Nothing pays dividends to sellers of a house quite like elbow grease. Good housekeeping and repair, spaciousness and pleasant aromas bring top dollar and fast sales. Conversely, the demons to the business of home selling are dirt, lack of light and space, too much deferred maintenance, and bad odors.

This checklist endeavors to pinpoint those specific items around the home that are, or can be, the key to a successful sale. The list is extensive, but the most salable properties usually reflect attention to each of the areas discussed. If your home has extensive deferred maintenance and time or funds are limited, it may not be practical to cover all the points, but do the best job possible.

Don't fall into the trap of rationalizing that because many people prefer a casual lifestyle they won't mind some clutter. For some reason, the poorest housekeepers are usually the fussiest buyers. Invest the time to make your home sparkle. Use this checklist as a guide to a faster, more profitable sale.


Spruce Up the Yard and Exterior

Paint: Few things will enhance the salability of a house quite so much as painting the outside. Before painting, scrape or water-blast any blistered or peeling paint, repair gutters and downspouts, and replace wood showing dry rot. Wood, trimwork, gutters and wrought iron should receive primary attention.

Front Entry: Give special care to this area. This is where buyers get their first opportunity to make a close inspection, and they will pick it apart looking for flaws, so eliminate them. All woodwork should be freshly and neatly painted, including the door if necessary.

Replace a badly worn or broken doorbell button. Polish the door brass. Repaint or replace an unsightly mailbox. Put out a new or clean doormat. Do a thorough weeding and pruning job on any flowerbeds near the entry, and try to have some flowering plants growing.

Yard: Mow and trim the lawn. Weed flowerbeds; remove or replace dead plants or trees. Water regularly during the growing season. With desert landscaping, make sure that no underlying plastic is exposed, that rocks and sand are tidy, and that weeds and grass are removed.

Driveway, Garage/Carport: Clean up grease or oil spots; remove the soil at least, if not the stain. See that the garage door opens freely and that the automatic door opener is in good working order. If possible, don't park cars in front of the house or in the driveway, and try to have very few parked on the street near the house.

Recreational vehicles or boats should be in the garage or carport or behind a fence in the back. Derelict cars or ones being overhauled should not be visible from the street (or preferably not present).

Fence: A few missing stakes or slats are real eyesores to buyers, yet are usually inexpensive and easy to fix. Repair, paint or stain as necessary.

Roof: Remove visible debris or toys. Straighten the TV antenna if necessary. Remove any tree branches bearing on the roof.

Air Conditioners/Evaporative Coolers: Repaint or replace any rusted exposed metal. Correct improper draining.

Patio: A nice spread of outdoor furniture looks very appealing. If necessary, borrow from a friend to enhance showability.

Swimming Pool: Adjust chemicals until the pool sparkles. Hose dust and cobwebs from filtration equipment. Store chemicals, tools and toys neatly.


Look at the Basics Around the House

Windows: Repair or replace torn or bent screens. As a last resort, remove them entirely; no screens are better than unsightly ones. Replace any cracked or broken panes. Also, notice foliage near windows. A window framed in ivy can give a warm, homey feeling, but cut it back if the foliage is restricting the light coming into the room. Drapery rods should be affixed firmly to walls and work smoothly; draperies should be reasonably clean and hang properly.

Doors: Replace or repair doors with holes. Check to see that all doors open and close freely, including closet doors and patio or sliding glass door. Oil any squeaky doors. Tighten the hardware, particularly doorknobs. And while making this kind of adjustment, tighten hardware on kitchen and bathroom cabinets, too.

Walls: As with the exterior, painting will pay dividends out of all proportion to the time and effort spent. Wallpaper should be clean and adhere smoothly to walls. Patch all major holes in wallboard and plaster. Loose handrails on stairways should be secured to walls. Secure, clean or paint air-vent covers.

Floors: Repair or replace missing or damaged pieces of tile; polish if needed. Repair any loose stair tread plates or loose carpeting on the stairway.

Carpet: Steam-cleaning is the best answer for soiled carpet; shampooing seldom does the job where showability is concerned. If pet odors are present, clean the carpet some time before the home is placed on the market to ensure the odors have been eliminated. Loose carpet should be anchored properly.


Check Mechanical and Electrical Features

Lights: Every light socket in and around the house should have a good bulb of adequate wattage. Don't overlook those outside, in the garage, utility room, halls, closets, or over the kitchen sink, and in the oven and exhaust hood.

Switches and Fixtures: Repair or replace wall switches, outlets and light fixtures that don't work. Replace any broken switch plates. Note: if you are not fully competent to handle these repairs, call in a professional.

Appliances: Those that will be sold with the home should be in good working condition. If specific equipment does not work and you do not intend to repair it, point this out.

Plumbing: Badly chipped or irreversibly stained sinks and tubs should be reenameled, patched, or replaced. Leaky or excessively noisy toilets should be fixed, as well as any dripping faucets.

Sprinkler Systems: These should be working properly with no defective heads.


Arrange for a Spacious Look

One of the best and least expensive ways to improve the showability of your home is to open up as much space as possible. Openness stimulates positive feelings in buyers. Overstuffed rooms or closets give the impression of being smaller than they really are. You can't change the size of what you have, so try to present it in a pleasing way. If necessary, rent a mini-warehouse to store your excess belongings while the house is on the market.

Closets and Storage Areas: One of the most frequently voiced requirements of buyers is for closet and storage space. Open up your storage areas by getting rid of items you aren't using.

Counters and Cabinets: The same principle applies here; overcrowding gives the impression of inadequacy. This applies to bathrooms and kitchens, with the kitchen being the most important. Store infrequently used counter-top appliances. Do some prudent discarding in cabinets.

Garage: Buyers will pay a premium for a garage if they can visualize it being of value to them, but it's hard to sell the virtues of a garage when it is filled to overflowing. If your garage has become a two-car attic, move the excess to a mini-warehouse for the duration.


Hints on Housekeeping

The following comments touch only on areas often neglected or overlooked:

Bathrooms: Few places in the home can get so dirty so fast, and yet few things will "unsell" a house as fast as dirty baths. Vanity, sink, faucet hardware and mirror are the focal points, but other potential problems might be soap residue in a shower, a moldy shower curtain, accumulated dirt in the track of a sliding shower door, soiled or missing grout, stained toilet bowls, and dirty or tattered bathmats.

Kitchen: Like baths, kitchens get dirty all by themselves. Most buyers will inspect this area carefully, so extra time invested here is well spent. Clean the stove inside and out. Replace badly stained or corroded reflector plates under the heating elements on electric range tops. Don't neglect the kitchen exhaust hood; buyers frequently check this area as a clue to general housekeeping.

Windows: Clean windows are an absolute necessity if a house is to look its best, yet this is very often overlooked.

Water Heater & Softener: Perhaps because it is so unusual, a sparkling clean water heater or water softener really impresses buyers - and it takes little time and effort.

Sniff Out Unpleasant Odors

Wet Towels and Washcloths: Residents of a home frequently aren't aware of what a potential source of bad odor these are. Replace all used towels with fresh ones before a showing.

Soiled Clothes: When the house is being shown, keep dirty laundry out of the living area; move it to the utility room, garage, or storage area. This applies especially to a diaper pail.

Garbage: Take all trash and garbage out of the house, particularly any food-related discards from the kitchen. Make sure no potatoes or onions are going bad under the sink or in the pantry. After running garbage through a disposal unit, grind up part of a lemon to add a fresh smell.

Sewer Gas in the House: Do whatever is necessary to correct this problem before the house is placed on the market.

Cats and Dogs: Move the cat's litter box out of the house, and be sure to clean up after the dog before any showings.  Use a lint roller on furniture and don’t leave out chewed up or scratched up toys.


Important Reminders

Valuables: You may have valuable possessions that you like to display in your home, but not when the house is being shown to strangers. Never leave small valuable items lying around on counters or visible in closets or cabinets. Get them out of sight, if not out of the house.

Exclusions from the Sale: Make a note now of the items you do not intend to include with the sale of the house. Freestanding items generally are not included, but when in doubt, spell it out. Some items that often cause misunderstandings are light fixtures, draperies, large mirrors, water softeners, garage door openers and TV antennas.

Keys: As you are readying the house for the market, make a note to gather and label all the keys for the house, including keys for doors, deadbolts, garage doors and any padlocks around the property.

Instruction Manuals: As with keys, gather manuals and warranties for the mechanical equipment in the house - kitchen appliances, water heater and softener, air conditioning and heating units, evaporative cooling units, pool and filtration equipment, and electronic air filters.


Tips for Showing

Light: Open all draperies unless there is an objectionable view. In most rooms, you should turn on lights for a bright and cheerful look. Lamps and indirect lighting are preferable, but use overhead lights if that's all there is in a particular room.

Light Switches: If some wall switches operate wall outlets, plug in a lamp or radio to demonstrate that the switch works. When a buyer flips a switch and nothing happens, he instinctively suspects a problem.

Aromas: Set out some fresh flowers, both for their appearance and fragrance. Bake cookies or bread; don't cook seafood or strong-smelling vegetables like cabbage or cauliflower.

Closets: Keep doors closed except for walk-in closets. Have those doors slightly ajar and turn on the lights to draw attention to this special feature.

Posters and Signs: We live in a tolerant age, but don't take a chance on offending a potential buyer. Remove any signs or posters that might be considered offensive.

Ashtrays: Dirty ashtrays are both unsightly and a source of objectionable odor to nonsmokers. Keep them clean.

Utility Bills: Have copies of the past 12 months' bills available, or at least a written summary of the amounts paid monthly for that period.

Pets: Get them out of the house, if not off the property. Some people don't like dogs, and nobody likes muddy paw prints on a clean suit or dress. Cats can be just as objectionable to the person who doesn't like them, and invariably a cat will single out the cat-hater to use as a rubbing post.

Music: Soft background music will help create a relaxed mood that prompts buyers to linger and enjoy. Better no music at all, than loud music. Never have the TV on when the house is being shown.

Your Presence: Most buyers will not relax and closely inspect a home if the owners are present, so try to arrange to turn the home over to the salesperson. If you must remain at home, refrain from talking unless questions are directed to you. All too often, a seller will attempt to point out some special feature, fearful that it may be overlooked. Please bear in mind that some of the most successful salespeople will say little or nothing during showings. First, they have made their selling points before entering the house, and second, they want the buyers to discover some things for themselves in order to build excitement. The salesperson also knows the buyers’ temperaments. Trust the salesperson’s professional abilities.

One Final Note: The legal principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is dead or dying. We are living in an age of consumerism, and it's hard to find a court that won't favor the buyer in a dispute. In fact, consumer groups and government agencies are taking the posture that the seller has a positive obligation to disclose everything.

If you have a problem in your home, don't mask it. A common example is the home-owner who spray paints a ceiling to cover water stains caused by a leaking roof. If you have a major problem that you don't intend to correct, be candid about it. Sure, some people will be turned off by the prospect of a major repair, but most buyers who otherwise like the home will be philosophical about a problem openly displayed. And usually they will discount the price they offer by far less than the cost of the repair.

Concerning Your Municipality's Requirements: Each municipality requires specific actions be done by Real Property owners in order to complete a sale. These may include, among other things, obtaining certifications, making repairs and installing smoke detectors. You may wish to work with your REALTOR to determine what will be required when you list your property.


This information is adapted from