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Preparing Your Home for Sale

By - May 26, 2013

There is quite a bit involved in selling a home. We cover the process in detail in the book Make More Money Selling Your Home, which is now available for free on the pages of this site. For this article we will look at one part of that process; preparing your home for sale. The steps below are in roughly the order you'll want to follow.

1. Clean

It will always impress buyers when they see a clean house, so start with the routine cleaning and then do some serious deep cleaning. You might be surprised at how dirty some parts of a home can get without you noticing. When we live in it we start to get sued to or to see past the imperfections. In fact, after you have done the first cleaning you should have a friend come over and tell you honestly what still needs some work. He or she is sure to see things that you missed. Follow up on any suggestions.

2. Repair

Fix anything that is not working properly in the house. Every electrical outlet should work, the plumbing shouldn't leak a drop anywhere, and broken blinds should be replaced. If there is something that you really can't afford to fix, like a garage door or a broken-down deck, get an estimate for the repair work in writing. When the time comes to show the home you can make sure potential buyers see this. Nothing turns off buyers more than unpredictable problems and expenses, so having the figure on paper lets them feel comfortable buying and knowing what they are getting into.

3. Improve

Once you have done the cleaning and repairs, start looking for the easiest and most inexpensive improvements you can make. Small things often will give you the best return on investment. A new mailbox with flowers at the base and a trimmed front yard will cost just $30 if you do the work yourself, and those improvements can dramatically change the all-important first impression for potential purchasers. Here is a short list of other small improvement that together can make the house look much nicer:

New light switch covers.
New doorknobs.
Fresh stain for the deck.
Fancier doorknobs.
Birdhouse in the front and/or back yard.
Better curtains or blinds.
Classier light fixtures.

You might spend a weekend or two and a few hundred dollars to make a dozen minor improvements, but if you sell your house for a couple thousand dollars more it will have been worth it.

As for major improvements, you have to be careful. More than one person has spent $30,000 to remodel a kitchen only to see the home sell for just $20,000 more than it would have. You have to think in terms of return on investment. You also have to consider the time you will spend. As a rule of thumb look for projects that will double your money. In other words, if you (or your real estate agent) think a remodeled bathroom will add $10,000 to the sales price, you should get it done for $5,000 or look elsewhere for changes to make. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but if you aim to make twice what you invest you get something for your effort and you have a safety margin in case you estimated the increase in value incorrectly.

Of course you won't always know what a given improvement will do for the price when you finally sell your home. Even the professionals who sell houses for a living are guessing, although with a bit more experience. It is often best to plan a package of several changes and ask a real estate agent how much the home will go up in value if you make them all. Here is a short list of possible home improvements you might consider:

Build a deck.
Repaint the home.
Resurface the drive.
Landscaping.
Fences.
Add a garage or carport.
Add a bedroom in the basement.
Tile the patio or entryway.
Install a new front door.
Install new appliances in the kitchen.
Build an additional bathroom.
Install new kitchen cupboards.

Add whatever you think is appropriate to your own list and get estimates. Then talk to a real estate professional about various combinations of changes to determine which are likely to return the most in terms of a higher price for the money you will spend.

One last note about preparing your home for sale and making improvements: look for things that are universally valued, or at least appreciated by most potential buyers. In other words, if you're painting the bedroom it doesn't matter if you love the color purple if buyers don't. In fact, what your preferences are have nothing to do with how to sell a house; it's all about what the market wants, so ask around.

4. Clean It Again

Since real estate rarely sells immediately, preparing your home for the sale is an ongoing process. Keep it neat and clean, and when you know there is a showing coming, spruce it up and be sure there are no bad odors. Walk outside and breath deeply, trying to forget that it is your house. Then enter, smell the house, and look at it with "fresh eyes" to see if there is anything that smells or looks wrong.


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Houses Under Fifty Thousand | Preparing for Sale