AUGUST 18, 2015

By Kelly Wurth

We all know that first impressions do matter.  Whether buyers are checking out photos of your house online or walking through the door for an open house your home needs to be in tip-top condition.  The advice I provide will explain how to get your home ready to be photographed and marketed to qualified buyers. 

Remember home buyers are looking for a NEW home, if you want yours to be it then make it look NEW.  You would not want them to miss out on the exceptional features of your home because they are distracted by the cobwebs on the front porch or the stains on the carpet or the broken doorknob or the 4 bags of half eaten potato chips you left on top of your refrigerator or the dirty toilet brush you thought you hid behind the toilet.  In this case the LITTLE details do matter!  Most feel that putting a home on the market for resale is a huge undertaking and can be quite overwhelming.  The best way to accomplish a challenging task is to break it down into manageable pieces.  Therefore, I am going to provide you with 3 steps to get your home ready to be put on the market in 21 days.  If you follow my advice you will soon be smiling all the way to the bank. 

Step 1:  Declutter & Depersonalize

Step 2:  Repair & Refresh

Step 3: Sanitize & Stage

Realistically, I would allow at least a weekend if not a week per step so your house is ready in 3 weeks.  If you need it ready faster then your going to need to recruit some assistance, but step 1 is something that really only you can do. The sooner you start the sooner you can move on to your new home.  Let’s get started! 


Step 1, Declutter & Depersonalize is a great way to start the packing process.  Most people dislike selling a home and moving because they are faced with the reality that they have collected a lot of STUFF and now they have to decide what to do with it.  Hiding it in the back of the closet behind the food dehydrator and bread maker you swore you’d use will no longer work.  If you are like me and have an issue with procrastination, now is NOT the time to try your hand at bread making.  FOCUS, you need to start making decisions about what to do with all your STUFF.

So, how do we declutter and depersonalize our home so buyers can see themselves living there.  We have a few options…

  1. Trash items that are outdated or overused.
  2. Donate items that are slightly used.
  3. Recycle.
  4. Box anything that you know you can live without until you arrive at your new home.  Be sure to label your boxes so they can be easily unpacked.  Once items are boxed they need to go immediately to public storage or a storage area within the home or garage that is not already overflowing.  Any boxes should be moved offsite before the home goes on the market. 

Notice that closet is NOT an option here!  You will thank me later.  


To ensure that you meet your deadline to put your home on the market you need to start with the items that are out in the open.  Let’s start with surfaces; anything that has an open surface that you can put something on such as tabletops, countertops, desks, and shelves. I’m not referring to shelves within a closet or cabinet I am referring to open shelves, like bookshelves for example.  Just because there is an opening on a surface does not mean you have to put something there.  Each open surface should not have more than 1-3 items on it or groupings of small items.  This is where depersonalization comes in.  Items that are left out should be of a decorative nature.  No knickknacks, no collectables.  Don’t take it personal, but the person buying your home may not be as into collecting figurines as you are.  Appropriate decorations include:

  1. Candleholders
  2. Bowls or trays holding other décor items
  3. Vases
  4. Plants
  5. Clocks
  6. Books
  7. Bookends
  8. Décor boxes
  9. Décor bottles

For the best representation these items should consist of solid colors, clean lines, or clean patterns.  Everyone has there own style and it may or may not match yours therefore keeping things simple and utilizing muted earth tones with pops of color added via pillows, throws and décor will make for a pleasant experience when buyers view your home online or visit the property.  

There seems to be a gray area when talking about personal family photos.  It used to be that these should be packed away before putting the home on the market, but now some suggest that leaving them out adds a short of hominess.  I would suggest a couple of small framed photographs here or there is acceptable, but not on every open surface.  Make sure the frame is stylish and the picture is classic and appropriate. 


Next, move to walls.  Once again, just because there is an opening on a wall does not mean you have to put something there.  If you have too many things hanging on your walls it can make a room feel like it’s closing in on you.  Think light and airy, that is the feeling a buyer wants to get when they walk into a room.  As you start removing items from walls there will obviously be nail holes and marks left behind.  Don’t worry about these now we will handle that in Step 2.  Many of the same rules for open surfaces apply to walls as well.  Remember we are looking to depersonalize.  Appropriate wall décor includes:

  1. Artistic photographs (NOT family photos)
  2. Paintings
  3. Mirrors
  4. Clocks
  5. Decorative shelving/ledges
  6. Sconces
  7. Plaques or panels


Lastly, lets move down to the floor.  Are there unnecessary décor items or storage baskets placed on the floor creating obstacles within a room or making it difficult to get from one room to the next?  Maybe these items are there to make your life easier allowing you to quickly store children’s toys or a provide a place for you to stack magazines, but ultimately they close off the flow of the room.  If they are simply there more for storage than décor than it’s time to consider packing them up, as well as what is stored in them, and sending them off to storage.  The goal is to make each room feel as spacious and open as possible.  The more floor that can be seen the more spacious a room feels.  Keep in mind that even oversized furniture or too much furniture can ruin the feel of a room as well.  We will address this more in Step 3. 

Floors are obviously apart of the home that will be staying with the home and the type of flooring is often a factor in a homebuyers decision therefore we want the floors to be visible.  Consider removing rugs that are not entirely necessary and are more for daily use than décor.  Obviously you would leave large area rugs that are placed under furniture such as dining room tables as long as they are clean and in good condition.  The only reason you would want to pack these up would be if the room they are in is already small and not much of flooring is visible outside of the area rug, especially if the floors underneath would be considered a feature that you would want to showcase to buyers. 

The advice provided so far has been general but now I am going to go room by room and help you declutter and depersonalize some of the most important areas of the home that buyers will be concerned with. 


The kitchen, the place where everyone gathers to eat, to talk, to live.  The look, feel, and size of a kitchen can often make or break the sale of a home.  In reference to declutter and depersonalize; all food items need to be put away in closed cabinets, pantries and drawers.  If there is a desk or workspace in the kitchen area there should be no papers, pens, etc. cluttering the desktop or open shelves located above or below.  These items should be out of site.  The only thing left could be one décor item and a desktop computer. 

One or two choice appliances can be left out on countertops if they add to the décor of the home, such as a fancy Kitchen aid mixer or high-end cappuccino maker.  These are items most people would love to have personally in their own homes so even though you will be taking them with you they add to the appeal and feel of a luxurious, high-end kitchen.   If there are any towels left on display they need to be clean and folded in a neat fashion.  Islands and tabletops can have one centerpiece such as a bowl of fruit or flower arrangement (faux or real are both acceptable).  If you choose to set the table, keep it simple with dinnerware that matches the décor of the home.  

Decorations such as corkboards and pinboards that contain personal photos, announcements, reminders and notes need to be removed from walls.  If you have a decorative chalkboard, which seems to be fashionable currently, jot a special note that buyers may enjoy as they peruse the home.  Remove all magnets and children’s drawings from refrigerators. 

Roll up kitchen rugs and store them under the sink or in the pantry out of sight when your home is being photographed or visited by buyers.  The same goes for hand and dish soaps, cleaning supplies, dish mats and racks and cutting boards.  These are all utilitarian items that will distract buyers from home features such as countertops.  The type, look and feel of countertops can be just as important as flooring in a homebuyer’s decision, especially in a kitchen.  Pick up pet food and water dishes as well as mats and place out of site.  Place brooms, dustpans, mops and garbage cans in the garage.  Lastly, if you have any childproof equipment on cabinets and drawers remove as they will distract from the appeal of cabinet structure and hardware. 


A living area can be a formal living room, a game room, a media room, or a loft.  It’s the place where you go to relax and unwind while watching your favorite TV show or sporting event.  Wherever it is in your home it needs to feel spacious and inviting to yourself, family members and friends as well as potential buyers.  This room may be personalized in reference to décor, but hopefully it’s one of the least cluttered unless your utilizing it as a multi-purpose room (i.e. kids play area, storage area, office, etc.) then you may have some work to do.  Remove any electronic equipment that is unnecessary or old and adds a cluttered feel to the room especially if cords cannot be hidden.  This includes video game systems, DVD/Blu-ray players and TVs if necessary.  Store remote controls out of site.  Remove old books and magazine that do not add to simplistic, clean décor.  If you have been using this as a multi-purpose room then you will also need to clear out any kid’s toys, storage bins, and paperwork.  Don’t just move these items to other rooms, pack them up and get them in storage.  A few decorative pillows and a throw should be all you need on the sofa or a chair.  Remove the rest.  You don’t want the living area to look like an extra bedroom. 


Bedrooms can be difficult as this is where you keep all your personal items that you utilize on a daily basis therefore not everything can just be boxed up and sent to storage.  Items that need to be removed from dressers and nightstands for photographs and buyer’s visits include cell phones, tablets and chargers, jewelry, personal care items such as lotions or lip balms, glasses, medications, tissues, non-décor books and magazines.  Obviously all attire should be picked up and put away in closets or dressers.  The bed should always be made neatly with decorative pillows to add a luxurious and inviting feel to the room. 


The same advice flows through from the Master Bedroom with a few extra things to consider.  Often guest bedrooms and children’s rooms may be decorated with themes that may be unappealing to a buyer especially if they plan to utilize the rooms in a different manner than you have.  The best option to make the room feel less personal and cluttered is to adjust the room and décor to be more generic and neutral.  Therefore personal knickknacks and keepsakes may need to be removed and boxed up as well as themed posters and other non-neutral wall décor. 


For photographs and buyers’ visits bathrooms should be cleared of all personal items.  This means all personal hygiene products, makeup, razors, medications, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, combs, scales, as well as extra toiletry items such as toilet paper and tissues need to be completely out of sight in a drawer or closet not only because they create clutter in what is typically a small room, but also because it can be seen as unsanitary by buyers.  It is all right for a towel rack to be empty if you do not have a fresh decorative towel to hang in that location.  All soaps, shampoos, kid’s toys should be removed from showers and tubs.  Bathmats, laundry baskets and trashcans should be hidden away.  A small decorative item can be placed at the corner or end of countertop or corner of a tub to add a relaxing, spa like feel to the room. 


You may now be asking yourself how do I know when I’ve decluttered enough.  Honestly, when the house feels a little empty or a little unlived in you know you are done.  Due to the busyness of life most of us typically live amongst lots of clutter and we get desensitized to it therefore it's hard for us to know what decluttered really looks like.  

Before we move on to Step 2, Repair & Refresh, you should take a break as you’ve accomplished a big step towards your goal of getting your home on the market!  But remember, don’t procrastinate too long!  The best part about Step 2 is that now is the time to recruit some help from family and friends. 


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