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Get Your Home Ready to Sell

Couple repair and repaint to prep their home for sale

Selling a home is a lot of work. No really. Even if you’re working with a professional Realtor, there’s still a great deal of work that must be done by the homeowner in order to get a home ready to sell. There’s decluttering and cleaning as well as necessary repairs and upgrades. The entire preparation process can quickly become very overwhelming.

To help, we compiled a quick go-to guide on what you have to do to get your home ready to sell.

Task #1: Tackle repairs and improvements, immediately

ensure all repairs are done to get your home ready to sell

Minor imperfections in a home can be a huge turn-off for potential buyers. A leaky faucet or hole in the wall can be a deal breaker for a lot of people. While these maintenance issues don’t seem like a big deal, it can plant seeds of doubt into a potential buyer’s mind. “What else needs repair?” or “Has this homeowner neglected other maintenance or repair jobs?”

To avoid doubt and present your home in the best possible shape, you will need to tackle and complete all necessary repairs and upgrades before listing your home for sale.

What should you tackle first? Consider this pre-sell repair list, which is taken from the  Zolo preventative maintenance checklist.

  • Inspect and lubricate garage door springs: Your garage door springs assist in opening and closing your garage door. That makes these doors heavy and in need of assistance (whether being opened manually or with a door opener) over time. Over the course of about a year, the lubrication of these springs can dry up and the spring can crack and could potentially cause a disaster. It’s vital that you annually lubricate your garage door springs and open and close the door a few times to circulate the lubricant.
  • Clean drains and plumbing: You may be surprised to learn that plumbers hate conventional chemical drain cleaners — the type you can buy at most convenience stores. These are often bleach-based, contain some of the most hazardous chemicals found in the average household, and may actually do more harm than good. For one thing, some clogs can’t be treated even with the harshest chemicals; you’ll need a snake or other type of pipe-cleaning tool to dislodge or remove the clog. Serious clogs can end up backing up drain cleaners, forcing plumbers (or DIY-ers) to interact with pools of dangerous chemicals when they finally end up snaking the pipe. What is more, harsh drain cleaners do more than clear pipes of hair and grime: they clear pipes of virtually all organic material, some of which may actually be beneficial to your plumbing. It turns out, plumbing can be a lot like your digestive tract: it relies on helpful bacteria and organic processes to keep cleaning and running smoothly. Harsh chemicals can disrupt the balance of bacteria and cause damage to the pipes themselves, while regular application of natural, bacteria-based pipe cleaners like Bio-Clean can keep your pipes clean without the biohazard of conventional cleaners. Making this part of your regular house maintenance checklist can protect you and your plumbing.
  • Check your water heater: No one likes a cold shower, but if you don’t do routine maintenance on your water heater, it can not only fail, but it can also leak and cause water damage to your house. Over the year, your water heater builds up calcium, along with other sediment and minerals, that can clog, flood, or even explode your water heater. Fortunately, it is very easy to check on your water heater yourself. Simply put a cup under the downspout (usually located at the bottom of the unit) and turn it on. If the water runs smoothly, then the unit is operating fine with no clogs or other causes for concern. If not, call a professional plumber. For Canadian residents, a rented water heater often comes with routine maintenance included and can often mean free repairs and replacements.
  • Chimney and fireplace: If you are fortunate enough to be able to sit next to a warm fire in your home, consider getting your fireplace and more importantly, your chimney, inspected. Or, if you are contemplating buying a house with a fireplace, make sure a chimney inspection and cleaning has been done within the last year. Fires and the smoke they give off carry many materials that can weaken the structural integrity of your chimney. One of these materials is creosote, which can build up and ignite — causing an unwelcome fire that can spread to other areas of your house. If the fireplace and chimney are not often used blockage, including small animals, birds, sticks and leaves, can accumulate as well. You may be able to sweep your fireplace, but a chimney inspection is well worth the cost to prevent smoke from coming back into your house, or even a house fire. The price really depends on where you live, how well your chimney and fireplace have been maintained and whether it will require a simple sweep or a more intensive cleaning.
  • Caulking and grout: Notice a drafty window? So will potential buyers. The good news is that the fix for a drafty window may be simple and inexpensive. Quite often windows start to leak air when the caulking in your house becomes old, dried out starts to crack. To remedy this, scrape away old caulk and apply new caulk to your windows. You can apply the same principle to caulk seals around sinks and bathtubs.
  • Termite inspection: Termites can cause significant structural damage to your home and cost you a lot of money. Termites can damage floors, ceilings, walls, windows and even your foundation. You should always be aware of termites, but the frequency of when you should get an inspection varies depending on if you live in a dense termite area or not. As an owner, you’ll want to keep up on your termite inspections to prevent damage. As a seller, damage can knock down your asking price. As a buyer, you’ll want to have the peace of mind to know that the home has been recently inspected, so you are not buying a house that will soon be damaged. Termites are more prominent in southern climates but have been known to infest certain Canadian neighbourhoods. A good trick is to call a large, well-known pest exterminator, such as Orkin, and ask if they’ve sprayed in a neighbourhood in the last year or two. While the firm cannot provide specifics, such as address or reason, they can tell you if they were called in to spray within specific neighbourhoods. And chances are if a home close to your home had termites, you are probably living in a termite-prone neighbourhood. If that turns out to be the case, you may want to get your home inspected and then continue to get it inspected once every two or three years.
  • Repainting: Ten years is enough time for the paint on the exterior of your house to crack and peel and it will need a facelift. An unattractive exterior can devalue your home. For a buyer, this may be an advantage as you can pay a little less for the house and then, with a bit of elbow grease and some paint, restore the home’s charm and value. As an owner or a seller, an old outdated paint job isn’t a good thing. Save yourself the time and effort of repainting your house by hiring a professional. It’s worth noting that you’ll probably save a good amount of cash if you can do it yourself. You’ll have to contact painters in your area for an accurate bid, as many factors affect costs, but you can expect exterior repainting to run at least $2 to 4 CDN per square foot, not counting factors like weather, outdoor obstacles, etc.
  • Replace faucets: If you possess the necessary handyman skills to replace your kitchen and bathroom faucets, this is an easy fix. Kitchen and bathroom faucets are changed either to update the aesthetics and style of the room or because they become leaky. In fact, a leaky faucet can waste a notable amount of water each year — water you are likely paying for. In many cases, you can find everything you need at a hardware store for a weekend DIY home maintenance project.
  • Check decks for rot: Your outside deck takes a daily beating. Over the course of about 20 years of being sunbaked, rained on, piled high in winter snow and having debris falling on it, your deck can become structurally compromised and may even have rot. If you haven’t been applying a sealant for waterproofing, the lifespan of your deck may be shorter. Replacing your deck may not be a weekend DIY project, but you can still take the task on by yourself (or with a friend) for this classic home improvement project.

Task #2: Less is more when it comes home staging

declutter your home to get it ready to sell

Once you’ve tackled that repair list it’s time to start the presentation portion of your pre-sell preparation.

When it comes to prepping your home to sell, decluttering is the key to your success.

Buyers want to imagine themselves living in your home so it’s important to have the house looking as neutral as possible. For more tips on decluttering, see “7 Steps to Decluttering.”

As a part of the decluttering process, consider donating gently used items and furniture to friends and family or a local charity. Often, it can be much easier to donate items than it is to lug them down to the junkyard and pay a hefty fee. Not only are there donation bins in most communities, but some charities will even come to your home to pick up unused and unwanted items.

Keep in mind that charities are not waste disposals. Your garbage belongs in just that — the garbage.

The good news is that this decluttering and donating process also makes it easier when it comes time to pack for a move.

Task #3: Deep clean your home

home must be thoroughly cleaned to get it ready to sell

Want to show your home at its best? Then you need to clean it — and we mean clean it, like Monica Gellar, from Friends, kinda clean.

Wash the baseboards, clean out the gutters, and wipe down cabinets, walls and appliances. If you’re not exactly a neat freak and you struggle with cleaning in your day to day life, consider hiring professional help. A maid or cleaning service can be pricey, but the process of cleaning your home from top to bottom may take more time than you think, making the $300 to $800 cost worth it.

Still not interested in paying? Call up your family and friends to help you scrub and shine in exchange for a favour.

While keeping a home spotless can be difficult while you’re still living in it, the effort is worth it. Clean and staged homes attract more interest and generate more offers, which usually translates into higher sale prices.

Task #4: Remove your personality. All of it

remove personal items to get home ready to sell

Once you’ve decluttered and deep cleaned the property, it’s time to take steps to depersonalize your home. While it may seem sad to take down your family photos and favourite knickknacks, the goal of preparing your home for sale is to make it as buyer-friendly as possible — and that means removing your personality!

To help, look at magazine spreads and HGTV programs. Notice how the decor is often impersonal and not too loud. Now, go through your home and remove all your photos, family artwork and collected memorabilia. You will also want to remove really strong artwork as well as religious items. These items are very, very important to you and your family, but buyers may not feel the same attachment. Remember, you’re in the process of selling your home, not your life.

This step is also helpful if you are also downsizing. By going through and packing up all your personal items, you get a chance to really consider what’s important and what’s not.

Task #5: Tastefully consider the decor

tasteful decor helps get a home ready to sell

As you depersonalize your home remember to keep simple decor items that add just the right amount of flair to your home.

If you weren’t one to decorate in the first place, a good option is adding some flowers or plants. Both of these choices can spruce up any room and add a bit of much-needed life to your home. (Just don’t use this as an excuse to show off your venus flytrap collection.)

Try some simple, low maintenance plants like succulents or peace lilies to add some greenery around the home. Another option is to purchase artificial plants — especially if you’re forgetful or would like something low maintenance.

Another good trick is to choose one colour and add decor pieces, in that colour, to every room. Stagers know that a unified colour scheme helps a home look cohesive and organized. By adding in decor elements of the same colour to every room, you can replicate this trick and give buyers the sense of a serene, organized space.

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of work it takes to get a home ready to sell. If you were to sell a $3,000 car, you’d probably vacuum and take it through the car wash to make it look nice. The same careful treatment should be given when selling your $300,000 home. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember that this will likely be the biggest sale of your life!

Image of Romana King

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.