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Dirty appliances, ugly rugs and untamed shrubs: Those are among the eyesores that real estate agents, professional organizers and stagers often see when sellers are getting ready to put their house on the market.

That’s not what buyers want to see, says Trish Mercurio, Realtor with Compass

“[Buyers] want a home that’s in great condition and move-in ready,” she says. “They want it light, bright, airy and spacious.” Most importantly? They need to see themselves living there, not needing to do work right away. says Mercurio, who notes that buyers often lack the time or inclination to address problems such as outdated carpeting or leaky faucets and acoustic ceilings also know as popcorn ceilings. And yes, they still exist.

Since today’s home search typically begins online, your property needs to shine using professional listing photos before prospective buyers ever step foot inside. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2023 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, all buyers surveyed used the internet to search for a home.

Searches typically lasted 10 weeks with a median of seven home visits — four of them online-only.

From decluttering to tackling deferred maintenance, here’s how to put your best home forward.

1. Fix ‘under-the-hood’ issues

Been putting off larger house repairs such as leaky windows and worn roofing?

Before putting your house on the market, you may want to assess whether such issues might deter buyers. Mercurio recommends a pre-listing inspection, which should cost roughly the same amount as a standard, buyer-paid home inspection (the 2022 national average was around $340, according to HomeAdvisor). That gives you the chance to resolve issues upfront or account for them in your asking price — meaning you strengthen your negotiating position by avoiding surprise findings from a buyer’s inspection down the line.

Just make sure you play by the rules. Laws vary by region, but in California, you must and are required to disclose any known major flaws in the home (including those uncovered in a pre-listing inspection) to prospective buyers. 

2. Spruce up your space

Cosmetic upgrades are another way to boost selling power, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “Sometimes you need to renovate a kitchen. Sometimes all you really need to do is pop in some new appliances, or deep-clean the ones that are there.” Ultimately, he says, your house should look like its best sell, Mercurio says. Take advantage of programs that let you make upgrades, renovations and sprucing up such as Compass Concierge.

There are some general rules to follow no matter your space:

·         Do a deep clean. Pay special attention to high-touch areas, such as doors, which get grubby from constant handling.

·         Upgrade your lighting. Whiter, brighter light makes a home look cleaner and more spacious. Mercurio advises choosing bulbs from the same color family to avoid clashing warm and cool tones in the same space.

·         Nix dated details. Out-of-date design elements, such as wallpaper, are a “no-go,” Mercurio says. A neutral paint color is the gold standard for interior walls. My go-to is Swiss Coffee and Decorator White.

3. Up your curb appeal

When it comes to exterior upgrades, the experts agree that simple is best. Think a trimmed lawn and tidy bushes. Less is truly more. Better to have nothing under a set of windows than to have overgrown, out-of-control shrubs. Plus it is safer.

Curb-appeal checklists includes power-washing the exterior, clearing the driveway and tucking away trash and recycling bins. If you have patio furniture or a firepit, set them up as if you’re about to entertain.

As for finishing touches? A pot of flowers on the front porch will do just fine.

4. Declutter (for good)

Selling means moving, which means it’s time to declutter — particularly if you’re downsizing. “You don’t want to have to go through the same room or the same drawer three times,” do it once and done.”

To declutter methodically, Mercurio recommends taking a room-by-room approach. Working one hour at a time, start in spaces with the least emotion attached to them, and earmark every item as a keep, toss or donate. No maybes, because the “maybe” pile often sits indefinitely in a storage unit with a hefty monthly fee. As Americans we have to much stuff. Start now, one hour at a time, one day at a time.

5. Depersonalize

Whether or not you’re working with a professional home stager (more on that below), depersonalizing is key to helping buyers visualize themselves in a new space.

In listing photos and at open houses, you’ll want to tone down taste-specific or overly personal decor and design elements such as your prized Frisbee collection or lime-green accent wall — and be sure to stash Fido’s food bowls and personal effects such as toothbrushes out of sight.

You don’t want to be easily categorize the house with the bad smells, for example, or the house with the tchotchkes and clutter. The goal is to show your home in a way that makes people consider living there.”

6. Stage for success

Like depersonalization, staging involves arranging furniture and decor to appeal to buyers and showcase the property’s best attributes in order to up your final sale price or sell more quickly, which lowers carrying costs.

Although home improvement shows popularized the idea that staging requires filling an empty house with rented furniture, that’s rarely the case. Instead, focus on “occupied staging,” which involves rearranging and repurposing furniture and decor while sellers continue to live in the home. Another option is a virtual or in-person walk-through with a stager who will provide recommendations, leaving you to do the rest.

7. Don’t fear the experts

Though many projects are DIY-friendly, working with a professional real estate agent, home stager or move specialist not only makes preparing your home for sale easier, it also expands your circle of support. Experts typically have a network of other trusted professionals — everyone from electricians to estate planners — who can address a range of maintenance and logistical needs as they arise.

Also important: seeking out credentialed pros. Certified Realtors, for example, adhere to a code of ethics and are required to undergo training every three years. The National Association of Realtors offers a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation for agents who specialize in helping older adults buy, sell and relocate.

“The professionals do this day in, day out,” Mercurio says. “This is all we obsess about: how to extract the most value from a property to make our clients — the sellers — happy.”


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