Preparing your home for a spring sale.


Every year at exactly this time ‘Spring Fever’ hits the real estate market as owners all over Australia shout “enough!” and put their homes up for sale. Your Investment Property looks at how you can make your place stand out from the crowd in this frantic selling season. The ‘stay at home’ nature of a long, cold winter can lead to some life changing thoughts and deeds. There’s nothing like spending a great deal of time in your home to make you feel dissatisfied with it. 

The vast majority of niggling irritations can be eliminated by the simple application of a new coat of paint to the living room walls, or a radical change of curtains. Some homeowners, however, emerge from winter with plans for a more permanent cure for their dissatisfactions. In real estate parlance, among those in the know, this is referred to as ‘we gotta sell this place and get something bigger/ smaller/closer/cheaper/in better condition … (insert your own personal gripe here, as appropriate.)’

Spring has always been the traditional time for properties to appear on the market in a rush. Recent mini-boom conditions in parts of our bigger cities have, however, led to a pretty healthy winter selling market as well.

But for those owners who are particularly garden conscious, or whose homes only look their best when the natural light starts reappearing through the windows, spring is the peak time to show their homes to their best advantage.  In the 16 selling weeks between 1 September and 24 December, the race is on to sell and re-buy as fast as ink can dry.

Hands up those who can spot the obvious problem with the above scenario. Gold stars to those who said ‘oversupply’! If masses of houses are launched onto the market in one short period of time, how will yours be noticed? Will your aspirations for a wonderful new dwelling be skittled in the rush? How can your home stand out, be noticed, be loved and, above all, be bought?

It’s a jungle out there, and you need to start wielding your machete, today.

The view from the street

The sign is about to go up. People are going to be openly invited to notice your place. Human nature dictates they will also be judging it on some pretty tough criteria. Let’s look at some of them.

How’s your front gate looking? Need a coat of paint, a replacement of a paling, new hinges? Will it creak when it’s opened unless it’s oiled?

Would weeding help in the front patch of garden or paving? Are your edges neat? If winter winds have killed off your plants, get them out and put in some ‘potted colour’, such as petunias, which are inexpensive and look welcoming. Don’t forget to take their identification tags off! You want to make them look older than yesterday.

Take garbage bins out as late as you can and take them in as soon as they’re emptied, if possible. When they’re out, make sure they’re well closed so that no marauding cat or dog can get into them.

A flowering pot by the door is an attractive touch. If your finances won’t run to anything grand, borrow something grand from a friend or concentrate on filling a pot with an attractively scented shrub.

Your front windows should gleam, and don’t ignore the front door. Washing the front door may look odd to the neighbours but a good scrub will quickly remove street grime. Polish the door knob while you’re at it. Security doors have a habit of squeaking so get the oil can to it. If your doormat’s ratty, buy another one.

A side driveway should be free of clutter, such as skateboards or bikes, and any garage door should be shut. If there is evidence of mould on a pathway or driveway, get in the experts to wield one of those high pressure water jets or ask your hardware store for a solution you can paint on and sweep off.

View from the back

Around the back of the house, repeat the tidy-up plan, mow the grass and put outdoor furniture into configurations that suggest you use and like the backyard.

If you have a pool, you know about grief. If it has emerged from winter looking like something only a frog could love, start an improvement program right away. You don’t want the pool smelling of chemicals on your first open for inspection, so tackle the job slowly and systematically. Some sellers are tempted to give the house a lick of paint all over. This can be a very expensive idea, and half the potential buyers will hate the colour. The other half will be wondering what damp, cracks or other atrocity the paint is hiding. Unless it’s really bad, hose accessible walls down and leave the paint job to the next owner.

Sheds, storerooms, lean-to laundries, any room at the back of the house must be very neat. Gardening equipment should look organised; pool equipment tucked away. Rakes, brooms and other long-handled items can be clipped into storage units nailed to a garage or shed wall.

The inside story

Look at each room as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Now we need brutal honesty.

  • Is it as clean as it could be?
  • Is it cluttered? (90% of the people reading this would say ‘yes’ to that one)
  • Do the carpets need cleaning?
  • Boards need polishing?
  • Curtains need dry-cleaning?

Natural light is a vital selling point for Australian homes, so concentrating on this aspect of every room is your first priority.

  • Clean the windows
  • Pull back curtains
  • Pull up blinds
  • Open the slats of the venetians
  • Are your hallways or staircases Black Holes of Calcutta? You will be amazed at what a skylight can do, and for a very reasonable price of around $500– $1,000 per skylight
  • If a room’s light will be enhanced by a coat of paint, go for a few shades lighter. This has the added benefit of making the room look bigger

A common ruse used by many sellers, which also relates back to light, is timing the open inspections for the hour when the most light appears in the most rooms. This may take a few days to figure out, but it’s worth the trouble. A cold, damp or stuffy house is a turnoff. Get the heaters into action or open the windows, as appropriate, before your inspection times to get the right ambient temperature and smell into your house.

Speaking of smell, at some inspections you go to, there will be the distinctive smell of fresh coffee brewing or of a cake baking. And Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing in the background seems almost compulsory at some of the more up-market inspections. Fresh flowers will help. Freesias have a wonderful scent that will fill a room – but don’t overdo it. Back to clutter. Why do you think God invented garage sales? This is your big chance. The acid test for differentiating between ‘clutter’ and ‘precious’ is ‘do I want to spend hours of my life wrapping and boxing this stuff, unwrapping it at the other end and finding somewhere to put it?’ If the answer is ‘no’, it’s clutter. Sell it. Give it away. Remove it from your life. If you have been ruthless and your house is still museum-like, start wrapping and boxing some items and store these boxes with family or friends.

Coverings and cockroaches

Threadbare or worn carpets can be covered by borrowed/bought rugs. If carpet cleaning looks like a must, give yourself a good week after the cleaning appointment before your first ‘open’.

Give yourself at least two weeks after the pest sprayers have been in to remove dead bodies, or you’ll find would-be buyers finding bugs on their backs in every cupboard they open.

Floorboards, lino, tiles and cork floors can all be made to look like new. Ring the manufacturer or umbrella organisation (eg, a timber industry body) for care instructions.

Now, turn your thoughts to dirt, often a close relation of smells. Small children’s fingermarks on the walls, dog or cat fur, stains on the sofas, grey tile grouting, a fat-trap griller – all these are terrible turnoffs to would-be buyers, even if their homes look just as bad, if not worse!

Dirt and smell

Here are some quick solutions for getting rid of dirt and bad smells:

  • Sprinkle some baby powder on the carpet before vacuuming for a fresher smell.
  • Restrict your pets’ movements for ‘the duration’ so that you don’t have to vacuum every cushion or check in every corner for dead ‘treasures’ they’ve brought in to show you.
  • A scrub with sugar soap will remove fingerprints, and it’s also good for those greasy rooms like the kitchen and any adjoining family room.
  • Stains on sofas that will not come off call for a throw-over cover or slip cover. These are available in chain stores.
  • A mouldy shower curtain should be replaced, and solutions to the perennial tile grouting nightmare include scrubbing it with a toothbrush and bicarbonate of soda (not a lot of fun), attacking it with an anti-mould solution or applying new grouting.
  • The smell of damp can be eliminated, or at least disguised, with a product such as Damp Rid. If you have blocked drains, invest in a plunger or get the plumber out to visit.

Little maintenance jobs you’ve been putting off, like another coat of enamel here, or a touch-up on the skirting boards there, should be next on your list.

Lastly, tidy the places you think nobody would ever look, because people look everywhere these days, including in cupboards, wardrobes (even if they’re not built-ins!), medicine cupboards, inside the oven – nothing should surprise you. Leave these tidying and cleaning jobs for last, but don’t neglect them.

A common experience of sellers who’ve gone through the major spring clean outlined above is to fall in love with their homes all over again! If that happens to you, remember, there’s always next spring.

Selling your home checklist

  • Have you informed your neighbours about inspection times? They may keep the noise down and even help you by sprucing up their gardens
  • Have you cleared the bedrooms of clutter and removed unnecessary furniture? This will help highlight large bedrooms and make smaller ones look bigger
  • Have you washed the curtains and blinds?
  • Have you cleared all the junk from your verandas or the side of your home?
  • Have you remembered to clean the windows?
  • Have you checked that your home and contents insurance covers household items damaged or stolen during inspections?
  • Is the garden looking the best it can?
  • Have you arranged for the pets to be looked after during inspections


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