Preparing Your House for Showings

How to make sure your house is dressed for selling success.

Before you open your house to the home-buying public, whether for an open house or individual tours, make sure you've dealt with basic repair needs and any safety hazards that might affect visitors, cleaned and decluttered it, and dressed it to look its best. Having made it look so deliciously tempting, however, you'll also need to ensure that you and your possessions will be protected.

Basic Structural and Safety Concerns

We're assuming you're already dealing with any maintenance issues that might turn off buyers. It's usually easiest to make repairs before putting the house on the market, given that you're legally obligated to tell your ultimate buyer pretty much everything you know about the house's physical condition -- whether it has termites or other pests, the state of its roof, walls, and other structural components, and whether its appliances are in operating condition. (To learn more about what you must reveal, see Nolo's article Required Disclosures When Selling Real Estate.)

After that's done, think about how to protect visiting homeseekers from possible injury and yourself from lawsuits. Walk through your home, checking for and dealing with everything that might cause injury, such as:

  • Slippery throw rugs -- take them up.
  • Loose steps -- fix them.
  • Slick areas, such as front steps -- put down rubber mats.
  • Long electrical and phone cords -- make sure they're out of the way.
  • Unsafe electrical wires and fixtures -- replace them.
  • Potentially dangerous areas in yards -- block them off.
  • Decks and pools -- childproof them.
  • Medicine, cleaning supplies, or household chemicals that children could get into -- lock them up.
  • Pets -- put them in an enclosure, even if they've always been friendly; if they're likely to make noise, arrange for them to take a brief vacation.
  • Excess furniture or clutter -- store it elsewhere.

It's Cleaning Time

Everyone who's lived in a house for a while becomes blind to a certain amount of grime, like spots on the windows and fingerprints on the edges of doors. And clutter seems to accumulate by itself. Prospective buyers, however, will zoom right in on these issues -- or else develop a general impression that your home is worn, tired, and lacks space. Take a look at your house with fresh eyes, using the following tips:

  • Curb appeal comes first. Sweep the sidewalk, mow, prune, and weed the garden, and clear toys and debris from the front areas. Remove cars from the driveway.
  • Clean the windows. Make them sparkle inside and out.
  • Apply new paint. A fresh coat of paint works wonders to cover up past dirt and dings, and gives you a chance to introduce fashionable colors (in neutral tones, of course). At the very least, touch up any chipped or flaking paint (both exterior and interior).
  • Get scrubbing. Clean, tidy, and shine up all rooms and furnishings, appliances, floors, walls, and ceilings -- it's especially important that the bathroom and kitchen are spotless.
  • Declutter. Organize and remove any and all clutter all closets, cupboards, and surfaces. Box up all but a few knickknacks and all family photos -- they can distract potential buyers. Instead of stacking the boxes in the garage, consider renting a storage unit so they are completely out of sight.
  • Make sure that the basic appliances and fixtures work. Fix any leaky faucets, burnt out light bulbs, and frayed cords.
  • Trim any trees or shrubs that block the light into your home. Buyers like light, airy spaces, and might be worried at seeing, for example, overhanging tree limbs that threaten to drop onto the house or drop leaves into the rain gutters.

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