Real Estate Ready?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I am trying to get my house on the market to sell.  Any cleaning/organizing advice?  My house is atrocious!  I hope you can call that comment a “Sunday Confessional”.  I have a 20 month old baby, work full-time, and no one in the house cleans up after themselves.  I can’t keep the house clean or get it ready for sale.

Any advice?

Frantic in Fresno

Heather says:

First off, I hope the market in your area is better than ours or you may be in for a long ride. I’ve been toying with the idea of selling for 5 years, but the market just hasn’t made it worth the hassle. When you list your home, you do have the option of asking for 24 hours notice for showings. It is important to note that this will make your home less appealing to real estate agents as they now have to factor this into their schedules. Just remember, it IS an option.

From the sound of your email, I’m guessing you are not a single parent, that there is at least one other adult who shares the responsibility of getting the house real estate ready. Sit down with your partner in crime and have a pen and paper at the ready. The two of you are going to make a prioritized list of what needs to be done to be “showing ready.” Start working on that list as soon as possible and keep reminding your partner, it’s a team effort. It’s not just your house for sale.

If you’re looking to get your house ready for the market, put the Home Ec 101 Weekly Chore List into effect and over the next few weeks, it will come together. It does take consistency, though.

Having a toddler in a home does make selling a home far more interesting, but there are ways and means to contain their mess and for better or worse the responsibility for this falls on your (the parents’) shoulders.

Until the house has been sold:

  • Food and drinks stay in the kitchen or dining room. No exceptions. NONE. It’s a hassle, but it is not child abuse to have a specified areas and times for food and drinks. (Water can be available at all times)
  • Use a tarp below the high chair to reduce the number of times a week mopping is necessary.
  • Have a basket in each room for the toddler’s toys and make sure the toys are put away before leaving the room.
    See Cleaning Up with Preschoolers

If you’re already in crisis mode and the house is on the market and you’re just waiting for the phone to ring, start working through the following.

Get rid of clutter

All counters should all be clear as humanly possible, this means both kitchens and bathrooms. In general people won’t be going through your drawers or cabinets in a walk through, so try not to stress over the hidden clutter (except closets) at this time, worry about that when you move.


Few things are as big a turn off as crusty dishes in a sink or left on the counter. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Clean dishes drying in a rack are tolerable, but put away is best.

Hampers for Laundry

There is no way you can always have all of the laundry done, all of the time. Make sure it is at least contained in clothes hampers to reduce the chance of strangers seeing your dirty underwear.

Make the Beds

Get in the habit of making the beds every morning. It’ll be one less thing to worry about in the final run through.

Odor Free

Be extra vigilant about any odors, whether they are stale odors from cooking, mildew in the laundry room,  musty odors, or mysterious pet odors.


Close the lid on the *clean* toilet and make sure the mirror and sink are shining. This means no dried toothpaste spatter. And try to make sure your personal care items are not sitting out.

Make sure tub toys are at least in a mesh bag and hanging.


Should be swept or vacuumed just before the showing. Spot mop if necessary (this is why I suggested a tarp, so it won’t always be necessary).


Make sure there aren’t any burnt out bulbs in your light fixtures. It makes a big difference.

Those are your biggies, you can read up on curb appeal or watch shows on the DIY network to get ideas on staging, but I have a feeling just getting the house in order will be enough of a task. I know there are some real estate agents who read Home Ec 101 and I would love for them to chime in anything I miss in this list.

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  1. John Abshire on December 28, 2013 at 9:16 am

    To me the most important is a clutter free kitchen counter. I always tell my sellers if you aren’t using it in the next five minutes it needs to be put away.

  2. Thom on February 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    De-clutter and De-personalize your home. Clients want to picture themselves in your home, not you.

  3. Jenn on February 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Start going to open houses in your neighborhood. Then you’ll know what your competition looks like and maybe you can find an easy way to distinguish yourself. Also try and pack-up as much clutter as possible. Especially kid toys and gear. The less you have out the less you have to put away. Kids are more creative when they have less. You can always rotate toys for variety. And I second the idea about a one-time cleaning service. I also like the cleaning party idea.

    A friend of mine used to ask for a 2 hour notice. It’s enough time to rush home and make sure everything is tidy but shouldn’t be a scheduling problem for agents. She also had a whole set of furnishings just for showing: throw rugs, towels and decorations that she’d only bring out when she had a showing and then put away again. And she and I had a standing agreement that I could take her kids on a moment’s notice so she could clean without “help.”

    I’d strongly recommend you hire someone to wash your windows inside and out. We paid $11 per window 4 years ago in KY so the cost was only a couple hundred dollars and it made a huge difference. Also, make sure your overhead or main lights are not CFL bulbs. Most take too long to get to full brightness.

  4. KeterMagick on February 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    If you can possibly afford it, hire a maid service to catch you up – a one time thing may be all that’s needed. Most of the larger ones know what needs to be done to prep a house for sale and can make sure all those things are either done or that you are informed of what you need to do as followup. If you can’t afford it, put out an APB (all points bulletin) to your friends and family asking for help. Schedule a weekend to clean and declutter, flip some burgers or order in some pizza to make it a bit more rewarding, and git ‘er done as a group.

    Put on your mean mommy face and leave it on for the duration. No one, with the possible exception of babies, has the right to leave messes or make messes where they know they shouldn’t. Start cracking that whip and hand out regular chore assignments! And once you’ve sold and moved, keep it up…enabling messy, lazy slobs isn’t doing anyone a favor. (My son hated me for years because I was such a meanie, but now he values and uses what he learned.)

    I also used to sell real estate, and I have been in spotless houses that stunk to high heaven and were unsellable. Usually the culprit is either the carpet or some hidden plumbing problem that has caused rot, such as under a sink, tub, or toilet. If you clean and deodorize the carpet and the house still smells, (a) pull back the carpeting and look for stuff that has soaked into the pad – sections may need to be replaced; (b) call out a home inspector and have them help you find the problem. You’ll need to do that anyway because the buyer will have the home inspected, and you don’t want any surprises that might cause you to lose a buyer.

    Good luck!

  5. KatherineJenson on February 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I used to sell real estate. Try putting one of those frozen loaves of bread in the oven to bake when the tour goes through…no time for that? Put a small sauce pan on the stove, add some cinnamon and simmer very, very low. Smells bring back memories and therefore….may help to promote the sale of your home.

  6. musingminds on February 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Rent a storage area or one of those Pod things and pack away things that aren’t in use. Off season clothing, bedding, etc., Appliances that aren’t used regularly, “overstock” of books, papers, supplies, even extra pans and dishes. Kills two birds with one stone: you are partially packed for the move, and there’s a lot less to clutter up your home for showings. Closets especially look better without the off season clothing.

  7. CrystalStorms on February 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I read some advice for those last-minute showings: You can add some soapy water in the sink with your dirty dishes for a quick clean up. Plus when you get back, they’re rinsed and ready for the dishwasher.

    • HeatherSolos on February 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      @CrystalStorms yes, a sudsy sink-full of dishes is very different than a sink full of crusty, scary dishes. 🙂

  8. casey1977 on February 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Oh, and remember that potential buyers will open up cabinets, and closets so make sure those are organized too and try to keep the ‘personal items’ in the back or hidden in a dresser drawer. I remember being at an open house once and a 3 years old came out with a ‘personal massager’ – her parents were mortified.

  9. casey1977 on February 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    If you have not had an agent walk through your house they will point out things that need to be fixed. I like watching ‘My First Sale’ on HGTV – it’s a little mroe generaliszed that some of the other shows like “Curb Appeal” which focuses strictly on the outside. LIke Heather says, the big thing is just keeping the house as neat and organized as possible. I would also recommend keeping a diaper bag packed at all times with whatever baby stuff you need (diapers, change of clothes, toys, etc.) then if you get a last minute showing you can just make a bottle real fast (if you don’t breastfeed) throw it in the bag and go.
    I know when I was looking for my first house I didn’t stress if it was spotless or not, but clutter turned me off because it makes it look like there isn’t enough storage space which may repel buyers. If you carpets/floors/walls are very dirty you might want to consider repainting and/or hiring a professional cleaning service (however everything must be picked up first). Once the house is clean it will be easier to keep everything orgainized.

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