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How to Prep Your Home for an Open House

So your house is on the market, or is about to be. You’re already worrying about things like work commutes and school districts and such for your future housing arrangements. And now you’ve got to worry about prepping your current home for an open house, too? Don’t panic—we’ve got you covered.

Up your curb appeal. Let’s start outside, the first impression of your home that a prospective buyer will have. Stand outside of your house and take it in from a stranger’s point of view: exterior paint, doors, landscaping, even the condition of your mailbox and the numbers on your house. What do you see? What have you been the visual equivalent of “nose blind” to? Maybe it’s that pile of shovels and rock salt, even though it’s now 1,000 degrees out. Or the weeds that have taken over your walkways. Could your siding benefit from a date with a power washer? Take it all in very critically, as guests of your open house no doubt will, too. Put the things away, pull the weeds, sweep the sidewalks, etc. If need be, recruit a taskforce of neighborhood kids and reward their efforts with pizza.

Then head inside. Maybe without the posse of neighborhood kids.

Keep it clean. Cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but it’s definitely adjacent to godliness for interested home buyers. Get your clean on or invest in professional house cleaners to do the dirty work—pun intended. We’re not talking the kind of cleaning where the cable guy is coming and you’re picking up dirty laundry off the floor. We’re talking your mother-in-law is flying in from out of state and is prone to walking around your home wearing white gloves kind of cleaning. Windows, carpets…stop making faces. Consider this effort a good investment of time and/or money.

Remember less is more.  A prospective homebuyer should be able to envision himself or herself living in your home. That’s difficult to do if your house is teeming with knickknacks or doodads. Take this opportunity to purge and prune your belongings. If it’s not useful, necessary, or likely to make you smile, consider finding it a new home. Bonus points if you make a donation to a local homeless shelter or charity of your choice that accepts gently used items to redistribute to others who could benefit from them.

If it’s useful and necessary, but not necessary anytime soon—like out-of-season clothing or sports gear—box it, label it, and store it somewhere else, either off-site in a storage unit or neatly contained in a basement or crawl space. Your home will appear more streamlined, tidy, and spacious, and we all know that everyone gets excited about the prospect of lots of space for their own belongings. And your future self, who will eventually have to pack all that stuff up, thanks you, too!

Insert tasteful additions. Once you’ve packed away your shot glasses of the world collection, think about what would make your home more, well, homey. You can hire professional stagers, or you can DIY this step inexpensively enough with some easy tricks: Put out fresh flowers. Set your dining room table. Take a break from those energy-efficient bulbs and swap them out for higher wattage ones that make spaces look bigger and brighter. Invest in the pretty smelly soaps for your powder room. Buy a new shower curtain at your local dollar store. There are dozens of small and inexpensive touches that can make a big impact.

Make it neutral territory. Since we’re talking about creating a setting that makes it easy for a potential buyer to “see themselves” in your home, now is also a good time to ask yourself whether they can imagine themselves in that animal print living room you love. Or in the man cave completely decked out in Dallas Cowboys gear. Or in the Nightmare-Before-Christmas-themed bedroom that seemed like a good idea at the time. No judgment here. Be you. But if those touches of “you” are going to be in your new home and you’re hoping that someone else is going to buy your current home, maybe tone it down a bit. Neutral-colored walls with pops of colorful accessories, like throw pillows, are generally pleasing to most folks.

While you’re at it, find a safe place for those beloved family photos, children’s art pieces, etc. Let prospective buyers imagine their family living within these walls. And speaking of safe places, make sure to secure any valuables. Don’t leave out jewelry, confidential documents, change jars, or anything that might be tempting to someone who is less than scrupulous. While we all hope that only people keenly interested in buying will come to an open house, the truth is that for some people it’s just a spectator sport. Don’t make it easy for them to take advantage of you.

Hide the critters. Have a plan for hiding Arrange responsible care for dogs, cats, snakes, hamsters, toddlers, and living things in general who aren’t part of the home-selling process. Make arrangements with a friend or family member to entertain your little ones. Research doggy day camps in advance, if necessary. If you have a pet that can’t be removed from the house, like the feral cat that claimed you as its owner but will fight you to the death before getting in a crate (hypothetically speaking, of course), then figure out a way to sequester/confine/corral him out of sight and out of mind.

Share everywhere! Use all your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…) to promote your listing and open house dates. Leverage your network and your network’s network. After all, you may not know that your neighbor’s cousin’s brother’s half-sister’s firstborn child is looking for a home in the area. Get the word out. The more people who attend your open house, the better.

Now take a deep breath. The outside of your house looks great. The inside is clean and welcoming. You’ve got a head start on your next move after the donation run you’ve made and the boxes you’ve already packed. All that’s left to do is bake a sheet of cookies—not for your prospective home-buying guests, but for you to binge eat while you wait for someone to make an offer on your home!