When you clean a home before staging it, you aren’t necessarily giving it the same kind of scrub you might when doing a spring clean. The work is much the same, but the intention is different.

When you do a routine clean, you’re doing it for yourself and your family; you’re sprucing up the space you live in.

When you clean for staging, you’re doing it for potential buyers; you’re sprucing up a space that you want them to imagine themselves living in.

That’s a subtle difference, but understanding it will help you prioritize so you can create a plan of action for getting your home sparkling clean just in time for potential buyers (or your home stager) to arrive.

Priority: Create the Appearance of Cleanliness

Amy Fontinelle at Investopedia argues that not giving your home a proper clean and then staging it for buyers is leaving money on the table. Even if you don’t hire a professional stager, it’s worth your time to give your house a once-over to see whether something like a loose doorknob needs to be fixed.

This is the equivalent of handling customer objections in sales — they’ll think, “If this doorknob is loose, what else is wrong with the house?”

Fontinelle even suggests having a friend come over to lend an extra set of eyes to spot anything that needs to be fixed, updated or just cleaned.

Now, your goal when bringing buyers into your home is to elicit an initial “Oooh!”, not to get them to stay over for the weekend. Therefore, you don’t need to worry so much about the hard-to-reach places when cleaning. Instead, focus on the places of highest visibility.

In other words, your home simply needs to look clean at this stage.

Where You Should Focus Your Energy

bathroom - clean your home for staging

Aim for the high-visibility parts of your home first. These are where you will get the most bang for your buck when cleaning a soon-to-be-staged home. Four such places immediately jump out:

The Foyer or Entryway

This is where you will make your first impression. And as Kristen Dinobile, writing at The Spruce, points out, guests tend to linger in this area the longest. She has a four-point checklist that will help you get your foyer guest-ready:

  • Clean your door and its hardware until they shine. That probably will mean putting in some elbow grease to get the fingerprints polished off.
  • As with fingerprints, buff out all those little scuff marks along the wall, too. “If there’s too much dirt and too many marks, it may mean it’s time to repaint the door or walls,” she writes.”
  • Check to see that your lighting fixtures work. Make repairs if necessary, then clean and change the bulbs.
  • Fix any scuff marks and dents around the coat closet, too.

The Kitchen

A sparkling kitchen makes a big impression on guests, so take the advice of CENTURY 21 Big Sky Real Estate and make sure you clean all of the hardware and surfaces here. This includes:

  • A detailed scrub-down of counters and appliances.
  • Replacement of any damaged hardware such as sink knobs or cabinet handles.
  • A thorough scrub of any ceramic tile and grout to remove grime. “Stain the grout if it is beyond cleaning,” they write. “Often, Soft Scrub used with a stiff brush produces good results. Professional cleaning may be in order.”

The Bathroom

“Buyers want to see a like-new bathroom,” Jaclyn Crawford writes at ImproveNet. As with the kitchen, sparkling clean is the goal here, and every little detail counts, Crawford says. This includes:

  • Scrubbing tiles and grout to remove all stains.
  • Getting into corners to remove any residue or stains.
  • Polishing fixtures and hardware. (Crawford has a nice tip for shower heads: Use a bag filled with white vinegar to remove that residue.)
  • Toss out any empty or unused bath products, then organize the remaining products into shower caddies.
  • Store medications somewhere else because “potential buyers may take a peek into the bathroom cabinets to see the size, condition and space.”

Your Baseboards

Many of us neglect our baseboards because they’re such a pain to clean, and over time we get used to the fact that we haven’t actually seen clean baseboards in ages.

But guests and potential buyers notice dirty baseboards right away. So, a good scrubbing is called for here.

“People often won’t realize just how much of an effect they have on the overall aesthetic until they wipe down and touch up the baseboards,” says Megan Morris of MHM Professional Staging, LLC. “Definitely put this on your seasonal cleaning list — and don’t list your home without checking off this important step!”

3 Bonus Tips That Will Make Your Home Appear Even Cleaner

living room - clean your home for staging

Once you have the high-impact areas cleaned, you can move on to the rest of your home: Your living room, your bedrooms, your home office. Granted, a super-clean bedroom won’t elicit the “Ooooh”s that a super-clean kitchen will, but that’s not to downplay the importance of basic cleanliness.

So, take the time to give these rooms the cleaning they deserve:

  • Sweep and mop hard floors.
  • Vacuum and shampoo carpets if needed.
  • Change bed linens.
  • Wipe down all surfaces.

Afterward, we have three tricks you can roll out to give your home an added wow factor.

1. Create the Appearance of Organization

Just as you must create the appearance of cleanliness, you must also create the appearance of organization because potential buyers like to peek inside cabinets, real estate agent Elizabeth Weintraub says. When they do, she writes, you can wow them by having

  • alphabetized spice jars,
  • dishes neatly stacked,
  • coffee mugs organized so the all handles face the same way,
  • shirts hung together and facing one direction,
  • and shoes nicely lined up.

That’s 10 minutes of work, and the impact is worth every second of it.

Also, Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter recommends keeping a few laundry baskets around so that you can quickly throw “necessary clutter” into them quickly and move them out of site.

2. Fill Your Home With a Nice Aroma

Writer Jayme Kinsey is a big proponent of candle warmers, which can be used to heat all kinds of great-smelling materials besides candles. She says she even puts cleaning liquids into a candle warmer to give her home that just-cleaned smell.

“It is also kind of a cheat, but a good cheat,” Kinsey says. “If you are desperate to convince someone that you have been cleaning house, heating a cleaning mixture (dilute it first, trust me!) can make it seem like you’ve been slaving away all day over a hot mop.”

3. When Pressed for Time, Hire a Cleaning Crew

Staging is all about spending a little upfront to make more money later, right? If you simply don’t have time to give your home the cleaning it needs to impress potential buyers, splurge on a cleaning crew now, and there’s a good chance you’ll reap the benefits by having your home sell faster.

Abby Lawson at Just a Girl and Her Blog did this when her family sold their home, and she said her cleaning crew was “a lifesaver.” She even hired professional carpet cleaners because, as parents of young children all learn, kids are messy, “but once the carpet cleaning people had done their thing, it looked as good as new,” Lawson says.

After You Sell: Invest in One Last Deep Clean When You Move Out

Once you’ve closed, take a moment or two to celebrate — you’ve definitely earned it! But don’t get complacent. You still owe your buyer one last deep clean when you move out.

And it’s not just a question of being nice, real estate writer Angela Colley says. “How dirty you leave your home isn’t just about etiquette — it could also cause problems with the sale of your home.

“While buyers may forgive you if you forget to sweep under the stove, more serious offenses can have serious consequences. Check your contract: Some sellers may stipulate that the place be spotless by the time they move in. If you agree to this (verbally or in writing) and don’t live up to your end of the bargain, you could be at risk for a lawsuit.”

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