From Spotlight: Avoiding Seller’s Angst

House Selling Tips: Why You Won’t Get Your Asking Price

A few small updates, which can be done on a budget, can increase your home’s value — and selling price.

Woman in yellow suit poking around underneath teal curtains
Image: Merve Turkan/Offset

While you can't change your home's location or other market forces that determine home value, there are some things you can control that will affect what price you're offered.

Here are some small things that get in the way of buyers seeing your home's true value — and some budget-friendly updates that'll fix them.

Neglected Exterior Maintenance

Beat up red fence with steel house numbers falling off

"Some buyers won't even go inside a house if they don't like the outside," says Elizabeth Hall of Realty Executives Associates in Knoxville, Tennessee.

To get top dollar for your home (and lure in those lookie-loos), take an exterior inventory of little items you hardly notice that could be red flags, like:

  • Chipped paint
  • Clogged gutters
  • Torn screens
  • Cobwebs on the porch
  • A rusted or leaning mailbox

"These small repairs give buyers confidence that your home is well-maintained throughout," says says Katie Ducharme of Coastal Properties Group in Dunedin, Florida.

Dingy Lighting

Four cage lights in a dark room | House-Selling Tips
Image: Elizabeth Greer/EyeEm/Getty

Buyers aren't going to notice the crown molding or the pro paint job if they can't see them.

You want buyers to exclaim, "Ooo! It's so bright!" when they walk in. Because a well-lit home feels larger and more inviting. Plus, it feels like it's not hiding anything, either.

Increase the wattage for each light fixture, and go for bulbs with a warm tint to give your home an inviting golden glow. And don't forget this easy-to-miss step: clean the light fixtures so those bulbs can do their job.

Old Carpet

Overhead view of white sneakers planted on blue shag carpet
Image: Micco Caporale for HouseLogic

Carpet isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, especially in bedrooms, but stained or worn-out carpet? Buyers will likely submit low offers so they can replace it.

If you can't make your carpet look good-as-new with a professional cleaning, get rid of it.

Better yet, install if possible — today's buyers go ga-ga over it.

A Cluttered Kitchen

White kitchen cabinets with counters cluttered with objects
Image: Halfdark/Getty

Like friends at a party, many buyers go straight to the kitchen. They want to envision themselves there, making breakfast, putting dishes away, whatever. Your cereal inventory and salt-and-pepper collection pull them out of that fantasy.

So clear the kitchen decks. That includes small appliances on the counter, tchotchkes on the window ledge — everything but the essentials you need to stay alive while your home is on the market.

Basically, buyers want your home to look move-in ready, says Ducharme.

Pet or Cooking Odors

White kitten with blue eyes grooming self on green carpet
Image: Ulrika Kestere/Offset

"Bad smells make buyers run," says Hall. "They wonder what's going on – is the house moldy, dirty, or what?"

Sometimes you only need to clean the refrigerator and garbage cans. But stronger odors, like set-in cooking smells or pet funk, require a more militant approach.

Wash or professionally clean everything, especially soft surfaces like curtains, carpets, and pet bedding. Bathe the pets regularly, too.

If odors are so strong that they've permeated the home (your agent can give you an honest opinion, as homeowners are often noseblind), consider replacing carpet and drapes and repainting using an odor-blocking primer like Kilz.

Different Paint Colors

Green bedroom with large window and cardboard deer head
Image: Elizabeth Allnutt/Offset

If every member of your family used their bedroom walls to express their personalities, or your interior looks like 1993 showed up for a dance party and never left, buyers have a hard time seeing themselves living there.

Cohesive, neutral colors to the rescue. Greige or white are timeless winners. Put together a single, coordinated palette of neutrals and use it to paint the whole house. Consistency makes the place feel larger.

While you're at it, repaint the front door. The crisp, clean look of a new coat of paint is a surefire way to boost curb appeal.

Empty Rooms

White door opening to empty blue room with beige carpet
Image: Spaces Images/Getty

Decluttering is good. Totally clearing out is overdoing it. Counterintuitive though it may seem, empty rooms look smaller.

So leave some furniture strategically placed (try putting the biggest piece to the far left, since we typically scan left to right), and you'll trick buyers' eyes into visualizing a larger space.

Dirty Driveway

Exterior of pink house with dirty driveway | Selling Tips
Image: alabn/Getty

How long has it been since you really looked at your driveway?

Like pulling weeds or putting down fresh mulch, a clean driveway gives your home a tidy, cared-for appearance.

"I ask all my clients to power wash it," says Ducharme. "That final touch does double duty as curb appeal and proper maintenance — both of which get you ever closer to your dream sales price.”

Related: 81 Home Staging Tips That'll Help Buyers Fall in Love

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Kelley Walters

Kelley Walters is a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes.