Spring is finally in the air, and Permanent Change of Station, better known as PCS season, is almost upon us! Are you one of the many military families that will be packing up your household goods and moving across the state, country, or even the globe this year? Are you selling your first home or your tenth?
Full disclosure, I’m not a realtor or a professional home stager, but I am a type A military spouse who has successfully sold our last two homes in under a week. Therefore, with the help of some friends plus my own experiences, I have put together the top 10 things you can do to stage your home as well as some great hacks to get that house under contract FAST!
1. Clean, Clean, CLEAN!
This seems obvious right? This is why I list it first. But cleaning your house to put it on the market and your weekly house cleaning are very different. A few reasons why you want your house EXTRA clean?
It shows better, it shows pride in ownership, and it gives a potential buyer some piece of mind. When I’m looking at buying a house I don’t want to think “oh I’m going to have to scrub this place down just to move in.”
So when I say clean, I mean the nitty gritty; baseboards, mini blinds, the cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling, ceiling fans. Spring Clean, clean. You get the picture. If you have the time and your budget allows, get the carpets cleaned and/or have your tile/grout professionally cleaned. The common trend you’re going to see over the next few steps is that first impressions are everything and all those little details matter!
When you’re searching MLS listings online, you’re rarely going to get a picture of the garage, pantry, or linen closet, but when your house is being shown, people are going to see all those areas, and they need to be able to picture their own stuff in your house. An overstuffed or poorly organized house is distracting and can make the spaces look small. When it comes to selling a house, small is usually bad. You’d be amazed what a few decorative bins or containers can add to the look of your laundry room or pantry.
By default, organizing naturally leads to decluttering and decluttering is really something you need to do before you move anyway. Take this step to not just get your house ready to sell but to also prepare for your own move.
Once you’re ready to photograph and show your house, you actually need to take your decluttering a step further to make spaces appear bigger. Just because you don’t want to get rid of it doesn’t mean it needs to be on display. Use storage bins to put away excess children’s toys, books, pet accessories or other “non essential” items. Put knickknacks away. Leave the bare essentials on counter tops. Remove throw rugs, bathroom rugs, or any other type of rug that can make a space look small or limited.
If you have an attic, this is a great place to “hide” stuff as they are rarely shown. Try not to stock pile in your garage as this is often an area potential buyers want to see the true size of. One of our MMB contributors even suggested short-term storage as an option, again, if your budget allows it.
As much as we all love our gallery walls of our family, you want a potential buyer to see their own photo gallery on your walls. Do you need to take every single picture down? No. But you definitely want to minimize. A good friend once told me to buy a cheap black and white wall calendar and put the photos in your frames so there is something on the walls. It has no meaning but it creates design uniformity. Then you just remove the “fake” pictures when your get to your new house.
Another trick I learned on our last move was to hide all the other photos under beds. Nobody will look under your bed, you can put literally dozens of frames under one full size bed, and they will be perfectly safe until your packers come!
A final thought on depersonalization for military families is to take down anything that ties your family to the military. While it’s hard to hide every uniform in the closet, you can take down photos, lithograms, or other branch related items.
You don’t want to look like you need to sell your house ASAP, and you also want to maintain your privacy.
Your house is now clean, decluttered, and depersonalized, so when a buyer walks in they want it to look big and bright! This is why steps 1,2 and 3 are so important. Natural light is just as important as the light bulbs in your house. Going back to cleaning – wash all the windows inside and out. You’ve already cleaned those mini blinds and hopefully at least dusted the curtains so you should be all set to let in all that wonderful natural light for pictures and showings.
Also consider your light bulbs. As we were getting our current house ready to sell, we replaced every single light bulb with LED bulbs. Most people know that LED bulbs are energy efficient and last for like a bazillion years, but they also are BRIGHT and, in my opinion, look better than the curly cue looking first generation high efficiency bulbs. You could land an airplane in our bathroom right now it’s so lit.
Note: A fun light fixture goes a long way.
Going back to first impressions, they start at the curb. Just like a clean house shows pride in ownership, so does well-cut grass, neatly trimmed bushes/trees, and a weeded flower bed. Take it a step further and plant a few fresh flowers to add a pop of color to your front yard. A colorful wreath on the front door and a fresh welcome mat can also add an inviting touch without breaking the bank.
7. Fix Problems
Unless you have a reality show on HGTV, I’d dare say that a vast majority of home buyers are not looking for a fixer upper. With this step I’m mostly talking about the obvious things; holes in the wall, scratched paint, or non-working appliances.
Also consider things like paint color. Did your daughter go through the Frozen phase and need bright blue and purple walls or did you decide a black and white pin stripe theme in your Parisian themed bathroom was ideal?
Bottom line: Just because you or your kid loved it doesn’t mean the next homeowner will. Consider fixing/changing anything that could be portrayed as work to the next homeowners because they’re going to put even the small things, like paint color, on their “con” list. Save them the trouble and do it for them. If you know something will come up on your home inspection, go ahead and fix that, too!
8. The Right Realtor
This is when you should work your military network!
Working with a realtor involved with Military on the Move or the USAA Real Estate Rewards Network not only ensures that you get matched with a realtor that knows the ins and outs of a military move, but you can also earn cash back when you close. That’s a win-win right there! Realtors who gain positive reputations working with military families also get contacted early in the PCS process which can increase the “early” looks at your house. Pro Tip – we bought our current house before it went on the market through the military network and it is now under contract before it went on the market because of the military network. It works!!
Editor’s Note: Some realtors will help you stage your house for a fee or for free. Always ask. If you end up having to move your household goods before your home sells, having someone stage your house can help make the place still look like a home instead of a vacant building, which helps tremendously.
9. Professional Pictures
Easiest step. When you work step 8, make sure your realtor uses a professional photographer that knows what he or she is doing. Seems easy enough, but there is a huge difference between you taking pictures of your house, your realtor taking pictures of your house, and a professional with an “eye” for what looks good and isn’t just putting everything through a wide angle lens. This day and age, with all the apps and technology out there, we often make the decision to even step foot in a house based solely on the photos we’ve seen online.
10. The Perfect Showing
I once read that it takes an average of 10 showings for your house to sell. Even the best staged house could take that many! Don’t get discouraged if that first showing doesn’t seal the deal. Here are a few tips and tricks to make it stand out!
Unless you’re having an open house, at best, you’re going to get maybe a few hours notice before a showing … which, when you have messy kids, can feel like a cruel joke.
- Keep a big box or storage bin handy to literally dump any loose toys, clutter, pet stuff, etc. and just throw it in the car with your kids and pets. Don’t leave any pets!
- Speed clean like you just got a call from your in-laws that they’re stopping by for a quick visit.
- Open all the blinds/windows and let as much natural light in as possible.
- Turn on lights and fans on low.
- Adjust the thermostat to a comfortable temperature.
- If you’re a Scentsy or other scent warmer user, keep them stocked with neutral, inviting scents and turn them on. I personally love “welcome home.” DON’T light a candle and leave your house!
- If you have more time or at least a day’s notice on a showing, one MilMB contributor suggests baking cookies and leaving them out. The house will smell amazing, and you may earn some brownie points 😉
- Keep fresh flowers out to brighten the kitchen or a bedroom.
- If you have a Keurig or pod coffee maker leave a note to “help yourself.”
All those little touches that make your home warm and inviting and makes your home memorable to a potential buyer can really add up!
Have you sold a home fast? Do you have any other great ideas to share?
Some pictures and comments were added by editor Julie Cohen, who wants to put that out there, so people don’t think Michelle’s house was the one with “classy” flippers hanging outside basically year-round.