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10 things you should do before your house goes on the market

22 April 2021

If you're thinking of selling your home, here are a few tricks of the trade you need to know before putting your house on the market to ensure all runs smoothly.

Smart terraced house exterior
First impressions count, so make sure the front of your home is clean and well maintained

If you're planning on selling your house you want to make sure you get the best price possible and a quick sale, so preparing your property for listing photographs and visitors is important. Find out what to do before putting your house on the market to ensure a good price and plenty of offers, including preparing your house, what paperwork you will need and choosing your estate agent.

1. Check its kerb appeal

In most cases the front of the house is the first thing people will see, whether they're browsing Rightmove or driving down the street and spot the for sale sign. First impressions matter so it's important to have good kerb appeal.

Stand outside your home and see how it looks. Would it look appealing in a photograph? If you need to, paint or clean the front door and tidy the garden – especially the front. Get gutters cleared if they're full of leaves or moss, and if your gate or fence is broken, get it fixed. If you have steps or a path make sure they're clean, free from weeds and broken tiles are replaced.

Tend to any grotty-looking areas on the front of your home, such as windowsills that could do with a fresh coat of paint.

We can't help having areas for bins so make sure they're as presentable as possible, and you might even be able to hide your wheelie bin.

If there are any communal areas make sure they are kept clean and clutter free.

Keep things as tidy as you can for the duration of the time your house is listed, you never know when someone who spotted your listing online might stop by just to check out the area before making an appointment to view the property.

Read our guide to improving the kerb appeal of your house

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2. Declutter inside

When preparing to put the house on the market one of the best things you can do is have a good clear up.

Have a thorough declutter and keep personal knick-knacks to a minimum and put clutter away – in the attic if necessary - or if you have bigger pieces of furniture you're hanging on to, put them into storage until the house is sold. You might be able to borrow a friend's unused garage or contact a professional storage company. This has the added convenience of allowing you to move into your next property without having to transfer your clutter right away so you can get your furniture set up without boxes being in the way.

Not everyone who views your house will be able to see past your own décor so it's important to try and keep it as crisp and clean as possible so they can start envisioning their own items and furniture around the home.

3. Allow some sentimentality 

Moving house can be stressful at the best of times, and if your house has been a family home for many years, perhaps even decades, there's going to be an emotional cost. This is perfectly natural. Take photos of your home to remember it. One of the benefits of digital photography is there's no limit to how many photos you can take, as long as you have the storage space, so go wild. The views from the window, the way the afternoon sun hits the living room, the view from the top of the stairs - nothing is too silly, and a family home is bound to have all sorts of memories attached. You could also take some video footage of a walk through the house and garden.

You may never want to look at these photos or videos in future but it's a nice way to say farewell and even the process of moving around your home and recording it will no doubt trigger a lot of memories.

4. Do a deep clean and fix those niggles

Give the whole house a deep clean. Dust everything, including light fittings and skirting boards, vacuum every nook and cranny and air all rooms. Clean carpets and rugs (hiring a carpet cleaner is a worthwhile expense) and polish wooden floors. 

Improve lighting in your home where possible and ensure the windows are clean to make your rooms look bright and inviting and show off all the hard work you've put in. Read our spring cleaning tips for more ways to make your home shine.

When you have lived in a property for a long time it is easy to overlook the small things which somehow you never got around to fixing. Even if it’s just a leaky tap or a light fitting that won't work - first impressions count, and your viewers may well start turning lights on and off, opening kitchen drawers and running the taps.

Likewise anything that works but looks broken - such as cracked light switches, damaged door handles, or curtain rails falling off the wall should be fixed. We usually learn to live with a few of these little niggles but they should be relatively quick and cheap to fix.

5. Be honest about needed work

If the property is unmodernised then market it as such. There are plenty of people looking for a fixer-upper and this will be your target buyer. For some people the fact that they will be ripping out a dated kitchen or bathroom can appeal because they might have something specific in mind already, but be aware this will bring the cost of your house down. If you want to get the maximum price it might be worth getting these rooms updated, with a new kitchen and bathroom estimated to increase a house price by 10%.

Emphasise the potential where you can. For example, take up rugs hiding original features like wooden floors or tiles. The most important rooms are the kitchen and bathrooms: even if they're very outdated, make sure they are spotless and odour-free.

Find out how to revamp your kitchen on a budget

6. Decide on what fixtures and fittings you're taking with you

When you sell a house you will fill out a contents form for the new buyers. If you have light fittings, curtain rails, carpets or other fixtures you plan on taking with your this form is when you need to let them know what you are taking and what you are leaving, and that includes the garden.

If you're a keen gardener you might have spent years and a lot of money getting the perfect outdoor space. If there are perennials and shrubs you would like to take with you this needs to be made clear to your buyers. Since transplanting plants is best done at certain times of year (usually spring or autumn) you might want to dig them up in advance and keep them in containers to make them easier to move.

Indoors if you're not planning on leaving some luxury fixtures and fittings you should supply some alternatives (for example basic light fixtures). Whatever you decide, just make sure it is recorded in the paperwork to avoid any legal repercussions.

7. Choose your conveyancer

Once your house goes on the market things can move very quickly. If an area is in high demand you might even get multiple offers on day one, so it's a good idea to think about solicitors well in advance so you can instruct them as soon as you accept an offer. 

There are lots of options now, with large online conveyancing firms offering good prices, but independent local solicitors offering a personal touch and familiarity working with local estate agents. If you have friends or family who have moved recently ask for recommendations - and warnings! Read reviews online and if you have any questions about their service get in touch with them.

8. Get your paperwork in order

There's certain documentation you will need to have ready when you're preparing your house for the market. It's best to get this together early on to avoid any delays as some of it can hold things up.

You will need your own paperwork, such as ID as part of anti-money laundering laws, and if you are applying for a mortgage you will need bank statements too. If you have an existing mortgage you will also need to provide that information.

You will need to prove that you own your house. If you don't have your title deeds the solicitor you used to buy your house should have a copy. If you have been living in your house since 1986 or earlier the Land Registry will only have a copy if you voluntarily registered it, in which case you will need to contact your mortgage provider. If you can't get a copy from your mortgage provider or solicitor you will need to apply for a Title Absolute from the Land Registry, which can take some time to sort out.

If you live in a freehold you will need information about the management company and the Leasehold Information Pack detailing service charges. Your solicitor may well organise this on your behalf.

You will need an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) if the house does not already have one. These are valid for 10 years and rate the property's energy efficiency from A to G.

You will also need documentation for any work done on the house. FENSA certificates for doors and windows, certification of gas appliances and re-wiring, change of use documentation and planning permission records. If you have carried out alterations without planning permission you might need to get retrospective planning permission or indemnity insurance. Your solicitor will require you to fill out a Property Information Form to disclose any alterations carried out on the property so speak to them if you have any concerns about missing paperwork.

9. Choose an agent wisely

Estate agents don't charge for valuations, so try to get three as a minimum.

Look up which agents have sold the most properties in your area by searching on the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla. Successful agents will know the buyers looking in that area and what they are prepared to pay. Also see if one agent specialises in houses like yours, especially if you live in a period property or if your house is unusual in some way, such as including equestrian land or having eco features.

When it comes to the agents’ fee it is important to compare agents’ rates. You could get an agreed fixed fee rather than commission. A contract period of no more than eight weeks should keep them on their toes.

Once an agent has been instructed, make sure they produce a quality brochure touching on all the key points.

Most people view online first so cater for them with lots of great pictures showing off any key features such as original fireplaces or renovated rooms. Don't neglect photos of outdoor space, but take pictures when the garden is at its best.

Read our guide to choosing an estate agent

10. Price it right

Getting the asking price is crucial, of course. Don’t pick the agent just because it offers the highest valuation. Sometimes a lower price will attract more interest. Some agents hold an open house, so all potential buyers visit on the same day, creating a buzz about the property and encouraging them to put in an offer.

Don't just rely on the estate agent. As soon as you decide to sell keep an eye on Rightmove and see what similar properties in your area are going for. If you have that knowledge you are going to have a better idea of which estate agent has a realistic evaluation.

Try our quick fixes to help sell your house and read our checklist of what to do after moving

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.