Thinking of Selling Your Home? Make These Items Your First Priority

From DIY projects to lemon-scented candles, there’s a million tips and tricks out there. Let’s focus on the essentials first.

If you’re serious about selling your home, you’ve probably already seen some sort of guide on the 10, 20, or even 50 ways to prepare your house for sale. For the most part, all of these tips offer sound, meaningful advice. But the average homeowner may not have the time, money, or expertise to handle all these tasks. And trying to tackle too many projects will become burdensome rather than helpful. So we’re going to focus on the essentials here. If you can comfortably complete this list, then you can worry about shiplap accent walls and new cabinet hardware.

I say essential because, in my experience, these six strategies have proven to deliver the most value for my clients. Value is certainly measured in terms of sales dollars, but equally important is your time and energy. Expending some effort now, on your own terms and in your own timeframe, will help deter potentially costly headaches down the road. But remember, the overall goal here is to avoid stress. Focusing too much on the preparation can also get you mired, and set you off on the wrong foot.

1. Select a Rockstar Real Estate Agent 

Timeframe: 90 days before listing

A good agent will not only guide you during the sales process, they will also be able to walk you through the preparatory steps in this guide. Agents that know the local market and latest trends will have an eye for what your home needs and how to achieve it cost-effectively. They can also act as a quasi therapist, emotional support animal, sounding board, and buffer to potential buyers. You’ll want to start vetting agents in advance, and don’t feel obligated to use family members or friends who have their license. Select the most qualified candidate to give you the best chance for success.

Maybe you’re considering going the FSBO route. It sounds like a great way to avoid paying real estate commissions and save yourself some cash, right? It’s actually quite the opposite. No shameless plugs for my own services here…just the raw data:

According to the most recent statistics from the National Association of REALTORS®, “the typical FSBO home sells for $200,000. In comparison, agent-assisted homes sell for $280,00”

That’s a 40% difference. Real estate commissions in South Florida are typically 6% of the purchase price. That equates to more than $63k on average. Bottom line, real estate agents have proven time and again to put more money in your pocket. On top of that, they handle all the heavy lifting along the way. Whomever you decide to choose should be a pro in marketing and advertising, giving your home the maximum possible exposure and best chance for success. If they’re not aboard the tech train with a solid online presence, you may want to look for other options.

2. Make a Plan

Timeframe: A.S.A.P.

Nothing gives me heartburn more than watching a homeowner try to wing it. Flying by the seat of your pants may be exciting in some areas of life, but selling your home is not the time or the place. Adopting the approach of “I’ll address any challenges as they come my way” is a recipe for disaster. Set up a plan with realistic goals and expectations, and give yourself the freedom to adapt. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Pricing: Proper pricing is absolutely 100% the single-most important factor in selling your home. I don’t care how great your home is. If it’s overpriced it will not sell, and lingering on the market for too long will generate some not-so-nice stigmatizations. Some homeowners hear “price it to sell” and think they are offering some kind of discount. It’s quite the contrary. Pricing your home to sell is how you achieve top dollar. Your real estate agent will provide you with a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) and local expertise to get your home priced exactly where it needs to be.
  • Timeframe: Establishing how quickly you need to sell your home can factor into how aggressive to be with pricing. If you’re in a bind and need the fastest possible sale, achieving top dollar may not be a realistic expectation. Even if you’re strapped for time, you should still address the remaining items on this list on some level. Conversely, if you have 60 days or more, maximizing returns should be the goal.
  • Coordination: Avoiding stress is the name of the game when it comes to planning, so allot yourself ample time to address repairs, cleaning, decluttering, organization, and staging. You’ll also need to consider where you’re going next and how you will get there. This may require scheduling movers, child care, pet sitters, storage units, time off from work, and a host of other items. Give yourself a to-do list and systematically check off these boxes as you go.


3. Take a Deep Breath and…Disassociate

Timeframe: A.S.A.P.

News flash: you are emotionally invested in your home! We all understand this to a certain degree, but it makes it difficult to view your home objectively. You’ve poured your heart and soul into making it the perfect space, creating heartfelt memories along the way. Your personal touches are what gives it value in your mind, but unfortunately buyers may not see it the same way.

The sales process can wreak havoc on your psyche if you let it. Buyers make comments like “who picked this color” and “what were they thinking” all the time. Your real estate agent will act as a filter to help ease the blow, but this can still feel like a personal attack. Don’t risk crashing a sale because you’re too caught up in your feelings. Be all business and focus on the facts and figures. Pricing included. Remember, a house is just brick and mortar, and if you’re selling it’s because the house isn’t for you any longer.


4. Pay For a Home Inspection and Make Repairs Now 

Timeframe: 60-90 days before listing

I know what you’re thinking…doesn’t the buyer handle the home inspection? The short answer is yes, but the buyer may be able to use their inspection findings against you in negotiations. Don’t give them the opportunity. Conduct your own home inspection in advance and address any potential issues on your own terms.

If you wait for a buyer’s inspection, you’ll be operating under a time crunch – aka the Inspection Period. You’ll only have a small window to decide whether or not to move forward, and most likely the buyer will be demanding more money than the repairs cost. If you’ve addressed these issues in advance, you’ll have the confidence in knowing your home is tip-top along with the upper hand in negotiations.

A typical home inspection in South Florida costs around $500. It’s money well spent if it saves you thousands in negotiations later on. Go with a licensed company that is well-regarded in the area. They will look at your home’s overall condition and provide you with a detailed list of repair concerns and estimated costs. Big-ticket items like the roof, HVAC, electrical, and plumbing are usually what send buyers into panic-mode. If you have it in your budget, you’ll want to consider addressing these issues now. Your real estate agent will help you priortize repairs and determine a course of action.

A hot button item in South Florida is its building code. Due to the annual threat of hurricanes, coastal areas of Florida have had very strict construction standards in place since 2002. Any modifications to existing exterior walls, roofs, entry doors, windows, garage doors, HVAC, plumbing, or electrical must meet the current Florida Building Code and have all the proper permits. If you plan on making repairs to your home, be sure to follow these proper channels.

Previous repairs that don’t meet code and/or unpermitted work are huge obstacles when it comes time to sell. Savvy buyers will be wary of accepting a home with these issues, and they will almost certainly request that you, the homeowner, address them. Florida Law requires homeowners (and their real estate agents) to disclose “all known facts materially affecting the value of the property” which are not readily observable. Unpermitted work and building code violations are clearly defined in this ruling. So, if you are aware of any such items, you’d be best served to rectify them now.


5. Get Cleaned Up

Timeframe: 15-30 days before listing

There’s no sugar coating this. If your home is messy or dishevelled, buyers will instantly be turned off. Your real estate agent may implement the ABC’s of selling (Always Be Closing), but you should consider your own set of ABC’s. Always Be Cleaning. Set aside a few weekends prior to listing your home to handle the dirtiest details. Your home needs to sparkle for showings and for the professional photos your agent will arrange. HD cameras pick up every detail. It’s going to take some elbow grease, but find those nooks and crannies and clean, declutter, and organize.  Here’s a list of absolute no-no’s:

  • Sullied stovetops
  • Offensive ovens
  • Scummy sinks
  • Rank refrigerators
  • Messy microwaves
  • Crumby countertops
  • Crud-filled corners
  • Gross garbage cans
  • Rotton ring-around-the-toilet
  • Slimey showers
  • Grimey grout lines
  • Crusty carpets
  • Boogery baseboards
  • Lewd light switches

(I know, the last two are a stretch but I ran out of adjectives… alliteration aside, you get the idea!)

If you have kids and/or pets you’ll want to keep tabs on their messes as well. Toy explosions, mounds of dirty clothes, smelly litter boxes, unkept food bowls, fur bunnies, muddy foot prints, and the occasional dog barf all need to disappear before showings. And don’t forget about the exterior. Your home’s curb appeal will provide the first impression. Tidy up overgrown landscaping, pressure wash rooftops and driveways if need be, and make sure your front entryway is impeccable.


6. Staging

Timeframe: 7-10 days before listing

Home staging simply means arranging your home to make it as visually appealing as possible. Your real estate agent will be worth their weight in gold if they have a knack for this. The goal here is to enable buyers to see themselves living in your home, and to remove any items that may distract from the house itself.

A recent NAR profile found that a perceived 83% of buyers thought home staging made it easier to visualize the property as a future home, and 38% were more willing to walk through a home they saw online that had been staged. The study also found that the living room, master bedroom, and kitchen were the top 3 rooms in order of  staging importance.

Part of your ABC initiative will pay dividends here, as cleanliness, decluttering, and organization are important components of staging. You may want to consider temporarily renting a storage unit if you have an abundance of stuff. Here’s some strategies you’ll want to adhere to:

  • Remove excess furniture to give the area an open feel, leaving just enough to indicate the room’s intent
  • Avoid empty rooms that can create echos
  • Depersonalize your home by removing family photos, heirlooms, and personal collections
  • Brighten things up with a neutral color palette and more natural lighting
  • Eliminate gaudy window treatments, nosiy wallpaper, and overbearing accent walls
  • Clear kitchen countertops of appliances and busy accessories
  • Remove yourself and pets during showings
  • Organize unruly closets & garages
  • Hide personal items in the bathroom such as toothbrushes, razors, used towels, and medicine
  • Keep area rugs and throw pillows to a minimum
  • Add some tasteful landscaping outside
  • If it’s in the budget, add a fresh coat of paint to the home’s exterior

Depersonalization is typically the most difficult aspect for homeowner’s to overcome, because they oftentimes feel they are removing the home’s charm. As much as your Coca-Cola memorabelia and Beanie Baby collection mean to you, they will be nothing but a distraction to potential buyers. Other items which are off-limits are an abundance of religious artifacts, trophy animal mounts, guns & weaponry, sports memorabelia, and any type of lewd or vulgar decor. No lie, I once had a seller who thought a stripper pole in the master bedroom was a selling feature!

So there you have it, my 6 essentials to prepping for a home sale. Happy cleaning and best of luck on your home selling journey!