Whether you’re moving up, downsizing or moving out for the first time, selling a space is a big job and your goal is to snag top dollar for your space. The best way to do that is to make it look incredible—clean, decluttered and a blank canvas for prospective buyers to paint their hopes and dreams onto when they step in. Let’s be frank; you’ve got a big job on your hands. The good news is, that I’ve been helping people prepare for home sales since I started my cleaning company back in 2006, so I’ve got crazy good insight on what needs to be done. You don’t want to give prospective buyers reason to try to negotiate a lower price! Let’s dig in and discuss how to clean your house when preparing to sell it.
Declutter Personal Items, Furniture & Junk
No one wants to walk into an antique store or into a potentially awkward emotional experience. The idea is to depersonalize the space and just make it look, well, pleasant. Start by decluttering, because clutter makes space look smaller. Box up and store anything that is excessive or taking up valuable closet, counter or floor space. Less is more!
- Remove everything you don’t absolutely need: books, DVDs, shoe racks/mats, extra dishes and canned foods, small kitchen appliances (waffle maker?) etc. You get the idea
- Ditch knickknacks from your fridge and other surfaces around the house (many small items grouped together looks cluttered and messy).
- Consider removing furniture, things like desks, side tables, ottomans, decorative pieces, anything that crowds the space — especially in smaller condos.
- Clean out closets where possible, pack away clothes to make closets seem larger (this includes the linen and coat closet).
While staging you want to pack away personal items so prospective buyers can imagine the space as their own. They also may be sensitive to anything too personal. Give prospective buyers no reason to get the heebie-jeebies!
- Pack away most family photos–a nice family photo can help give a feeling of warmth and happiness to the space, but copious amounts aren’t a good idea–christmas cards, that quilt your aunt knitted you for your wedding, even go so far as to remove paintings and hangings from the walls to open things up.
- Hideaway personal stuff (mail, medications, invitations, day planner etc.).
- Remove religious items from your home.
Clean The Kitchen
People want to walk into a kitchen and feel like it is super clean. A clean kitchen and a clean bathroom tell a lot to a prospective buyer about the state of cleanliness of your home. I know I’ve walked into kitchens before that have made me shudder and it turns me off of the entire space. Here’s how to clean the kitchen really well and impress even the most finicky buyers.
- Clean the oven. Set your oven to the self-clean mode and wipe when done. Make sure you clean the oven racks, too, as potential buyers will look inside! If you have a non-self-cleaning oven, scrub the interior as best you can using a a degreaser and baking soda. You may also want to use a SKrAPr for this.
- Clean your fridge and freezer. Remove any food that no longer belongs; mushy produce, bottles and jars which are near empty and give the shelves a quick wipe down.
- The dishwasher filter can be removed, rinsed and replaced, and to deodorize the dishwasher, leave a cup of baking soda in an empty dishwasher overnight and in the morning, run through an empty load with just that baking soda on the hottest setting possible. This will help remove any odours.
- Replace your overhead exhaust fan, it’s likely grimy and a clean one will look much better. If your overhead exhaust needs a cleaning, do that too.
- Declutter and wipe your kitchen cupboards. Overflowing cupboards give potential buyers the impression that there is not enough space for everything. Grimy cupboards look unsavoury, so clean the exterior as well as the handles to give the kitchen that high-polish look.
- Put a new box of baking soda in the fridge to help deodorize it.
- Clean your light fixtures by quickly dusting them.
- Have fresh tea towels out and conceal sponges and cleaning cloths.
- Remove anything from the counter that isn’t absolutely necessary. This means fruits, bags of bread, containers, even certain small appliances can go – the less clutter, the bigger the space looks. And your counter should be clean and shining. Use all-purpose cleaner and a microfiber cloth to get it gleaming.
- Sweep and mop the floors.
Clean The Bathroom
The bathroom is a space that we get clean in, so prospective buyers want it to look clean too! Like the kitchen, a grotty bathroom can completely turn someone off from your space. The bathroom has to be absolutely spotless!
- Scrub the toilet really well, use a pumice stone to remove rings or stains and make sure the entire exterior and surround is clean.
- Vacuum the bathroom vent and dust the light fixtures.
- Get rid of mold and mildew as best you can in the shower. This is a huge turnoff for people (more work!). Use your own product like baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and scrub with a cleaning toothbrush, or purchase a specialty mold and mildew remover. If it’s very stubborn, consider re-caulking.
- The tub should be free of soap scum. Also, remove personal items from the shower area. Keep products and shower items to a minimum.
- Consider getting a new shower curtain and mat in bathroom, or launder the ones you have.
- Place all unnecessary items in a basket and place that under your sink. Your toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and face wash can be out but any additional items should be placed away.
- The bathroom counter and sink area should be sparkling and sparse, since many of us want to walk into as large a bathroom as possible. Wipe this area as well as the mirrors well, using a microfiber cloth.
- NO HAIR ANYWHERE! Hair freaks people out. Vacuum the bathroom well and keep a lint roller handy to pick up any strays.
- If you have any drawers or cupboards in the bathroom, try to declutter and organize. People will look to see where their stuff could potentially go. Hide anything personal and yes, people will look in your medicine cabinet.
When someone first walks into your home, they’ll smell something…and that something will impact their brain’s interpretation of your space. This can affect whether or not they want to make an offer. I strongly recommend that you try to reduce as much odor as possible during the clean-up. If you like, infuse a gentle scent into your home (I certainly don’t want to walk into a space and be punched in the face with memories of cranberry).
Remember, your home smells like you and your family; it’s your scent signature. It may seem OK to you but may turn other people off – and you may not even know about it! Trust me, your house needs to be deodorized.
- Air your home out for a week. Seriously. Leave windows open as often as you can and let the cross breeze circulate the air and clear out any stuffiness.
- Cleaning your carpets, drapes and upholstery (‘soft surfaces’) will also help get rid of odors. This can all be done professionally or you can rent a machine and do it yourself. Window treatments can often be laundered or dry cleaned.
- Deodorize carpets and upholstery by sprinkling baking soda overtop of the soft surface, leave it to sit for 30 minutes and vacuum up. This will help remove odors and loosen stubborn dirt.
- There are a plethora of ways you can bring a nice scent into your home. I recommend staying away from anything too strong, because it can seem like you are trying to mask something and that can be a turnoff. Use a nebulizer with essential oils, a lampe berger, bake cookies, simmer cinnamon on the stove with water, or use a reed diffuser.
- Any areas with pets need to be cleaned well, this means washing pet beds and thoroughly cleaning any areas where a pet may do unsavoury things, such as using a litterbox or where the pet shakes off after a being outside.
Walls, Fingerprints and Points of Contact
Scuffs, fingerprints and marks on your walls and points of contact (light switch plates, doorknobs, doors, etc.) look grimy. As well, cobwebs and dust look creepy and can give the overall impression that the space is not well maintained. It is so simple to clean these areas and it makes a big impact!
- Use a microfiber cloth and all-purpose cleaner to wipe points of contact clean.
- Use a high duster to capture any dust and cobwebs lurking in corners, crown moulding or light fixtures.
- Wipe baseboards by hand – vacuum first if very dusty. If you notice marks, use a touch of baking soda on a cloth sprayed with all-purpose cleaner and the mark should come off. You can use a cleaning eraser sponge if you like, or you can touch up your baseboards with paint.
- Walls and doors may need a quick touch up too.
- Use a bit of chalk to colour over any grease stains on the wall (fingerprints), allow this to sit for a few moments, and then wipe off with a damp microfiber cloth to remove the prints.
- If you notice any marks, you can use the baking soda method as mentioned above or a cleaning eraser sponge, just test in a hidden area first.
- You may also feel that touching up certain spots on the wall (with paint) will be a good way to freshen up the space and make it look cleaner.
Clean Windows and Window Coverings
Natural light is a big deal! Agents and prospective buyers swoon over lots of natural light and big windows. Maximize the natural light in your space by having clean windows, and allow that light to beam in.
- For exterior windows, use a solution of hot water, a squirt of dish soap and a cup of white vinegar. Using a double-sided squeegee, clean the glass working your way from top to bottom.
- For interior windows, you can use the same method, or you can use a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water and stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch to really get rid of the grime. Clean from top to bottom using a microfiber cloth. The windows will look great and will be streak-free to boot.
- Wipe or dust any window treatments.
- Clean window tracks by vacuuming up any dirt, cleaning with a bit of all-purpose cleaner and a cleaning toothbrush. Wipe up well and allow to dry.
Warm and Inviting Bedrooms
The master bedroom should not have too much furniture and should appear like a spa and a major relaxation zone. Kids rooms should look tidy and decluttered, and like a space which will be fun and nurturing for them. Making any room look clean, inviting and cozy is the way to go. The less clutter, the more people can feel themselves and imagine their stuff or their style in your space; and you want to evoke that feeling.
- Wash linens and make-up beds. Unwashed linens leave an odor behind (sweat, body oils, dead skin cells), so get rid of that by keeping your linens clean. If your sheets and bedding look old and tired, consider replacing them. You want your bed to look like a hotel room’s bed!
- Take anything out of your room that may make people feel uncomfortable – you get the idea.
- Bedroom closets should look as expansive as humanly possible – so declutter it and have items neatly hanging and folded. Further to that, the closet shouldn’t have clothes jammed up against each other, everything should hang loosely and have plenty of space.
- Kids rooms should have minimal clutter and should look clean and cute. Stuffed animals and toys are fine, just ensure they look organized.
Other Spaces and Quick Tricks
Areas like offices, dens, occasional rooms and the basement all need consideration, too. Follow the general principles I’ve addressed in this post (i.e. declutter and depersonalize the office), and you should be in pretty good shape. That said, I want to draw your attention to a few specifics that will make a good impression on a prospective buyer:
- Clean your washing machine and dryer. Buyers will likely inherit these with the sale and will want to feel they’re getting a good set (think: negotiation point), not that they’ll have to spend a few thousand bucks on a new one.
- Change your furnace filter. Some buyers may play home inspector and check the furnace out to see if it is in good shape.
- Clean light fixtures and vents. Dusty light fixtures can shade light from beaming down on your space, and you want to allow as much light in as possible. Dusty vents look creepy and give that impression of poor maintenance.
- To clean fixtures, turn the lights off (a light bulb will pop if exposed to something cool like a cloth with spray). Use a lightly dampened microfiber cloth to dust the fixtures as best you can. Certain glass fixtures can be removed and washed with soapy water, dried and replaced. You can also use a special dusting spray designed for intricate light fixtures if needed.
- To clean vents, simply use the vacuum brush attachment and quickly suction up any lingering dust.
- Put out fresh, clean towels in bathrooms and the kitchen.
- Have a welcoming front entryway – this makes all the difference! Consider a ‘please remove shoes’ sign so that you don’t have to clean up any footprints. A nice doormat may help, too.
With all of this done, you will leave no doubts in a potential buyer’s mind that the space is in great condition and has been well-maintained. Further, they can move in knowing that the space is relatively clean! If you find this to be a lot, consider bringing in a cleaning crew and directing them to these specific areas. You can work alongside them doing what you can and allowing them to do the more heavy-duty work. Investing time or money into a cleaning and decluttering session before you sell will most certainly pay you back!
Let me know in the comments what other things you do when preparing your house for a sale, I’m curious!