exterior shot of house with for sale sign in front yard

Performing regular maintenance on your home can ensure a smooth sale. (Getty Images)

You can expect the lead-up to putting your home on the market to be a hectic period that includes everything from making minor updates to moving out furniture to staging rooms in hopes of enticing buyers. And once the property is officially on the market, things don’t get any less hectic when you have to be prepared to leave on short notice and keep the house in pristine condition at all times.

The last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your house before a buyer takes possession. But unfortunately, it happens.

While big problems may not be common – especially if you keep up on maintenance and properly lock up regularly – they can pop up. When they do, consulting your real estate agent can help get you moving quickly to avoid causing any problems affecting the sale of your house.

“If there’s something that happens, we definitely step in and recommend a contractor to help them remedy whatever the situation is,” says Ashley Spencer, co-owner and principal broker for Selling Virginia Real Estate & Property Management in Woodbridge, Virginia.

A key method for preventing a possible problem from turning into a bigger one is to continue to live in the house while your property is on the market. A lived-in or staged house is likely to sell faster than a vacant one because it helps buyers envision someone living there, and it’s also more likely that you’ll catch a problem when it occurs as opposed to days later. Here are two of the most common types of disasters you’ll encounter while your property is on the market, plus how to ensure they don't become a bigger problem for the sale of your home.

[Read: 5 Times to Accept the First Offer on Your House.]

Something Breaks

A major issue at home always seems to happen at the worst possible moment – and the period leading up to closing on the sale of your house probably qualifies as the worst possible moment. Heavy rains may reveal a leak in the roof you were unaware of, your aging dishwasher may give up on you before you expected or your busy schedule while prepping to sell could lead you to forget regular tasks like cleaning out the lint trap and dryer vent, creating a major fire hazard.

The best thing you can do is be financially prepared to take on an emergency fix. Unfortunately, there’s a strong chance you’re not prepared. A Liberty Mutual Insurance study released earlier this month reveals one-third of Americans have no money saved for necessary home upkeep, and 48 percent have less than $1,000 saved.

You may find yourself in an even worse financial situation when you’ve paid a home stager, brought in a cleaning crew and repainted the living room, among other costs that come with listing a home.

While the sale of your home is meant to make you money, you typically have to put some into the house to prepare it for the market before you can cash out. And until your property sells, you’re on the hook for any needed maintenance.

Depending on the time of year you’re listing your home, your home may also be subject to violent storms that can easily cause property damage – hurricanes, tornadoes or thunderstorms that lead to flooding. If you’re not there, you’re less likely to be able to prepare before a storm hits.

[Read: How to Get Along With Your Contractor.]

Here are three things you should do to decrease your chances of needing emergency work on your house while it’s on the market:

Perform regular maintenance. Like a car, your home needs consistent work in order to function properly and for a long time. Most likely, your house is much larger than a car and it’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint a clank or drip that doesn’t sound right. Keep up with regular maintenance, including cleaning out gutters and dryer vents and hiring a professional to perform annual service for your furnace.

Get a prelisting inspection. “If it’s a concern of [the seller’s] going onto the market that something may pop up, I recommend a home inspection before it goes on the market,” Spencer says. A report on the status of your property is recommended by many industry professionals prior to listing your property because it gives you a chance to fix problems, catch maintenance issues and be aware of less urgent defects prior to listing.

Check in regularly. Even if you’ve moved out of the property already, keep up on maintenance and regularly visit the property to make sure everything looks right, or send someone who can do so for you if you’re far away. Regular check-ins are also the perfect opportunity to ensure windows are secured and patio furniture is put away in case a storm occurs before the next visit.



Someone Breaks In

Allowing strangers to enter your home while you’re not there isn’t an easy thing to do. You may realize you’re missing valuables, prescription medications or even random knickknacks after a house showing or open house. And for professional burglars, a house with a sale sign out front can be high on the list, if only for the increased chance that no one will be home for extended periods of time.

Your homeowners insurance policy should cover theft, though the total value of items stolen will determine whether the claim will exceed your deductible. The best way to protect your belongings is to put them away, and remove items from the property that you’re worried may appeal to sticky-fingered strangers.

In both scenarios, installing security cameras may be a big help to deter any would-be thieves and help you identify anyone that does choose to steal something. Herman Yau, CEO of home security company Tend, says technology in security cameras is evolving to help in each case.

Installing weather-durable cameras at entry points to the home can be particularly helpful in the event of a theft, with a recording of anyone who entered the home at the time in question.

[Read: Why Isn't Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim as Easy as Auto Insurance?]

Here are three things you should do to decrease your chances of theft while your home is on the market:

Get a security system. With wireless, affordable security options available these days, it’s a small price to pay for “more awareness and more peace of mind,” which Yau says is the focus on Tend’s products. However, Spencer notes that real estate agents will often recommend not turning on the alarm itself when the property’s on the market because of the increased chance of a false alarm when a potential buyer and agent arrive for a showing. And if you set up security cameras, you’ll need to include in the listing information that there are recording devices on the property, she says.

Put your valuables away. In preparing your home for the market, your agent likely told you to declutter your house, so why not take the opportunity to pack away the items you cherish most during that project? It may even be best to send them elsewhere for safe keeping while the property is welcoming strangers. This happened for a recent client of Spencer’s: “They had millions and millions of dollars’ worth of art from all over the world, so I recommended that they pack all of that up,” she says. Additionally, you should inventory all your belongings with photos and estimated value for your insurance policy in case anything does go missing.

Make sure showings are registered. An open house is a great way to get people in the door, but if your house is popular, your agent may not be able to keep track of where everyone is while they’re in the house. Most houses are shown through a lockbox system, where buyer agents register with the listing agent for a showing, then receive the code to the lockbox that has a key inside. As long as everyone follows protocol, “There shouldn’t be anybody in the house that we didn’t know about prior,” Spencer says. If you’re worried about professional thieves targeting a house with a lockbox on it, consider placing it somewhere on your property that an agent can still easily find but isn’t in plain view of the street.


10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Time your listing for a fast sale.

For sale sign with sold sticker in front of a new modern house. Front door is visible. Copy space

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. Real estate information company Zillow crunched data from 2008 to 2016 and found the optimum time to list a home for sale was on a Saturday between May 1 and 15 – at least looking at national numbers. Homes listed during those times sold nine days faster and for 0.8 percent more than the average annual home price, according to Zillow’s analysis. In more moderate climates, the optimum time came in March or April.

Timing isn't everything when selling your home.

Timing isn't everything when selling your home.

House on the corner

(Getty Images)

As you list your home, remember those numbers are historical averages and this spring may be different. "With 3 percent fewer homes on the market than last year, 2017 is shaping up to be another competitive buying season," Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell said in a news release. "Many homebuyers who started looking for homes in the early spring will still be searching for their dream home months later." But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on a lot more factors than when you list it. A National Association of Realtors survey published late last year found that the average home was on the market a month in 2016, down from 11 weeks in 2012.

Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Take great photos.

Take great photos.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to an NAR survey, 51 percent of homebuyers found the house they eventually bought online and 95 percent used the internet in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract a buyer.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. That includes washing windows inside and out, removing any clutter and cleaning the garage, basement, baseboards, ceilings and closets – and anywhere else the buyer can see.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If your house is on a lockbox and your real estate agent isn’t going to be there to open blinds and turn on lights before showings, leave everything open when you leave for work every morning.

Make your home available.

Make your home available.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they are likely to see and perhaps choose others homes first.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. Set the right price from the beginning, otherwise you might cost yourself precious time and money.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a PODS self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, CDs, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even appliances you normally use. If you can remove half the stuff in your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home’s storage space look more ample.

Spread the word.

Spread the word.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Your neighbors are often the best salespeople for your home because they love the neighborhood. Make sure they know your home is for sale and are invited to your open house. Share your listing on social media and ensure your agent does the same. Put flyers on neighborhood bulletin boards and share the news on neighborhood email lists and Facebook groups. If you have the skills, make a video to tell the story of how much you love the house and the neighborhood and put it up on YouTube.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom and cover up your red dining room accent wall. You want to create a neutral palette where buyers can envision putting their own personal touches. Warm neutrals such as gray, taupe and cream are better than bright white.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, and pressure wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

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Tags: real estate, housing market, home improvements, pending home sales, new home sales, existing home sales, home insurance, home prices, crime, hurricanes, weather


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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