Nothing pays dividends to the sellers of a house quite like elbow grease. Good housekeeping and repair, spaciousness, and pleasant aromas bring top dollar and fast sales. Conversely, the demons to the business of home selling are dirt, lack of light and space, too much deferred maintenance, and bad odors. 

This checklist endeavors to pinpoint those specific items around the home that are, or can be, the key to a successful sale. The list is extensive, but the most saleable properties usually reflect attention to each of the areas discussed. If your home has extensive deferred maintenance and time and funds are limited, it may not be practical to cover all the points, but do the best job possible. 

So invest the time to make your home sparkle. Use this checklist as a guide to a faster, more profitable sale.


PAINT: Few things will enhance the saleability of a house quite so much as painting the outside. Before painting scrape or power wash any blistered or peeling paint, repair gutters and downspouts, and replace wood showing dry rot. Wood, trim work,gutters and wrought iron should receive primary attention. 

FRONT ENTRY: Give special care to this area. This is where buyers get their first opportunity to make a close inspection, and they will pick it apart looking for flaws, so eliminate them. All woodwork should be freshly and neatly painted, including the door if necessary. Replace a badly worn of broken doorbell button. Put on a new or clean doormat, oil door hinges,clean all glass so it sparkles.

YARD: Mow and edge the lawn. Weed all flower beds and plant colorful flowers. Remove or replace dead plants or trees. You should water regularly during the growing season. With desert landscaping, make sure that no underlying plastic is exposed, that rocks and sand are tidy, and that weeds and grass are removed. Curb appeal is extremely important. 

DRIVEWAY/GARAGE/CARPORT:  Clean up grease or oil spots, remove the soil at least if not the stain. See that the garage door opens freely and that the automatic door opener is in good working order. If possible don’t park cars in the front of the house or driveway, try to have very few parked on the street near the house. Recreational vehicles or boats should be in the garage or carport or behind a fence in the back. Derelict cars or ones being overhauled should not be visible from the street and preferably should not even be present. For showings, garage doors should be closed.

FENCE: A few missing stakes or slats are real eyesores to buyers, yet are usually inexpensive and easy to fix. Repair, paint, or stain if necessary.

ROOF: Remove visible debris or toys. Straighten the TV antenna if necessary. Remove any tree branches bearing on the roof, and clean all debris from the gutters and downspouts. Downspout extensions should be at least 5 feet away from the house. 

AIR CONDITIONERS: Repaint or replace any rusted exposed metal. Correct improper draining and keep air conditioner clean. 

PATIO:  A nice spread of patio furniture looks very appealing. If necessary borrow from a friend to enhance salability. If you have a wood deck fresh stain looks great!!

SWIMMING POOL: Adjust chemicals until the pool sparkles. Hose, dust and cobwebs from the filtration equipment. Store chemicals and tools neatly. 


WINDOWS: Repair or replace torn or bent screens. As a last resort, remove them entirely; no screens are better than unsightly ones. Replace any cracked or broken panes, Also, notice foliage near windows. A window framed in ivy can give a warm, homey feeling, but cut it back if the foliage is restricting the light coming into the room. Drapery rods should be affixed firmly to walls and work smoothly; draperies should be reasonably clean and hang properly. Clean windows and frames are very important. 

DOORS: repair or replace doors that have holes. One method of repair short of replacement is to cover a hole with a permanent mirror or piece of paneling. Check to see that all doors open or close freely, including closet doors and patio or sliding glass doors. Oil any squeaky doors. Tighten the hardware, particularly doorknobs.  While making this kind of adjustment, tighten hardware on kitchen and bathroom cabinets, too. 

WALLS: as with the exterior, painting will pay dividends out of all proportion to the time and effort spent. Wallpaper should be clean and adhere smoothly to walls. Patch all major holes in wallboard and plaster. Loose handrails on stairways should be secured to walls. Clean or paint air-vent covers,and exhaust fan covers.

FLOORS: Repair or replace missing or damaged pieces of tile; polish if needed, basement too! Repair of loose stair tread-plate or loose carpeting on a stairway is top priority.

CARPET: Steam-cleaning is the best answer for soiled carpet; shampooing seldom does the job. If pet odors are present, be sure to clean the carpet some time before the home is placed on the market to be sure the odors have been eliminated. Loose carpet should be anchored properly.


LIGHTS: Every light socket in and around the house should have a good bulb of adequate wattage. Don’t overlook those outside; in garage, utility room, hall, closets, or over the kitchen sink and in the oven and exhaust hood. 

SWITCHES AND FIXTURES: Repair or replace wall switches, outlets, and light fixtures that don’t work. Replace any broken switch plates. Note: If you are not fully competent to handles these repairs, call a professional.

APPLIANCES: Those that will be sold with the home should be in good working condition and clean. If specific equipment does not work and you do not intend to repair it, point this out in your sellers disclosure statement.

PLUMBING: Badly chipped or irreversible stained sinks and tubs should be re-enameled,patched or replaced . Leaky or excessively

Noisy toilets should be fixed, as well as any dripping faucets.

SPRINKLER SYSTEMS: these should be working properly with no defects. 


One of the best and least expensive ways to improve the salability of your home is to open up as much space as possible. Openness stimulates positive feeling in buyers. Overstuffed rooms and closets give the impression of being smaller than they really are. You can’t change the size of what you have, so try to present it in a pleasing way. If necessary, rent a mini-storage unit to store your excess belongings in while the house is on the market. The general rule is to remove anything on the floor that you can. 

CLOSETS AND STORAGE AREA: One of the most frequently voiced requirements of buyers is for closet and storage space. Open your storage areas by getting rid of items you are not using and organize.

Also, the home inspector will need access to the attic. If that is through the closet please be advised he will need access when that time comes. 

COUNTERS AND CABINETS: The same principle applies here: overcrowding gives the impression of inadequacy. This applies to bathrooms and kitchens, with the kitchen being the most important. Store infrequently used counter top appliances. Do some prudent discarding in cabinets. Everything that is supposed to sparkle should be sparkling.

GARAGE: Buyers will pay a premium for a garage if they can visualize it being of value to them, but it’s hard to sell the virtues of a garage  has become a two-car attic, move the excess to a mini-storage unit for the duration, organize and stack whatever is left. 


The following comments are on areas often neglected or overlooked.

BATHROOMS: Few places in the home can get so dirty so fast, and yet few things will “unsell” a house as fast as dirty baths. Vanity, sink, faucet hardware, and mirror are the focal points but other potential problems might be soap residue in the shower, a moldy shower curtain, accumulated dirt in a track of a sliding shower door, soiled or missing grout, stained toilet bowls, and dirty or battered bath mats. Clean grout, fresh towels, and colorful soaps can help set the stage.

KITCHEN: Like baths, kitchens get dirty all by themselves. Most buyers will inspect this area carefully so extra time invested here is well spent. Clean the stove inside and out. Replace badly stained and corroded reflector plates under the heating elements on the electric range tops. Don’t neglect the kitchen exhaust hood; buyers frequently check this area as a clue to general housekeeping.

WINDOWS: Clean windows are an absolute necessity if a home is to look its best, yet this is very often overlooked.

WATER HEATER, SOFTENER AND FURNACE: Perhaps because it is so unusual, a sparkling clean water heater, water softener, and furnace really impress buyers and it takes so little time and effort. 


WET TOWELS AND WASHCLOTHS: Residents of a home frequently aren’t aware of what a potential source of a bad odor these are. Replace all used towels with fresh ones before a showing.

SOILED CLOTHES: When the house is being shown, keep dirty laundry out of the living area; move it to the utility room, garage, or storage area. 

GARBAGE: Take all trash and garbage out of the house, particularly any food-related discards from the kitchen. And make sure no potatoes or onions are going bad under the sink or in the pantry. After running through a disposal unit, grind up of a lemon to add a fresh smell!

SEWER GAS IN THE HOUSE: Do whatever is necessary to correct this problem before the house is placed on the market; often it is just a matter of pouring a quart of water in each basement drain that is seldom used.

CATS AND DOGS: As a first step, move the cats litter box out of the house, and be sure to clean up after dogs before showing.


VALUABLES: You may have valuable possessions that you like to display in your home, but when the home is being shown to strangers it is not the time to display. Never leave small valuable items lying around on counters or visible in closets or cabinets. Get them out of sight, if not out of the house. Don’t invite a problem.

EXCLUSIONS FROM THE SALE: make a note now of the items you do not intend to include with the sale of the house; freestanding items are generally not included, but when in doubt spell it out. Some items that often cause misunderstandings are the light fixtures,  draperies, large mirrors, water softeners, garage door openers and TV antennas. Generally if it is screwed , glued or nailed down or planted it stays unless you specifically exclude it.

KEYS: As you are readying the house for market, make a note to gather all the keys for the house, including keys for doors, deadbolts, garage doors and any padlocks around the property. All locks should have functioning keys.

INSTRUCTION MANUALS: As with keys, gather manuals and warranties for the mechanical equipment in the house, kitchen appliances, water heater and softener, air conditioning and heating units, evaporative cooling units, pool and filtration equipment, and electronic air filters. Keep these available for the home inspection and to turn over to purchasers when keys are exchanged.


LIGHTS: Open all draperies unless there is an objectionable view. In most rooms you should turn on ALL the lights for a bright and cheerful look. Lamps and indirect lighting are preferable, but use overhead lights if that’s all there is in a particular room.

LIGHT SWITCHES: If some wall switches operate wall outlets, plug in a lamp or radio to demonstrate that the switch works. When a buyer flips a switch and nothing happens, he instinctively suspects a problem.

AROMAS: Set out some fresh flowers, both for their appearance and fragrance. Bake cookies or bread, or cook a beef roast; don’t cook seafood or strong smelling vegetables like cabbage or cauliflower.

CLOSETS: Keep doors closed except for walk-in closets. Have those doors slightly ajar and turn on the lights to draw special attention to this feature.

POSTERS AND SIGNS: We live in a tolerant age, but don’t take the chance on offending a potential buyer. Remove signs or posters that might be considered offensive.

ASHTRAYS: Dirty ashtrays are both unsightly and a source of objectionable odor to nonsmokers. Keep them clean.

UTILITY BILLS: Have copies of at least the last 12 months bills available, or at least written summary of the amounts paid monthly for that period, if requested.

PETS: Get them out of the house, if not off the property. Some people don’t like dogs, and nobody likes muddy paw prints on a clean suit or dress. Cats can be just as objectionable to the person who does not like them, and invariably cats will single out the single cat-hater to use as a rubbing post.

YOUR PRESENCE: Most buyers will not relax and closely inspect a home if the owners are present, so try to arrange to turn the home over to the salesperson. If you must remain at home, refrain from talking unless the questions are directed to you. All too often, a seller will jump in to and point out some special features, fearful that the salesperson might overlook it. But please bear in mind that some of the most successful salespeople will say little or nothing during showings, and for two reasons: first they have made their selling points before entering the house; and second, they want the buyers to discover some things for themselves in order to build excitement. The salesperson also knows the buyers’ temperament, so trust the salespersons’ professional abilities.

ONE FINAL NOTE: the legal principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is dead or dying. We are living in an age of consumerism, and  it’s hard to find a court that won’t find in favor for the buyer in a dispute. In fact, consumer groups and many government agencies are taking the posture that the seller has a positive obligation to disclose everything.  9 out of 10 sales will include a home inspection paid for by the purchasers which generally include an evaluation of all of the following:

  • Foundations
  • Roof, windows, doors
  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Ventilation
  • Common areas (for condominiums)
  • Septic tanks, wells or sewer lines
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing and electrical systems
  • Ceilings, walls and floors
  • Hazardous materials concerns

If you have a problem in your home, don’t mask it. A common example is the homeowner who spray-paints a ceiling to cover water stains caused by a leaking roof. If you have a major problem that you don’t intend to correct, be candid about it. Sure, some people will be turned off by the prospect of a major repair , but most buyers who otherwise like the home will be philosophical about a problem openly displayed, And usually they will discount the price they offer by far less than the cost of the repair. So be forewarned; hell hath no fury like a buyer burned.

              Thank you,

               Tom Desmone, C.R.S, G.R.I., R.A.M.,Associate Broker

               RE/MAX Suburban, Inc.