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

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(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. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on March 20, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Pick a selling strategy.

Pick a selling strategy.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Before putting a for sale sign in your yard, it's important to pick the selling strategy that will work best for you. The for-sale-by-owner option may be best if you feel confident in your ability to market the home and negotiate. If your time is better spent on other details, a real estate agent could be best. If you need to sell the home quickly, you may want to inquire with an iBuyer, an entity that can make the deal close faster than the typical homebuyer. You should feel confident in the selling strategy you choose, and avoid switching from one to the other while your house is on the market. Buyers could be turned off by the constant changing of circumstances.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful 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 buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

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. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

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. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

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 the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word that a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Be flexible with showings.

Be flexible with showings.

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 may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

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 that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

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 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, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home's storage space look more ample.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new 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, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

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, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Pick a selling strategy.
  • Invest in a professional photographer.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Be flexible with showings.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

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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