Preparing your house for the market can be a daunting task, especially when you have no cash to invest in any home improvements! But I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to not only get your house spruced up for the market, but that you can whip it into shape SO well that it sells super-quickly. Today I’m sharing my top tips to sell your house FAST, even if your home is in less-than-ideal condition and you have NO money to invest in prepping your house for the market.
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A long time ago, my middle school drama teacher introduced our class to the concept of ethos. We had to give a demonstration speech to the class, and a big part of our grade was how well we established ethos (credibility).
So, I figured I should establish ethos since this is not something I normally blog about. But before I tell you who I AM…let me quickly tell you who I am NOT:
- I am not a realtor.
- I am not a mortgage broker.
- I am not a house flipper.
- I am not a professional home stager or interior designer.
- I am in no way affiliated with the real estate market.
Is my ethos blown yet?
Before you write me off as some clueless blogger, let me tell you who I am:
- I am a homeowner for life. I will purchase rather than rent even if it isn’t the best financial decision. (Sorry, Dave Ramsey!)
- My husband and I have owned (and sold) three separate homes in our 13 years of marriage.
- We have prepared all of these homes for the market while BROKE. (Every. Dang. Time. Maybe I should follow Dave’s advice more closely.)
- We are not afraid of fixer-uppers, but are never able to finish all we want to do before needing to move.
- But (here’s the kicker)…the longest that we have had a home sit on the market before accepting an offer is 11 days.
So, here’s the deal. I’m not a real estate professional. I’m just a homeowner who LOVES to buy fixer-uppers, but has never stayed in them long enough to bring them to their full glory. We’re chronically broke (UGH!) and have been under significant financial strain during the staging process for ALL of our homes. But we’ve sold them. Quickly. And for full (or very nearly full) asking price.
So today I’m going to show you how to prioritize what little money you have so that you can get your house sold FAST!
STEP ONE – FIND A REALTOR
I know that it can be tempting to pocket that commission when money is tight, but we have used a realtor for all three of our transactions. I know that this played a HUGE role in the quick sale of each home.
The reason that I’ve put this first is that you want to put your realtor on notice well before you’re ready to list. That way, you can make sure that his/her timeline matches up with yours so the listing can go live as soon as you’re ready.
Time is money!
It’s also helpful to have the realtor do a walkthrough to help you prioritize any areas that might need some of your attention (and money.)
And finally, a realtor can give you the best perspective on the condition of the market. They will be able to give you an idea of whether it is feasible to expect a quick sale in the current market.
STEP 2 – SELL YOUR CRAP
You will need to clear out your house to do any repairs, painting, and staging, so you might as well sell off a bunch of your extra stuff at a moving sale.
Not only will this help you in staging, but it will give you some extra cash! You can put the proceeds of your sale toward any repairs or improvements that you need to do. Plus, downsizing your stuff will help you get by with a smaller (cheaper) storage unit and/or moving van!
We held a moving sale about four months before we listed our home and we made close to $1,000. This funded a large amount of our projects!
STEP THREE – PRE-PACK/DECLUTTER
Decluttering and pre-packing your home costs NOTHING and it is one of the most important parts of preparing your home for the market.
Whatever belongings that you don’t sell at your moving sale, either box them up for charity or box them up for storage. Don’t put them back in the house!!
Then take that momentum and start pre-packing the rest of your house. You’re going to be moving this stuff anyway…you might as well box it up so that potential buyers aren’t distracted by it.
Pre-pack everything but the ESSENTIALS. You’re putting it out into the universe that your home is going to sell quickly, so start packing!
Quick side note: Yes…packing can cost nothing. Check out your local liquor store, classified pages on Facebook, or your local chapter of the Buy Nothing Project for boxes and packing supplies.
If you can’t afford a storage unit, just stack the boxes neatly in the garage, being careful to keep your attic, crawlspaces, furnace and fuse box accessible for inspection. If you don’t have a garage or shed, you can also stash boxes under beds or in closets!
If you are nervous about losing/needing things in a tower of boxes while you prepare for your sale, you definitely need to check out this post for my method of staying organized during a move.
STEP FOUR – START CLEANING
Again, this is another HUGE part of selling your home quickly. Eyes naturally wander toward the dirty, so you want to limit the distractions that will keep potential buyers from appreciating your home’s assets.
You should start the cleaning process as you empty things out and pre-pack, but you’ll want to do the main cleaning right before you list.
Here are the places where my perfectionist clean-freak eyes wander when I’m house hunting (and the places many people forget to scrub):
- Ceiling fans
- Light switches
- Doors, walls, and baseboards
- TVs and appliances (if they will be part of the staging)
- Furnace intake vents
- Cabinets, especially around the knobs and handles
- Stovetops (most people don’t look in the oven, but if yours is overly dirty you should probably clean it)
- Windows and window screens
- Blinds and curtains
- Carpet and rugs
- Toilet rings and tub stains
Other than the cost of your cleaning supplies, this step is completely free as well.
STEP FIVE – MAKE REPAIRS
This is the part that can be scary when you have no money, but it’s really important to make any necessary repairs BEFORE you list your home.
Why not just wait to see if anything comes up during the inspection?
Well….if repairs are deemed necessary after inspection, odds are that the buyer will request they be fixed by a licensed professional (even if it’s a simple DIY task).
For example, we had a slightly-loose toilet that we hadn’t noticed. We could have easily taken care of it prior to listing, with the help of knowledgable friends and an inexpensive wax ring.
Unfortunately, we didn’t notice the issue prior to the inspection.
The buyers insisted that it be addressed by a licensed plumber. Cha-ching!
Now, I’m not advocating that you do a bunch of DIY work that you’re not qualified to do in order to hide necessary repairs. But if you notice things that might come up on an inspection, I suggest fronting the money on your own terms before you list.
Even if you have to hire out for the tasks, you can take your time and find the right professional at the right price if you’re not under the time crunch of a sale agreement and inspection timeline.
Here are common things that come up on an inspection and can often be taken care of on your own or by a professional at a reasonable price (if you have time to shop around):
- Gutter issues (make sure the gutters are clean and don’t leak.)
- Furnace servicing
- Small plumbing leaks
- Dirty chimney
- Sticky windows and sliding doors (clean the tracks and spray with silicone so they glide easily)
- Reverse polarity of outlets (the tool to test for this is SO cheap and fixing it is FREE if you know how to do it safely)
- Moss on the roof
- Chipped paint
- Broken outlet covers (seriously…the inspector might not care about this kind of stuff, but buyers notice them! They cost next to nothing to replace, so switch out those cracked outlet and light switch covers.)
- Loose door knobs and cabinet pulls
- Broken window/door screens
- Evidence of old leaks. (You will disclose prior leaks in the seller disclosure statement, but they seem less of an issue to potential buyers if the evidence is gone.)
This is just a quick list of small, common things that inspectors find. You can go ahead and gamble with not making repairs, hoping that your buyers don’t nitpick after the inspection.
BUT…you might not even get to the inspection.
If potential buyers see a bunch of these small issues when going through your house, they will wonder about what bigger repairs lurk below the surface and move on to the next house.
A well-kept home sells more quickly!
You could always list the home at a firm “as-is” price and refuse to do any repairs, but you will probably find that your home sits on the market for longer than you would like.
STEP SIX – UPDATE WHEN POSSIBLE
It can be hard listing your home when you KNOW that things are outdated. But I’m here to tell you that if your house is clean and well-kept, the right buyer will look beyond outdated fixtures and flooring.
This is when it pays to have a realtor. They will walk through your home and, if there is any room in your budget at ALL, they can outline how best to spend your money. The outdated things that are bothering you might not even faze your realtor. They know what buyers are looking for!
One thing I’ve come to learn after selling three homes while broke: With a limited budget, there is really nothing you can do in the updating department that will significantly increase the value of your home. You are mainly just trying to update enough to get people in the door!
Here are some budget-friendly updates that we have opted to take care of prior to listing our homes:
When I was a clueless first-time homeowner, we were trying to sell a home with DARK brown baseboards that were all nicked up. It was one of the first things our realtor noticed and I remember being shocked by that at the time. (Huh?? People care about BASEBOARDS?!)
That’s when she told us about tinted Old English and, after rubbing down all of our baseboards, I became a believer in giving your baseboards TLC before listing; you notice baseboards even if you don’t realize it!
So if your baseboards are really beat up, make sure to give them some attention.
If they are white, you can try a Magic Eraser and touch up with paint if necessary! Caulking makes a HUGE difference as well (and caulk is cheap).
If they are wood-tone, you can use the tinted Old English to take the visual shock factor out of big nicks in the wood. (I know I’m recommending things that cost money, but it’s cheaper than replacing them!)
If you have broken or outdated light fixtures (interior OR exterior), consider switching them out if you can find a budget-friendly option.
In one of our homes we had UGLY light fixtures in the hallway. I had been eyeing trendy, fashionable light fixtures as replacements but it just wasn’t in the budget. So I was going to leave them as-is.
Our realtor thought otherwise.
He pointed us in the direction of the low-cost light fixtures at Home Depot and they were SO much better than what we had. I think they only cost around twenty bucks each and they made a huge difference.
These light fixtures on Amazon are very similar to what we found (and they’re cheaper).
It takes less than a quart of paint to give your front door a huge face lift! Pick an on-trend color that will look awesome in your photos and help your listing stand out.
We replaced our scuffed up black paint with teal, which brightened up our covered porch and made the front door pop from the street.
If you have HIDEOUS house numbers (been there…more than once!), consider swapping them out. There are tons of frugal options. I would NOT suggest doing this if you don’t have touch-up paint for your house, though.
Check out this post where I show you how to hang house numbers “just so” with hardly any effort.
Outlets and Light Switches
Having fresh white outlets and light switches is a small thing that makes a HUGE difference! If you have crusty yellowed light switches and outlets in your house, consider swapping them out because it costs next to nothing. (If you don’t think you can do this safely, PLEASE consult a professional or a knowledgable friend/family member.)
If you have novelty or very taste-specific light switch covers (like this one), you’ll definitely want to switch those out. Even though we all know it would take five minutes and about a dollar for the buyer to switch out a novelty light switch cover, it still gets added to the potential homebuyer’s mental tally of what they want/need to fix.
When you only have a few minutes to impress them during a showing, you want to keep that mental tally short!
Paint is one of those things that no one wants to do because it is such a hassle.
Including potential buyers.
If you have rooms painted in bold or bright colors, consider painting them a more neutral color. (In full disclosure, we had pretty bright colors in our kids’ rooms for one of our homes that sold quickly, but I still stand by this statement.)
White woodwork sells! If your house has that outdated, wood-tone builders grade trim with doors to match, you might consider painting it if your budget and timeframe allow. It is definitely labor-intensive, though! So don’t come back and yell at me when it takes you a long time. 🙂
Paint really isn’t too expensive, especially if you are painting everything one color and can buy in bulk.
Replace heavy, dark curtains with something more light and flowy. Curtains do not have to be expensive! (After checking MANY stores, we found ours at Walmart. We even shopped around within Walmart until we found the most panels for our buck.)
Replace broken mini-blinds, or consider upgrading to white faux wood blinds if your budget allows.
If your curtain rods are wonky or at a weird height, go ahead and fix them! There are tons of guides online for the most visually-appealing heights for curtains.
The curtain rod in our living room was installed in a way that didn’t allow for the curtains to be pulled back completely. It made our house way too dark!
In order to fix it, I needed the rod to extend past the window on each side but it was too short! So I bought a $10 length of metal conduit and spray painted it to match the existing finials and brackets. Then I mounted it in a more appropriate location and replaced the heavy blackout curtains. It made a HUGE difference!
So that gives you an idea of what we updated when listing our homes. When in doubt of whether or not you should update something, just clean it up and leave it alone!
If whatever you’re planning on updating is going to look cheap or rushed, it’s not worth it!
For example, I had planned on repainting our chipped kitchen cabinets before we listed our most recent home, but I knew that it wouldn’t have been my best work. Instead, I took one of the cabinet doors off the hinges and got the color matched at Home Depot. I was able to touch up the existing cabinets for a fraction of the price and saved a TON of time.
STEP SEVEN – STAGING
Staging a home when you have no budget can be a challenge.
What I’ve found when staging our less-than-awesomely decorated homes is that LESS IS SO MUCH MORE! Unless your belongings are completely on-trend, it’s usually best to just keep them out of sight. Definitely stash away any overly-personal items and pictures.
However, I have one more thing to say about on-trend belongings: If your home is REALLY outdated, having trendy home furnishings might just draw even more attention to your ugly carpet or countertops. The discrepancy between the eras can be visually distracting to potential buyers.
I’ll say it again: Less is more!
If your house is screaming out for some items for staging, your realtor likely has a few wall hangings or other staging items that they would be willing to bring over for pictures and/or showings. You could also borrow from friends or family. Don’t get carried away, though…we have always staged our homes as “one step away from vacant” and have had success with minimal furnishings and decor.
STEP EIGHT – LANDSCAPING
Curb appeal is a real thing. It matters. Even if your front yard is a complete wasteland of dry weeds, mow it down and start watering it! See if you can get it greened up a bit for pictures.
Landscaping is basically free if you roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Pull weeds, ask friends and family for flower starts from their gardens, tidy up shrubs and trees, you name it!
If you have room in the budget, I think you’ll find that your money can go a long way when it comes to landscaping! Watch for sales on mulch and annuals. You might even find that you can afford to have a professional landscaper come and whip things into shape for you!
STEP NINE – TREAT EVERY SHOWING LIKE “THE” SHOWING
It can be tempting to let your house slide back from “picture condition” after a few showings, but keep it up! If you keep your house in that same impeccable shape for EVERY showing, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting an offer.
Yes, this can drive you absolutely crazy for that first week or two, but then you’ll be DONE!
SEE THESE TIPS IN ACTION…
Now I want to give you an example of how your efforts can pay off!
Remember, we had like NO money to devote to staging our most recent home. It was a dated home in the same price range as new construction, so we were really nervous. The home was also on a very busy intersection in a tricky part of town, but we received a full price offer after only ten days on the market.
The buyers sent a sweet letter with their offer, and I had to smile because all of the things they mentioned were directly related to the improvements we had made on the property before listing.
I’m not going to quote the letter directly because that seems rude, but I’ll give you snippets of what they loved about our outdated home:
- “Beautiful large tree” – The previously-overgrown tree that we had trimmed ourselves before listing…for free!
- “Lovely flowers” – Discount perennials that I found at Home Depot and planted right before we listed. They were cheaper than annuals, so that’s what we bought!
- “Landscaped backyard” – We borrowed an edger, pulled weeds, planted fresh grass seed, and spread mulch. We also repurposed small concrete slabs from under the rotten deck we replaced. (We turned them into pavers.)
- “Open floor plan” – Our home didn’t have the flow of modern open floor plans, but it sure felt like it with ALL of the stuff packed up and gone (including most of our furniture)
- “Plenty of natural light” – We fixed the weird curtain rods and replaced the heavy room-darkening curtains with cheap, lightweight curtains from Walmart. We also installed inexpensive pull-backs and made sure everything was OPEN for every showing.
Did you notice what WASN’T included in their letter?
Basically anything about the real estate “big hitters” — particularly the kitchen and bathrooms.
They didn’t compliment those spaces because I’m sure they were on the buyers’ mental tally of things they wanted to gut (which they should). But since we took care of so many of the small-but-still-important items before listing, we kept that tally from getting so long that they moved on to a different house completely.
Clean and well-kept sells fast, even if it’s outdated!!
The right buyer will come along for your home, even if it’s not in perfectly updated condition. It just takes one buyer to sell your house and I’m confident that if you follow the tips above and are strategic with whatever money you DO have, you’ll find that one buyer and sell your house fast!