You finally decided to go for it and put your house on the market. Now your agent is about to host your first open house.

It’s show time!

If you really want the show to be a hit though, you’re going to have to prepare, and that preparation should start at least seven to ten days before the big event.

To sum up the process in a word:


Basically, the less of your stuff people see the better. You want your home presented in a livable state, not “lived-in”. Buyers want to envision their own possessions in your home; don’t distract them. Also, all that stuff can make the house feel cramped. Fully half of everything that isn’t furniture or some kind of home furnishing needs to go (temporarily, of course, though now is as good a time as any to begin weeding out any accumulated excess possessions). This also applies to personal framed photographs on tables or shelves. Don’t take down any wall pictures, as that will reveal black picture frame outline marks, along with cracks, chipped paint, and, of course, stark bare wall space.

If you have children, the sooner you can ease them into the process the better. Get ten large plastic bins per child and fill them with everything that can go into storage until the house is sold and you are moved into your new home.  For their most treasured items and things that they use every day, have your children put them in colored bins (two per child in the child’s favorite color).

Next, turn to the closets. Starting with anything out of season, remove at least half of all clothes and shoes, placing them in storage bins and keeping out of sight. Do the same for the linen closets, carefully folding any towels and sheets left in view. If the closet has a working lightbulb fixture make sure you have a working lightbulb in it.

The bathrooms must be spotless. Leave no trace of your toiletries or any evidence of your occupation of the bathroom. If you think it would help toward that end, resign yourself—and, of course, the rest of your family–to living out of portable bathroom caddies throughout the open house period.

In the bedrooms, make all beds and fluff the pillows. Open the curtains or blinds to let in as much sunlight as possible.

For the dining room, you may choose to brighten the atmosphere by setting the table (no more than four place settings).

Sellers tend to make the mistake of getting creative in the kitchen. For some, the temptation to dress up the room with homey touches like banana hangers or unusual decorative flour, sugar, or spice containers can prove too strong to resist. Don’t follow their misguided lead. Remember, anything unnecessary is a distraction – remove it! One old pre-open house trick is to bake cookies beforehand so that the house has a pleasing aroma when people enter. Though the idea itself is sound, too much of anything (in this case, a heavenly scent) can overwhelm, drawing attention away from your home. Instead of firing up the oven, light a single unscented candle in the kitchen.

Believe it or not, the room that can cause sellers the biggest headaches is the basement. Before you even get to the big potential sources of trouble (the boiler, water heater, and washer/dryer), you must focus on a small one: mousetraps. In short, if you have any in your basement, get rid of them, along with any droppings on the floor or other surfaces. This is not to advise deception about a possible rodent problem. You are under no legal or ethical obligation to repel potential buyers by leaving the traps in sight. Once you have an accepted offer you will be required to disclose any and all issues you know about the property. Additionally, any issues you may not be aware of will come out in the inspection report. Until then, present your home in its best possible light. Keep everything neat and orderly. If you have a storage room in the basement, spend a day organizing it. For the sake of both appearance and safety, make sure all tools in the basement are either hung on wall pegs or stored in boxes.

Regarding the exterior, mow the lawn and trim the edges of the property no more than one day before the open house.

At the open house itself, many agents like to play music to set a relaxing or sophisticated tone. Use your judgment, but keep in mind that this isn’t a party. Your aim should be to show your house, not entertain visitors. And, of course, there’s no accounting for taste. Music you may consider exquisite, rapturous, or just inoffensive background noise may wrangle individual open house guests like a mosquito buzzing in their ear. Another consideration is that agents sometimes can’t find your cleverly concealed stereo to turn down the volume when asked to by an annoyed viewer. Or, upon finding it, may not know how to operate it. Once again, all the attention has turned to the music and the stereo instead of the house.



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