Give yourself an edge by creating the best first impression of your home before you list

There is only one good excuse to not have your home show ready when you put it on the market. Outside of this one reason, everything about your home is in your control.

When you prepare your home to sell, there are two main goals. The first goal is to make it look amazing in all the imagery you will be using in your marketing materials. The second goal is to create the best possible first impression when a buyer walks into your home.

Below, we will cover everything you need to do to achieve these goals. And I also provide a process that you can follow to get these tasks completed.

Not properly preparing your home is one of the seven seller sins that I recently posted about. To see all seven sins, click here.

Why does it matter?

When you put your home on the market, you are introducing it to the world. You want to make a great first impression and showcase it in the best way possible.

When you put together your plan for selling your home, there are a lot of variables that are within your control. One of those variables is the way you present it to potential buyers. It is critical that your home is in peak showing condition.

If you want your home to sell quickly and for the most money, think about each of these suggestions below. If your home is already on the market, it is not too late. All six of these are applicable from the beginning to the end of the selling process.

Deep clean

If you haven’t done a deep clean on your home and you are about to list (or already have) do this immediately!

Deep cleaning goes beyond the basic cleaning of the toilets and vacuuming of the carpets.

I’m talking about eliminating that next level of filth that even the cleanest people know they have. Here is a partial list of deep cleaning items that you will need to take care of:

  • Grime behind appliances like the washing machine and build up in your oven
  • Mildew and dirt under the sink
  • The inside of window panes and patio doors
  • The dust that gets on your blinds
  • The build-up on baseboards
  • Wiping down the walls (at least for me, I have kids)
  • Removing water stains from the shower and shower door. If you use shower curtains, consider buying new ones (you can keep them when you move)
  • Clean your windows on the inside and outside
  • Rent a steam cleaner or hire a professional to clean the carpets
  • Clear out all cobwebs in the garage, high ceilings and everywhere else
  • Power wash the outside of your house, driveway, and sidewalks (be careful not to peel off the paint)

If deep cleaning is beyond your capabilities, there are many professionals available. Ask for referrals and interview two or three before deciding. Always get a quote first. Most professionals can have your home deep cleaned in 1-2 full days, depending on the size of your home and the condition that it is in.

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

Declutter and Organize

Now that your home has been deep cleaned, you have an excellent foundation to build on. The next step is removing all the excess stuff that will only distract from a buyer’s experience.

Start by putting away loose items that are on counter tops and floor space. This includes things like magazines, electronics, utensils, blankets, cleaning supplies, toys and pet stuff. Remove knickknacks and otherwise distracting objects. I am amazed by the number of homes for sale that do not do this. A quick look on Zillow will show you a large number of homes that include the clutter in pictures.

You also need to address your garage, storage sheds, and landscaping. Decluttering and organizing will showcase how big they are and won’t distract the buyer.

Finally, remove all your personal items from the home. This includes family photos and memorabilia. This can be difficult for some sellers because they still live there. However, before a buyer will buy your home, they need to be able to picture themselves living there. This is hard to do if they are also picturing you living there. Try to think of this as a transitional period for the home that requires some changes.

Fix up minor issues

It is important to fix all minor issues with your home. If buyers see small things that need to be fixed, they will start to add them up. At some point, small things add up to a big thing. When that happens, it becomes difficult for buyers to want to buy your home.

When you take care of those small fixes you avoid this mindset. Plus, your home looks better.

Minor issues that are easy to fix include painting, filling in small cracks or holes, changing the battery in a beeping smoke detector, sealing leaky faucets, opening up slow drains, tightening loose railings, taking care of squeaky doors and drawers, replacing light bulbs, and trimming back overgrown landscaping.

A lot of these you can do yourself. Some may need a plumber or electrician. Or you can put together a list of items and hire a handyman to knock them out in a day or two.

Address major projects

What about those large issues that go beyond a handyman?

This includes items like warped hardwood, siding that has eroded or a roof that is beyond its usable life. These are projects that will need a trained professional to take care of.

Start with the basic eyeball test. Would a typical buyer expect you to resolve the issue before they move in? And if so, would they want to decide how the issue is fixed? Are the projects cosmetic in purpose or do they address a functional or safety issue?

The answer to these questions will help determine how they are addressed.

For example, a worn out roof is a functional issue. If it isn’t resolved, an inspector may note it in their report. An appraiser will identify that in their appraisal. This can affect the sales price and whether a lender will fund the sale.

Worn out carpet may be an eyesore, but it is more of a cosmetic issue. Replacing it would make the home show better. But before you replace it, you might consider the buyer an allowance instead. This gives them the opportunity to pick the style they like.

And finally, you will want to address any issues on your Property Disclosure form, also called an RE-25. Every seller must fill out a property disclosure. It addresses known issues with the property including electrical, heating / cooling systems, water intrusion, and more. If you have a known issue listed, be ready to address it in some way.

Click here to view a Seller Property Disclosure Form


Staging is the icing on the cake. It is the final touch that brings the house together and it is incredibly effective.

When you apply the proper use of accessories and furniture to a clean and decluttered home, it can accentuate the best parts of your house. Great staging creates the right aesthetic feel and flow for visitors. It shows off the livable space in the best way possible.

Not every room needs to be staged. But every room needs a purpose. If a room’s purpose isn’t obvious then provide one. For example, older homes often have some random parts to their floor plans. But a small chair and table with a book can turn “what’s this room for?” into “that’s a cool reading space”.

Leave it “Show Ready”

Show ready means the house is clean, decluttered, and your house is in perfect condition. This can be challenging if you still live there. And the level of challenge goes up for every extra person and pet that makes this their home.

You need a game plan to leave the house ready to show at a moment’s notice.

A checklist is a great way to do this. Examples of pre-showing items would be:

  • Vacuum and sweep high traffic areas
  • Bedrooms picked up and beds made
  • Bathrooms cleaned and toilet seats down
  • Countertops cleared
  • Open all blinds and drapes to let in natural light
  • Turn on all lights
  • Turn off all TV, radios, computers
  • Put away pet toys, food, and water
  • If possible, take your pets with you when you leave for the showing. If you can’t take them, put them in a crate / pen or make sure the people looking at your home are aware pets are in the home. Some people have a fear of animals or have allergies to them.

One reason your home may not be ready

There is one reason it may not be possible to keep your home looking the way you want. If it is a rental and you have tenants, you are depending on them to keep the house looking good. This can be problematic.

Before finding a solution, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. Consider that:

  • They may not want to move.
  • They may not want to deal with new landlords.
  • They probably don’t care if you sell your house.
  • In fact, they may NOT want you to sell your house. Why would they? Is there any benefit to them?

That is the challenge. We need to find a way to incentivize them to keep the home looking good enough to show. You need to address this on a case by case basis. Because every tenant is different.

Do the best that you can. Some tenants would love to have their house deep cleaned and the landscaping tidied up. I have heard of sellers giving their tenants a discount on their rent to keep the home clean. Maybe you can find another incentive.

Check with your lease to understand your tenant’s rights and your rights about entering the house. If you work with a property management company, ask them for advice and see what they have done in the past. Usually, by treating tenants with respect, you can still get the home in decent shape to show.

Don’t get caught off guard

The reality is that you know selling your home is going to take some effort. But the main work is done before your home hits the market. Once you have deep cleaned, decluttered, fixed up, and staged, you maintain your home until it is sold.

If you have priced right against your competition and are ready to handle offers, preparing your home for sale is the next step in the process.