Preparing Your Home for Sale

When most women walk through a home that they are considering purchasing, they are attempting to picture themselves living in this home. She is moving in her furniture, be it old or what she has dreamed of purchasing on a week long journey to Hickory, NC (the furniture capital of America), and placing pictures of her loved ones on the walls and on the bookshelves. She is building her new nest, and the last thing she wants to see is the people who are currently nesting in this home.

The biggest obstacle of moving/retiring, is not the uncomfortable retirement party or buying a new home, but rather the pain of getting your current home ready to sell. You have 20-40 years of stuff that you need to weed through, so I have a suggestion. You need a plan, a 4 Step Home Preparation Plan:

  • Home Cleaning Schedule
  •  Home Improvement List/Inspection
  • Furniture Removal Program
  • Finishing Touches List

One year or more prior to your retirement date(s), prepare a list of rooms in the house and set a schedule of when to clean each. Example:

Room Cleaning Schedule
Basement January
Attic March
Kids Rooms April
Master Bedroom June
Garage August
Closets September
Living Room/Dining Room November

There is a rule of thumb that you should follow when sifting through all your belongings, and that is if it is currently packed away, chances are greater than 90% that they won’t get unpacked and or used/displayed in your new home. Therefore, find a charitable organization you really like because you will be on a first name basis with them before you know it.

The main goal of cleaning out each room is so that when it’s time to list the home for sale, your home is spacious and nearly empty. While it is unrealistic to throw everything out, it’s important for you to see your home in your mind after you are finished. Enter large plastic tubs. You would be wise to run down to Walmart and secure about 20 of the larger plastic tubs with lids that you can easily mark and stack, Not only are these tubs waterproof, but they are sturdy and stackable. OK, so now close your eyes and picture the back of your garage or your basement with four neat stacks of five tubs. Cana you picture it? Cool then, you’re on your way to a clean house and a nice tax write off!

Also part of the Home Preparation Plan is Your Home Improvement To Do List. Take a couple of hours one rainy Saturday and walk through your home with a notepad. Your job is to be as objective as you can. Try to see your home for the first time as through the eyes of others. In fact, you may want to invite a buddy or girlfriend with you on this odyssey as they can help you remain objective. What we see every day as being fine or workable may be objectionable to others.

And if it has been a while since you sold a home, keep in mind that the Buyer of your home will almost positively have an home inspection ordered by a State qualified Home Inspector. Therefore, contact a local home inspector, work out a deal and have them come in and inspect your home. Last thing in the world you want to have happen is to go under contract to find out 2 weeks later your home is full of termites and the buyers walk.

In the grand scheme of life, several hundred dollars for this inspection could save you the sale on your home. Plus, many Realtors like it when you put such a report on the kitchen table so that future Buyers can inspect. It says a lot of about the owners of the home and their confidence in the quality of the home.

Combine your own To Do List with that of the Home Inspector and it might look like this:

Task Schedule
Clean out gutters March
Fix cracks in driveway and walkway April
Paint Boys Bedroom January
Replace tile countertop in kitchen with granite June
Paint shutters, mail box and garage door June
Replace carpet in living room September
Replace water heater October
Replace fascia board on front porch August
Remediate mold in basement near outdoor stairs May

So now you have your entire home improvements done and the house all cleaned up and virtually free of junk, the home is ready to put on the market, right?  No, not yet. We have two more steps, with the first one the Furniture Removal Program. In essence, each piece of furniture in your home must be functional in order for it to remain in your home. Here is a list of items that usually need to go:

Single side chair Useless little tables Coffee tables (take up space)
Plastic plants Any chair of Grandmas Bakers racks
All ottomans (take up space) Anything acrylic Sewing tables
Magazine racks Ugly floor lamps Extra Dining room table chairs
Umbrella stands All antiques End tables, etc. that are not used

Technically, what you really should do is take all the furniture out of the home and then put back only furniture that you use on a day to day basis. This will be hard to do as you probably have some sentimental attachment to some of the furniture but moreover, the hard part is knowing what to do with all this furniture?

You really have two options for the furniture you are moving out of the home. First is bringing it to your good friends at the charitable shelter of your choice. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity or whatever your favorite (tax deductible) local shelter, they’d love to have your old relics. The other choice is not your clean attic or garage or basement, but rather renting a storage unit. Yes this may cost you $$/month but, consider the long range benefit of it possibly being responsible or at minimum contributing to the sale of your home. And besides, sooner or later you will realize that there is nothing in that storage unit that you really want to keep.

The last step of your Home Preparation Plan is Your Finishing Touches List. Just before you put your home on the market for sale, there is a laundry list of small tasks that you need to tackle. Experts will say that the mostly cosmetic changes can be the difference in getting an offer or having your prospective buyers put an offer on the home down the street.

Sweep the garage New mulch to all the flower beds
Trim the shrubs and trees Purchase new comforters for all your beds
Last minute paint touch ups Clean all lights and replace bad bulbs
Shampoo the carpets and polish the floors Edge the grass
Plant colorful flowers in flower beds Clean all the windows


Just like when we meet people, the first impression is sometimes the only chance we have to impress others. You must believe in and adhere to this mantra with vengeance because you may not have hoards of prospective buyers trudging through your home every weekend.

The hardest part of putting your home on the market is knowing that you cannot make a mess, day after day after day. Realtors sometimes don’t have much if any notice from their clients on showings, and therefore your home needs to be showcase ready 24/7.  Warning: this will wear on you after four or five months but you must stick to your plan and keep the house in showing condition at all times. Realtors have been known to show homes before 8am and after 8pm and you never want to discourage anyone from showing your home, for that kind of feedback spreads through the local Realtors and could dissuade some to show your home.

What we have failed to discuss to this point is that your 4 Step Home Preparation Plan has financial implications. Painting a room and having the carpets shampooed are not in and of itself expensive but, when you add up 20-30 tasks, you can be talking a healthy bucket of money. One of the reasons for starting this project a year early is to spread out the costs. Many folks leave everything to the last minute and wind up shelling out tens of thousands all at once, and that can hurt your financial budget big time.

When you begin this process, don’t be too conservative on your financial estimates. In fact, you would be best to double your budget because there will be repairs made along the way that you did not anticipate and sometimes contractors can charge you more than you budgeted for. Imagine that, huh? But these projects will be expensive and most importantly, well worth it.

Several years ago my sister wanted to sell her house in an Atlanta suburb and downsize. Her three girls were out of the house and she didn’t need all that space.  Suzy divorced about 8 years prior to selling the home and being a full time teacher, mom and softball coach, the home needed much attention. She also didn’t have the funds to pay for the makeover.

I hired a Home Improvement specialist in the Atlanta area and he prepared for us a list of everything the home needed in order to make the home sellable. Over the next 45 days, Suzy’s home received:

  • A new roof
  • A new water heater
  • A new HVAC system
  • New wall to wall carpeting, upstairs and downstairs
  • A new linoleum floor in the kitchen
  • Granite countertops in the kitchen
  • A new coat of paint throughout the home
  • A new coat of paint for the kitchen cabinets and new hardware
  • Repairs to the back deck
  • New hardwood floor entrance

If we had not attended to these repairs, Suzy would have literally had to give the house away but, as it turns out, we accepted an offer within 30 days of the home being listed. Yes we had to put $40,000+ into the home (and all at once mind you) but, we got every penny of it back!

Your home hopefully will be in good shape one year out till retirement but, don’t think for a second that a home you have lived in for 30+ years doesn’t need some repairs and or updating. And, never forget that when prospective buyers walk through your home, they want to feel that the home is new and has a lot of life left in it.


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