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How to Prepare Your Home for Sale

There are a number of things you can and should do to prepare your home for sale so that you’re in the best position to make as much money as you possibly can. From depersonalizing it to making minor repairs and being thoughtful about how you show and decorate every space, knowing how to prepare your home for sale with these tips can give you the best bang for your buck.

The key to remember in absolutely everything you do is that your goal is to appeal to the broadest possible audience. This means you’ll absolutely end up changing things you wouldn’t personally choose, and that’s okay. The point of attracting as many people as possible is to get the best possible offer for your property. These tips will help you do this because they’re intentionally designed to not alienate or turn off a key market segment of your buyer pool but rather to include and attract them to your home.

Tips to prepare your home for a sale

Disassociate from the house

It’s important to disassociate from your house for a couple of reasons:

  1. To protect your privacy. It’s very important in the real estate business to protect clients’ interests, which includes their privacy. When we depersonalize properties, this means removing any personal items that identify who you or your family members are, like degrees with your name, family photos, and heirlooms. Doing this allows you to act in a private manner.
  2. So potential buyers can imagine themselves living in the property. This means removing anything that’s polarizing or alienating to people. These can be things or messages that are super religious, political, or controversial in society or anything that the general public might find unappealing or off-putting. We don’t do this to erase someone’s identity, but rather to make a property a blank slate, enabling someone else to come along and feel comfortable there. The idea is to appeal to the broadest audience possible when it comes to religion, politics, and values. The last thing you want is to alienate people who have drastically different values than you do.

This is why, when it comes to choosing colors for homes, I like grey – instead of going with a color only a smaller portion of the market might find appealing, like purple, black, red, or blue walls. With design, it’s better to err on the side of caution even if some people might find a choice boring. They can still come in to a blank slate and project their lifestyle, values, outlook, taste, and needs onto that property. It would be a shame to have something simple and easy to remove be the thing that turns them off. When you’re selling, think of it as very much a retail experience. You’ll notice that most retailers shy away from alienating people which is what we do in real estate, too.

Declutter

There’s a range and spectrum on how people perceive tidy, clean, and uncluttered. Within that spectrum, we again need to appeal to the broadest possible audience (yes, there’s a recurring theme here!) To put it in perspective, the messiest person in the world will feel more comfortable in a tidy place than the tidiest person in the world will feel in a messy place.

Make your home far tidier, cleaner, and less cluttered than you’d normally be comfortable with because there will always be people who like it this way more than you do, and you want to appeal to them and others on the extreme side of clean and tidy. The other groups that need less in this area will still be satisfied (their clean and tidy bar is lower, so it’s easier to please them).

Having a place so clean and tidy to the point that it feels empty might actually be a good thing, even if your gut tells you otherwise, because it creates the perception of more size, volume, space. The less stuff we have, the bigger a property feels, the higher the perceived value and worth the place will have. It’s like putting doll furniture in a regular-sized house and it suddenly feels huge. Less is more. Having a place feel empty to someone who lives there will feel much better to somebody looking at it for the first time.

Storage: clear and stage

Even if your place is the cleanest it can be and you’ve done everything else right, if someone opens a closet or garage to an avalanche of stuff coming at them, it will not be a good experience!

However, don’t rid your storage spaces of absolutely everything. A few boxes and things to give people context helps because:

  • You want to be able to photograph and video storage, which is so important to older people, those with families, and anyone who owns a lot of things.
  • Having photos of things giving context to the size of storage areas is helpful. For example, in a garage, you could have winter tires in the corner; in a closet, a standard Rubbermaid box or clothing on a hanger. Then, people can identify with the size of these things and know what items of their own could work well in the spaces. Ultimately, it gives them a frame of reference to indicate if the place will suit their needs.

People want to know how big storage spaces are, so having close to (but not totally) empty spaces is a good idea. The key with the things is that they’re neat and ordered – for instance, shirts and clothing are hung or folded in a way that’s pleasing to the eye, not messily or sloppily which looks bad in photos and can actually make some people feel anxious or uncomfortable before even seeing your property. Remember: detach from your personal threshold or preference for clutter and think of that retail experience to appeal to the broadest possible audience!

Renting a storage unit offsite of the property, whether you own a condo or a house, is really important because people often look at storage in the house. And let’s face it: we all have way more stuff than we’re comfortable showing, so taking your things offsite to make your place look perfect (including the storage area) is a great idea. Added bonus, you can even be super-efficient with your time – plan ahead for when you’re getting ready for storage and pack like you’re moving so that it’s all ready to go when the move actually happens.

Take care of maintenance

When your potential buyers visit, think of them not like you do your friends and family, but like the queen is coming! You don’t know them, but they’re important and they can give you a lot of money to move.

Take a second careful and critical look to find the things that aren’t perfect, but within reason – don’t spend $10-20,000 for repairs on anything smaller than a single-family house. This isn’t about a major renovation, but you just want to clean and repair existing features, systems, and surfaces. In fact, too often, sellers will do a huge renovation to their taste, only to have a buyer come along and redo it right away – and that’s a complete waste, so it’s often not worth it. Certain professionals can get this right but if you’re not one of them, either get their advice or just don’t renovate for a sale.

Remember, 85% of the effort to list a property happens before you actually list it – decluttering, cleaning, tidying, and fixing minor things all happen first and are so valuable to do. Once your property is listed, most of the work is done.

Simple tweaks and optimizations may seem inconsequential on their own, but they pay off dramatically in their summed total.

Minor repairs

You want everything to be in good working order because – you guessed it – buying a home is a retail experience and your potential buyers’ perceptions are reality. Say their perception is you have a nice home but there are many finicky things to do to get it ready to live in. This will turn off people who would otherwise love your home. These people are often busy, without the time to do repairs themselves, but are willing to pay top dollar for a hassle-free, problem-free house.

So, going that extra mile to fix the annoying things you haven’t got around to can make a huge difference, whether it’s repairing a loose closet handle, cabinet dings, holes in the wall, or anything else. If flooring and carpets are stained or worn, change them. Taking care of these things makes the sales process easier because if there’s nothing wrong with your home, there are fewer things for a buyer to object to.

Exterior

Keep the lawn mowed and watered. Especially in the summer, plants and grass can get brown quickly. And give your home the most curb appeal you possibly can – repaint and clean where needed. It’s all about the exterior look being clean, well-maintained, and in good working order – whatever era your property is from. You don’t need to upgrade everything to the most current, modern trend. Make your place carte blanche for a buyer to do what they want.

On showing days

Go light and bright

When it comes time to show your property, turn all the lights on and open all blinds and curtains (unless the room faces a freeway or a neighbour’s living room) to increase natural and artificial light. This is important because the perception of a property’s volume, size and space is dramatically increased by light and colour.

Lighter, smaller, reflective, glass, chrome, and non-overstuffed pieces will make a place feel bigger, whereas dark, heavy, overstuffed, large, towering items do the opposite. Even if you have a giant single-family home with a big, bright living room, it’s best to still use as many light-coloured things as possible, like a throw or a cushion, to break up any big, dark pieces.

Style and design always change but a constant, at least for purposes of selling a property,  is the move to lighter, smaller, reflective glass because they make a space feel bigger – which is ultimately worth more money. That said, everyone likes different things and some do like dark and large furniture. If you happen to have this and you’re not changing it, add some light tablecloths, throws, cushions, or mirrors to help lighten and brighten your space.

Consider smell and sound

Smell is under-appreciated in the sales process, but it’s extremely important. You absolutely need to neutralize foul odours before showing your home to prospective buyers.

These days, many people don’t smoke in their homes but if you do, it’s critical to take the time to get the smell of cigarette smoke out of your property. I probably wouldn’t buy a property that was smoked in or, if I did, I’d want a big discount to rip out all the flooring and repaint so the smell is completely gone.

If you like food with a strong or controversial smell, consider avoiding cooking that food for some time before and during the marketing of your property. Many people, myself included, are extremely scent-sensitive, but many others love strong or spicy food. Personally, I love bacon, but many object to it from a value perspective for cultural, religious, or ethical reasons. If, for example, you’re in an area with many vegans potentially viewing your home and they smell bacon, they’ll be turned off. So, do your research to anticipate who will be walking through the door.

When it comes to pet odours, do anything and everything you can to remove them. Be sure all the cat or dog fur and hair is removed. If someone loves your place but has an allergic reaction, they just won’t buy it. Cat urine doesn’t actually come out of hardwood floors, so you need to mask it (particularly in old houses with wood floors, it can last for years).

If you’re in a noisy location, a bit of neural, non-controversial background music can mask the noise. Make it soft, gentle, quiet, non-distracting background music.

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