“No one likes to do it,” Valentino says. “We all procrastinate.”
Once you’ve cleaned out, you may need a storage unit to hold items until moving day, she adds.
You have to be ruthless, says Caroline Carter, owner of Done in a Day, a professional staging company in Bethesda, Md. Perhaps you have lovely china displayed or a world-class book collection, but chances are “they’re a distraction for buyers.”
It’s important for buyers to be able to see themselves, not the current owner, in the home, Carter says.
• Make repairs. The Frenches renovated their one-bedroom den condo when they bought it in 2007. They had reselling in mind, adding a window to give the den a source of natural light, reconfiguring the kitchen and foyer, and adding more storage.
“We wanted to make it as functional as possible, keeping it flexible for the next owner, too,” Anya Landau French says.
But renovations don’t have to be that extensive. Carter says sellers can make easy, quick updates.
Some changes that can have a big impact are installing new carpet, replacing hardware and pulls on kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities, reglazing bathtubs and replacing medicine cabinets.
“People tend not to have enough lighting,” says Valentino. Clients may balk at spending several hundred dollars on recessed lighting, “but you get the money back.”
New kitchen appliances are also often a good investment, Carter says.
“Buyers want clean, organized and move-in ready,” she says. “A buyer will often overestimate how much it is to do these repairs.”
Some experts say neutral paint and decor are best. But others argue that a little personality goes a long way.
“Another agent might tell you to repaint your red dining room walls, but I say if it looks good, keep it. At the end of the day, among the three-bedroom townhouses, at least you’ll be remembered as the one with the red walls,” says Ray Gernhart, associate broker with Re/Max.
• Prepare for weather. Pay attention to rain gutters and downspouts; the rainy season could call attention to problems, says Cliff Kornegay, owner of Capitol Hill Home Inspection. He also recommends having your roof inspected for storm damage even if it isn’t leaking.
Check the air-conditioning system. Get the evaporator coil cleaned and drains checked, in addition to changing filters.
• Landscape. Often an afterthought, landscaping is essential, according to real estate experts.
“A lot of people make up their mind before they get to the front door,” Thompson says.
If you do nothing else, edge the lawn and mulch flower beds, says Donna-Marie Despres, a landscape architect at Sun Nurseries in Woodbine, Md.
“Everything will look tidy,” she says. For a pop of color, plant flowers.
“Landscaping has one of the biggest returns on the investment,” Valentino says.