Getting a House Ready to Sell? Don't Forget the Little Things That Can Make or Break the Sale!

Getting a House Ready to Sell? Don't Forget the Little Things That Can Make or Break the Sale!
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No one disputes the fact that in today’s weak housing arena, sellers are resorting to innovative sales and marketing strategies to make their home stand out from the glut of other houses on the market.

However, it’s equally important to not become so over-focused on the big picture that you neglect to take care of the little things that are the key to moving your house from just listed to just sold.

Here’s some insider secrets that will help you decide what you can afford to ignore and what you must fix.

Clean Up Your Act

Brick arch house

Landscape and Yard: Your landscaping doesn’t need be extensive but it does need to be trimmed and well maintained. While many experts recommend owners do some landscaping or add foliage, Cosmato advises that you don’t plant flowers if you don’t already have them. He’s says it’s an unnecessary expense that does not give a return. Simply prune trees, mow the lawn, trim bushes and check the house’s foundation.

If it’s not mowing season, don’t have piles of leaves all over the place. Rake the leaves, bag them and haul the bags away. Remember: Out of sight, out of mind.

Pressure wash or not? Based on his experience, Cosmato says “If the house is not in desperate need of it, then it is best not to do it. While most will probably do a good job, if you get someone who does a poor job, it could end up making your house look worse or costing you more money than you wanted or needed to spend to rectify the situation.”

Curb appeal: This is the most important thing for the exterior of the home so keep the outside clean and neat. Cosmato emphasizes that sellers should “Store skateboards, balls, bats and croquet wickets out of sight rather than all over the yard. Don’t leave trash, tricycles and other clutter just lying around, and for heaven’s sake, haul those old spare tires away!”

Miscellaneous details: If the client will be viewing the house at dusk or in the evening, make sure the exterior is well illuminated and the house number is visible. Painted over, cloudy or broken windows are visual distractions. Repairing or replacing them could save your sale, and do be sure they are sparkling clean.

First Impression or Last Impression

The next thing to focus on is the entrance or foyer. Make sure that buyers have easy access to your home with no unsightly clutter to mar their perception.

When the real estate agent swings open the door, that’s like a sales presentation and the first impression can make or break the sale. The first 30 seconds are the most important ones in making that impression, so take a long, hard look at the way you bring people into the house.

Ask yourself:

  1. When I open the door, what is the first thing that potential buyers will see?
  2. What is its condition?
  3. Will it attract or detract from their interest in seeing the rest of the house?

There are things you can’t control, so focus on showcasing whatever feature they will see first. Will it be artwork, tapestries or appliances? Whatever it is, it must be outstanding and enticing.

Look Up, Look Down

As a rule, the first thing the prospect does is to look straight ahead. The second thing they do is look up. You don’t have to paint the ceiling (unless it really needs it), but always clean it with a brush or wash it. Ceiling fans should be dust-free and chandelier globes are sparkling clean.

If you need to do painting, smooth out any bumps and imperfections on the walls, trims and ceilings.

Look around at floor level. Floor coverings don’t have to be new, but they do have to be clean. If the carpet is dirty, invest a few dollars in cleaning it. Worn carpet that is clean shows better than used carpet that is dirty, and the money spent will yield a good return.

The Power of Ambient Scent

Smell is as important as sight. What’s the first thing prospective buyers will smell? If it’s the strong odor of garlic, onions or other cooking smells, you may have just forfeited your sale.

On the other hand, do be careful not to go overboard with too many scents as some individuals may suffer from allergies that would be triggered by those. It’s usually sufficient to have some cinnamon-infused potpourri or other light, spicy aroma wafting through the air.

Frugal tip: Purchase a package of ready-to-bake cookies or bread. Prepare them right before before the house is shown to release a mouth-watering aroma to greet prospective buyers.

Give Kitchens and Bathrooms Mini-Makeovers


Many times, a good cleaning of the walls, ceilings and trim of the bathroom and kitchen is enough to prepare them for viewing. Some things you can replace (like hardware or fixtures) or clean. However, these repairs can also make it obvious you are trying to hide something so it can be a subtle difference.

Paint: If your real estate agent suggests a paint job, do these areas in neutral colors and use the best quality paint you can afford. Paint walls, ceilings and trim the same shade to create a seamless look that opens up the area and looks spacious.

Decorate: Complete the facelift by using items you already have at home to make neutral, no-cost decorations for these areas. For instance, add a splash of color and texture to bathrooms with a small bouquet of sun-kissed daisies and baby’s breath in a rustic pitcher or vase. Leave lots of white space around objects to create a sense of airy spaciousness and use complementary objects that tie together visually.


In most homes, there is some little hall somewhere. If there are walls, keep the wall hangings in the middle of the wall or don’t use any at all because people may bump or run-up against them. When they hit one accidentally, they are going to think, “Oh boy, this place is small!”

Devil in the Details


While this should go without saying, Cosmato states that he often has to remind sellers “Don’t have grease running out of the oven, and don’t leave your breakfast dishes scattered all over the kitchen and dining room.”

Kitchens and bathrooms are generally the focal point of the sales presentation. Prospects will say things like:

  • Can I see the refrigerator?
  • Does the refrigerator come with the house?
  • Can I open the refrigerator?

Something as simple as a loose handle on a refrigerator can spoil a sale. Repair refrigerator handles and touch up nicks and dents in the appliances. Appliances should work.

When they open the refrigerator or oven door, they should see a sparkling clean interior. Don’t forget the top of refrigerator because most folks automatically look up there. It should be clutter free and clean.

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Cosmato says his catch all rule is do sweat the small stuff and you won’t have big things to deal with.

Fix it: Keep up with routine maintenance and it won’t bury you when you are getting a house ready to sell. Nicks and scratches on stoves and refrigerators stick out like a sore thumb so if you’ve got an obvious nick, touch it up. According to him, most homeowners probably don’t even know it, but in a drawer or cabinet somewhere they have an appliance touch-up kit.

Illuminate it: Light switches that don’t work properly, dirty, dingy light covers and burned out light bulbs are all those little things that are avenues to bring on bigger things so don’t get them started.

While you always want to replace light bulbs with whatever the manufacturer’s recommended wattage is, keep in mind you want to have sufficient light for the square footage and height of the ceilings so the house looks its best. For example, if the package says to use a 60 to 100 watt bulb, for selling purposes you should opt for the higher wattage. While it may not be the most cost effective, it will give the best light.

To De-Personalize or Not

Cosmato finds this is not necessary. After all, it’s a used home you are selling, not a brand new home. That’s like saying to turn all the family pictures face down and in his experience, it just doesn’t make sense and will not affect the sale.

According to him, focus on getting the yard ready. Pick up the clutter, make sure the front door is clean and painted (if necessary). Make sure that the first thing that they see when they come in the house is attractive and appealing, and they smell bread baking and the aroma of cinnamon.

The remainder of the house should be broom clean. Make the beds before you leave and vacuum or sweep the floor.

Hire a Pro

These little details that can sabotage a sale if they are neglected are the reasons why you want to hire a real estate professional. If there is something they don’t know, they have resources to help them find the answers.

Good real estate agents will tell you what to replace and what to leave as is. If you take their advice, and you are careful not to spend a dollar unless you know you can reap two dollars in return, you’ll quickly realize where to invest time and money in getting a house ready to sell.