If you’re like me, you love a clean house but not necessarily the work it takes to have one. I enjoy a good maid service that can keep my home clean, but I haven’t found one yet that knows how to pick up and put away my clutter. Actually, I’m one of those people who go about picking up and putting away so that the maids can do a good cleaning. Let’s face it going through closets, cupboards and drawers to purge belongings can be an unwelcome and arduous task. It is also necessary to make your house as inviting and attractive to buyers as possible. Let’s look at the key areas on which to focus.

  1. Curb Appeal. First impressions matter and making sure your yard and the front of you house present the best impression is a must.

I’ve heard a couple of suggestions here that might help you determine what need be done. One is to stand across the street and try to see your house as if for the first time. The other suggestion is to take pictures of your house. I like the second the best, but load those cell phone pictures onto your computer where you can view in a larger format. I’ve found that pictures often reveal things our minds ordinarily pass over.

Whatever you do, try to see if what you liked about the house when you bought it is still up to the same standard. Is the landscaping neat and trimmed? Do plants need replacing? Does the house’s face and sidewalks need to be freshened up?

A lot can be done without a lot of money. Try adding fresh mulch and colorful flowers. Make sure the entrances are clean and swept. Replace an old welcome mat. Consider repainting just the front door and door jamb—it can make a world of difference. And make sure the doorknob is firm and stable, the key works easily, and hardware looks appealing—it might even be worth replacing to get back a nice, appealing look. Even cleaning the light fixture and ensuring a working light bulb can help.

Oh, and don’t forget to make sure your backyard is spruced up too.

  1. Indoor First Impressions. Curb appeal gets the buyer to come in, but do they want to see the rest of your house.

Clearly cleanliness and neatness are a must, especially just as you enter the house. The key is to slim down and then keep your house picked up, put away, and wet areas wiped up (actually spotless is best). And no bad smells—A dirty litter box, cigarette or cigar smoke, dog beds needing washing, or strong food odors are a real turn off to potential buyers.

Sellers need to think about their home from a potential buyer’s perspective. Those items that make your house your home may distract from or hinder a buyer’s ability to see themselves in your home. Having all the things you love at your fingertips may be a great way to live, but not necessarily a great way to sell. Consider starting your packing by boxing up some of your books or trinkets—you’ll be surprised how removing a few items can make a room look more spacious. This is especially true in the kitchen. Getting as many of your small appliances off the countertops as you can is a must. The goal is for buyers to see the room, the kitchen, the potential of your house as their home. You may even decide that some items can be donated. (I’ll have some pointers on donation places in another blog.)

Sellers should also limit the number of personal items they have about the house. A few pictures or mementoes are fine (even a good idea), but we want buyers to see your house. Ansel Adams, famous for his black-and-white photographs of landscapes like El Capitan, once explained that the reason he had no people in his photographs is because the human eye would automatically go the people rather than the landscape he wanted to highlight. The same is true for potential buyers. They may remember your house because of the wall of family photos, but forget the room arrangement of your house. And strange as it might sound, some buyers will actually be turned off.

The key is less is more.

  1. Closets. I admit it. Going through closets is my personal least favorite thing to do when it comes time to declutter, but closets should never be overlooked.

Consider that for many buyers storage is very important. They want a nice-sized pantry to make everything convenient in the kitchen (even if they never cook), plenty of room for their shoes as well as enough room for everyone’s clothes, and places to put away seasonal or items used less often. The wise seller will make storage spaces look as spacious as possible. Straightening, organizing, and weeding out does a lot to make the closet look bigger and better. Packing up out-of-season apparel and rarely used items and storing the boxes offsite is another opportunity to get some of your packing done early. (I discourage sellers from storing the boxes in their garage. Buyers want to see the garage and it’s important not to hinder inspectors and appraisers access. Consider renting a storage unit for a short period.)

  1. Home Offices. Rooms designed or used as home offices continue to be very popular and can add great sales appeal. I mention them separately for two reasons: 1) it’s important to ensure that a potential buyer can see any bedroom-turned-office has the option of being used as a bedroom. And 2) whether your office is only for personal uses or you actually work from home, it’s not just neatness that counts—business papers need to be secured away from prying eyes.
  1. Showing the House. A professional Realtor® will ask you to make sure of all the following:

Leave the house when buyers come by—preferably before buyers arrive. Let the agent show your home. He or she knows what their buyer is looking for and how to highlight those features in your home. Buyers need to be able to comfortably view your house and speak freely amongst themselves and/or with their agent. In fact, some buyers will get anxious and leave without really seeing the home if the seller or tenant is home. If you can, remove your pets. Both your pets and the buyers will be more comfortable.

Portable and expensive electronics, like iPads and laptops, must be secured or removed from the house. Prescription drugs must also be secured or removed from the house. Firearms or weapons of any kind must be secured or removed from the house. And don’t forget any of these items that you keep handy by your beside.

When you have a showing scheduled, turn on all the lights and open the drapes and blinds. This is so your house looks bright and inviting. Make sure windows are clean, especially before pictures are taken.

Much of your home’s curb appeal and invitation happens on the internet—well before buyers ever make the trip to your house. If you want or need help cleaning, staging, fixing up, or sprucing up, your agent should have a list of resources for you. In addition, a good Realtor® will recognize the importance of the internet in marketing your house and have it professionally photographed so it makes the best impression.