Getting your home ready for sale can take anywhere from one to six months, depending on the condition, age of the house and how long you've lived there.
So before you call a real estate agent, go over the property to determine what needs to be repaired or possibly replaced. Make a list of both major and minor jobs. Tackle big projects first.
"Condition makes a big difference in the price a home can command in today's market," says Steve Leavey with Century 21 Commonwealth in Natick, Mass.
Although it's tempting to wait until the home inspection and offer to adjust the price in lieu of repairs, but doing so may put the entire sale in jeopardy and may ultimately cost more. Buyers generally tack on extra dollars to any estimate. Most importantly, a major repair left undone creates the impression that the house has not been maintained.
So here is a timeline to help you prepare your home for sale:
—Six to three months before listing
Besides looking at major systems, inspectors test outlets, run appliances, and turn on faucets. Take this time to fix any obvious problems. You will have to make the repair eventually, so it's in your interest to do it done ahead of time.
For dated kitchens and baths consider a minor facelift such as refacing or painting cabinets, replacing dated appliances and/or installing new countertops. Modernize lighting by replacing old fluorescent ceiling fixtures with recessed lights and/or pendants.
Historically a minor kitchen renovation recoups a sizable portion, sometimes even all, of the dollars spent and makes a home more competitive. Still, it is important not to over improve compared to similar homes in the neighborhood and price range.
If cracked faux or cultured marble sinks and countertops in bathrooms can't be repaired, replace them. Even inexpensive laminate is an improvement. Often this change, coupled with new accessories and paint, will neutralize dated tile.
Whatever the season, be sure to take photos to show potential buyers landscaping or views at their best. And as early as possible, fertilize to give shrubs and the lawn a jump start. The payoff comes when the yard is greener than any nearby.
—Three months to listing
Begin to clean and declutter the home. "Curb to closet cleaning is huge," says Thomas Holmes, owner of Staging Homes in Wayland, Mass. Anything that may make a buyer feel uncomfortable such as grime in corners or grubby grout has to be eliminated.
Clean out closets, cabinets and drawers so they appear spacious and well organized. If you appear cramped, buyers assume they will be too. Box the overflow and store off site if necessary.
Don't forget the garage. Make sure the door mechanism operates smoothly.
Continue replacing inexpensive items that date a home. Exchange brass hardware for brushed nickel or oil rubbed bronze. While making this change, depending on the style of the house, consider replacing traditional knobs with levered handles which are more current.
Nothing renews a house faster than paint. Some experts recommend painting the ceilings if it's been more than 10 years since the last paint job since it immediately brightens a room.
Tame colors that overwhelm or are passe. If you can't part with them, leave the old color on one wall for an accent. The same holds true for wallpaper. You don't have to remove every shred, but enough to ensure a feeling of continuity throughout the house.
Traditional advice was to paint everything white; the new neutrals, warm beiges and taupes, cozy up rooms without closing them in. To really make a room pop, use white on the trim or as an accent.
Begin your own market research as soon as possible. Pay attention to what's newly listed and selling in your neighborhood. Go to open houses; nothing will give you a better fix on what buyers will expect from your home.
Research real estate agents to list your home. Ask friends for recommendations. Traditional advice is to interview three agents. Look for one with experience and a proven track record. Expect to see a detailed, written marketing plan that begins before the home actually goes on the market and ends when it closes. It takes several months for marketing efforts to be effective so give one agent at least that long to list the house.
Resist the temptation to select the agent who suggests the highest price unless they can back it up with homes sold or under agreement in the last month or so. Discuss strategies for price reductions. Rather than one big drop some believe small incremental reductions are more effective.
Commissions are negotiable but they do affect how much an agent spends on marketing and how much they offer agents who represent buyers. Ask about the percentage they would offer other agents.
Good agents will suggest ways to improve the presentation of the property. Some offer a complimentary consultation with a home stager regarding furniture placement, any other painting that maybe needed and ways to depersonalize the home.
—One month to marketing
Fine tune everything. With major cleaning and decluttering completed, go back to see what you've overlooked. Make everything shine. Wash windows and even consider removing screens where it is practical to do so. Even the smallest detail like dusting the water heater lends to the impression that the house is well maintained.
Have the carpets cleaned, especially if you have pets, just before you begin showing the house. If you have a cat, be vigilant about maintaining the litter box.
To keep kitchen counters clear, plan for areas to store small appliances. Also stash mail and magazines.
On the day of the broker open house be sure to set the scene by turning on lights, creating vignettes in several areas such as the kitchen where you want buyers to linger. Recreate this as much as possible whenever the house is shown.
All of this advance work makes it much easier to maintain the home while it's being shown.