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Arguing About Spending To Fix Up The House You're Selling - Advice for Your Relationship & Real Estate

Updated on April 22, 2012

Dear Veronica,

My husband and I are trying to sell our house. The kids have moved out and we can’t afford this big house anyway. We have been fighting a lot about this and I hope you can settle this for us. We haven’t had any bites yet. I say it’s just the market the way it is now. My husband says it’s because of the house. He wants to spend money to fix stuff up. In a house we’re selling! I think that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. What say you?


Dear Joyce,

Your husband is right.

It’s a buyer’s market. People can be very picky, patient, and cheap now when house hunting. They don’t have to come down on their expectations at all. You have to shine above all your competition if you expect to sell.

You don't have to spend a lot to achieve this.

1 - No Smoking

If your house has the odor of cigarettes even the savviest of investors will pass it up. This is a stench that penetrates more than curtains and fabric furniture. It’s permeated into your woodwork, rugs, walls, and cabinets. And buyers won’t go for this.

All odors are included here. If you had a flood and have that damp or mildew smell, if you’ve had pets, sulfur water, or if something else has gone on that has created any kind of stench, you need to do whatever’s necessary to remove the smell.

Ripping up old carpet is always a great idea. You can rent a machine at Home Depot and finish the floors yourself. You can have laminate flooring put down fairly inexpensively. New, clean extremely cheap linoleum trumps a smoker’s expensive wall to wall carpeting every time. Leaving a clean hard wood floor that “could” use a good refinishing with a brand new neutral area rug, is a much bigger selling point than wall to wall today anyway.

Think about it like this:

People don’t mind coming into a house and projecting their tastes over yours.

People DO mind coming into a home and seeing all the damage you did that they'd be stuck fixing.

Buyers generally embrace the idea of redecorating, but they dread the idea that they'll have to clean up after your mess. Help a potential buyer decide on your house by allowing them to feel excited, like anything is possible. They should not feel disgusted, burdened, or resentful of your neglect.

Wash or change out curtains, bedspreads, carpeting, and fabric items. . If you smoke, stop. Make the house look pet-free during showings. Don't soak the house in Febreeze, but make sure there's some mild apple scented Renuzit air fresheners around.

2 - De-Personalize

This has been a long-time seller’s tip because it works. While it’s easy enough for a potential buyer to look at your house and imagine their redecorating ideas, it’s another thing for them to look around and feel like they’re in someone else’s home.

Photographs, your make up caddy, dog beds, and toys are obviously personal. Candles, lemonade glasses and fresh flowers are not.

Religious items can really make someone feel like a visitor. So can a messy desk or work station. Don’t leave out your bills and paperwork.

Even offbeat color choices are personal and should be removed. The color pallet of the house should be basically neutral. A little red or a little blue here and there is fine. But if you have a room you’ve painted deep purple it has to go. It’s peachy keen that you have your own style. But your goal here is to sell a house, not win a decorating contest.

Make the colors neutral. This is so the house looks like a blank canvas rather than your personality. That way potential buyers can more readily project their personal tastes and see themselves making this house of possibilities into their home.

3 - Fresh Paint

A fresh coat of paint is one of the least expensive and easiest things you need to do when you’re selling your house. It makes everything look newer and cleaner. It creates the feeling that you kept up with the house.

Joyce you may think buyers would say so what. That they’ll see something needs to be painted and they don’t care. They can just as inexpensively paint it whatever color they want after they buy it. But that’s not how this works.

When a buyer sees that you’ve neglected to up-keep even the cheapest and simplest parts of routine home maintenance it makes them wonder what else you’ve neglected. What else have you ignored and let fall apart, or go without maintenance. What else didn’t you care about.

4 -Electrical & Plumbing

Kitchens & Bathrooms

Change out the electric outlet covers and light switch plates, Swap out dingy light shades. You can upgrade outdated light fixtures even on a tight budget.

People don’t want to have to wonder if you’ve neglected the electrical and plumbing of a house; so make sure the things associated with your water and lights are all as clean and new as possible.

Those brown stains in sinks and showers need to go. It makes people wonder how extensive the plumbing issues are. No one wants to take on a house that could be a veritable money pit of repairs. For as little as $40 you can spray a nice epoxy finish over your bathtub and sinks to make them look fresh and stainfree. You can also hire someone to come and do it for you for less than you think.

Kitchens and bathrooms sell houses.

Neglected plumbing and electric repel people from wanting to buy your house.

You don’t want to spend to redo yours at this point, but you can do a lot to give them enough of a facelift that potential buyers won't be triggered to wonder about neglected flawed plumbing and electric.

Old small appliances are a sign that you haven’t done anything to upgrade the kitchen. Get rid of that old toaster and dated microwave. These items whisper a subconscious warning of caution regarding the electrical system in the house.

A clean, empty kitchen sink with a fresh smelling drain is important. Don’t leave dirty dishes. A few drops of a lemon scented cleaner down the drain before house tours will work wonders.

For further facelifting, repaint or sand and stain your kitchen cabinet doors if they need it. Take everything out of every kitchen cabinet and clean. Put down new shelf paper to hide flaws on older shelving. Make sure they smell clean, not dusty or old. And don’t pack all your crap back into them. It will look like you don’t clean out your stuff enough, and that the kitchen isn’t big enough. Need a rule of thumb? Lost at least half of the contents of your kitchen; toss it, sell it, donate it or put it in storage.

Get rid of all old food products in pantries. Even if they’re fine, old food items will make potential buyers wonder about bugs. They make the kitchen look old, forgotten, not cleaned or kept up. You want everything to look fresh, spotless, and new. Put out a clean large bowl of fresh apples and oranges. Replace dying plants with a little windowsill herb garden. Make your kitchen feel inviting.

Hang new guest towels in the bathroom. Make it look clean and spacious with very few personal grooming items out. A new shower curtain, fresh flowers in a milk glass vase, a simple candle, and a jar of bath salts will give buyers the feeling of “spa” instead of “we’ll have to gut this room.”

If you have a few bucks to do just one good thing in this category, replace old toilets. Buyers love that. Wouldn’t you?

5 - Less is More. Unless More is More.

De-Clutter. Multi-Use Rooms

If you pack a lot of furniture and stuff into a room, the room will look smaller. Thin out the lot. Toss it, sell it, store it, but get it out of the house.

Remember this is staging, not decorating. You’re not setting up a home, you’re removing your stuff so that someone else can set up their home when they look at it.

Make the closet look bigger by removing off season, seasonal, and all items you don't use every month. Keep them organized. If a buyer happens to be looking at the flooring and sees you have things stuffed under the bed, they will assume there's not enough storage space in the house. Keep everything clear, de cluttered, and spacious.

You said the kids have moved out, which is great. That means no nursery or child-themed rooms. They limit multi-usage.

The more rooms a house has, the higher its value. For a house with multiple bedrooms you should stage to highlight the multi-use possibilities.

One room should be clearly the master bedroom. The rest should be staged for more. For one you could put a bed and dresser, plus your exercise bike and yoga mat. In another you could put a day bed for guests, plus your desk, books, and home office items. If you don’t have both a casual family room and a formal living room, move the television and entertainment consoles into one of the bedrooms. Add a futon with your recliner and you've created a family media room that could also double as a guest room. This would be a good place to show board games or hobbies neatly on shelves.

Add a table for your sewing machine or crafts to one corner of a den or spare room and it too becomes a multi-purpose room. These rooms need to be kept organized, spacious and clean. But these things make your house seem as if you have a home office, a home gym, a media room, a craft room, and family areas as well as personal space.

6 - Clean

If a buyer sees a spill, a stain, a cat’s litter box, dirty laundry, your used Q-Tips in the bathroom, or your dirty coffee mug in the sink, they can get grossed out. At the very least they can think you're unclean. It sounds extreme but in today's market you shouldn't take chances. Dress the house to impress every day.

Good luck on the sale of your house!


Submit a Comment

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from NY

    Marisa, you're right. It's not about people understanding. It's about creating the perception that your house is roomy. I guarantee you, stacks of boxes and a ton of treasures will harm the sale of your house. Potential buyers will get an instant impression that the house isn't big enough.

    Your husband may have awesome-brilliant collections of meaningful treasures. He may be a fabulous interior decorator. He may be able to create a home that's spectacular. The thing is, as wonderful as all that is, it has nothing to do with what sells a house, that's all.

    Rent the storage unit.

  • Marisa Wright profile image

    Kate Swanson 

    6 years ago from Sydney

    I'm having this exact argument with my husband right now - except the roles are reversed!

    Our house is only five years old so the fundamentals of the house look great - but he's a clutterbug. We have only a small townhouse, and I think all his junk - sorry, treasured belongings - make it look smaller.

    I want to pack as much as possible into boxes and put them into storage. He's happy to pack stuff into boxes, so people can't browse through his junk - er, treasured possessions - but he won't pay for storage, and can't see the problem with just stacking the boxes in the spare room. "It's going to be obvious we're moving, so people will understand", he says. I have no idea how I'm going to convince him!

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from NY

    Thanks so much rebekahELLE. I can't stress enough the importance of "Clean." Clean smells, clean sinks, clean counter tops, clean floors, clean closets, cabinets, fridge, toilet, light switch plates... everything. It make all the difference in the world.

  • rebekahELLE profile image


    6 years ago from Tampa Bay

    Veronica, this is an excellent resource for homeowners and home buyers! It is a buyer's market and will probably remain that way for a number of years. Fix what can be fixed with as little money as possible because most likely you're going to have to compete with other homes. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!


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