A few months from now, or maybe sooner, you plan to sell your house. And you can think of a million things to do before listing your home that would maybe lead to a better offer: Swap out the damaged laminate for tile, repaint certain rooms to match the rest of the house, fix the landscaping — the more you think about it, the more the mental to-dos mount.
Since no one has an unlimited supply of time or money, you need to know which projects are worth tackling and what to leave as is. We’re here to help you prioritize the big stuff with these recommendations for impactful pre-listing tasks that will resonate with buyers, plus a suggestion for materials and paperwork to gather now to help prevent closing delays.
1. Purge the house of clutter.
As early as a few months before you list, start decluttering your home. If you consider your kids’ toys and art projects, old bathroom toiletries, and stacks of mail — you may realize that you’ve been storing many items that you could re-home or discard right away to prepare for putting the house on the market.
A tidy house with clear floors and countertops appears inviting in listing photos and in person, enticing buyers to make a strong offer.
“Buyers are usually looking forward to a new lifestyle, not just new walls and doors,” says Kendall Rodesiler, top real estate agent in Toledo, Ohio. “So, if we show them a lifestyle that just feels like clutter and chaos, they’re not going to be interested.”
Decluttering… well, it’s not a glamorous job. In fact, you may want to arrange for a dumpster rental if you have large furnishings or entire boxes of junk to toss.
But a commitment to thoroughly decluttering the home can go so far as to boost your asking price by more than $2,500, according to a HomeLight’s poll of over 900 top real estate agents nationwide.
Follow these steps to get started:
- Clear countertops and miscellaneous items on the floor.
- Pare down the items on display on open shelving, mantels, and walls. Store family photos in a safe spot and remove sports memorabilia and knick-knacks.
- Sort through old stacks of mail, paperwork, and pens and notepads cluttering up places like the kitchen and home office. Shred sensitive documents you don’t need.
- Pack away small appliances that you don’t use daily like the Air Fryer along with seasonal items such as the turkey roasting pan.
- Get a few plastic containers for stashing away toiletries. Store them in bathroom cabinets and use them to hide your everyday makeup, toothbrush, hairbrush, etc.
- Rifle through the nightstand, toss the hand cream and other items you don’t use. Use the space to hide your nighttime reading or other bedtime items. Leave just a lamp on top.
- Ditch expired food from the pantry and refrigerator.
- Reduce closet items by 50%. Consider whether to donate excess towels, linens, or clothes you haven’t worn in awhile.
- If your house still looks cluttered with the items you plan to take with you to the next residence, rent a storage unit as an interim solution.
2. Deep clean forgotten areas.
If you plan to live in your house while you sell it — as most sellers do — you’ll need to get into a routine of regular cleanings and quick spruce-ups before buyers pop in for showings.
However, these tasks will be a lot easier if you deep clean as one of the top things to do before listing your home. Focus on these often-neglected areas so that you’re not dealing with a filthy home later:
- Dust ceiling fans. Use a step ladder and cleaning spray to complete the chore. Swap your rag for a pillowcase to prevent particles from falling to the floor.
- Wipe down the doors and interiors of closets and cabinets. Use a microfiber duster to remove cobwebs from the corners.
- Clean under appliances — you can attach a tube sock to the end of a yardstick with a rubber band to sweep in the crevices. Vacuum up debris.
- Clean baseboards using the vacuum cleaner brush attachment. Follow up by applying a sponge dipped in warm water and dish soap. Use a cotton swab for dirty corners.
Consider what other areas of the house haven’t been cleaned in awhile and tackle those places now. According to HomeLight’s research, deep cleaning adds nearly $2,000 in resale value in addition to being a baseline requirement for buyers to view your home.
3. Tackle neglected maintenance.
Whether you should take care of major repairs — such as replacing a 25 -year-old roof before selling — is a conversation to have with your real estate agent and evaluate according to your budget. But you can get a head start on making small repairs around the house to make sure everything is in good working order before buyers come through.
- Have the HVAC serviced if it’s been more than a year.
- Patch holes in the drywall.
- Change all air filters.
- Replace burned-out lightbulbs.
- Make sure the windows open and close, and repair any that stick.
- Fix that leaky faucet or water heater.
- Make sure the basics such as major kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures such as toilets, baths, and showers all function correctly.
4. Gather repair and renovation records.
If you’ve lived in your home for a significant length of time, chances are you have the records or receipts for appliance repairs and upgrades, renovations big and small, as well as services to your HVAC and fireplace. Collect those now to have them ready for your real estate agent, home inspector, and property appraiser.
“I always want a list of everything they’ve done since they’ve moved in, or the big things that they’ve done over the last 10 years,” says Rodesiler, who provides potential buyers an itemized list of upgrades and repairs.
Unless they’re buying brand-new construction, buyers consider your home “used” and wonder how soon they’ll have to replace or repair something, such as a major appliance. Consider that an estimated 80 million appliances across the United States need service each year.
If you can prove that you’ve already spent the time and money to upgrade your home or keep it in top working order, you’re crossing chores off a buyer’s to-do list, making your home more attractive.
5. Hire a stellar real estate agent.
On the list of things to do before selling your home, put hiring an agent near the top. When to contact a Realtor® varies depending on how fast you want to sell and the condition of your home, but generally, reaching out about three months in advance will help you in a number of ways:
- You’ll get access to data on your home’s value through an agent’s comparative market analysis.
- You’ll receive tailored advice on what updates or repairs your home needs to sell — and what you can skip.
- You’ll better coordinate steps such as a pre-listing inspection and preliminary title report before your house hits the market (more on those below).
“I like to be the starting point for clients when they’re considering listing their home,” Rodesiler says. “A lot of times, if they don’t do that first, now they’ve done a bunch of things that weren’t necessary, so it might have wasted time or wasted money.”
Companies like HomeLight have made the search for a Realtor® or real estate agent even easier and faster by introducing free agent-matching services that elevate top-of-market performers. However you find your agent, be selective in who you pick. Our internal transaction data shows that the top 5% of real estate agents sell homes for as much as 10% more than average.
6. Consider a pre-sale inspection.
You might feel like you’re intimately familiar with your home, but let’s be honest: there may be issues brewing of which you aren’t aware. Rather than hear about them for the first time with the buyer’s inspection, consider ordering a pre-listing home inspection so you aren’t gobsmacked after you’ve accepted an offer.
An inspection will cost you an average of $339, but it can give you peace of mind if you’re concerned about deferred maintenance or big problems lurking. Jennifer Smeltzer, a top real estate agent in Jackson County, MO, suggests obtaining a pre-listing inspection no sooner than two months before listing to be as current as possible while still allowing time for repairs.
If you don’t have enough funds to cover repair bills upfront, talk to your agent about selling the home “as is” or consider requesting a cash offer on your home instead. You can start with HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, which provides cash offers for homes in almost any condition and allows sellers to close in as little as 10 days.
7. Obtain a preliminary title report.
A preliminary title report, or “prelim,” is a summary document that tells you, the seller, if there’s anything outstanding on your property before you put your house on the market. In other words, it’s a precautionary report.
If you find any liens against the property for unpaid property taxes, HOA fees, child support, another lender, or other reason, you won’t be able to sell the home until you’re settled up and clear the lien.
Title issues can take a while to resolve, so it’s best to start that digging as soon as possible.
A preliminary title search also reveals deed restrictions, or any limits to the property’s use, such as the type and amount of vehicles allowed on the property — all valuable details that an agent needs to know before listing your home.
8. Do selective light remodeling.
You’ve likely heard that buyers like turnkey homes or those that are move-in ready. That’s why agents may recommend light renovation projects. “Most buyers have just done all of this work to get their home ready for sale. The last thing they want to do is walk into another set of chores,” says Rodesiler.
In general, Rodesiler suggests small updates to make a home feel fresh, such as:
- Replace dated faucets, light fixtures, ceiling fans, and hardware, especially if you have a lot of brass throughout the home.
- Install new bathroom and kitchen faucet fixtures if yours are dated.
- Remove wallpaper and paint over the walls in neutral colors.
- Paint dated kitchen cabinets a fresh shade of white.
- Re-stain aging hardwood floors to bring them back to life.
- Steam clean carpets or replace unsalvageable carpeting with a neutral, durable, and affordable selection.
However, don’t go overboard. Check with your agent about whether you should, say, replace the crown molding in the living room based on your home’s price point, the neighborhood, and comparable sales. “If it isn’t typical for the neighborhood, then it’s a waste of money,” Rodesiler says.
9. Tidy the lawn and beautify your curb appeal.
Turn a critical eye on your home’s exterior, as 94% of top real estate agents say that great curb appeal adds resale value. Focus on the most impactful outdoor projects, according to HomeLight’s research:
- Take care of the lawn yourself or hire a lawn care service professional to mow the yard and add fertilizer. Investing $270 in the average cost of lawn care yields $1,200 in resale value for a 352% ROI.
- Install fresh mulch. Applying $340 worth of mulch adds $800 in value for a 126% ROI.
- Add simple landscaping if your home lacks this exterior feature. Our research shows that 75% of top agents say well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1%-10% more than homes with no landscaping.
- If your home lacks an outdoor hangout space, consider installing a simple patio. Spending $3,270 on a new patio will pay itself back with $3,560 in resale value. Outdoor living areas now rank within the top three homebuyer priorities, behind only a home office and great school district.
- Paint the front door a fun color such as teal, red, or dark green to create a welcoming focal point.
10. Estimate your net proceeds.
It costs money to sell a home so it’s helpful to have an idea of what those expenses will be prior to listing the property for sale.
Sellers typically pay between 6%-10% of the final sale price in closing costs to cover:
- Agent commissions
- Transfer or excise taxes
- Prorated property taxes
- Recording fees
- Escrow fees
- Seller concessions
You won’t know exactly how much you’ll take home until you receive your estimated settlement statement at closing with an itemized breakdown of fees and credits. But to get a ballpark idea of your costs and payout, follow these steps:
- Get a home value estimate. Use an online tool such as HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator as a starting point.
- Review your agent’s comparative market analysis for a more accurate gauge of your home’s fair market value — defined as what a buyer would be willing to pay for the home in today’s market.
- Subtract your current mortgage balance and selling fees from the sale price. HomeLight’s Net Proceeds Calculator can help you run the math, or ask your real estate agent to prepare a net sheet.
- Keep in mind that your estimate may change based on how negotiations go with the buyer and any unexpected costs that arise.
11. Plan your next move.
In today’s fast real estate market, sellers may accept an offer sooner than planned and realize that they have nowhere to go. In September, properties nationwide stayed on the market for 17 days (compared to 21 days one year ago), and 86% of those that closed sold in less than one month.
So it’s best to get ahead of where you plan to move next. Due to a low supply of housing inventory, it could take you longer to buy a home than it does to sell your current one.
“Is it a short-term rental, staying with family or friends? We have a lot of people living with family and putting their things in storage,” Rodesiler says. “If a seller doesn’t have a contingency plan, they’re just not putting their home on the market until they can get one.”
While it takes time to calculate those next moves, knowing what’s ahead — much like preparing your home before listing — can relieve some stress from the process.
Header Image Source: (Jonathan Borba / Unsplash)