A man and a woman standing in the grass

How to Sell a House for the Highest Price Possible

So you’re getting ready to sell your house. Just thinking about it can be an overwhelming experience. Where do you start, and what can you do to ensure you attract a qualified buyer as quickly as possible?

 

A stop sign in front of a house

Hire a professional

Should you hire a real estate agent? Do an FSBO (for sale by owner) to avoid paying that big commission? Should you spend money to paint and re-carpet?

A licensed real estate agent who is successfully moving properties in your neighborhood and comes with references will likely get you a better price for your home than you could get on your own.

Most non-professionals (owner sellers) lose more in the transaction than the commission they would have paid a professional. You want the best and most experienced representative possible to sell your house—not your friend’s nephew who’s launching a new career.

No radical changes

Should you remodel the kitchen? Replace counters and fixtures in the bathrooms? Probably not, unless those appliances or fixtures are not working. Frequently, such updates and changes were done to achieve a higher sales price don’t pay off.

Almost anyone buying your home will want to make their changes, so you are not likely to recoup that investment of time and money. Unless your licensed agent recommends major changes like a new roof or exterior paint job, hold off and put your energy into other areas.

Appearance

Curb appeal is your home’s initial impression when a potential buyer sees it for the first time. The cost to make certain your property is beautifully inviting will be money well spent.

  • Repair cracks in the driveway and walk areas that approach the home.
  • Keep the landscaping neat and tidy with flower beds blooming, weed-free, and well-cultivated.
  • Make sure the home looks freshly painted. A good scrub-down might do the trick.
  • Keep the garage door closed.
  • Ensure garbage cans, tools, and outside clutter are completely out of sight.

Inside clutter

As you get your home ready for sale, think of getting a stage ready for a performance. Every item needs to be there with intention. You want things placed well so that they appear serene and comfortable. How you present your home for resale and how you live in your home are completely different things. Most of us don’t actually live in our lives like a page torn out of Country Home magazine.

Because you want the inside of your home to appear as large as possible, all of the clutter from all of the rooms has to go. And don’t stuff it into the closets and cupboards. They need to be clutter-free and neatly organized. You must assume that motivated buyers will look behind every door.

  • Remove most or all of the items from your kitchen and bathroom counters. You want storage areas to look spacious so take items out of the closets and clear shelves of knickknacks.
  • Pack up your collectibles if they are visually overwhelming. Leave only a few tasteful decorator items on the mantle. Your goal is to create a simplified and calm atmosphere.
  • Remove quotations, signs, or pictures hanging on the wall that are specific to your family. Move all the papers, magnets, and coupons from the refrigerator. You want buyers to envision their family living here, not yours.
  • There should be nothing on the floors but floor coverings and furniture.

Clean

Soap and water are cheap. The cost to get your house ready to sell will come in terms of time and elbow grease. Your home should be so clean that a Marine sergeant inspecting it with a white glove could not find a single exception.

Windows

Clean every window inside and out, including the tracks, sills, and jambs.

Bathroom(s)

Sanitize and scrub the bathrooms until they sparkle—even if they are old, they can be impeccably clean. Shine the until they gleam. Leave no water spots.

All toothbrushes, products, and implements should be out of sight. Clean ever trace of soap and scum from the tubs and showers. Clean shower door tracks with an old toothbrush, removing every molecule of gunk and yuck.

Floors

No matter how old or worn, have the carpets cleaned by a professional. Clean, wax, polish, or do whatever is necessary to make your hard floor surfaces glisten. Scrub the corners even if you’re sure no one will ever look there.

  • MORE: How to Clean and Care for Hardwood and Laminate Floors

Vertical surfaces

Clean the baseboards; scrub the woodwork and the walls in every room.

  • MORE: How to Rid a Bathroom of Hairspray Overspray

Furniture and fixtures

Dust and polish until there is not a speck of dust anywhere. Vacuum all upholstered furniture. If you have so much furniture that your rooms appear crowded, move some of it out. Stand back and look at each room through the eyes of a stranger. Rearrange things to give a more pleasing visual impression.

Table settings

Get out your best dishes and centerpiece to create a beautiful table setting. You’ll provide a welcoming, warm appearance that sends the message “you’re home now.”

Odors

There’s nothing more off-putting to a visitor than the smells of Fido and Fluffy. If your carpets have pet stains, you may have to remove those sections of carpet completely to get rid of odors that have penetrated the carpet pad. Do it. That’s how important it is that your home not have an offensive odor.

When you show your home, make sure it’s a pleasant experience. Put out fresh flowers, and make sure something that smells good is cooking in the kitchen.

Settle up at closing

Rather than discounting your sale price to compensate for worn carpeting, old appliances, or outdated bathrooms, offer the buyer a credit at closing to pay for these items. For example, let’s say your electric blue carpeting is old and tattered. Rather than replacing it or reducing the sales price by $4,000 to compensate for it—offer the buyer a $4,000 credit (rebate, refund) upon a successful close. Now, the buyer is motivated to make the deal because he will have the money to re-carpet the house with his choice of color and style.

Good impressions

It’s been said that you only get one chance to make a good impression. Never were truer words spoken than when you’re getting ready to sell your house.


First published: 6-22-19; Expanded  & Updated 7-20-22

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11 replies
  1. G C says:

    Do all the cleaning / staging BEFORE you contact the agent. They will want to take pictures when you sign the contract.

    Reply
  2. LouAnne Lynn says:

    … And that goes for everything you want to sell, We have sold so many things—camper, four wheeler, and old pontoon boat,
    Car,—-all were super clean!

    Reply
  3. Sterling Hill says:

    My neighbor had her house up for sale and it just sat and sat and sat. No offers and this is a very desirable neighborhood. I asked if she would like me to do a walk through and give her my opinion and she said ‘oh yes’. I’m an older lady and I’ve bought and sold somewhat and know what a buyer is looking for. My suggestions? Get the windows professionally washed, get all the children’s artwork down from the kitchen and stored elsewhere, paint the children bedrooms (they had some artwork done BY the children on the walls and well as those “cute” painted handprints around the headboards, dust all the wood floors, remove a huge armoire that was blocking a door out onto the deck. Get the dozens of toys picked up and confined. Basically make it as bland with no personality as possible. I also suggested a new RE agent as hers had never told her any of these things. She was offended, thought her children’s art was wonderful – and I really did this as nicely as I could – and her real estate agent was offended “This woman has 3 children and she’s is doing as much as she can!!” BUT I watched the window cleaners come and a lot of boxes moving out (to storage?) and the house suddenly had good offers. Clean and spare. Those are the best watchwords for selling.

    Reply
  4. Laura says:

    Great Tips!

    One caveat that people need to be aware of, giving a rebate isn’t something the tax man recognizes as a thing. You may have to pay capital gains on that money. Its been 20 years but it was an unpleasant surprise for us. By the time we sold we’d been in another house for a couple years so that likely had an impact on the sale,

    As someone that moves often, – every couple years, sometimes more often. The biggest thing when I tour a home is scent. If it smells bad when people know someone is going to be ‘a guest’ then it will be worse later. I usually rent, but sometimes delude myself that the move will be permanent and buy. Floor plan and scent are the most important. I’ve loved something online and then wanted to walk out the instant I walked in. Perfumes, air sprays, things that just sit there and attempt to mask other odors are just as bad as the base smells. Cleanliness is the most important way to clean a house. The tip about washing windows – including sills is amazingly effective at helping correct odors. That gunk in the sill stinks.

    Reply
  5. Deb R says:

    You say to stand back and look at each room from a stranger’s point of view. If that doesn’t give you enough insight, try taking a picture of each room, then blow it up and take a good look. I was amazed the things I saw in the photo that didn’t pop out until I was totally removed from the scene, things that just blended into the background like a stack of books that was sitting on a table for so long it looked like part of the decorating scheme! I thought the room was cleaned, but it was still cluttered.

    Reply
    • Liz says:

      When I look at listings online it amazes/baffles me how many homes are cluttered. I don’t understand it. My thought is if the house is that cluttered how well have they really taken care of the house in general (maintenance).

      Reply
  6. Maria says:

    Hi Mary,
    Very good tips. We just recently sold our house after 2 days on Zillow! I read several books on staging and it helped tremendously! You forgot to mention the importance of pictures though. Particularly if you’re selling it yourself, as we did. Tori Toth has a book on staging that was super helpful in our getting top dollar right away. Thanks & God bless

    Reply

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