A Realtor’s Presale To-Do List

by Michell Nuñez

When I thought about selling my home the first things to run through my mind was my son’s first steps, the great parties we’ve had with our friends and my grandmother’s last visit. I thought about all the work my husband and I put into our remodeling projects and how much we loved the mustard yellow walls in my office and the burnt sienna walls in our living room. I let the nostalgia wash over me. Then I put on my realtor hat and got started with my to do list.

Moving Van

Selling a house is inconvenient. Either move or prepare to be very inconvenienced. If you want to get top dollar, the house should be spotless and available to show every minute of every day from the time it is listed until it goes pending. If you can’t leave, consider getting a storage unit so the house will be as clutter free as possible. Make sure the whole family knows the drill. The house should be ready to show at a moment’s notice. There have been so many times that I have a buyer very interested in a property, but the owner requires two or more hours’ notice. You would think that it’s easy to plan two hours ahead, but the more coordinating it takes to see a property, the less potential buyers that are going to see it. The fewer potential buyers that see a property, the fewer offers you’ll get.


If you’ve been meaning to get something fixed, do it before you sell. Not only will it make a huge difference with how potential buyers view the property, but the contractors they get estimates from are going to be way pricier than the one you choose. Imagine you’re a buyer house hunting on the weekend. You see half a dozen houses on a Sunday. Most of the houses are in good shape. Some are impeccable—from the sparkling fresh paint throughout to the brand-new kitchen and perfectly refinished floors. Then you go to a house with a great lot and a great layout, but you can’t see past the dingy paint, cracks on the walls and dirty grout in the bathrooms. Not only do most buyers not know how much these repairs will cost, but they’ll also be thinking: if this is what I can see that needs to be done, imagine what I can’t see? As a realtor, I can see past the cosmetic, but I also know that this house is going to sell at a bargain price.


The number one deal killer in escrow is an unexpected inspection report.  Inspections prior to getting into contract help to avoid surprises. Most buyers in the Bay Area expect to see reports before putting in an offer, especially at higher price points.  Providing buyers with a general inspection and pest report from reputable companies makes it much more likely that they will submit offers without contingencies—which avoids post inspection negotiations. The last thing you want once the house is pending is to go back on the market.


Ninety percent of buyers start their home search online. Paint works wonders for everything from dingy walls to old kitchen cabinets and helps make for beautiful photos. Once you get them to the property, a fresh coat of paint in light, neutral colors, can make everything look clean and fresh, helps get rid of old odors and brings the space together. I consider painting the single most important project for almost any sale and by far the biggest bang for the buck.


Houses should be spotless. Nobody, no matter how messy their own home is, wants to picture themselves in a dirty house. From the oven to the refrigerator to the bathroom floor to the windows, the house should be five-star hotel spotless from the time it is listed until closing.


Staged homes sell quicker and for more. It helps buyers remember your property vs. the other 50 properties they’ve seen that day. Staging helps people picture themselves in the space. Think of walking past a beautiful department store window vs. just seeing the product on a hanger in the store.  That dress in the window becomes more than a dress, it becomes a vacation. It beckons you to come inside and see. Empty rooms become a blur in pictures, but staged rooms keep buyers looking at the listing longer. The longer a buyer looks at your listing the more likely they are to visit and make an offer.


Properties with beautiful floors demand a premium. Since it’s a major concern for buyers, even sellers on a shoestring budget can’t afford to ignore it. At the very least, I advise homeowners to look at what’s under old linoleum and carpets. A few years ago, I worked with buyers that were on a tight budget, so we weren’t looking to get into a bidding war. Almost all the properties we viewed had been sitting on the market. When we first saw the house they ended up buying, they were taken aback by the dingy walls and dirty carpet, but as we walked through, we realized that it was all cosmetic work. Under the stained, worn, smelly wall-to-wall carpets was over $20,000 worth of pristine hardwood floors! I was amazed by how little work needed to be done to make the property sell for at least 50k more. When I went to their housewarming party a month later the house was unrecognizable. Most amazingly, they did all the work themselves for almost nothing.


The same house I referenced above had a 10,000 sq ft lot. While you don’t see many lots that big, it felt smaller than lots half the size when we first saw it. The front yard was filled with dead weeds and the backyard was so overgrown and cluttered, you couldn’t appreciate how huge the space was. At the house warming party, the backyard was the center piece of the home. It was gorgeous! They had cleaned the yard, trimmed a huge citrus tree that we thought was dead and planted a garden.  But the real pièce de résistance was a large white tent with a lounging area they had set up in the middle of the yard. It looked like something you would see at a wedding. My client was using the tent as an office and spending most of her days outside in their beautiful garden. Ever since, I’ve been looking for a backyard like theirs where I can put up a wedding tent to work in. The moral is, you don’t have to have a big budget for landscaping, but a clean well thought out yard allows for buyers’ imaginations to run wild with what they can do with the space.

The most expensive thing most people ever sell is their home. Yet many owners don’t realize it takes a calculated effort to prepare a home to sell for top dollar. Even sellers on a limited budget can make a huge difference to their bottom line by investing their resources where it matters most. For example, the owner of the property pictured below had a very limited budget. A photographer by profession, her style was bold and eclectic with wall-to-wall cheetah print carpeting. We decided that to appeal to the greatest audience we would focus the budget on flooring and painting. Since her furniture was in such great shape, we picked a few pieces for staging which I supplemented with new accessories. The rest of her belongings were stored.

In the Bay Area, the difference between a so-so and a great listing can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you’re thinking about selling, I would be happy to meet for a free consultation to discuss how to make your listing great regardless of your budget.

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