Nationwide, the best time to sell your house is the first half of May, according to Zillow. That’s when you’re likely to get the highest offer in the least amount of time.
That means now is the time to start getting your house ready. But all that work can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve lived in your house for years. Here’s what to do, week by week, to get your house sparkling for the sale.
Week 1: Start clearing clutter
You knew this would be first, right? Go through room by room and sort out the things you’re going to take, sell, donate, or toss.
“Decluttering for a move is different than decluttering to spark joy,” says Ali Wenzke, founder of the blog, The Art of Happy Moving, and author of The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness. “Weight and size matter. Moving can be expensive and you don’t want to move, pack, and unpack unnecessary items, especially if they are large and bulky.”
Consider whether it’s worth moving books and magazines, furniture, and sports equipment.
Week 2: Find your agent
Michael Edlen, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Pacific Palisades, Calif., recommends interviewing three local agents who have recently worked with sellers age 50-plus. “Get their recommendations of what would be important and beneficial to the sale,” he says.
Week 3: Have your home inspected
Jeff Lichtenstein, owner and founder of Echo Fine Properties in Florida, says, “If there are issues, I want to know now rather than have a deal fall apart at a later date.”
Things that might have passed inspection five or 10 years ago may no longer be up to code, points out Melanie Hartmann, owner of Creo Home Buyers in Baltimore.
Week 4: Prioritize your updates
Based on the recommendations from your agent and the home inspector, see where it makes sense to repair or renovate, and where you should just freshen. “No sense in putting in the work and the expense, if it is not going to increase the value of the home,” says Denise Supplee, Realtor and co-founder of SparkRental.com.
Week 5: Line up contractors
For any improvements or repairs you aren’t going to tackle yourself, schedule your contractors. Jose Hernandez, a real estate consultant with Coldwell Banker in Chicago, says you’ll want to get things like the roof, chimney, and systems taken care of first. Save cosmetic work like painting for closer to your listing date.
Week 6: Plan for the stuff that’s not coming with you
Pick a date for a garage or yard sale, start selling your stuff online, and schedule a pickup for items you want to donate.
Week 7: Do your homework
Have a title search done. “Many sellers are caught off guard when they find out their home has a lien on it,” says Benjamin Ross, a Realtor with My Active Agent in Texas. “Sometimes these surprises can ruin a good deal.”
If you have a septic system, have it inspected. Realtor Bill Tierney, who works south of Boston, says, “I had a client wait until the week of closing only to have the system fail. He lost the buyer and the home sold for $40,000 less to the next buyer.”
Gather documents you’ll need for the sale. “When you’re selling an apartment in New York City, you need to provide the buyer’s attorney with the building’s financials and offering plan,” says James McGrath with Yoreevo. That might have been buried in a closet for years. You’ll also want to document any improvements you’ve made or equipment or appliances you’ve upgraded.
Week 8: Scope out the competition
Attend local open houses, and look at the online listings for houses that recently sold. “Pay attention to other homes that are for sale in your neighborhood,” Ross says. “Get ideas from them, make those ideas better, and implement them in your home.”
Week 9: Clean up your yard and exterior
“Curb appeal is very important, so you don’t want your house looking run down,” says Ashley Baskin, a licensed real estate agent who serves on the advisory board for Home Life Digest. Trim your bushes, spread mulch, and fix any peeling paint or falling gutters. Replace your entry mats. Consider power washing your home, deck, patio, and walkways.
Week 10: Lighten and brighten your space
“Remove 50% of the stuff in closets to give the perception of more storage,” says Nathan Garrett owner of the Garretts Real Estate Group in Louisville, Kentucky. Move unnecessary furniture into storage to make the rooms feel larger. You may even want to up the wattage in your light bulbs.
Remove window treatments. “Less is more with the current pool of buyers and natural light is key,” says Francie Malina, real estate salesperson in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Blinds and blackout shades can stay if they work properly.
Clean everything, top to bottom. Don’t forget windows and sills, switchplates, baseboards, and underneath the kitchen cabinets. Remember that buyers will likely look inside closets and built-in drawers.
Consider a fresh coat of paint in a neutral color. “This is a cheap way to make the home seem newer and can add value to your home,” Baskin says.
If you have dated bathroom tile (think pink or green) consider having a ceramic company overlay a neutral color, Malina says.
Week 11: Rent a storage unit
“Sellers who have lived in a home for a while will have at least 30% more belongings than they should have in the home in order to sell,” says Kris Lippi with ISoldMyHouse.com. Moving excess belongings to a storage unit will free up space in your home and make it photograph and show better.
Week 12: Add the finishing touches
Pick up some bright annuals at your local greenhouse to set out or hang in front of your house. Schedule the photography and video sessions with your agent. You are ready to list!