How to prepare to sell your home

When you're getting ready to sell your house, you want to make sure that it stands out on the curb. A real estate agent can suggest ways to make the process go smoothly, but all homeowners can take some basic steps even without professional help.

John Bazemore/AP/File
An existing home for sale in Roswell, Ga. (Dec. 3, 2015).

Your home is likely your largest investment. When it’s time to sell, you’ll want your investment to impress buyers and earn top dollar. A real estate agent can suggest ways to make the process go smoothly, but all homeowners can take some basic steps even without professional help.

Here are five important steps to take when you’re ready to sell your house.

1. Declutter

Remove knickknacks, toys and other belongings that clutter the rooms in your house to make the spaces seem larger and more open. Buyers will also have fewer distractions as they walk through the home.

Don’t plan on shoving your clutter into closets, though, because potential buyers will open closet doors as they tour your house. If you have a lot of clutter and find it hard to get organized, consider temporarily renting storage space for some of your belongings.

2. Repair damaged items

If you have small issues, such as holes in walls or lights that don’t work, now’s the time to fix them. To get an idea of what you need to repair, walk through your home and imagine yourself as a buyer, or walk through with a friend you can trust. Are there defects you’ve learned to overlook but that would catch your attention when seeing them for the first time?

You’ll also want to make sure you correct major issues that a buyer may not see immediately, such as problems with the heating and cooling system, before you put your home on the market. A potential buyer will probably hire a home inspector before closing. If the inspector finds problems, the sale could be put on hold until they’re resolved.

3. Deep clean

Go beyond your weekly cleaning routine. Every surface a potential buyer sees is a surface that needs to be clean. Messy spaces could send the message that you don’t take care of your home, and it could make potential buyers wonder what else is wrong with the property.

A deep cleaning means shampooing carpets, washing windows and cleaning tile grout throughout the house. Pay special attention to bathrooms; make sure fixtures are sparkling and wipe out any dirt rings or mold patches.

Keep up the cleaning routine while your home is on the market. If you’re pressed for time, consider hiring a weekly cleaning service.

4. Plan pleasing scents

You probably don’t want buyers who enter your home to catch lingering odors from last night’s dinner. For a nicer aroma, add fragrances around the kitchen and throughout your home.

The smell of freshly baked cookies is pleasant for many buyers. If you prepare a batch just before a showing — and offer them to the buyer and real estate agent — you could make your home stand out.

There’s no need to worry if you’re not much of a baker. A few well-placed sticks of cinnamon or citrus fruit, such as oranges, can also produce a refreshing scent. In fact, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Retailing and reported by the Wall Street Journal determined that a simple orange aroma encouraged buyers to spend more money at a home decor store, compared to other scents.

5. Stage your home

Your decor expresses your personality, but home shoppers may have different tastes. Consider changing the decor to appeal to a large number of buyers. This practice is known as “staging,” and it could mean you rearrange furniture, tone down dramatic wall paint with more neutral colors or even rent new pieces of furniture until the home is sold.

In a 2015 National Association of Realtors report on home staging, 52% of buyers agents reported that their buyers were willing to increase the amount of money offered for a staged home compared to a similar property.

You could ask your real estate agent for design suggestions and stage your home on your own. Or if you’d prefer a professional home stager, your agent may be able to suggest someone. You can also contact the Real Estate Staging Association for names. The survey showed the median amount homeowners paid for staging services was $675.

Take note of these five steps to get your home ready to sell before you put it on the market. The effort you make repairing, cleaning and staging can pay off big when a buyer makes an attractive offer on your house.

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @margarette. This article first appeared in NerdWallet.

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