Clean It Up Before Selling


If you think would-be buyers will fall in love your home despite a ring around the bathtub, a greasy stovetop, grimy windows, dust bunnies under the beds, or a basement festooned with cobwebs, think again. Nothing discourages buyers more than a dirty home.

Hidden Spots

Whether you clean it yourself or hire a professional cleaning service, your home needs to be spotless inside and out before you show it. No place is out of bounds during a showing or open house: People will open closets, drawers, pantries, the refrigerator, the cabinet under the kitchen sink, the bathroom medicine cabinets, the kids’ closets, and the drawer where you keep your kitchen flatware. Would-be buyers will scrutinize the attic and the basement to check for water and structural damage. If you have a garage, shop, tool shed, hot tub, or swimming pool, they’ll look closely at those too.

Dump the Clutter

Before you start cleaning, dump the clutter! This will save you time and make your house look roomier and cleaner.  If the living room is crammed with too many overstuffed chairs, keep only the best-looking ones. Do you have two coffee tables where one would do? Dump the least attractive one. Do this in every single room in the house, including the bathrooms! (The white wicker towel hamper in your bathroom may look charmingly French Provencal to you, but to others it will only point out that you have no bathroom closets in which to store the towels. Dump the hamper.)

Clutter includes knick-knacks. Remove family photos on the fireplace mantle and your collection of antique canning jars in the kitchen. Even if you’re a gourmet cook with the sleekest new toasters, juicers, and coffee makers perched like works of art on your kitchen counters, remove them. Would-be buyers will have a tough time imagining themselves and their things in your home if everywhere they look they see photos of your kids, your new kitchen gadgets, or your golf trophies.

Not only does the house need to look clean, it needs to smell clean. Dog, cat, food, mildew, and cigarette odors must be exorcized. If you can’t tell if the house smells like your beloved cat Fifi or the spicy cabbage soup you love to cook, ask a friend to give it the sniff test and to be honest. Along with dirt, odors are at the top of the list of reasons why would-be buyers walk away.

Essential Tasks

  • De-clutter. This includes bookshelves, clothes closets, and the garage. Rent a storage space if you have to. Better yet, have a garage sale.
  • Clean the place like it’s never been cleaned before. Every cabinet, light fixture, crevice and corner needs to be white-glove clean. Walls should be wiped down. Blinds must be clean. Windows have to sparkle. If you have carpeting, shampoo it. Take drapes to the cleaners. No time to clean? Hire the pros.
  • Get rid of all smells. It doesn’t help merely to hang air fresheners or bake cookies. Get rid of all kitty litter boxes and dog beds. Consider sending Fido to doggy camp for a few days while you get your home ready. Some people dislike animals and will walk away if they see (or smell) that pets have been living in a home.
  • Use cleaning products with a lemon smell, an odor that most people think of as fresh and clean. Avoid cleaning products with sweet or cloying vanilla, rose, lavender, or tropical fruit odors.
  • Be especially vigilant about cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen. A couple of strands of hair in the sink of an otherwise clean bathroom will prompt some buyers to cross your home off their list without further ado. Above all, you don’t want people to take a look at your bathroom or kitchen and think “yech.”
  • Clean and de-clutter the outside too. Mow the lawn. Rake the leaves. Remove debris from the rain gutters. Unless it is so new and fashionable that it looks like part of a glossy magazine spread, store your patio furniture. Dilapidated lawn chairs and greasy barbecues are as unsettling for buyers as food-encrusted kitchen appliances.
  • De-personalize your home and remove any fixtures you plan on taking with you. Remove all important documents from your desk drawers and desktops, including financial documents, birth certificates, and passports. Also remove obvious references to politics, religion, or civic organizations. You may be proud of your awards from the local chamber of commerce, your church or the state Democratic Party, but such awards may send subtle signals to someone else that this house is not for them.
  • If you are working with an agent, be sure to ask her to recommend fixes — agents know from experience what matters most to buyers.

Tip: Would-be buyers expect that light fixtures, sconces, marble mantels, and anything “built-in” will be left in the home when you move. If you plan to take the glass dining room chandelier that your Aunt Martha brought back from Italy, replace it now and avoid potentially deal-breaking disagreements later.

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Until next time….


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