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Open House Tips: Top Twelve Free To-Do's Before A Showing

Open House Drawing While the housing market shows some signs of life but is still sluggish, you need every advantage when listing your home for sale. With such tight competition, it is especially important to make a good first impression upon a potential buyer. Selling and buying a home is costly for all involved. Here are twelve helpful, FREE, and simple ways to spruce up for your open house before you open the door for a showing.

These open house tips are not the usual "paint, paper, renovation" suggestions which cost money. This approach works for houses that are in decent shape to show. All that is required is elbow grease. A few tasks can be completed in a matter of minutes, others will take some time and planning; but they are must do's whether or not you open your wallet for bigger improvements. BONUS: You burn calories, your house is clean, and it is ready to be shown anytime after the open house occurs.

Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression...

At Least One Month Prior to the Open House Date:

1. Take a Survey: the garage, basement, yard, closets, storage areas. Decide and tag what can be disposed of, donated, recycled. Then dispose, donate, and recycle those items immediately. BONUS: These are not things you will have to move. 

2. Summer vs. Winter Clutter Clearing:If you are showing in the summer, take out all the winter items and remove them and vice versa. This process takes planning, patience, and a friend kind enough to let you temporarily use their basement (otherwise you'll have to pay for a storage space). Let a potential buyer envision their car in the garage, not your snow blower. The same goes for closets, including the linen and coat closets. Box up the "out of season" clothing, or stuff you won't use, label it and get it off site. BONUS 1: Half your stuff is already packed when you finally move. BONUS 2: Your closets look bigger. 

3. Organize: Regarding steps #1 and #2, now organize those cleared areas. Let people see that there is plenty of room for their sweaters to be neatly stacked on a shelf in the closet, or tools on a pegboard in the garage. They'll be able to imagine their own typical items instead of seeing clutter.

4. Start Cleaning the Entire House: A house that is shown dirty will not impress anyone. If the owners don't care about the house, why should a potential buyer? Start with the bigger "one" time tasks like window cleaning, sweeping out the garage, carpet steaming, buffing chandelier crystals, etc. NOTE: There is a big difference between clutter free and clean - don't stop at step #3 - you'll be glad you went the extra mile once everything is shiny and smelling fresh.

5. Stop Shopping: Other than food and necessities, don't buy anything that has to be put into the closets, garage, basement, or takes up space in the living areas. NOTE: If you do buy something, then commit yourself to removing an item of the same size and type. 

At Least Two Weeks Prior to the Open House Date:

6. Personal Items: Box up the family photos and bric-a-brac. Decide if the figurine on your mantel is a "decor" item or displayed for "sentimental" reasons but doesn't lend anything to the overall visual. If it is sentimental, pack it away. People want to imagine themselves "living" in the house; natural curiosity is for buyers to look at the photos and tchotchkes which interferes with their looking at the house.

7. The First Room: This is a biggie...What is the first room people see? The foyer? Living room? Front porch? Whatever the answer, look at it from the eyes of a buyer (ask a friend to help with this one, too). What can be rearranged for better flow, spacing, and logical use? By logical use, think: an umbrella stand should be by the door, not in the corner of the dining room because it matches the wallpaper; Duke's dog bed in the living room (because he likes to look at the window) has to be moved elsewhere; your barely alive house plants on the front porch look sad and sickly to a stranger, time to toss them or give them to a greener thumb. NOTE: Be honest with what you see, don't let living patterns get in the way of good presentation. Once you discover these issues, adjust accordingly.

During the Week of the Open House:

8. Take the "Sniff" Test: Every house has a "scent" and some are not very pleasant. (a) Plan to refrain from cooking items that could add to household odors like onions, hard-boiled eggs, grilled fish, fried chicken, roasted garlic, etc. (b) Take care of pet scent issues. (c) Freshen your home by airing out the house with open windows, spritzing natural room sprays (stay away from the commercial grade room sprays filled with chemicals, they only "mask" odors - no matter what the ads say), burning a natural essential oil candle a bit each night, putting white vinegar down the disposal and running it with cold water. (d) Do the laundry, fold and put away. Be sure to make this work area as inviting as possible; no wet towels sitting in the machine or dry loads in the dryer.

9. Kitchen Detail: Organize the inside of your cabinets and pantry, clean the refrigerator, the oven, the dishwasher, the beverage cooler. Think of anything that can be "opened" by a buyer and address it. People will open these items, especially if they are interested; let them be excited by the space and good appearance of their future kitchen.

10. The Front Door: Sweep the steps, clean (and empty) the mailbox, wash any windows, shake out the welcome mat, etc. Make this area spotless. This is the first time potential buyers are walking up to the house and through the front door. Let this area work to further invite those who like the home's curb appeal.

The Weekend of the Open House:

11. Bright Ideas Before: (a) Replace any light bulbs that are burned out or flickering. (b) Clean the bathrooms and kitchen again. (c) Adjust the heat or air conditioner to keep the house sufficiently warm or cool while the door is being opened and closed for a block of time. (d) Spritz your room spray around. (e) Store personal papers and jewelry in a locked box (take it off site if possible); most people are honest, but better safe than sorry.

12. The Day of: (a) Bag up each and every garbage and take it out. (b) Make the beds. (c) Turn answering machines and phone ringers off. (d) Burn your candle that morning. (e) Open the windows if it's a nice day. (f) Fluff the pillows. (g) Turn on every light (it makes the rooms feel bigger). (h) Go out for a late lunch and enjoy.

These are basic, common sense to-do's but you'd be surprised how many home owners don't address most of them. Take advantage of other people's lack of detail and do these free to-do's before your open house. A little effort and planning goes a long way to making the best first impression possible without spending any money!

Do you have tips or to-do's for an open house? Share them here.

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Luci Weston

@Bose: Thanks! "Free" is a good way to start this process since so many homes are on the market. It is hard to narrow down which $ projects to tackle and if they will pay off. This way, the house is ready for anything!

@Rosemary: Great point...a friend with a good sniffer is priceless. LOL This is one of those "impressions" that can be subconscious, it's better not to risk it.

@Ruth: What a good way to describe this process, "set designer." That is what one becomes when listing a house. Thank you for pointing out the music tip, great suggestion. Music fills the house in ways nothing else can.

Ruth Seitelman

These are wonderful suggestions. When Paul and I were faced with selling our house (we were buying another that was simply my dream house) we needed to move it quickly. I became a set designer.

We cleaned, organized and the lights were full on in some rooms and dimmed in others. I also baked slice and bake cookies before showing the house to give it the homey welcome smell. Radios with 'appropriate' music played in the kids rooms and soft jazz in our bedroom. I admit that appropriate music in the kids rooms was a negotiation but it was all worth it.

We sold the house in two weeks for the price we wanted.


Ah--the all important sniff test! It helps to have a friend come in and do it, too--sometimes we're so used to our own "house smell" that we miss things. (Like the scent emanating from the funky dog bed in the corner of the kitchen. . .)!


Great tips! Not only did you not spend any money but your tips also increase the value of the house, even if it is just the "perceived" value, which translates to more money in the seller's pockets.

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