Start by airing out the home. You are the last person to notice any peculiar odor in your home that may be blatantly obvious to visitors. Go on a search to find the offender. It may be a kitty litter box or a dog bed. It might even be a mildewed shower.
Next, wash all the windows in the house, inside and out. While you're at it, clean the window sills and the bottom of the window jambs, and wash the blinds.
If it has been over a year since you've had the carpets cleaned, now is the time to do it. The bare floors should also be waxed or polished, even if they're supposed to be “no wax.”
Put bright light bulbs in every socket made for a bulb. Buyers like bright and cheery so you have to keep it from looking like a dungeon. You'll also want to keep the drapes and shades open during the day, even if you're not in the habit, because it will make the property look better.
The next item on the required list is to clean out all of the closets, cabinets, and drawers. Get rid of things you haven't used in the past five years and pack up everything that you haven't used in the last year. Do it without conscience or remorse. You're going to have to do it anyway when you move. The main reason is that it will make the storage space look larger. Surely, you don't want to pay a mover to haul things that you never use.
Closets should look as they have enough room to hold additional items. You might need to box up off-season clothes to make it look that way. Get everything off the floor and don't have the shelves piled to the ceiling.
Another basic requirement for home preparation is to be sure there is not too much furniture in a room. Even though it may be inconvenient, you will be far better off by selecting the pieces that look best and putting the others in the garage, basement, or better yet, in storage. You can rent one of those mini-warehouses for a few dollars a month.
You need to go over the kitchen like a health inspector. Clean the oven and keep it that way, even if it means eating out more often. After cleaning the range, put new drip pans under the burners. Clean around the seal of the door to the dishwasher.
Bath tubs, showers and sinks should be freshly caulked. All the grout should be clean and in good condition. There are excellent cleaners that will do the job without tons of scrubbing. There should be no leaks in the faucets or traps.
Put fresh (or new) towels out in the bathrooms and replace the shower curtain if needed.
A few unrelated suggestions
If you have limited counter space in the kitchen, be sure to keep unnecessary items put away.
Keep children's toys out of the front yard and off the sidewalks and front porch. Get the teenagers and children to understand the importance of keeping the house looking good while it is on the market. Take down the posters until the house is sold.
Recognize the difference between decorator touches and clutter or sterility.
Clean the ashes out of the fireplace during the season that it isn't being used.
Keep the television turned off while the home is being shown. Music is actually a nice touch.
Make sure that the pull-down staircase is screwed together and strong enough to be used safely. Be sure there is a light in the attic.
If you don't have time for a garage sale, consider donating things to charity. Make a list of all the items and their estimated value, and be sure to get a receipt. The donation is tax deductible and may be worth more to you than the time and effort you'd put into a garage sale.
The pool needs to be sparkling and free of leaves.
Don't volunteer information to prospective buyers. If they ask you a question, answer it truthfully.
Tell your friends that your home is for sale. You never know where the buyer will come from.
For those willing to go the extra mile
There are some things you can do that will really add flair to your home. They might include changing out the wallpaper in the entry, kitchen, or bathrooms. It might be replacing light fixtures that are dated or not "on trend". Staging is very popular in our market and the homes that do this usually stand out from their competition.
Some enterprising homeowners will completely paint inside and put all new flooring down. Others might add new window treatments.
New appliances in the kitchen can be an exciting feature that can actually make the difference in a prospect choosing your home over another.
Don't fall into the trap that most people do when trying to figure out how much it will cost to replace an item. The most common price reference guide in America is the Sears catalogue. As your agent, I can recommend vendors and contractors that will usually cost less.
It's Show time
Someone has just called to show the house and now all the hard work you've done to make it look good is about to pay off. You just need a few last minute touches.
When the agent arrives with the prospects, have the drapes and window shades open to let in as much daylight as possible. If it happens to be night, be sure that all of your outdoor lights are on, especially landscape and pool lights if you have them.
Open all the doors between rooms to give an inviting feeling. Turn on all of the lights including the lamps. Tune the radio to some quiet, relaxing music.
Pick up any newspapers or magazines that may be lying around. See that the counters are free of unnecessary items and that any dirty dishes are put in the dishwasher. Take out the trash if needed.
If you have pets, get them out of the way. Not everyone may share your love for animals. Some people may even be allergic to them.
The beds should be made and clothes picked up. Bathrooms should be clean and the toilet lids down.
When you leave the house in the morning or during the day, please leave it as if you know it is going to be shown. It's difficult sometimes and might even mean you have to get up a little earlier in order to take care of these important items. You never know when the right person is going to look at it, so you must always be ready for them.
Pre-contract Professional Inspection
Another time saving suggestion is to order an inspection of your home by a professional inspector. This would typically be the responsibility of the buyer and done after you have successfully negotiated a contract.
The benefit of doing it now is to find out early if there is anything that needs attention. It can save time between contract and settlement if the inspector does find something you are not aware of. You will have time to get a second opinion and find a reputable and reasonable contractor to make the repairs.
Please cooperate with the agents when they call for an appointment. Sometimes it will be inconvenient for you to have the house shown, but you may never get another opportunity for that particular person to look at it again. Besides, the agent may feel that if the property is difficult to show because of restrictions the owner has placed on it, it may not be worth the trouble or the seller may not be that motivated to sell. We need all the help we can get, so we don't want to alienate even one agent.