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  • Writer's pictureDebbie DeMarais

Preparing Your House to Sell in Summer

Last updated: March 1, 2021

Are you planning to sell your home this summer? Then March just became the most important month of your year.

Why? Because March is the ideal time to get your house in shape for sale. You have time to make minor repairs and upgrades, plus these late winter days that keep us indoors are perfect for conquering clutter. You’ll also be able to harness the return of spring to enhance your home’s curb appeal and online listing — both of which are critical to attracting potential buyers. By using the guidelines below you can positively impact the listing price of your home.

Where Should You Start?

I’m a certified professional home stager who has helped bring in full asking price on listings ranging from $150K to $3.5M. Over the years, I’ve pinpointed five ideal steps every homeowner should consider in their selling process:

  1. Basic home repairs

  2. Easy upgrades

  3. Declutter and depersonalize

  4. Address curb appeal

  5. Deep clean

Start now and when your summer listing date comes around, your home will be ready to capture a buyer’s attention and net you top dollar.

All of the following steps are things most homeowners can complete themselves, but if any of them feel too overwhelming, consider hiring a home stager like me. A good home stager will see to every step on this list so you can have the smoothest — and most successful — home sale possible.

Example of a living room in an occupied Santa Fe home staged for an open house.
Following the five steps I provide, most homes can transform into beautiful listings-- even homes that will be occupied while on the market.

1. Attend to Minor House Repairs

It’s your home. You’ve come to peace with the squeaking hinge on the screen door, the cracked stucco by the downspout and the peeling trim on the kitchen window. But prospective buyers won’t turn a blind eye to those things — those will likely be the first things they see. And every time they notice a potential repair that’s money they’re deducting from their offer.

Here’s what to do:

  • Get a clipboard and pencil

  • Walk through every room of your house as if you were doing a home inspection

  • Take note of every minor repair you notice

  • Do the same thing outdoors, in the garage, and in sheds

With your list in hand, highlight everything you feel you can do yourself. For the tougher tasks, start looking for pros who can handle the rest. Sites like Houzz offer reviews and ratings for home professionals in your area. You can also check with your local realtor’s association for suggestions. A Google search can be helpful but just keep in mind; top search results are just as often a product of good marketing as they are of good service, so pay attention to things like websites, testimonials, ratings, and professional standards like licensing. Be sure to get a couple of estimates before deciding who to work with.

2. Upgrade The Easy Things

After repairs, look into making a few simple upgrades that buyers will love. Hands down, the easiest upgrade you can make that will have the highest impact is paint color.

Color is personal. Most of us paint our rooms to suit our taste — which is great! But when it comes time to sell, that eggplant-colored bathroom is a no-go. Ask almost any listing agent what colors work best for buyers and you know what they’ll say?

Bright neutral tones. Whites, creams, and vanillas.

Boring? Maybe. Broadly appealing? Absolutely.

Picking the right shades and sheens is important — chalky white primer is almost worse than that eggplant color. Find a warm yet modern white for the walls and a complementary neutral for trim. If you struggle with the intricacies of color matching, find a home stager or interior designer — or just ask a stylish friend to help you choose. Color consultation is one of the services I offer, so I understand the panic some people feel when it comes to choosing paint color.

Another upgrade that will help your home stand out is updated appliances. If your dishwasher has dutifully served for two decades, it probably shows it. New appliances, especially in the kitchen, can bring a strong return on investment. When picking out new appliances, go for matching finishes throughout a room.

Lighting is often overlooked, but it can make a huge difference — not just how your home looks in person but in online photos too. Switching out outdated fixtures for something more contemporary is important, but so is keeping a consistent color tone in the room. Using the same type of bulb in each light fixture will bring cohesion and continuity to a room.

If you’ve got a tight budget for lighting upgrades prioritize replacing fixtures in the most public rooms: dining room, kitchen, and living room.

3. Declutter & Depersonalize

This is the hardest step for nearly all of my clients. But to attract buyers, you need to declutter and depersonalize your home.

Unless you’re a practicing minimalist you probably need to sort, pack up, and store at least 60% of what is currently in your home. That may sound like a lot. But in my experience, that’s what it takes to get most homes show-ready. Removing objects opens up the rooms of a home, allowing buyers to experience spaciousness. Buyers won’t see past anything they perceive as clutter to notice the good features of your home, they’ll just move on to the next listing.

Like I said, paring down isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many blog posts offering decluttering tips on the internet! Here’s what you can automatically remove from your home before you list it:

  • Tattered, worn through furniture

  • Artwork that is sun damaged, faded, or isn’t in a frame

  • Rugs, pillows, and decor that shows signs of wear and tear

  • Clothing and accessories that won’t be worn before fall

  • Less than perfect houseplants

  • Lamps and other electronics that aren’t in use

  • Dishware and cookware unlikely to be used

  • Toys, clothes, and furniture that your kids have aged out of

  • Pet furniture (with the obvious exception of litter boxes and food/water bowls)

When you start to declutter your home just think of it as the tidying up you’ve always wanted to do but could never find the time. Now that thousands of dollars are potentially at stake, finding the time becomes a lot easier.

What to do with all your extra stuff? Renting a storage space works. Donating to worthy causes is also a great choice. Many of my clients in Santa Fe take a combo approach: some things are sent to the consignment shop, some are donated, some are packed up and stored, while unsalvageable things end up in the landfill. Decluttering and packing away extra stuff now has the added bonus of making your upcoming move far easier.

As for depersonalizing, it’s all about removing family photos, hobby items, collections, political posters, and kids artwork. This part is hard — you’re removing your personality from your home. But no buyer will be able to picture themselves in your home if it bears the signs of another family’s personality.

Photo of kitchen counter and living room before decluttering.
Kitchen counter and living room after decluttering in preparation for open house.
When decluttering you're trying to clear surfaces, curate objects, and depersonalize space.

4. Consider Curb Appeal

With Covid-19 disrupting open houses and walkthroughs home sellers might think curb appeal is no longer important. But that’s just not true! Pictures of the exterior of your home should be part of your online listing photos, and many 3D tours often begin just outside the front door so that potential buyers can (virtually) experience the front of the house.

If the exterior looks neglected, what does it say about the overall quality of the home? Buyers want a well-maintained home that is warm, inviting, and shows you care. So get outside and make sure the front entry is as attractive as possible. Try driving up to your home with a buyer's eyes — what are the first things they might notice?

Here is a quick list to help make their first impression a good one:

  • Clean up dead plants and scattered leaves or any dirt and trash along the walkway and front door.

  • Cut back overgrown branches, trim scraggly bushes, and remove weeds.

  • If you have peeling paint on the front door, it should be stripped, and painted or stained. If the door is heavily damaged, consider replacing it.

  • Clean all exterior light fixtures. For the most part, real estate agents are still showing listings in person, so make sure the doorbell and lights work.

  • Windows should be clean and sparkly, screens should be in good repair.

  • Consider early spring plantings that can be well-established by summer and get them in the ground.

  • If you’ve got gravel paths or drives that could use a refresh, get a new topcoat put down.

5. Deep Cleaning

When I say deep cleaning, I mean more than a quick dusting and vacuuming. I’m talking about clearing off every surface, pulling out every drawer, washing every window, scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush, and inspecting behind toilets with a mirror — that sort of cleaning.

Deep cleaning is best done in stages, with each room accomplished getting you one step closer to the day the real estate photographer arrives.

If you’re not able to do that sort of intense cleaning yourself, hiring a professional cleaning company a day or two before the photo shoot is a sound investment. And if you’re going to be living in your home while it’s on the market, set a regular cleaning schedule with your cleaning pro and get into the daily habit of tidying up so that the house is always ready for buyer walkthroughs.

Presentation Online

The pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, including how people buy and sell houses. So much more of the home selling process is now occurring online, with buyers conducting a lot of research on sites like Zillow and before choosing to take an action like viewing it in person or making an offer. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Redfin last year, 45% of buyers put in offers on their new home without ever seeing it in person!

So how can you increase your chances of appealing to the broadest range of buyers by making the strongest first impression possible online? Your best bet to maximize your online listing is to engage a professional home stager and a professional photographer. Here’s why:

A good home stager does more than arrange decor and hang a few new pictures. At their best, a home stager understands how to optimize all aspects of furniture, lighting, and decor to showcase the very best features of a home while appealing to buyers’ emotions and lifestyle aspirations. Home stagers have studied the psychology of buyer behavior, and they are better able to be objective about the layout and presentation of a home because they are not personally connected to it the way you are. Additionally, they are staying aware of marketplace trends like the effect of the pandemic on home buyer priorities.

In the age of Instagram, Airbnb, and luxe interior design images everywhere, it is critical to use a pro photographer so that you have quality photos which will stand out from the rest. Many buyers are making significant decisions about whether to consider a property based on just a few photos online, so this is not an area to try and cut costs! Just remember, for liability reasons photographers cannot style and arrange your home for you...that is up to you, or it’s a job for the home stager.

And be aware that some photographers offer virtual tour services as well. Virtual tours allow out-of-area buyers, and locals concerned about Covid-19, to get an in-depth look at the listing without seeing it in person. Listings that utilize a 3D tour have a much better chance of peaking the interest of more buyers from more areas; which can translate into more offers.

Remember, your online photos will only look as good as the house looks on the day the photographer arrives. If you’re struggling to get your home looking like it’s ready for a magazine spread then seriously consider getting a home stager to help you.

Switch to the Investment Mindset

You may always love the home you’re about to sell, but when you list it for sale, that home enters a new stage of its life — the investment stage. Keep that fact in mind to help alleviate the resistance you might feel to spending money on repairs, cleaning services, and staging. The tough jobs of decluttering and removing personal touches gets much easier when you realize they could mean the difference between getting your asking price and being disappointed with lower offers.

One final bit of advice that I often give sellers who are about to list their home for sale: when working with an agent, encourage the agent to wait and price the house until after all of the preparations steps have been completed — time-and-time again I’ve seen this lead to a higher asking price than anyone anticipated!

Good luck!


If you find you need some help along the way, that’s what home stagers are for! If you’re in the Santa Fe area, contact me and I will take care of as much or as little of this process as you wish.

Even if you’re in another area, I can offer remote services and consultations that will keep you moving successfully through the process of preparation — and ensuring your home sells for top dollar this summer.


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