How to prepare your house for sale

Property staged by David Phillips

Key points

  • Tidy and clean the property thoroughly before any photographs or viewings
  • Keep decor neutral, and tidy away evidence of pets
  • Turn bedrooms back into bedrooms if they have been put to another use
  • Professional home staging could give you an edge over other sellers
  • Carry out minor repairs and be honest about larger problems – it is better for the buyer to know about them from the outset

Even if you have done all your homework and chosen the best estate agent, if you want to sell your property fast and achieve the best price, you need to present it to potential buyers in the best possible light.

If you imagine that the highest achievable price for your property is based on its size and the typical price per square foot in that location, a buyer will be looking for reasons to offer less than that ideal price. The size of the discount they demand will depend on how much work they think they will have to do. Therefore, it is in your best interest to minimise the perception of how much needs to be done to your property. Here are eight tips to bear in mind when you prepare your home for sale.

1. Make sure the property is clean and tidy

It might seem obvious, but tidying up and cleaning is the cheapest way to make your house more attractive to potential buyers. It need cost nothing more than your time, or a small outlay on professional cleaners, but will make a big difference. House buying relies a lot on emotions, and the truth is that many people have poor imaginations. Show them a dirty, untidy flat, and few buyers will be able to see through the grime and piles of clutter to visualise their dream home.

Yes, some buyers will be able to ignore these superficial problems – but these are also likely to be the people savvy enough to drive a hard bargain.

2. Keep it neutral

Home is a place we can express ourselves with quirky decor, but one person’s bright and welcoming colour scheme is another person’s garish eyesore. It’s easier for a buyer to picture putting their own stamp on a property if it offers a blank canvas, so if your tastes veer to the brighter end of the paint chart, it might pay to slap on a coat of something more neutral before the viewings start.

Likewise, walls covered with family photos or eclectic artworks can be off-putting: remember, you want the buyer to imagine the property as their home, not yours.

3. Keep pets out of the picture

However much a part of the family your pet is, don’t forget that not everyone is a dog or cat person. Dog beds, litter trays and food bowls won’t make a good first impression, and neither will pet hair or unpleasant smells – so cleaning is doubly important if you have pets. A bad “house smell” is a great way to deter buyers, and if you live with it you likely won’t be aware of it. If in doubt, vacuum, deodorise and open windows. Baking fresh bread or brewing coffee before a viewing are clichés for a reason – the pleasant aroma can do a great job at masking a hint of damp dog.

If at all possible, have a friend look after your pet or take them on a long walk while photographs and viewings are taking place. And one final reminder – make sure you check your garden for any little surprises before any prospective viewers turn up. 

4. Bedrooms count

One of the main filtering options on any property search website is “number of bedrooms”. So if you’re currently using a spare bedroom as a home office, a playroom or for junk storage, turn it back into a bedroom so that buyers can see its full potential.

Another tip that might seem counterintuitive: empty rooms tend to look smaller. Buyers looking at a space with no furniture will often think it’s a tiny box room, so put a cheap bed in to show that it’s a proper bedroom.

5. Consider professional home staging

One way to ensure your property looks its absolute best, and to give yourself an edge over competing sellers, is to use a home staging service. An interiors expert will discuss with you the look that best suits your property, deliver the furnishings and style the property down to the last detail. Professional home staging means that the estate agent's brochure looks the part and prospective buyers experience the "wow factor" as soon as they walk in through the front door.

Prices will depend on the type and size of property, the level of finish required, whether you require the whole property staged or only certain rooms, and the length of time the staging is required. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to pay no more than 0.5% to 1% of the property price for a typical three-month staging term, says Nicky Bloom of David Phillips, the UK's largest home staging provider. However, you should think of this as an investment: if it helps to secure a decent offer in a short time then it is money well spent. And the effects can certainly be dramatic: "We've seen homes that have been listed on the property portals before being staged, then relisted with new photographs after staging, and interest levels have gone up five or ten times, Bloom says.

Home staging is not only for top-end property, either, Bloom adds: "Our product and offering is for all levels of the marketplace and we offer a nationwide service. We help dress many properties in the mid sector of the market where it can be exceptionally competitive; professional home staging can really help a property stand out from the crowd."

If the buyer likes what they see, sale of the furniture can be arranged at a discounted price: another bargaining chip when negotiating a deal, especially with overseas buyers looking for a ready-furnished home. Bloom says that about 15-20% of the furniture David Phillips supplies for home staging ends up being sold.

Find out more about home staging and how Movewise can help offer this risk-free.

6. Don’t spend money for the sake of it

While at the top end of the market, buyers will be prepared to pay the best price for a home that is “turnkey” (ready to move into with no work to do), at lower price points you need to think about whether any work you give you a return. If your house is in an “up and coming” area, and the likely buyer is a young family, there is little point in investing in a Smallbone kitchen and top-of-the-range Miele appliances – your target market won’t have the budget to pay the additional cost.

If your house is in an “up and coming” area, and the likely buyer is a young family, there is little point in investing in a Smallbone kitchen and top-of-the-range Miele appliances

7. ...but do carry out repairs

Buyers’ surveyors will be looking out for any defects such as cracks, loose tiles and so on, and these will give the buyer leverage to chip away at their offer. The amount they try to knock the price down will often be far higher than the price it will cost you to have the problem fixed – the perception may be that if the surveyor has found these problems, there may be others hidden.

8. Be upfront about any historical problems

If a property has issues that a surveyor is likely to uncover, such as a history of subsidence, or Japanese knotweed, it is best to make the buyer aware of it so they don’t get any nasty shocks. A buyer’s surveyor is likely to be aggressive and out of your control, so if you have known issues it is likely to be worth paying for a friendly surveyor’s or structural engineer’s report upfront and giving it to buyers. Tell them: “We're aware of these issues – please take them into consideration in your bid rather than muck us around later in the process.”

If you've made changes to the property since you’ve owned it, get a surveyor to check for any planning permission or building control issues that may arise in advance. You don’t want these problems coming up during negotiations. In general, buyers are likely to drop the price far more if they suddenly become aware of an issue later on in the process, rather than factoring it in from the outset.

However well you prepare your home, you still need to make sure you have the best agent selling it, set the right price, choose the right time and get a good conveyancer. For more information on how to sell your house see our guide.

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