When you’re selling your house, it can be tempting to hope that buyers will see past the surface to the beautiful bone structure of your abode and realize what a lovely life they could make in it. 

But the truth is that most homes could use a little bit of a facelift before you invite people to walk through and hope they’ll make an offer on it.

So what do you need to do, exactly, to get your house into perfect shape, and keep it that way throughout all the showings and events? Here’s a rundown of the steps you can take to make and keep your house not only picture-perfect — but open-house perfect.

Getting started

There are a few steps you’ll want to take throughout your house in order to get it ready for deep cleaning and make it presentable for showing.

  • Start by walking through each room and asking yourself what items you haven’t used lately or that you can do without for a while. Minimizing the stuff in your house will make it much easier to keep everything clean throughout the selling process.
  • Don’t forget about the furniture! Removing furniture from a room can make it look more spacious. If you don’t want to get rid of anything, rent a storage unit where you can stash your larger items until you’re finished showing your house.
  • When you’ve removed one-third to half the furniture in your house, rearrange what’s left to create inviting pathways through each room. Visitors should be able to walk around everything without bumping into anything else.
  • You’ll want to pack up and stash any books, clothes, appliances, equipment, or other things that you don’t need or want immediately (or, realistically, for the next couple of months). It’s fine to keep a few back — nobody lives in a completely empty house — but remember that less is more and do your best to streamline to less.

Details, details, details

Now that the house is more or less arranged the way you want it, it’s time to start paying attention to some of those details.

  • Look at your walls and ask yourself if you need to add or remove anything. One strong piece of artwork in each room is a good goal — two if the room is really big. 
  • Where you aren’t replacing art, repair any holes in the walls and paint over them. In fact, if you’re going to give any rooms in your house a coat of paint, now is a great time to do that — before the real deep cleaning starts.
  • Add a houseplant or two. Assess your houseplant situation: How many do you have, and do you need to remove or add any? Like artwork, one or two plants per room is probably a good balance.
  • Assess the lighting in your house. Are there dark areas in certain rooms? A well-placed floor or table lamp or two can take any room from gloomy to soft and relaxing, so think about where you could use a little light help and add it.
  • Think about how your house (and each room) smells as you walk through it. If you have pets and your nose might be sensitized to odors, then ask a friend to give you an honest opinion about how odiferous the place is.

Once you’ve tackled these general tasks, it’s time to get down and dirty in each room and outside your house. Get ready!

The kitchen

If you haven’t already decluttered the kitchen, start with the cabinets and work your way down. Box up and store any dishes and kitchen appliances that you don’t need accessible — you may be in for a few weeks of boring dinners or take-out, but it’s all in the name of making your house stageworthy. 

Organize your pantry, your cabinets and other kitchen storage spaces, which should be quite a bit easier to do with fewer items to organize.

Remove everything from your countertops and deep clean them, making sure you scrub the backsplash and pay attention to any tile grout (you may want to steam clean or bleach grout if you have tile countertops or floors).

Spend some time cleaning all of your appliances — oven, stove, fridge, microwave. 

Replace any worn burner pans on your stove, and remove any personal items you’ve secured to your fridge door with tape or a magnet, like kids’ drawings or phone number lists.

The living room

Clearing off surfaces is going to be the first order of business in the living room. If there are ashtrays on coffee tables, remove them while your house is on the market and find somewhere else to smoke.

After you’ve cleared coffee tables and bookshelves of any mementoes or unnecessary items, clean and dust the tables and bookshelves, then do your best to keep those surfaces clean and dust-free. 

Kids’ toys can be one of the biggest contributors to a messy living room, so confine them to bedrooms or invest in a toy chest or bin where you can quickly toss them and keep them out of the way.

Make sure any fireplaces or wood stoves are in good working order and clean off and dust any mantles. Only replace items that aren’t too personalized, and make sure that mantles aren’t crowded with knick-knacks.

The bedrooms

Do you have a “special occasion” bedding set that doesn’t get used very often? If not, you might consider investing in one — talk to your real estate agent or stager before you do to get an idea of what’s appropriate. 

If so, now’s the time to haul it out and put it on the bed, so make sure that your nicest bedding set is on display in the bedroom.

Clear off all the surfaces in your room — bedside tables, dressers, and any other surfaces — and clean them thoroughly. Make sure you’ve purged any personal items and keep any additions minimal and dust-free.

One tip: Don’t just shove everything in your closets. Buyers look in there, too!