When you list your home for sale, your real estate agent may hand you a printed sheet telling you things you need to do to make it more appealing to buyers. He or she may also recommend that you hire a stager to make the house look like a "show home."
The first step, of course, is to clean and de-clutter. Buyers are turned off by dirt - starting with the fingerprints (or muddy paw prints) on the front door. Most buyers are also looking for a home that has enough space for all their "stuff" so you should clean out those over-stuffed closets and drawers, get rid of excess furniture, clean off the counter-tops and generally strive to give an impression that you have more space than they will need.
If you need to re-paint a room, do it. If the carpets are dirty, shampoo them. If they're worn out, replace them.
When you're cleaning, be sure to wash the light fixtures - they're often full of bugs and dusty, so clean them to let more light into the rooms.
Now the stager, if you've decided to hire one, can come in and get to work.
But what if you can't afford that? Or what if your community is one that hasn't yet taken to the idea of stagers - and there are none available to you?
Your job will be to make the house look as "un-lived-in" as you possibly can. You want your potential buyers to walk through and be able to imagine themselves living there. You don't want them to feel like they've invaded your "nest."
Take your children's drawings down from the refrigerator - pack them carefully so you can re-hang them in your new home! Replace the family pictures with something neutral - scenic or still-life pictures that merely serve to add the right touch of color to brighten the room, but give no personal information about you and your family.
Go through every room in the house, doing your best to remove personal items and make it look like a model home. Move furniture around to give an air of spaciousness. Look at the colors and get rid of anything that creates a jarring note, while adding accents that give warmth.
If you have children, you can't get rid of all their toys, but pare them down, and then provide a toy box and get them into the habit of using it.
And now, pack away your collections. You want potential buyers to focus their attention on the house, not on the contents of the house. Your collection of dolls or salt shakers or carvings are fun to look at, but can take so much attention away from the house that the buyers may leave without remembering if the fireplace was in the living room or the den.
There's a second reason for putting some things away, and it has to do with human nature and the belief that a house holds the "energy" of its occupants.
If you have guns mounted on the walls, some people will feel that this is a home of violence. The same goes for hunting trophies - some will be so turned off that they won't even enter the room, much less consider buying the home.
Anything that shows your political or religious affiliation can cause the same response. Some will not want a home with that kind of energy.
Now the hard part - your pets. Over half the population of America loves pets, but then there are the rest of them. Some hate cats or dogs for their own reasons, and some are allergic.
Keep all pet hair vacuumed up, and before buyers arrive, get the pets out of the house and put their beds, toys, and food and water bowls away. If you have a cat, get the cat box out of the house. You may not smell it because you're used to it, but a stranger will... believe me.
Get a non-pet person to come in and sniff the house - you may need to take a second run over the carpets with some odor-killing shampoo in the machine. If your pets sleep on the furniture, you should shampoo it as well.
Take the pets with you when you leave during the showing. This is as much for their safety as for the presentation of the house. People forget to shut doors.
Remember to keep vacuuming and using non-perfumed deodorizers. If the dog always lays in the same spot on the carpet or couch, sprinkle on some baking soda and let it sit there for a few minutes before you give it a daily vacuuming.
If you're a smoker, you may need to scrub walls and ceilings, as well as shampoo the furniture and wash all your bedspreads and curtains. To a non-smoker, the smell is a real turn-off. After cleaning, try to step outside to smoke.
Next - keep the house smelling fresh, but do not use perfumed air fresheners. Some are so allergic that they won't even enter the house if they catch a whif in the doorway.(I'm one of them - and I can tell you - the blinding headache is just not worth exposing myself to that!)
You can remove odors from the air with baking soda and with vinegar. If the smells are strong, put some vinegar in water and boil it. This works well if your showing is after dinner and you need to quickly dispel the cooking aromas. (Which you do!)
We're in a tough market right now - with far more homes for sale than buyers who need them. Give your home the advantage by doing your best to make it look like no one lives there.