A month

It’s time for the photoshoot! Your home sells on pictures. “Real estate photos are the new Sunday open house, since almost everyone will see your home for the first time in a real estate listing,” Stanton says. Your real estate agent will probably hire a professional for this, but here are some tips: Clear all meters. Move trash cans out of sight. Hanging art makes ceilings appear higher. Fresh flowers always add class.


Three weeks

Book a mover and start packing. Get quotes from moving companies and check their reviews, references and insurance. “You’d be surprised how many movers misrepresent themselves. Companies are out there without licenses or protections,” warns Greg Gunderson, president of Gentle Transitions. Gather boxes, tape, packing materials and labels to start packing, moving things to a storage rental or capsule. Focus on large clearances first (the attic, garage, and basement), then move on to bedrooms and closets. “Get 75%,” recommends hoarding expert Matt Paxton, author of Keep the memories, lose the stuff, released with AARP. “The potential buyer needs your home to look like it can fit their stuff in, so storage spaces and closets should be nearly empty.” Also, reduce the contents of kitchen cabinets to make these areas more spacious, he says. “Keep only enough plates and cups for four to six people. The more space, the better.”

Do a specialized cleaning. Have the windows and fans cleaned by a professional, for example. Use a pressure washer to remove dirt from driveways, patios, exterior stairs, and moldy siding, or hire someone to do it.

Repeat crazy days ahead. Open days mean you and your pets have to go. And moving day is even busier. Recruit your family and friends to help you deal with the madness that awaits you. “You need to know where you’re going to take your pet whenever someone wants to see your house, and who’s going to take care of the dog or cat on moving day,” Gunderson points out.


One week

Final polishing. It’s time for a final professional interior cleaning, including waxing and polishing the floors. Be sure to deep clean the fridge and oven one last time. The cooks will watch. Focus on transforming the kitchen into a place where people will love to eat and gather.

Store the goods. Bring precious valuables, extra cash and your most important documents to a trusted friend or family member to be kept locked up.

Close the price. “The last week is when you get the most marketing information,” Stanton says. “Your agent may know of current buyers in the area who are willing to make an offer, and there could be pent-up demand.”


The night before

Do a final sweep. Organize the cupboards, the freezer and the garage; inspect for unsightly cords, nicks or stains. Make your home spotless, like in a magazine.

Prepare to be away. Ask your real estate agent when you should leave and when you can return, and plan a good diversion for the time being. If applicable, bring a carry bag with medication, food, and items such as your laptop, charger cords, and checkbook.

Take a deep breath and take a last look around. Have a good night’s rest. The bidding war is about to begin!

David Hochman, Contributing Editor of AARP The Magazine, is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles. Its December 2020 AARP Newsletter nursing home story, “18 Weeks,” won several national awards.

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