unnecessary or out-of-season clothes, shoes, and belongings in an offsite storage unit to help buyers imagine themselves and their own belongings in each room and closet.
3. Deep clean the house
Some agents like Lucido have teams they hire to come in and do a deep clean of the house to get it ready for showing. Lucido recommends a deep clean before it goes on the market, including often overlooked tasks like cleaning the windows. “These things are a pain but they will make you a substantial amount of money,” he says, adding that if you do it right, a clean home will also sell quicker.
4. Depersonalize your space
Make sure people focus on the space, not your belongings. Clear away anything too interesting or distracting to potential buyers that will not be conveyed with the home sale. Lucido recommends leaving a few family photos out, but not a ton of photos all over because it looks too busy. The same holds true for personal knickknacks and keepsakes.
5. Deodorize, not just disguise smells
It’s easy to become used to the smells in your home, but other people will be able to smell them right away. Deodorize your home by removing the sources including smoking, intense cooking odors, pets when possible, and anything that causes a damp smell.
6. Remove scuff marks and fill holes
Once you remove extra photographs and art from the wall, fill the holes in and touch up the paint so it looks like there was never a hole there. Pull furniture back from the walls to examine if there are scuff marks and gently scrub them away with a melamine foam sponge to make walls, baseboards, stairs, and corners look good as new.
7. Repaint walls using neutral tones
Not everyone likes the same paint colors, but there are neutral tones that appeal to buyers. “There are certain colors that are appealing now, and two years ago they were different colors, so you need to make sure the colors are correct,” says Lucido. He uses a color expert to advise clients on the most up-to-date colors to paint their walls and cabinetry if needed. “Brown is out,” he adds. “We’re painting a lot of kitchen cabinets lately.”
8. Repair or replace loose or broken handles or knobs
Have you lived with a loose knob for years? Now is the time to tighten it up. Make sure all handles, knobs, and anything you put your hands on to get into cabinets, closets, and rooms, are all operational and match the other fixtures around them.
9. Repair or replace light fixtures, switches, sockets, and the doorbell
Light fixture styles change frequently, and updating these can make things feel newer with little investment or effort. Lucido says they have even spray painted some chandeliers black to make them feel more current. Also, be certain your doorbell sounds healthy.
10. Fix cracked molding and leaking faucets
Your agent can help to identify cracked molding that needs attention, as well as leaky faucets or other details many homeowners overlook or don’t get around to as they live in a home.
11. Stage rooms or hire a stager
Home staging is the process of rearranging, replacing, or even removing decor and furniture, and expertly dressing up a home to make it look more appealing for listing photos and showings. “Staging isn’t decorating,” says Lucido. “It’s de-decorating, it’s like your house going on a diet.”
12. Hide and secure your valuables
With people you don’t know coming in and out of your home, it’s important to put all valuables in a hidden, secure place.
13. Replace air filters and clean vent covers
New air filters can keep the air smelling and feeling fresher. Dust the vent covers to keep that air as clean as possible as it flows through your house.
Checklist for outside your home
Curb appeal is the first impression a buyer gets of your house as they consider if they want to make it their next home. Step back and make sure your property looks good from the vantage point of the buyer as they exit their car to come inside. Here are tips to help make your home’s exterior look top notch.
14. Pressure wash your home’s exterior and driveway
Hire a professional, or rent or borrow a pressure washer to make your exterior and driveway look fresher in no time at all. Depending on your home, your agent might recommend hiring a professional. Pressure washing can damage siding, wood, and paint if not handled properly.
15. Sweep and clear walkways and driveway
Especially in the spring and autumn, sweeping the walkways and driveways regularly to keep plant debris out of the way is a curb appeal key. In cold-weather parts of the country, keep the walkways and driveway shoveled clear of snow and ice.
16. Declutter your yard and other outdoor spaces
Just as you decluttered your indoor spaces, do the same for your outdoor spaces. Remove unnecessary yard equipment, put away out-of-season sports apparatus, and clean or clear away extra outdoor furniture that doesn’t help show off the appeal of the yard. Remember to also take care of little details like rolling up the hose after use.
17. Repair or replace damaged shingles
A seasoned agent will be able to provide the best advice on whether any roof repair work needs to be undertaken prior to putting your house up for sale. In some cases, your agent may advise you to hire an experienced roofer to repair or replace obviously damaged or missing shingles.
18. Wash and repair broken windows, screens, and shutters
Be certain all windows are repaired and sparkling clean so they can showcase the natural light your home receives. Another tip Lucido shares is to remove the window screens during showings to maximize the natural light even further. Store the screens in a garage or shed and replace them once your home has sold.
19. Clean out gutters and outdoor HVAC units
Especially in the autumn, make sure to clear leaf debris from the gutters, around the HVAC units, and anywhere else leaves pile up. Use a leaf blower or hire a landscaping company to take care of these tasks, especially in yards with a lot of trees.
20. Clean or repaint your front door
Give the front door a really good scrub down to start, including the sides, top, and bottom. You may notice the door needs a fresh coat of paint, so use a neutral color that matches the home’s exterior. The front door plays a vital role in your home’s overall appeal and perceived value.
21. Create an inviting outside entryway
First impressions make a ton of impact on the buyer, so it’s important to make the entryway to the house look inviting and well maintained. Make sure the outside lights are repaired or replaced if needed, and the address numbers are clean and easily visible from the road.
22. Repair or replace mailbox
Mailboxes don’t get a lot of thought beyond being a receptacle for our deliveries and letters, but now is a good time to wipe away outside grime and dust from your mailbox. If you’re already pressure washing the house, give the mailbox its own spray down. If the old one is in especially bad shape, it may be better to go ahead and replace the entire mailbox with a new one.
23. Mow, trim, weed garden, and add color with potted plants
Mow, trim, and maintain your yard to show off its best side to potential buyers. Weed garden beds to keep them looking crisp, and add some color and life to your yard with potted plants as needed. This is an easy way to increase the inviting feel of a home without much effort or investment.
24. Clean up and organize pet areas
Dispose of dog waste, and wipe down or repair any areas where pets may have scratched or chewed. If possible, relocate your pets to a kennel or another home while the house is on the market to keep from having to repeat these tasks multiple times.
For the best results, start and finish with a proven agent
When it comes to getting your house ready to sell, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Partner with a top-performing agent in your area who can look at your home with fresh eyes and provide an expert opinion about what tasks you need to tackle.
In some instances, such as with Lucido’s firm, an experienced agent may have a team available to help you prepare your home before it’s listed for sale. Armed with knowledge about the local market, their advice may include things beyond this checklist that can make your home extra appealing to potential buyers.
With the right agent and the right checklist, you can feel confident about how to get your house ready to sell, inside and out.