Studies show that we make up our minds about people within seconds of meeting them. So it stands to reason that prospective buyers are doing the very same thing with your house, especially in a red-hot real estate market. More buyers these days are sizing up your space and making lightning-quick decisions about whether it’s worth investigating further—or whether they should hop back in the car and move on to the next house.
So if you want to be sure buyers don’t scurry out the door moments after they arrive, you have to create a fantastic first impression.
Not sure where to begin? It all starts with looking at your home with fresh eyes. Luckily, we’ve broken down seven simple steps you can follow to put your home’s best face forward.
1. ‘Break up’ with your house
If you want to sell your property, you’ll need to distance yourself from it first, says Ronique Gibson, an associate architect and lifestyle expert at Stagetecture.com in Jacksonville, FL. Cut the cord!
“Once you put your home on the market, it’s time to let a professional come in and market it,” Gibson says. “If you stay emotionally attached, the process will be harder and longer.”
2. Focus on curb appeal
You wouldn’t wear soiled sweatpants on a first date—you’d go out of your way to look presentable. So why would you approach the process of selling your home any differently?
Your home’s first impression starts with the exterior, so take a good look at what you’re presenting to the world: What’s the first thing you notice? If it’s peeling paint, dirty windows, and dead plants, you have work to do, says Michael Rosenblum, a broker with Koenig Rubloff Realty Group, a division of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Chicago.
“Ask yourself: ‘If I was buying this home now, what would my expectations be?'” he says.
Remove debris such as fallen tree limbs and leaves. Keep grass and shrubs trimmed, freshen up the mulch in your flowerbeds, and clear away lawn clutter such as yard ornaments, garden tools, and that circa 2007 Big Wheel.
“Putting out some flowers in front of the house or by the front door always makes people smile; it creates the warmth before they even get inside,” says Rosenblum.
Invest in a new doormat, and consider replacing old address numbers and your mailbox if it’s worn or rusty. Patch cracks in the driveway and, while you’re at, give the front door a fresh coat of paint.
3. Ditch as much of your stuff as possible
So now that you’ve addressed the outside, you have to work on your home’s inner beauty. Decluttering is your first priority. So start clearing out the junk and depersonalizing the space—toss or hide mementos, kids’ drawings, and most knickknacks.
“If the seller has all their personal photos out, then the buyer usually gets distracted,” Rosenblum says.
The main goal is for potential buyers to envision themselves in your home, and they can’t do that if your crap is everywhere they look. “All signs of you should be gone,” Gibson says.
That said, take care to find a balance; you don’t want the home to feel sterile—and you’ll want to make sure that none of your rooms are completely empty, a tactic that tends to make a space actually look smaller.
4. Fix the broken stuff—all of it
This should be obvious, but perhaps even you’ve forgotten about that faulty light switch in the upstairs hallway. The thing is, buyers will notice it almost immediately.
So here’s a mini to-do list to tackle those minor issues fast:
- Check for leaks throughout the house. A drip may not seem important, but it suggests lousy maintenance elsewhere.
- Check and repair loose door handles and cabinet hinges.
- Caulk around tubs and sinks.
- Replace lightbulbs that don’t work. Yes, every single one.
Bottom line: Meet and exceed a buyer’s expectations by paying extra attention to the fine details.
5. Plan a small makeover that packs a punch
You might not want (or be able) to do major renovations before putting your property on the market. But if you focus your attention on the kitchen, bathrooms, and flooring, you can boost a tired home’s overall appearance without completely busting your budget.
“Homeowners can easily change out countertops and appliances, or paint cabinetry,” Rosenblum says. You may want to restain the floors or repaint the walls.
Keeping your carpets? Make sure to splurge on getting them professionally cleaned, especially in high-traffic areas—it’ll immediately brighten a room.
6. Appeal to all the senses
Once your home is clean and decluttered, think about how you can engage potential buyers through other senses, Gibson suggests.
“Play soft music during showings, or have a nice water feature outside if you live in a noisy neighborhood,” she says. “Soft throws and textured fabrics will warm up a space. Brewing fresh coffee and baking cookies makes your house smell great.”
Remember not to clean your house the day of a showing; harsh chemicals can be overpowering, and may turn off potential buyers.
7. Keep up appearances—indefinitely
Unless you’re in a red-hot market, your home might not sell immediately after it’s listed. Remember that every week, you might have potential buyers traipsing through—sometimes without much notice from your agent.
That means keeping up all these changes you’ve implemented—and not dragging out the massive toy bins, dog beds, and other daily life items you actually use.
While it might not be easy keeping your house in tiptop shape for days on end, try to remember that the effort you put in now will pay off later—when that one buyer is so wowed by her first impression that she makes an offer you won’t want to refuse.
Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist and TV producer who covers real estate, architecture and design, DIY, gardening, and travel. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Metropolis, Costco Connection, Garden Collage, Parenting, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening, and more