Preparing to Sell a Home: Prepping, Repairs, and Renovations to Consider 

When preparing to sell a home, there is always planning and preparation. No matter how motivated sellers are to find a new place, selling a large financial asset requires forethought and due diligence. The process can be overwhelming and cause sleepless nights.  As listing agents, we believe in providing sellers with as much information as possible and helping guide them through the many options available.  For us, it is always people over property.  We believe all parties should walk away from the transaction happily. Below we will cover the best things you can do to prepare your house and increase your sales proceeds.

On the page below, you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about preparing your home to appeal to buyers. The market is changing. Let’s discuss what that means for selling your Tallahassee home. What repairs and renovations make the most sense before you sell your home? You will find more in-depth information on other home-selling topics on the linked pages below.

We hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions, please reach out to us! If you are also buying, there are a lot more moving parts that need to be coordinated. Check out our Buyers Pages, and please download a copy of our book for Tallahassee Home Buyers.

When preparing to sell your home, here’s where you start.

Below you will find some information on preparing to sell a home in Tallahassee and Florida.  We discuss the things we wish sellers knew and some common issues. We also have some tips that help make your home more attractive for a buyer.

Have you ever heard of someone getting their ‘revenge body’ ready? It’s when someone who is going through or just went through a breakup hits the gym to reshape their body. This is what your house needs. Your house has conformed to how you and your family live. It is now time to get it ready for new owners. We trust you will find this information useful and will call us when you are ready to list your house.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Step 1. Preparing to sell starts with an honest evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your house.

Take a step back and look at your house with the eyes of a stranger.  Start a to-do list of items that need to be cleaned, fixed, removed, or freshened up before marketing your house.  Remember that showing condition is NOT the same as living condition (for most humans anyway). Aim for the generic beauty you find in glossy magazines.

If you have a lot of furniture (or belongings), you may want to consider renting an air-conditioned space to store some things. You will pack your things up eventually, anyway. We have worked with buyers who would not make home offers because the house was too crowded when they tour the home. It is more common than you think. Also, there is no such thing as too clean.

This is also an excellent time to interview Realtors. This benefits you in two ways. First, they will give you ideas on how to increase the perceived value of your home in a buyer’s eyes. This is free advice earned from experience. It will save you money. Second, this will tell you how the Realtor negotiates in daily life. They will represent you during the sale, and their negotiations with you will tell you a lot about them. Do not be afraid to ask for references.

When preparing to sell plan for the following:

  • Aim to have 2/3 of floors cleared for walkable space.
  • Designate a place to store boxes. Ensure the area does not block access to any electrical or plumbing features.
  • It is best to clean out every closet and cupboard. Plan for empty space on each shelf and at least half the floor.
  • Store away all family photos and personal mementos. Collect all valuables in one lockable space.
  • Make notes of every item that does not work as intended. Things like gate latches, window screens, etc. You do not have to fix these items, but it will help fill out disclosures.
  • Collect names and contact numbers for those professionals you have used: handyman, cleaner, lawn maintenance, etc.
  • Don’t forget the outside of the home and curb appeal. Landscaping has one of the highest returns on investment.
  • If you have pets, plan to have your carpets cleaned deeply. Many people have allergies, and the rugs/carpets collect pet dander and smell.
Picture is decorative. It shows a closet full of clothes and a floor covered. When prepping a home for sale, clean out closets because buyers will open them!

Step 2. Prepping the house requires cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, repairing, replacing, purging, and pitching.

Photo is an example of an electrocution waiting to happen. Seller changed the electrical panel and did not know what he was doing. Have a PROFESSIONAL fix any of these home projects BEFORE you list.

Decide on a budget that you will use to address the things you have found. Sellers generally have lived in their homes for a decade before they decide to sell. There are likely corners of your house that you have not seen in years and possibly needed repairs you didn’t expect.

Take the to-do list and start addressing what you found.  There is no such thing as too clean – especially since the pandemic.  If you are handy, you can complete many minor repairs on your own.  If not, we have a list of handymen and general contractors who can help. In as many areas as possible, make it bright and airy.  While you may like sleeping in a cave (we do), buyers respond better when rooms are filled with light. Replace any low-watt or burned-out lightbulbs. This is essential. Inspectors will suspect electrical problems if a light does not work. They will note it could be a burned-out bulb, but potential buyers will be concerned.

Remove any dead plants (inside and out). Generally, you will want to have your home and driveway pressure washed. Our environment is hard on siding and landscaping if it is not properly maintained. Landscaping provides the best return on investment when it comes to selling. Adding color to your garden beds will increase curb appeal.

When prepping the house, here’s how to prioritize repairs and remodels:

  • Repairs that lenders will require. Realtors can advise you on local practices and expectations for various mortgages.
  • Required repairs for insurance companies. In the Tallahassee area, we see roofs and water heaters most often.
  • Items not working property that impact how the house ‘lives.’ Things like garage doors, door locks, running toilets, garbage disposals, etc.
  • Landscaping provides the highest return on investment. There should be no vegetation touching the house. Spots of color help attract pollinators and buyers. 🙂
  • The research on returns on investments for remodels/renovations is questionable. Renovations provide approximately 70% return on investment. If your house is outdated, we recommend you renovate it and enjoy it for a year or two before you sell.
  • If you are considering a major renovation or repair, consult a Realtor. Even if you plan to sell it on your own, they can tell you what buyers want. Like politics, real estate is local, and what you find in a Google search does not mean it applies to Tallahassee buyers.
  • A word of warning here. Local solar companies have told sellers that solar panels increase the value of their homes. They SAY that buyers will pay more for solar energy. This is not true in our experience. We also consulted several Tallahassee appraisers and peer-reviewed research.

Step 3. Depersonalize and de-clutter while preparing to sell. 

In our experience, buyers are curious about the sellers. If there are photos, they stop and look them over. It can be difficult for buyers to see themselves living in your house if they get distracted by the photos of you on vacation, your trophies, knickknacks, etc. Also, check the books on your bookshelves. Readers are curious people. Pack that stuff away and get a head start on moving.

We have worked with buyers who would not make an offer because they were sure that the seller would not be able to remove their things even with six weeks’ notice. Your cupboards and bookshelves should have empty space on the shelves, and we should be able to see the floor of closets.  Removing excess furniture and clutter will make your space feel bigger and provide a more inviting atmosphere.

Remember, strangers will be walking through your house with varying degrees of supervision. Place your valuables in a locked location. As a Floridian, you probably already have a bug-out bag of valuables to take if you must evacuate. While we take all measures to ensure nobody steals and all Realtors lock doors properly, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Patio furniture should be cleaned and staged. Consider a pressure wash for the siding, driveway, and exposed patios. Pick up any yard debris after every storm and keep your lawn mowed.

Photo is decorative. Shows the back of a two story house. There is a screened porch on the house and a brick path leading from the firepit in the foreground to the screened patio. When prepping your home for sale, don't forget the outside too. Pressure washing the driveway and patios can do wonders for curb appeal.

Step 4. Paint and freshen up your house.  

Photo shows back of a house including the kitchen window and the air conditioning unit. The siding is dirty with large dark patches. Window screen is leaning against the house rather than in the window.

New paint is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to improve your first impression on a buyer.  Choose neutral colors for the best results.  We had one listing in a trendy neighborhood that sat on the market longer than its neighbors.  The buyers who toured it did not like the blue of the kitchen.  The sellers spent less than $100 and one afternoon to paint it a boring beige. Once repainted, we had an offer within three showings.

The most cost-effective way to increase curb appeal is landscaping – especially if you have a green thumb and can do it yourself. Pressure washing driveways, patios, and siding helps tremendously too.

Staging does help sell a house. The research is clear that the more the house is generically beautiful, the quicker it will sell and for more than comparable houses. Set the table and add fresh flowers to vases around the house.

Step 5: Make a plan for your pets before listing your house.

Image is decorative and shows this Tallahassee real estate agents two mastiffs. They are rolling in the dirt and turning their red fur grey. Jerks

Our noses are funny in that we do not smell the scents we are used to, and pet odor is one of the best examples of this.  (Smoke is another one!)  Before you list your home, ask a couple of friends to be honest with you (and ask your Realtor, too) about the smell of your furry family.

For all showings, clean litter boxes and pick up the poo in the yard. Also, stash the pet food bowls and food containers.  The smell of our dog food is enough to make me gag. It is even more fun dealing with livestock if you are selling a rural home like ours. We once had an agent call us when showing a listing of ours. He was stuck in the pasture and couldn’t get past the goats. If you have never been around goats, they are onery. Not deadly, but very curious, and city boys do not have that experience.

Most important is your pet’s safety! You will need to decide where to keep your pets during showings. There are buyers who will not enter homes if they can hear or see dogs (or evidence of dogs in the pictures). Some dogs are gentle giants, and still scare people. Ideally taking pets with you is ideal, but not always possible.

Photo is decorative, taken by this Tallahassee real estate agent and shows her cat's paw in the foreground with claws sticking out. She's not nice.

Most Important Step: When preparing to sell, hire a professional full-time Realtor.

Many people want to try to sell their homes on their own and save the commission for themselves.  We can understand that.  However, studies have shown that experienced Realtors are worth more than that 6% you pay them to help guide you through the complex process, market the house, negotiate your contract, and get you to closing so can find your next home.  Hiring a professional means signing a listing agreement and this will be your first experience negotiating for the sale of your home.  How the agent handles this will tell you a lot about how they will work for you during the process. Check out our listing agreement walk-through. Knowing what to ask can be tough.  Read the questions we recommend and our answers to common interview questions.

The step-by-step guide to preparing a home for sale helps but does not answer all the questions. Below are some of the most common questions we hear from sellers before they list their homes.

What do I have to Disclose?

Everything. If you would want to know if you were the buyer, disclose it. And if it impacts the value of the house, disclose it.

Hiring a Realtor vs Selling It on My Own

The Research: How hiring a Realtor helps you when selling a home. 

People hire experts for the knowledge and experience they need to make decisions. For example, we take our car to a professional mechanic and ourselves to a licensed physician when we need information. When we must go to court, we hire a professional to negotiate for us throughout the process. There is value in experience in these professions, and selling real estate is no different.  Experienced brokers are more informed about listing time, staging, pricing, and negotiating offer contracts. This experience helps the seller put more money in their pocket. More money is only part of the benefit of an experienced agent.  They also lower the stress of a massive change.

What repairs are required to close?

The mortgages through the Veterans Administration have the most stringent requirements for repairs. VA requires appliances to be in working order.

All loans require insurance and the insurance companies in Florida have had many challenges.

The market is changing. How is this affecting my sellers proceeds?

As of the Fall 2022, the market has slowed. This means there are fewer buyers to compete over the few homes on the market. Some areas still see multiple offers within days (hours). However, the time on the market has increased by more than a month since this spring. It has been remarked upon in the Realtor community that there are more seller concessions than before.

When preparing to sell now, what renovations provide the best return?

As we have said above, most renovations do not provide a 100% return on the listing price. If you are going to remodel, live in your beautiful ‘new’ home for a year or two.

When preparing to sell, landscaping is the most efficient for home improvements. It has the highest return on investment, often earning more than the cost of the updates. The research is all over the place on remodeling projects inside and often presented by trade organizations. This is always suspect, anyway. This is an area that needs more extensive research. We will address this in future articles.

Remodeling recommendations:

In our experience working with buyers, they prefer that kitchens be updated. The next room would be the master bathroom. You can expect to earn approximately 85% of the renovation costs in the asking price.

Let’s say you plan to list your house for $350,000 because that is what your neighbor’s house sold for last month. Your kitchen remodel will cost you $10-$15,000. That does not mean you can sell your house for $360,000 – $365,000. Pricing is tricky, and even experts get it wrong. We cover more information on our pricing page.

I want to sell it on my own, how do I keep the Realtors from calling me?


We worked with buyers that wanted to live in the country with at least five acres to raise their five young ones. In Jefferson County, we passed a home with a ‘For-Sale-By-Owner’ sign in the yard. The call did not go well. He did not like Realtors, but I sympathized with him since I had my own list of wretched Realtors. When I asked him if he wanted to trade bad Realtor stories, he lightened up. His listing price was more than $100,000 over the last sale in the neighborhood for a larger house. His terms were simple. Since he was a lawyer, the buyer would use his contract, close with his law office, no repairs, no mortgages, and no Realtors would be involved.

After I stopped laughing, I asked him how he thought a buyer would feel about his offer. He was clear. (That’s what I love about working with lawyers, the best of them are great communicators!) He did not care what the buyer wanted. He was the seller, and it was a sellers’ market; therefore, the buyer would be happy to have his house. Besides, the buyer would happily pay $50 more per square foot than their neighbors because his house was superior.

He was soon bombarded with calls from Realtors.

Although it sounds like the conversation was adversarial, he did take some of my advice. He marketed his home online so he could find more buyers. He hadn’t wanted to because he did not want to deal with a bunch of Realtors So, I offered him a solution for that as well. When they called (and they called A LOT), he told them he was about to sign a listing agreement with me. So, most agents thanked him for his time and took him off the call list.

Tallahassee is a small town, and more than one Realtor would reach out to me about that seller in the following years. Most wanted to know why he was so unreasonable. It took him approximately four years, but after his retirement, open-heart surgery, and a threatened divorce, he finally accepted an offer that greatly disappointed him.

Lessons learned.

Statistically, you are unlikely to save anything when selling your own home, especially frustration. The aggravation Mr. Lawyer went through must have been entertaining for him to put up with it for that long. Most of the sales that do not involve Realtors are not arms-length. They are neighbors or friends agreeing to sell the home between them. If that sale does not happen in the first couple of weeks, the next buyers who show up are investors who will offer pennies on the dollar of your list price.

Mr. Lawyer also wanted the buyer to play by his rules alone. When preparing to sell your home, remember that contracts are a meeting of the mind. Be prepared to be flexible. Buyers would have felt pressured in this situation.

When preparing to sell, should the seller obtain a pre-listing inspection?

Yes. It is better to be prepared and have a solution ready than to be blindsided by an inspection report.  It is also something that you can offer the buyer that provides more information. Many buyers will accept the inspection and not order a new one. That is one less hurdle for the seller to jump after they have accepted an offer.

What is the difference between the listing price and the market price?

On the property appraiser’s website, there is a number recorded for the market price of every house. This is an automated value based on the sales price when the house was purchased. It has little in common with the amount your house will sell for after marketing.

The true market value of your home is based on the value of nearby and similar homes that recently sold. The property appraiser’s site does have a feature where you can download the sales of nearby homes. This is where Realtors will start. They will also look at similar neighborhoods and price point. There are a lot of things to consider when pricing a home. We cover that in way more detail here.

When preparing to sell a home, can the seller pull their own permits as owner rather than hiring a contractor?

You can, but unless you have the appropriate license, don’t.

There are so many court cases with faulty repairs in our civil courts. The seller does not need to and should not take on this liability.

We would love to help you sell your house. If you are not in the Tallahassee or Big Bend area of Florida, we can support you by finding an excellent Realtor in your area. If you are looking for a #TallahasseeRealtor for your people, you can trust us to take great care of them!