Details matter when you want that new listing to stand out in today’s market. Here are some must-do seller prep tasks.

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This article was last updated Apr. 10, 2023.

Buyers have a million thoughts running through their minds as they walk through a home, processing everything from how much money they’ll have to spend on fixing, updating and replacing things to what they’ll have to offer to seal the deal.

They often take it all in while comparing how it looks in real life versus the online photos — what appears well-maintained, what looks like it could use a little update or what needs a complete replacement.

Structural items that are costly, like roofs, HVAC, plumbing and electrical, are often on a buyer’s mind. In addition, cosmetic updates that can help bring the home up to today’s design trends and finishes both inside and out come into focus.

In an uncertain market, sellers have to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward. So, what can they do to tackle what matters most — and get top dollar for their listing?

1. Structural

If a roof or HVAC is nearing the end of its life and needs a replacement, it’s always best to make that investment before going on the market. Buyers often don’t run from cosmetic improvements; they will, however, note big-ticket items that are vital to their safety and enjoyment of the property.

The additional difficulty and higher cost associated with obtaining insurance when a home has end-of-life components also factor into the bigger picture, which can deter buyers from making an offer.

Homes that look very pretty inside but have an older roof or HVAC often leave buyers wondering why the sellers decided not to replace those things instead of springing for a fancy kitchen.

Although buyers love seeing white cabinets and quartz countertops, they would much rather buy a home with dated countertops and appliances that has a newer roof, HVAC, water heater, etc.

2. Landscaping

This one is a relatively easy and lower-cost fix. Trimming trees, pruning bushes and updating the exterior with new plants can create curb appeal and make the home look more appealing in photos and video and to potential buyers driving by.

Freshening up the ground with new mulch, pine straw or river rock enhances the overall look and conveys a sense of pride of ownership to buyers. Buyers don’t like buying a jungle — unless they are intentionally moving to a rainforest.

Unkept yards with overgrown bushes and trees can seem overwhelming to buyers. Not to mention, they also can hinder how a home looks from the street as well as in photos and video, particularly if you’re taking aerial images. In short: Messy landscaping can really make the home less attractive to buyers and quickly diminish their interest.

3. Cleanliness

The topic of cleanliness has been covered ad nauseum for decades in all kinds of prep-for-sale advice. After 19 years of being in the business and touring numerous properties in various conditions, from updated to vintage to somewhere in between, I can tell you that the properties that have the most pristine appearance, both inside and out, garner the most enthusiastic response from buyers.

Even if the home isn’t updated with all the bells and whistles, buyers always notice how clean the home is. So, if sellers do nothing else, they should spend the time and money making sure their home is spotless in every way. This means pressure-washing the driveway and all walkways, gutters, fences, exterior of the home, patios, pool decks, etc.

When it comes to the interior, hiring a cleaning crew to do a deep clean is a must. This means tackling those tough-to-reach areas, such as the top of kitchen cabinets, interior doors, window sills, light fixtures, inside the window tracks, behind and underneath furniture as well as the usual cleaning of floors, bathrooms, kitchen, etc.

Don’t forget the windows. Clean windows can make all the difference in the world. No one likes to see grimy windows hiding behind blinds that are full of dust, pollen and overspray from sprinkler heads, and that look like they have been ignored for years.

Lastly, the garage is not exempt from being clean, organized and accessible, so don’t neglect this space. Buyers are quite impressed when they can walk into a garage that’s beyond immaculate and pristine. Get rid of the cobwebs, dead bugs and all of the debris that’s been dragged in over the years from vehicles, bikes and lawnmowers.

Even if a property is not the most updated, buyers always appreciate a super-clean home — free of any smells, dirt and dust. Homes that do not show well when it comes to cleanliness often send the signal that they may not be well-maintained. For some buyers, a dirty home is a total turnoff, and they will sometimes cut the showing short with no interest.

There is something about a clean home that’s warm and inviting and says that the homeowner who lives there cares about making the effort. Cleanliness always goes a long way in having a great showing experience.

4. Paint

Lots of home improvement advice boasts the virtues of a fresh coat of paint. A newly painted home on the inside and out can make a tremendous difference in conveying value. So, don’t cut corners with DIY — hire a professional instead.

The process should include properly addressing any drywall issues that may have accrued over the years, such as nicks, dents and gauges before painting. Don’t forget the ceiling, as buyers’ eyes always drift upward, checking for signs of any leaks or stains.

There is nothing worse than amateur touch-ups on walls and ceilings where attempts to match paint don’t quite mesh together. Old and new paint that’s supposedly the same color never seamlessly blend for a variety of reasons. The existing wall color fades over time, and certain paint colors are often discontinued or produced with a slightly different tint.

Lastly, don’t forget the garage floor. When’s the last time your sellers painted it or put down a coat of epoxy? Buyers don’t like seeing a garage floor with peeling paint, tire marks and dirt stains all over it. Putting the extra effort to spruce up the garage floor will definitely pay off.

5. Fencing

Fences add an incredible amount of value to a home. If the property has one that appears in disrepair, is leaning or dirty, the sellers should consider addressing those issues before going on the market.

Buyers definitely notice fences during showings, and they often become concerned when they see one that looks like it needs to be replaced or needs major repairs.

Depending on the financing involved, an appraiser may require a leaning fence to be repaired as a condition on the loan for VA, for example.  A newly replaced fence or one that has just been pressure-washed makes a great impression when buyers step into the backyard.

6. Gutters

Although this might not sound too exciting, seasoned buyers love gutters. Especially if the home is an area that gets any sort of rainstorms at all, this is a must-have feature.

We are not talking about just one or two gutters that may be there by default from the builder who built the home, but a gutter system that has been installed around the house. Gutter guards are always an added bonus to help keep leaves and other debris out of the gutters and minimize the need to clean them.

7. Kitchen

Moving to the inside, it’s no secret that kitchens convey a huge amount of value. Although it’s not practicable for sellers to remodel their kitchen just to sell it, in most cases, making some upgrades can go along way toward upping the value to a prospective buyer.

Depending on the kind of cabinets already in place, consider having them painted and changing out any drawers to soft-close if they aren’t already. One of the first things buyers love to check in a kitchen are the drawers.

Refacing cabinet doors can also be an option, depending on budget and timing. Also consider changing out the door and drawer hardware to upgrade the look. Updating the countertops to a veined marble quartz, as well as the sink to a larger, rectangular shaped style with an upgraded faucet are things that buyers take notice of and appreciate. Updating or adding a stylish tile backsplash is also another project that creates value and interest.

Lastly, appliances. Buyers pay close attention to these, and they typically don’t like a mish-mash of different styles and brands. Where possible, encourage your sellers to modernize all of them so they are similar in age and style.

If appliances are newer but need a good scrubbing, be sure to have stoves and ovens cleaned. Buyers consider it a huge turnoff when they open the oven door and find that it looks like it was last cleaned years ago or in many cases, never at all.

8. Flooring

One of the first things buyers take notice of is flooring. Today’s buyers are not keen on multiple kinds of flooring throughout a home and generally want the same material to run throughout for a seamless look. The same goes for outdated and worn flooring that needs replacement.

Buyers have turned away from carpet over the years in favor of luxury vinyl plank or stylish hardwood flooring. Although real hardwood flooring can be quite pricey, considering updating flooring to a high quality luxe vinyl plank that’s durable, long-lasting, can be waterproof or water resistant depending on the product chosen, and will instantly update the home’s look while adding a significant amount of value.

If changing out the flooring entirely is not an option, consider replacing any rooms with existing old carpet with new carpet that is in a neutral color that will have wide appeal. Upgrading the padding is also worth doing when replacing the carpet, as that’s a feature buyers also pay attention to when walking on the floors.

9. Doors

The front door is one of the first things buyers notice as they make their way into the house. If the door is outdated or worn, consider having it painted or stained along with changing out the hardware. If it’s in need of replacement, making this investment coveys a strong first impression to a potential new homeowner.

Take inventory of all exterior doors, such as those that lead from the indoors to the outside as well as interior ones. See if they are in need of any updates such as repainting, changing out hardware, replacing hinges, or if it would make sense to replace or upgrade them.

Going from an older, solid-core door to a paneled door for a bedroom for example helps create an upgraded and pleasing aesthetic.

10. Storage

Like sellers, buyers have stuff — and they want to know where they are going to put it. The most cost-effective improvement a seller can make is clearing out clutter, getting rid of unwanted items and organizing all storage areas from the closets, garages and attics to make sure they are showing off their storage space (and not the things in them).

Buyers should easily be able to to see a home’s storage spaces without worrying that a pile of stuff is going to come falling down. Ditto for closets that are so packed full of clothes and shoes you can barely get the closet door open.

By showing off these spaces, buyers will be able to visualize all of the places they’ll be able to put their holiday decorations, winter clothes, summer clothes and other “stuff” in general.

11. Deferred maintenance

There is no bigger turnoff than walking through a home and seeing lots of deferred maintenance. Think: Bathrooms that need caulking, tile in need of re-grouting, corroded plumbing fixtures and missing light bulbs, to name a few.

A common item regarding deferred maintenance can be the HVAC. When was the last time your sellers had their system was serviced, coils cleaned and Freon levels checked?

Taking time to address the fix-it list before opening the home to prospective buyers is key to presenting a home that looks taken care of and well-maintained. It will prevent buyers from worrying that these simple repairs may be significantly more costly than they actually are.

12. Lighting

Buyers want homes that are light and bright, and quickly discount those that are dark and have a depressing vibe. Changing light bulbs or swapping out light fixtures can create a bright and cheery ambiance that will make buyers want to spend time in the house, thus hopefully creating a climate ripe for multiple offers.

13. Bathrooms

It’s no secret buyers pay attention to bathrooms. Although they are typically OK with secondary bathrooms not being the most updated, there are several things sellers can do if their bathrooms could use some sprucing up before coming on the market.

Changing out vanities, sinks and plumbing fixtures are some of the easiest ways to update the look. There are many furniture quality vanities with prebuilt counters that provide some great options that can be installed rather quickly versus having something custom built.

The same goes for toilets and updating the plumbing fixtures in showers and tubs. If there are old mirrors on the walls, now is a great time to change those out to something more stylish and on trend as well.

14. Sprinkler system

Sellers are often surprised to discover how many sprinkler heads need adjustment or replacing once buyers do their home inspection. Additionally, they are often surprised at how difficult it can be to get a sprinkler repair person to come out, on top of the cost of addressing all of these repairs.

Although this is not something buyers are going to check before an inspection, they often expect the sprinkler system to be working properly. Doing a sprinkler-system check ahead of time will save a lot of hassle and headache once the transaction is underway.

There are always a myriad of ways to enhance a home’s value from good old-fashioned cleaning, organization and painting to making more substantial updates like changing out countertops and appliances.

When it comes to conveying value, details matter. Spending time addressing these items will result in strong offers, short marketing times and less buyer hesitation, which will lead to a smooth transaction with less post-inspection negotiation.

Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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