Selling a House: 4 Ways to Get Ready

Pro tip: Have a photo taken of your home's exterior in the summer, when everything is lush and green. (Photos by Andrew Miller Photography.)

Making the decision to sell your house can be a bit like ending a long-term relationship — once you’ve made up your mind, you just want the whole thing over with already. But if you’re considering listing it right now, it could be in your best interest to hold tight for a few months, says Erik Schwinger, a real estate agent with Baird & Warner in Chicago. While late fall and early winter can offer some perks (there’s a lot less competition, for one), he warns that there’s a particular window — from Thanksgiving to New Year — when just about every market slows to a halt.

Case in point: Anne Gustafson, who sold her condo in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood in April, says she and her husband were ready to put their place on the market at the end of November, but their agent advised them against it. “Since no one wants to buy a house right before the holidays, she warned us that it would probably sit with little movement until the new year, and then attract lowball offers because it had been on for so long,” she says. Instead, “we pulled the trigger at the end of February, had two offers within a week, and closed in early April.”

The bottom line: If you’re considering selling your place and have the luxury of time on your side, holding off until late winter or early spring is your best bet. In the meantime, heed the advice of our experts to ensure your listing rises to the top once it’s go time.

Just Fix Them

All those minor maintenance issues you’ve been putting off? Repair them — we’re talking everything from screwing in new light bulbs and recaulking the tub to having a handyman come swap out that broken lock and adjust the rattling garbage disposal. “If you don’t deal with them now, you’ll end up paying for it at selling time,” says Schwinger. To go the extra mile, consider having an inspection done to see if anything sticks out to someone who hasn’t lived in the home for a long time.

Wipe the Slate Clean

You may love nothing more than a splash of bold color on the walls, but a burgundy dining room — or your teen’s hot pink bedroom — isn’t going to get your place sold. Like a clean, neutral canvas, “a coat of paint goes a really long way for the staging, appearance, and aesthetic of the home,” Schwinger says. If white feels too sterile, consider a light, neutral gray, “like Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl,” says Tessa Bediz of Two Inspire Design in Evanston.

Purge, Baby, Purge

Anyone who’s seen an episode or two of “Property Brothers” knows that potential buyers don’t want to envision you in your home — they want to see themselves there. To get started, Schwinger suggests taking photos of each room in your home so you can see them from a potential buyer’s perspective. Start by boxing up family photos, inspirational quotes, your kid’s artwork, and anything overtly political, then move on to unnecessary decorative objects, oversized furniture — which can make the space feel smaller — and any piles of papers or magazines that have accumulated. Lastly, confine toys to the playroom and organize your closets. Some of these tasks are big projects, and a staging or organizing expert can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply don’t have the time. Either way, the experts agree that the sooner you get started, the better. “Moving can be a stressful and emotional process, and putting these things off will only make it more difficult later on,” says Schwinger. Plus, says Stephanie Hartwick, a licensed real estate agent in Champaign, “packing will be so much easier once you’ve gotten the purging and organizing out of the way.”

Stage a Shoot

In a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors, buyers were asked what they value most in an online home listing. The answer? Good photos. (Not surprisingly, “detailed information about the property” and “agent contact information” ranked high on the list). Simple things like replacing all the light bulbs in the bathroom, fixing the blinds so they’re not crooked, and hiring professionals to do a deep clean — on everything from the toilets to the windows — will make these photos the best they can be,” says Andrew Miller of Andrew Miller Photography. “The little details are so important,” he says. “Homeowners won’t think something is a big deal, but once they see the photo all they see is the flaw.”

Staging Smarts

selling a house: staging

Miller took this shot (above) of a rehabbed apartment located in a vintage 19th century mansion in the South Loop. “The owners had the luxury of hiring a designer — but even when things seem to look flawless on the surface, there’s usually more work to be done before we can shoot,” he says. To ensure your place stands out in a sea of listings, crib these tips.

1. Look Beyond the Shot

If you can see other spaces in the background (the kitchen, in this case), make sure they’re clean, free of clutter, and — this is key — brightly lit.

2. Style Pillows Like a Pro

To get that magazine-worthy indentation, rock the karate-chop: fluff the pillow, then use your hand to slice through the top.

3. Add Texture

It’s the trick to preventing that dreaded model-home look. Rather than clearing the coffee tables, stack colorful books neatly in groups of three.

4. Don’t Shoot the TV

If possible, position the camera in front of the television looking out into the rest of the space — that’s what people want to see, not a big black screen.

5. Borrow From Other Rooms

Here, avoiding the TV created an empty spot in front of the coffee tables, which Miller filled with a pair of director’s chairs from another part of the house.

Transforming Homes and Lives

Just as giving your home a staging facelift can make or break your ability to sell it quickly, a home renovation for someone in need who can’t afford to perform the basic home updates necessary for maintaining a safe and healthy living environment can quite literally transform the lives of an entire family. Read about how Rebuilding Together is doing just that in communities across the country.


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Megan Craig has been a journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing stories on a variety of subjects. Most recently, her writing has focused on real estate trends in the Midwest and around the country. She lives in Chicago’s Printers Row neighborhood with her roommate and a few too many cats. Megan supports PAWS Chicago and the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois