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Before you list your home...

Updated: May 14

When you decide to sell your home, you become aware that wear and tear has taken a toll on your most important investment. The process of getting a property ready to sell can seem daunting.  There’s the clearing of clutter, endless cleaning, and then organizing your property to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible.  You have to prioritize what needs attention and what can be left as-is. Which home repairs or modifications can bring you the greatest return on your investment of time, effort, and money?

You don’t want just to list it without any advance preparation.  As a realtor, I can advise you on a starting point and perhaps provide you with ideas and information that may help put more money in your pocket.

So before you list your home, here are some important considerations that I encourage you to focus on:

  • Fix it to sell.

  • Structural is just as important as cosmetic.

  • Give the buyers what they want.  Create a "Wow!" factor.


Curb Appeal

The exterior is the first thing buyers will see.  The old adage, “It’s important to remember that you never have a second chance to make a positive first impression” applies here.  Buyers will judge your home well before they walk through the door. 

Let’s look at some important items to fix:

Your front door- This is critical! Does it need a fresh coat of paint or new hardware? Consider adding a glass panel to create light that evokes a sunny and warm space.

Landscaping and hardscaping – Make sure the grass is mowed and that weeds are taken care of before someone comes to view the home. 

Add color by planting some flowers, and replace mulch to make the place feel homier. 

Are the plantings overgrown, worn, and wilted? What about the ground cover? 

If you have “bald” spots in your lawn, you can cover them with fresh sod.

Trim back any overgrown tree limbs hanging over the house or blocking the home’s view.

Just adding a row of potted plants along the walkway or a cheerful wreath to your front door can make a big difference.

Patch cement cracks in your sidewalk or driveway.

Replace missing fence boards, or paint them. 

Store away or discard junk accumulated in the yard.

Remember that you can typically get a 100-percent return on the money you put into your home’s curb appeal.

The Roof

Appraisers are notorious for requiring a roof to be replaced.  For example, in the case of FHA and/or VA financing, it can be a condition of the loan. If your home needs a new roof, bite the bullet and do it. Even though most roofing tear-off jobs only take one to two days, most buyers will shy away from buying a home if the roof needs to be replaced. A new roof probably won't increase your sales price because it is a maintenance issue, but it will open up the pool of potential buyers. The buyer (and you) won’t have to be concerned about a negative inspection and deal with a potential renegotiation before closing or facing a price reduction.

If you can’t afford to replace your roof, get estimates on the cost involved to replace it. You can always offer to contribute to the replacement cost in the form of a credit to the buyer’s closing costs and offer a home warranty that can provide some coverage should something fail or need repair.

Structural and mechanical

As a buyer, you are looking at expensive items like the age and condition of the roof, air conditioning and heating systems, water heater, electrical panel, and pipes. I don’t suggest a complete replacement of all, but if any of these components are at the end of their life, you may seriously need to consider replacing them as these items could factor into the kind of financing the buyer is able to obtain as well as insurability of the property.


Make sure everything works as it should – from the small things like doorknobs and locks to bigger stuff like gates or your garage door. Everything doesn’t have to be new for a home to be desirable to buyers, but all the functional aspects of the home must be in good working order to fetch the best price. A few broken components can drive the price down, so I recommend that you get them fixed.

Pre-Sale Inspection

More home sales fall apart at the home inspection than at any other point in time during a transaction, so preparing for it is economically beneficial. One crucial way to avoid the problems that can swiftly end a home sale is to have a pre-sale home inspection. A pre-sale home inspection can help you identify issues and fix them before you try to sell your home. Unless you are a professional contractor, a real estate agent or a home inspector, you are probably going to miss a few things as you go looking for problems with the home.  Even if you are a professional, a home inspection will still be required before a lending company willfinance your home. If you don’t find the problems now, you will be forced to deal with them later before you can finalize the sale.

Have an inspector look over your home, fix whatever is broken and then move forward with your sale – confident that you have covered all the bases.

Here are some items that an inspector could look at:


Buyers love fireplaces.  A fireplace can be an attractive asset to a home, but it can also be a source of concern to buyers if there is any uncertainty about condition.  Therefore, prior to listing, make sure all fireplaces are clean and functional.

Water stains

Water stains are BIG red flags.  If you have any concern about water intrusion anywhere, you must resolve the issue and repair damage before listing. 

Musty basements

Does it smell musty?  If yes, why?  Do you need a dehumidifier?  Do walls need to be sealed?  Is a professional required to address water penetration issues? 

Wiggles, shimmies, and shakes

Look for loose handrails and deck or balcony rails.  If they shake or wiggle inspectors may   report it as a “safety issue”. Fix anything noticeably loose before listing.

Trip hazards

Every trip hazard is an accident waiting to happen.

Loose carpet inside, uneven walk surfaces outside can be a red flag for safety.

Septic Tank

In the rural North Georgia mountains, it is common to have a septic tank.  Make sure that your permit covers the size of your home and that it is in good condition (ground is not soft or wet).


Look for soft wood, wood shavings or sounds in the wall. Termites and other pests can cause serious structural damage. 

In Rabun County we have swarms of carpenter bees that can bore through wood siding and the eaves of your roof line.  Those holes can be easily repaired by applying the proper insecticide and filling the cavity with a wood filler.


The beauty of our lush vegetation and rainforest can take a toll on your gutters and down spouts.  Clogged gutters can create considerable damage to walls, decks and even cause leakage into your home. Have your gutters and down spouts cleaned and/or repaired and make sure water runs away from your property.


If your home was built before 1976, asbestos, lead or mold could be lurking inside.


Check for any dead trees, roots, or tree canopies that can potentially damage your roof, driveway, or structural foundation.

Walls and ceiling


Let’s face it, buyers buy with their eyes, therefore, now is the time to go through the interior in detail. Are there dents and dings on the walls, scratched moldings or worn paint? Now is the time to spruce up the inside with a fresh coat of paint. Paint is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to update the look of your home before you list it, and you don’t need to be a professional painter to make this work for you, either.

Pick light, neutral and on-trend colors. Choose a neutral palette that will transition well with any buyer’s furniture.


If you have wallpaper in your home, it is almost always a good idea to remove it to sell your home for the most money. Wallpaper dates a home. It's not that all buyers hate wallpaper. They hate “your wallpaper” – because it's your personal choice, not theirs. Get rid of it. Some sellers assume a buyer should just be able to “look past it.”  We often hear sellers offering to give the buyer an allowance to remove the wallpaper. This is a mistake, as it defeats the purpose. Getting rid of wallpaper is all about first impressions and making a home more appealing to a buyer. 

Wood Paneling

Even if your wood paneling is composite or an artificial veneer, you most likely can paint it. Dated paneling should go. If you have the right amount of window trim to accommodate new walls, you might just Sheetrock over it with 1/4 inch drywall. 

Textured Ceilings

Older popcorn ceilings with "sparkles" often contain asbestos and if disturbed become health hazards.  Even recently sprayed ceilings turn off buyers. It's not expensive but it is time consuming to remove. Lay down drop cloths and scrape it off!


"The kitchen comes first"

You’re not actually selling your house, you’re selling your kitchen – that’s how important it is. The benefits of remodeling your kitchen are endless, and the best part of it is that you’ll probably get 85% of your money back. It may be a few thousand dollars to replace countertops where a buyer may knock $10,000 off the asking price if your kitchen looks dated. The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware. You can make some minor repairs that will make your kitchen appear more inviting, even if it isn’t a “dream kitchen”.

In summary here is a list of items that may update your kitchen:

  • Countertops - Change your countertops, you may be able to find a reasonably priced remnant of a larger granite slab (granite and marble are not a requirement for an updated look). The price of solid surface materials, however, has come down in recent years so it might be worth getting an estimate for installing granite counter tops, especially when the kitchen counter space is not that large.

  • Cabinets - Change cabinet doors, however, if your cabinets are dated and beat-up, your house might not sell if the cabinets aren't replaced. Resurfacing is an inexpensive option. If your cabinets are simply dated, consider painting the wood a trendier color. Use a neutral-color paint so you can present buyers with a blank canvas where they can start envisioning their own style.

  • Change Hardware.

  • Update light fixtures.

  • Add or change a dated tile backsplash.

  • Update appliances.  According to Remodeling Magazine, the high-end kitchens don't return as much as the mid-range or minor kitchen remodels. Most buyers won't pay extra for a built-in Sub Zero refrigerator, professional 8-burner stove, under-mount sink or Travertine floors. If you live in the Midwest, your return will be less than for those who live in other parts of the country.

  • Update faucets - Newer faucets, especially pre-rinse faucets are popular, and sparkling sinks will also sell. Buyers don't want to spot leaky faucets or stained sinks. Be sure to caulk to make it look even more inviting.


The bathrooms and kitchen are the most important areas in a home. These are areas where buyers will put their focus. They are also the most expensive areas in a home to upgrade. This makes it vital for you to repair any issues before putting your home up for sale.

Here is a list of necessary items to fix:

  • Repair running toilet or a leaky faucet

  • Replace toilet seat. 

  • Clean up the grout or replace it if necessary

  • Replace any missing tiles.

  • If the bathroom has old wallpaper or dingy surfaces, a new paint job is recommended. The brighter and cleaner you can make the room, the better. The wall color in the bath does not need to match other rooms in the house.

  • Update light fixtures

  • If the tub is stained, consider refinishing the tub.

  • If you cannot get the shower doors or glass fixtures clean, consider replacing the door, or maybe removing and hanging a shower curtain instead.

  • Carpeting is a huge turnoff in a bathroom.

The national average of recouped cost is generally near 100% for bathrooms so feel confident about any updateimprovements you make.


Every switch should operate something, anything.  A switch should not include warning labels.  Make sure all fixtures have working light bulbs.  It’s important not to leave any questions about the integrity of the electrical system.


Maximize the light in your home. After location, good light is the one thing that every buyer cites that they want in a home. Lighting can make even the smallest home seem open and inviting. Take some time to analyze your current space and see if you can find some ways to improve the lighting.  Do what you have to, to make your house bright and cheery – it will make it more sellable.

Look at your light fixtures, ceiling fans, and light switches — these are relatively inexpensive things to update and replace, yet they go a long way toward creating value.

Here’s a list of ideas:

  • Take down the drapes or hang light-colored ones

  • Clean the windows

  • Change the lampshades

  • Increase the wattage of your light bulbs 

  • Cut the bushes outside to let in sunshine. 

  • Update light fixtures; a little bit of money invested can translate into a quicker sale


Hardwood Floors

There is nothing like entering a home where the hardwood looks spectacular. If your home has hardwood floors, that's what buyers want, and it would pay to have the carpeting removed, and the floors refinished. The great thing about refinishing hardwood floors is the high return on investment.


If your sub-floor is plywood, then replace the carpeting with a light tan. Neutral carpeting is your best bet for resale. You also have the option to install hardwood, which will bring you more upon resale.


Replace chipped or cracked tiles. Clean or replace the grout, but don't install ceramic (it's too expensive) unless it's for aesthetic reasons in an entryway or you need to get rid of carpeting in the bath.

I recommend that sellers remove carpeting from the entryway and entertainment areas: the living room, dining room, and family room. Buyers today prefer alternate flooring in those areas, and there are plenty of styles to choose from. The most popular are engineered wood floors, which can be installed very inexpensively and, in some cases, you can do it yourself.


Overall, buyers want to buy a home that has no visible deferred maintenance, newer appliances, updated plumbing, electrical and heating (including a/c), modern conveniences, and is ready to occupy. In general, there is no improvement you can make that returns 100% of your investment, but you can improve the value of your home with updates, not maintenance issues. Do not confuse the two as they are very different. For example, if you replaced your furnace, that does not add more value to your home. However, if you installed dual pane windows to increase efficiency over those old crank-out aluminum windows, you've added value.

Leaving repairs for a buyer is not a smart thing to do if you are looking to get the most money for your home. If your home is in deplorable condition and you are just looking to get out with a quick sale, you may want to consider selling to a real estate investor. There are companies like Homego that will purchase your home from you for cash with no contingencies. Of course, a company like this is not going to be paying you the market value for your home. This is for those sellers who are desperate to sell and get some remaining equity fast.




The Balance

Money Magazine

Remodeling Magazine

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