A real estate sign for a home sale in Bangor, Maine. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Listing your house may seem like the first step to selling your property, but before you put your house on the market, there are several steps you need to take to make sure it is ready. Measures like deep cleaning, decluttering and conducting routine maintenance may seem small, but they can help you to get more potential buyers — and more money — for your house.

“We want to give the house the best chance of the highest among buyers to make an offer,” said Cari Turnbull, owner of Maine Real Estate Experts Cumberland. “Anything we can check off easily is just increasing that buyer pool and the value you’re going to sell your home for.”

Here’s what to do.

Clean everything

Cleaning is perhaps the most important thing you can do before you list your house.

“Seriously, just clean it,” said Dolly Perkins, broker at Realty of Maine in Dover-Foxcroft. “That is the priority above all else.”

Double down on your regular spring cleaning routine to really make your house shine — wash the walls, mop the floors, scrub the bathrooms, shampoo (or replace) the carpeting and clean anything else that needs a little TLC. You might even want to hire a professional

“We always recommend our clients get a deep cleaning prior to listing,” Turnbull said.

One of the most important elements of cleaning is to remove any smells, particularly pet odors and smoke smells.

“Smell is important to people,” Turnbull said. “Obviously people love their pets, but we see a lot of pets that have taken over the house kind of. Usually when we encounter a smoke smell it needs a minimal deep deep cleaning washing down the walls is usually necessary [and] usually just getting rid of the carpeting or replacing it because that will hold in the smell. That is a very, very hard smell to get rid of.”

Perkins suggested renting an ozone machine, for stubborn smells, but warned that the property should be vacant while it is in use.

Declutter

Beyond cleaning, you will also want to remove much of your personal items from the house before listing it.

“Minimally, we go through, we take about 50 percent about what they have out for decorations and things on the walls and take those things down and give suggestions on staging,” Turnbull said.

First, Turnbull said that she will tell her clients to get rid of any items that they don’t want to move. Then, pack clutter like any out-of-season clothing items for moving (as Turnbull pointed out, you are moving anyway, so you might as well take care of it now).

“If it’s summertime, you don’t need 50 winter jackets hanging in your walkway,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull said that she recommends her clients neatly stack packed items in the garage or basement, or even rent a storage unit until the house is sold. Putting clutter in the closets might not be enough.

“People can open them [and] see, ‘Oh, they’re really outgrown this space,’ or, ‘This house doesn’t have enough storage because every space is jammed with stuff.’ Often we have our clients rent a storage unit just to get things out of the house so it appears more spacious.”

Items like family photos should also be taken off the walls for the sake of “depersonalization,” which will make the home easier to sell.

“Depersonalization is a big thing,” Turnbull said. “We want people to come into the home and think it could be their home.”

Paint

Painting the walls of your house with neutral colors is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to add more value to your home and attract more buyers

“Fresh paint is always an economic way to clean up and dress up a property,” said Dave Harrigan, owner and president of Maineland Appraisal Consultants. “By example, relocation companies always look to neutralize a home which results in increased marketability.”

Turnbull recommended removing any older wallpaper, as well as “loud” or “dark” wall colors.

“That’s a pretty inexpensive update you can do to appeal to a larger audience,” Turnbull said. “We usually try to get it as neutral as possible.”

However, Julie Hammer, associate broker at Realty of Maine in Ellsworth, said not to worry too much if you do not have the time or resources to paint every room in your house.

“A fresh coat of neutral paint is a nice touch prior to listing but is not a necessity,” Hammer said. “A new home buyer may want specific colors so it is dependent on whether the seller wants to take the time and/or money to have it done.”

However, touching up any flaking, cracking or peeling paint is a must.

“Take care of any cracking, peeling or flaking paint, as that will disqualify a home from [Veterans Affairs], [Federal Housing Administration] or Maine State Housing lending programs, without being corrected,” Perkins said. “Do not leave any paint chips on the ground.”

The same goes for the outside of your house if you have wood siding that needs paint touch-ups.

“That’s an important thing for sure,” Turnbull said. “If you have flaking, peeling paint on the exterior of your home, it will not qualify for certain kinds of financing. We want to get that addressed.”

Check to make sure everything is working

Test every light switch, door handle, faucet and appliance in your house to make sure it is working before you list your house.

“Repairing anything like that prior to listing is important,” Turnbull said. “People really want to have a move-in ready property.”

Also, make sure you replace any burnt out light bulbs.

“We want to turn on the light switch and have the light turn on,” Turnbull said. “You want to get those nice bright white light bulbs.”

Larger systems in your house should also be serviced.

“If you haven’t had your septic pumped, we’ll ask you to get that pumped,” Turnbull said. “Same thing with your heating system, if you haven’t had that serviced in the last 12 months, we ask you to get that done. If you have private water you can get a water test done. If you have a water filtration system, having that service done. People love to see that you’ve done routine maintenance on your home. It gives them good peace of mind. The more maintenance records that we can show that you have taken care of, the more buyers we’ll be appealing to.”

Safety elements are also important. Perkins said to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and install new ones if they are not working.

Beautify the outside

Curb appeal is important when you are listing your house.

“This time of year it’s a great time to start putting fresh mulch in your flower beds,” Turnbull said. “If you’re able to paint your front door, that’s a really cheap and easy way to add a lot of curb appeal as well as potted plants. Make that front porch really pop.”

If you have dirty vinyl siding, Turnbull also recommended getting it power washed. Perkins suggested painting the trim, adding window box planters or hanging baskets with flowers and reseed your lawn if you have bare spots.

Decluttering also applies to your outdoor space.

“Remove any unregistered vehicles, park the boat and campers [and] four-wheelers neatly in an unobtrusive place,” Perkins said. “Get rid of any old construction materials or projects.”

The season also matters when it comes to the exterior of your house. If you are listing your house during the winter, Turnbull said to keep up with plowing your driveway and clearing your walkway and deck of snow.

Consider updating high-value rooms

If you have been putting off that kitchen or bathroom update, you might want to do that before you list your house.

“Kitchens and bathrooms are what sell homes,” Turnbull said. “That’s a place where we say if you’re willing to get new appliances, update your countertops — if they’re laminate, get quartz or granite — that would be really appealing to buyers and you’d recoup your investment on that.”

Turnbull said that one easy thing you can do if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in a full renovation is to paint your cabinets a neutral color, like white or light gray, and then update the cabinet pulls.

“That can totally transform the space without having to spend the money on brand new cabinets.”

Also, Perkins said that if you do not have ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, outlets in your kitchens and bathrooms, you should have them updated before you list your house, or else it will not qualify for certain lending programs.