What Must Be Fixed Before I Sell?


Original Post Date: April 22, 2011

By: June Fletcher

Q. I must sell my house, but because the market is still bad, I stand to just about break even on it, after paying real estate agents and other expenses relating to closing. It is 27 years old, and I have not done much to update it over the years. I can’t afford to redo the kitchen and bath, but I realize that I will have to do some things to attract a buyer. What’s the bare minimum?


A. The bare minimum is just a little bit more than what the nearest comparable house on the market has done—plus scrupulous attention to cleanliness and order, inside and out.

To be more specific, you will need to fix all of the delayed maintenance items, from loose gutters to doorknob dents in the wall that buyers can use to either cross your home off their list or use as a bargaining chip in negotiating a sales price. And remember that even if the buyers fall in love with the home and are blind to some of these issues, their agent and their home inspector won’t be.
You could hire your own home inspector to point out these flaws before you list, but since that would cost you a few hundred dollars that could better be spent on fixing things, I don’t recommend it. Rather, ask a picky friend, and your own real estate agent, to tour your house and point out every flaw they see. Take notes, and then ask your agent to recommend handymen and other contractors who can address these issues.

Meanwhile, attack as many problems as you can on your own. Take down your screens, particularly if they have small holes or rips, and store them. Then rent or borrow a pressure washer and clean the windows, doors and siding—you’ll be amazed at how much that will make your house sparkle. Paint your front door and polish the knob. Replace or paint any outside light fixtures and the mailbox. Pull any weeds, seed any bare spots and spread down fresh mulch.

Inside, repair and paint—or at least touch up—any holes, cracks and dings. Re-caulk the area around the tub and sink, and clean the grout. Rent a carpet cleaner for wall-to-wall carpeting. Polish wood floors and cabinets, too—there are a number of new products available that can be wiped on and off, and don’t require stripping the wood. Invest in some new cabinet hardware—and if you can afford it, new light fixtures—to replace dated ones. Fix any dripping faucets and replace the guts of any leaking toilets. Spray lubricant on any squeaky hinges and sticking windows.

Also buy some plastic bins, color-coded by room, into which you can place clutter like extra books, knick-knacks and rarely used kitchen appliances so your countertops and rooms will look less cluttered and larger. These can be stored in the basement, a shed or an off-site storage facility while your house is being shown.

Obviously, this is a lot of work and seems daunting, but if you can enlist your family to help—or can afford to hire some professionals to take on some of these tasks—you’ll get through the checklist. There is, however, one professional that you should hire regardless before you list—an exterminator. Older houses tend to acquire critters and creepy-crawlies without owners realizing it—and nothing will kill the sale of your house faster than the rustle of a mouse in the basement or an ant crawling across a windowsill.