Expert Advice on Preparing Your House for Sale

Preparing a house for sale

Last week I wrote about some of the ideas my cousin and I came up with to quickly get her house ready to sell. Fortunately for most people a rushed process isn't necessary, so with a little bit of planning and effort you can prepare your house for sale in ways that will maximize your sale price.

An important thing to keep in mind is that you're not trying to make your home a better place for yourself, you're trying to make it more attractive to others.

You need to do this in a way that will lead to a greater increase in sale price than the cost of the preparation - so always be mindful of what potential buyers will be taking into account.

What the Professionals Say

In order to know what kind of preparations and improvements work best for a home sale I decided to contact some people who sell houses for a living. Providing an American perspective here is Bill Gassett of RE/MAX Executive Realty in Grafton, Massachusetts, and I reached out to Mark Rumsey who is the Licencee, Director, and Sales Manager of David Deane Real Estate in Brisbane, Australia for a perspective from down under.

What are the most important preparation tasks to undertake before selling?

Bill Gassett:

Having a home look exceptional is extremely important today as more and more buyers prefer turn-key properties. There are a few things that a seller can do that almost always offer a tremendous bang for the buck. These include painting and carpet replacement. There is nothing that can transform a tired home quicker than these two things.

Mark Rumsey:

Decluttering & styling key areas of the home, presentation is key. Washing down all surfaces interior/exterior house, driveways and pathways gurneyed (that's Australian for high pressure water cleaning - Ed). Full garden makeover, fresh mulch.

What kinds of DIY improvements will return a profit at sale, and what kinds of projects should be avoided?

Bill Gassett:

Some of the better DIY improvements that can be done if a homeowner has some skill is flooring. For example if a home has old and drab linoleum bathroom flooring, installing tile can really change it's appearance for short money. Not to repeat myself but painting even as a DIY project can really be helpful in the home sale process if there are preexisting color choices that are horrible. For example a bright purple living room is not going to appeal to most people.

Projects that should be avoided usually include major renovations like a new kitchen. Typically installing a new kitchen will not offer the return necessary for it to be worthwhile. Sellers need to be careful on what things they spend their money on. Return on investment and increasing saleability on a budget should be chief concerns.

Mark Rumsey:

Garden makeovers definitely, painting fences and general areas are appropriate, however unless done at a competent level leave it to the professionals to paint inside as this can definitely go against you if not to standard. DIY Bathroom makeovers need to be careful as most inspectors now request water proofing certificates.

How far ahead of the planned listing date should a you contact a real estate agent?

The spring sales season is when a lot of homes come onto the market in North America so I asked Bill to advise from this point of view...

Bill Gassett:

Here in Massachusetts the Spring selling season generally gets under way in the March to April time frame depending on the weather. From a preparation standpoint it makes sense for someone considering selling a home to get in touch with a Realtor about 4-6 weeks ahead of time. This is especially true when there are things that should get done to a home prior to entering the market. The agent working with the seller should have an understanding of which home improvements make sense and which to skip.

Brisbane has a fairly warm climate all year round so in situations like this there you can take a bit more time...

Mark Rumsey:

Ideally 2-3 months out is perfect, I love to meet my clients and do an initial walk through advising them of any maintenance or improvements well ahead of going to the market.

Other Considerations

As you saw above, the experts are advising to undertake improvement projects where you have the competence to do it yourself. Although it might be tempting to hire contractors, most of the evidence suggests you'll loose money if you go that way. It's not hard to see why, once you have to pay for wages and the additional overheads that contractors have, the increase in the sale price will often be less than what the project costs you. For a more detailed look at this please read Remodeling - Does it Make Financial Sense, And Does it Need To?.

I'm very grateful to Bill Gassett and Mark Rumsey for providing their expertise from opposite sides of the world. I'm also hoping to hear back from Morgan Randall in London to provide a British perspective, and I'll update this when that happens.

By the way, Mark Rumsey has this final piece of advice to offer, "First impressions are everything. If you get pricing, presentation and marketing all aligned, buyers will react very positively to the property allowing your agent to create the energy and competition required to achieve the best possible result."

You might also like to read:
Replacing a Door - One of the best Remodels based on ROI
How to Remodel Your Home without Hurting Your Wallet