How to Prepare to Sell Your Home FSBO in 5 Stages

By Steve Flanagan

There are a lot of details to take care of before you list your home and show it to prospective buyers. To help guide you through preparing yourself and whipping your home into shape, we’ve outlined the five basic stages of preparing:

• Prepare yourself
• Repair and replace
• Declutter
• Stage
• Decide where you’ll live next

It’s time to get yourself focused, then roll up your sleeves and start repairing, improving and staging before you invite buyers into your home.

1. Prepare Yourself
While there’s no doubt that preparing your home (repairing, improving and staging) is at the top of the to-do list when selling on your own, preparing yourself psychologically for the process ahead is really the first step. If you are not ready, chances of your sale proceeding in a smooth fashion greatly diminish.

Keep Your Emotions in Check
Many sellers are surprised by the emotions that surface as they pack up and say goodbye to their homes. It helps to focus on the end goal: finding the right buyer and closing the deal. Think of the process as selling a house, not your home. It will become easier to look at your property objectively as you remove personal items and start staging to attract buyers. When you start showing your home, potential buyers and their realtors may be overly critical. If you can react to those types of comments in a neutral fashion, you can leverage those insights as negotiating tactics, or use the feedback to improve your listing.

Research and Hire a Real Estate Attorney
Just because you’re selling by owner doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Even sellers who hire real estate agents rely on attorneys and title agencies. Educate yourself about the sales process in your state and line up a real estate attorney. You will want someone to review the eventual sales contract but also you need someone to ensure you don’t run afoul of any legal requirements in your state. Avoid legal pitfalls by getting an attorney onboard in the beginning. In some states, such as Massachusetts, buyers’ and sellers’ lawyers typically finalize the sales contracts. In other states, the initial offer to purchase is actually the sales contract so it pays to understand the sales process in your area and to be sure you are legally protected.

Do Your Homework
Start to assemble key documents, such as:
• The original survey from when you purchased the home
• Contractor receipts for home improvements
• Any homeowner association by laws and documents
• Permits for home improvements
• Utility costs
• The most recent property tax bill

Get copies of any property disclosure forms required by your state and town. A majority of states have some type of mandated disclosure for property defects. And it’s not uncommon to have other required disclosures for mold, asbestos or lead paint. Disclosures help sellers make buyers aware of things they should look at and give buyers the opportunity to do their own due diligence. Fill out these forms truthfully because they are your best protection from post-sale claims by the buyer that he didn’t know about defects in the house.

2. Repair and Replace
This is the time to fix all those little items that you’ve had on your “to do” list for years. A latch that doesn’t work, a leaky toilet, a leak under a sink, or an electrical outlet that doesn’t work might seem like small items but potential buyers are apt to see them as a sign that the home hasn’t been properly maintained, which means more work for them if they buy it.

Pre-Sale Home Inspections
Walk your entire property inside and out and identify problem areas that should be repaired or upgraded, then prioritize those fixes within your budget and the time frame you have established for selling. Although buyers will hire a home inspector to evaluate your property before the sale is finalized, sellers can also use a certified pre-sale home inspection to help them identify major problems before they list.

The Work That’s Worth It
There is a big difference between making minor and inexpensive “polishes” and “touch-ups” to your house, such as putting new knobs on cabinets and a fresh coat of neutral paint in the living room, and doing extensive and costly renovations, like installing a new kitchen. In preparing your home for the market, be judicious about how much money you spend. Buyers will be impressed by a brand new roof, but they aren’t likely to give you enough extra money to pay for it. Consider the costs and benefits of upgrades before you hire any contractors.

For repairs that are beyond your reach right now, consider getting a written estimate or two on the cost of the repair. When you complete the seller’s disclosure, acknowledge the deficit and then have the estimates ready to show to the buyer when they make an offer. Typically buyers often estimate a much higher amount (and will want to subtract that from the agreed upon price) than repairs actually cost.

3. Declutter
Decluttering involves “editing” the items in a space so it’s less cluttered and more functional. Home staging involves transforming each room into an attractive “vignette” that appeals to a wide range of prospective buyers. Spend some time evaluating the inside of your home; then make and execute a plan to declutter and stage before you’re ready to show your home.

First, declutter to minimize or eliminate distractions that could otherwise take away their focus on the things that really matter. For example, your kid’s soccer trophies may look impressive as you sit in your family room but really are just going to be in the way of a potential buyer visualizing the potential of the space. Our advice: pack them away.

Decluttering can be tricky. You’re still living in your house so you need your stuff. Decluttering is not converting your house to a campground. It is selectively pruning anything that distracts buyers from seeing what they are getting with your house.

Toss or sell anything you aren’t planning on taking with you. Clear out closets. You might be a packrat but overstuffed closets send a signal to buyers that the house doesn’t have enough storage. Garages, most basements, storage areas and laundry rooms all need similar treatment.

As you declutter, start planning your next task in the home preparation process: staging. Simply put, staging is the art of helping the buyer envision living in your home. This idea is to make the house inviting and welcoming so that buyers see past your furniture and mementoes and envision themselves owning and enjoying the house.

4. Staging
Staging is one of the most powerful ways to make buyers want to buy your home. It can be as simple as cleaning, removing extraneous items and repainting. Or it can require a clean sweep that involves storing belongings off-site, redecorating, and even renting furniture and art to make your place show well. Here are the basics of staging each room in your house, including your outdoor spaces.

Focus on Functionality
Nobody is fooled by clever staging that camouflages worn-out appliances and systems. If your appliances are more than 10 years old, they might look outdated, even if they are perfectly functional. Tour a few open houses in your area to see what finishes and functions are commanding top price and consider upgrading to match them. Focus on the basics: a high quality stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, and solid faucet. Don’t get carried away with gimmicky add-ons such as built-in espresso makers, which are costly and have limited appeal.

Watch Where You Walk
Take a good look at the floors to see what you think needs to be done. Maybe a simple cleaning is all that’s in order but worn wood floors might need to be professionally redone. At least call in a professional to see what they suggest. Also, check with Home Depot or Lowes or your local hardware store to see what products are available if you just need to revive a small section of floor that has had heavy traffic.

Shampoo carpets yourself or have them professionally cleaned. Consider replacing any that are excessively worn. Most importantly, clean carpets help ensure the home is free of odors.

Make It Inviting
Staging helps potential buyers envision your house as theirs. To do that, they need to see the details of your house. Your goal in staging is to entice visitors to linger in each room so they can absorb its features and see its benefits.

• Consider the view from each doorway. How can you encourage visitors to step in each room? A small scenario often works, such as an arrangement of an easy chair and lamp that is partly visible from the door.
• Fresh flowers only partially visible from the door will entice visitors to enter the room.
• Make sure seating is arranged so it is open to visitors, not with backs to them, which can discourage them from entering the room.
• If your furniture is badly outdated or worn, consider storing it and bringing in a few bright, clean rental pieces.

One tenant of successful staging is that it’s best to rid your home of personal items and create as much open space as possible. Placing extra furniture in storage is a great way to free up space while you’re showing your home.

Here’s a tip you might not have thought of: Walk from room to room in your house with one or two other people to replicate the experience of guiding a potential buyer or buyer couple through your home. Note which rooms seem crowded when three people are standing in them and make notes of the ways you could make those rooms seem more spacious. Ask each other what makes crowded rooms seem crowded and remove those items.

Another option is to hire a professional stager to stage your house. If you have already moved, hiring a stager to fill the void in your home by arranging rented furniture is critical since an empty house always shows better with furniture. A consultation may cost around $150, and total cost will depend on the size of your property and the types of services they propose.

For additional guidance, review our decluttering checklist, article and photo gallery.

Clean, Clean and Clean Again
Don’t underestimate the importance of cleaning while you are decluttering and staging. Really scrub and polish every single area from top to bottom, ferreting out dust and dirt in every crevice. When you’re cleaning the windows, don’t forget the sills, space between the window, and the screen or storm window. Pay special attention to bathrooms, especially grout. Use a cleaner formulated for this job. Regrout, or replace broken tiles. Scrub and polish woodwork.

Don’t forget to look up. Remove cobwebs and dust moldings, replace burnt-out light bulbs, dust existing bulbs and polish light fixtures. Doing a thorough job ahead of time will make keeping the house in show-ready shape a breeze later.

5. Where Will You Live Next?
Seems pretty basic, but sellers needs to be just as prepared to move as to sell. Whether you plan to purchase or rent, you need to be on the lookout for your next home as soon as you’ve decided to sell. Take these steps to prepare for your new life:

• Decide on your target neighborhood(s) and start researching properties that are on the market or available for rent.
• Look over listings online and in the local newspaper to help you identify properties you’d like to visit.
• Develop a solid idea of what you will be able to offer when you have identified a home you like.
• Research lenders and their current interest rates.
• Once you’ve selected a lender or two that you feel good about, talk to a loan officer about getting pre-qualified, or better yet, pre-approved for a loan.
• Visit open houses and arrange showings for you as a buyer so you can start to narrow your search.

If you are looking for a new home in the same market where you’re selling your home, you’re buyer research will give you a good idea of what goes into a good listing ad and a solid marketing strategy. Attending open houses and showings will give you insight into your competition and give you pointers about how to (or not to) show your home.