We put our first house on the market on Black Friday of 2015… it was so scary to think that the listing was out there and now all we could do was wait. Wait to see if anyone wanted to come and see it. Wait to see if anyone liked the few pictures we thought best captured our house enough to want and visit in person. Wait to see if this whole “let’s sell this house by ourselves!” thing even had a prayer of working.
Waiting is scary.
But then the first text came just one day later. Someone wanted to come and see it, but they would be out of town and couldn’t get there until the next week. And then another text came in… someone wanted to come and see it the very next day! YES! And then in the same breath, GOOD-THING-WE-CLEANED-THE-CARPETS-BUT-SHOOT-SOMEONE-WANTS-TO-COME-SEE-OUR-HOUSE! And thus began the preparations.
Over the next three months, we showed the house probably around 20 or so times, sometimes several in one week. I will tell you right now- it is exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Have you ever tried to live in a house that is also supposed to be in showing condition? Yeah, HARD. And we didn’t even have pets or kids! As we got more familiar with the process, we subconscienciously came up with a mental check-list that we went through before every showing. Making sure our house was looking its best every.single.time eventually helped in getting a full-asking offer, so in the end… totally worth the effort! Here’s how we did it:
CLEAN the house. Within an inch of its life. I’m sorry, folks… there’s just no getting around this. You can usually fake a clean house when you have guests over by throwing things in baskets, putting junk in a back bedroom and closing the door, etc. But not when you’re showing your house. People can tell when a house doesn’t feel clean and that definitely has an impact on how much potential they can see in a space.
DON’T FORGET THE CLOSETS and other areas that you can usually close and lock. Because guess what? When someone comes to see your house, they are going (and are perfectly entitled) to look at and in everything. This means closets, pantries, cabinets, the garage, the basement, etc. Make sure to tidy up those spaces too!
DE-CLUTTER, DON’T DE-PERSONALIZE! This is very important when you think about how to present your home to a potential buyer. My first thought was to rid the entire house of anything that felt personal- give them a blank slate, so to speak. Here’s the thing, though… most people walk into a house hoping to be able to see themselves making a home there. If the space is devoid of any homey touches, that can be a real challenge for some people! My mom reminded me of this after our first showing and promptly came over with a few potted evergreens for outside the front door and some nick nacks to put on the kitchen counters (I had packed mostly everything away).
There definitely has to be a balance with this, though. Your space should still feel clean and inviting. A good rule of thumb is to pack up anything that could be seen as clutter or overly personal decorating choices and leave out pieces that make the house feel like a welcoming, livable space. For example, part of our choice to repaint the Spare Room white was because we knew that not everyone would relate to a bright turquoise wall. That alone might have made it challenging for someone to be able to picture themselves in the house. However, we left our Family Room shelves styled (we even had a few family pictures up there) and kept pillows and throws on the couch to give it that livable vibe.
TURN ON THE LIGHTS and lamps in every room. It didn’t matter what time of day it was that we happened to be showing; we always had every single light on. Even the front porch light and the back patio Christmas lights. More lights make the house feel brighter (duh), cozier, and inviting. Psst… Make sure to double check that no bulbs are out beforehand! We definitely had a few showings that we noticed that detail too late to do anything about it.
OPEN THE BLINDS. This goes along with the turning-on-lights thing… there is just no substitute for natural light and prospective buyers will want to see what the views are out the windows anyway. Even during night-time showings, we kept the blinds up because otherwise the rooms felt a bit dungeon-y.
GET RID OF ANY WEIRD SMELLS. We had a formula by the end of our house-showing time. The first step was to do our best not to create any excessive food smells if we knew we had a showing coming up. Our bottom floor tended to hold onto the “what was last cooking” smell for a day or so and we definitely did not want that to be a potential buyer’s first impression of the house, however yummy the meal was. If we had a showing scheduled, we would avoid cooking smelly things like bacon or burgers, etc. Often times, we ate out just to make sure. If a showing popped up without much notice, we had a plan for that too. Unfortunately, because we were showing primarily during the winter months, opening the windows and door was not always an option. My go-to method was to boil a small pot of water on the stove and add cranberries, a stick of cinnamon (or ground cinnamon if we didn’t have any sticks), and some vanilla.
Occasionally, I’d even add slices of fruit if we had it on hand (lemons, oranges, and apples work nicely). Allow it to simmer on the stove, add more water as the steam evaporates, and you’re good to go. This method worked every time and made the whole house smell so nice relatively quickly. I found this felt more natural and smelled nicer than just spraying Febreeze everywhere or cranking an air freshener up to full blast. That being said, one of our final touches before every showing was to give each bathroom a quick spray of Febreeze, just to add a touch of freshness for good measure. Nothing overwhelming, just a light spritz!
LIGHT SOME CANDLES for extra mood. We had a few in select places so we’d always remember to light them and then extinguish them at the end of the showing. We had one on the stove, two on the kitchen table, one in each bathroom, and one in the family room. We didn’t necessarily use them for the scent (I actually try to buy them scentless or with very subtle smells), but they did add to the coziness factor of the house. In addition to the candles, we always turned on the fireplace as well!
SET UP OUTDOOR SPACES to look their best too! Even though it was winter, unless we had a layer of snow outside, we set up our patio every single time we had a showing. That meant tables and benches wiped down, umbrella out, pillows and cushions out, candles lit, and Christmas lights on. Since outdoor space can be such a big selling point, we wanted to highlight ours in the best possible way, even if it meant a little extra set-up. This really helped visitors to be able to picture what it could look and feel like in the warmer months when you’d actually want to be outside.
TAKE OUT THE TRASH! This means in every room. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an easy one to forget. This is one of those times where “personal touch” will not work in your favor. No one wants to see your trash and a full bin could negate even the best cleaning job!
PUT OUT A FLIER for guests to take home with them. We printed a few (you can see it here) on cardstock paper and had a pile sitting out on the counter. Because our flier had lots of pictures of the rooms that visitors had just walked through, it gave them something to take home to remember which property was ours. Make sure to include contact information for getting in touch later down the road, should they want to ask additional questions or even make an offer!
I think that about wraps it up… 10 Tips for Showing a House. For those of you visual people, we have a Final House Tour coming your way tomorrow! You’ll get to see what our first house looked like right in the middle of “showing season”, when all (or at least) most of these methods were in place to get that house SOLD. Also… and get hype for this because I just watched it and it’s a real gem… we shot a “Messy House Tour” during Moving Week, so you’ll get to see the real deal. The honest-to-goodness disaster of a house that was our reality the very last week we lived there. That’s coming next week, so stay tuned!