Showing Your Home For Sale


I have sold a couple of homes of my own, and more than that, I've shown other homes that had to be sold while I was renting them, which put me in the odd position of wanting to display a space to advantage even though I myself had nothing to gain by it. But one way or another, I know a thing or two about how to show a living space to strangers so they might consider buying it.

Let's be clear: most people will choose a property in what is almost a snap decision: in less than a minute past the threshold, many of them have already voted 'Yes' or 'No' on the place in their heart and mind (when it comes to property, who can say where the mind 'ends' and the heart 'begins'?). Very often they are looking for features over which you have no control: a large garden or a small one; a few bathrooms or a massive kitchen; a separate dining room or something open-plan; lots of picture windows; a plot with acreage or privacy; and so on. That does not mean, however, that you can't win viewers over. I have gone to houses that I did not expect to love and yet, when actually on site, I knew that of all the options, this was the right one for us. What can you do to nudge your own potential buyer in that direction?

In the first place, I think you have to start looking at your home as though you were a magazine considering it for a photo shoot. Let's start with the kitchen. Would your kitchen as it now is look the part? If not, why not? Do you have (as I had) scruffy over-the-pantry-door wire shelving, with all the spices lying this way and that on the wires? Well, get rid of it. Buy a smart chrome or wood shelf, screw it neatly to the inside of the pantry door, and stack it just as neatly with jars that are not lying higgledy-piggledy. That's one suggestion. How are your pots, trays, and electric gadgets organized? Are they organized? Are the cabinets grotty and full of crumbs or have you vacuumed them out and lined them with crisp-looking lining material? Do the cupboard doors have grime, grease, and discolouration, or have you wiped, scrubbed, or polished them so they're nearly pristine? All these details will make a difference. Cast a critical eye around each room. What does your critical eye catch, and how might you improve it? What opportunities does your designing eye see?

Here are my general suggestions for bringing your home to a higher standard -- whether you want to enjoy it more for yourself, or whether you're hoping to sell it.

1. Look for dirt. Once you start actively looking for dirt, trust me: you will see it. And you'll be amazed at how much, in your busy life with important people and projects to attend to, you have happily turned a blind eye to it. Or have you? That dirty streak on the carpet: it's annoying, isn't it? That gouge out of the door frame; that mark on the wall: these things catch your eye and say 'must be fixed, really', but somehow it all seems too trivial and too much effort, at the same time. But a lot of items can be 'refurbished' simply by being cleaned, and perhaps also by being re-painted. The thorough cleaning of an item can make the difference between feeling that it ought to be replaced and appreciating it as an asset. To show a home, you should be prepared to do what I call a 'deep clean' -- meaning that you are willing to move furniture and climb up ladders to really get the corners and awkward spaces. Items that can greatly benefit from dusting or washing include:

  • chandeliers, pendant lights, and flushmounts
  • electric switch [outlet] plates
  • ceiling fans
  • skirting boards and door frames
  • bathroom and kitchen cabinets
  • all exterior doors, and sometimes interior ones, too
  • windows, inside and out
  • curtains and blinds
  • ovens and range tops
  • shower stalls
  • rugs, broadloom, wood and tile floors
  • mirrors and picture frames
  • lamp bases and lampshades
  • glass and ceramic ornaments.

Also, take the time to look overhead: do you have cobwebs swinging from the ceilings? And look below: do you have dog treats gathering mould and dust under the sofas? Buy the tools to help you, and get rid of them all.

2. Balance the sense of 'rest' and 'resources'. A 'resource' might be a candle or lamp, a book, and a coaster. 'Rest' might be the table they're sitting on, with nothing else there to clutter it up. A room does not need to be nearly empty to be orderly, and it shouldn't be too spartan if you want it to feel inviting. On the other hand, too much stuff can be oppressive instead of pleasing. An armchair can certainly have a cushion in the corner -- but three cushions would look and feel like too much! So ask yourself, in any given room: 'If I put the toys in a covered basket, how does that seem? If the music is all out of sight, how does that look? Do I want all my jewellery in a box, or does it please me to see some in a dish or on a jewellery tree?' Think about the effect of what you see: do you like it that way, or would the room look better without these things all open to view? And if you're planning to sell, how might the arrangement of your furnishings look to someone else? Are they 'resources' and decoration, or are they likely to be interpreted as self-indulgent, untidy, oddball and a bit of a mess? When selling, err on the side of conventionality. It may make you grit your teeth, but it helps to close the deal!

3. Assess the condition of your goods. Is it time for an update or a new purchase? Many items can look vastly better if we just give them a quick polish, a new coat of paint, or some other form of refurbishment. A worn and peeling pleather office chair, for instance, can be made like new with a quality form-fitting cover of new material. A grotty laundry basin could look surprisingly charming with a new mirror over it and a tasteful adhesive veneer around its edges. But if other things have had their day, and are past the point of effective repair or dressing-up, you'd be better off replacing them. If your bedspread is in tatters, your prints have faded away in their frames, or your tea caddy has more chips than tea bags in it, maybe it's time to buy new.

4. Replace grungy fixtures. You know the sort: taps where the red for hot and blue for cold have paled with use; where the finish is rusting or corroded or peeling, and it never takes a shine even with cleaning. Fixtures that remind you of 1980s-era cheap motels. Shower heads that don't work quite right. Towel bars that are all chunky ceramic and plastic rods (did I mention already the cheap motels?). Get rid of those. And if you have tacky cabinet knobs and drawer pulls, chuck those and invest in good ones. Visitors to your home may think that they don't notice such details as knobs, toilet-roll holders, drab lights, and mildew clinging to the old-style faucet control -- but believe me, the attentive ones do.

5. Consider re-arranging your furnishings or supplementing them with new purchases. I say this particularly for those that have lived in different homes and moved more than once or twice. So often, we have had to put the goods we bought from Previous Home A into harmony with Previous Home B, both of which were quite different from Previous Home C, which was not even in the same country. So for instance you have a hall cabinet which was ideal for solving the problem presented by Home A, but which doesn't fit anywhere in your current home (let's call it D). The bookcase from Home B looked fine under the window next to the mirror in Home C, but now you will need to think of a whole new location for it. Perhaps the mirror-bookcase pairing doesn't work any more: change it. Or perhaps you need to donate one of the two. Whatever you do, don't feel that you have to keep belongings of the past just because they served you in the old days. Ownership of goods is ownership not marriage -- and you own them: they do not own you.

6. Decorate with plants. Plants enliven a room as nothing else does. But the plants should be healthy and well-tended: unloved plants are distracting (and, for the plant-lover, mildly depressing). If more than one live plant is too much for your interest or suitable space, then buy a vase or two and stock them with fresh bouquets. Hint: if a few flowers die, there's no need to chuck out the whole bouquet: just remove the early die-ers and keep the remainder going with fresh water. I've had bouquets last for weeks, with luck and good management. A bowl of fresh fruit will have much the same effect as a bouquet -- though obviously a fruit bowl is restricted to dining room or kitchen, whereas flowers are suitable nearly everywhere. The fruit-bowl-and-flowers advice may be a cliché of selling a home, but they are always pleasing, and why argue with what works?