How-To Sell Your Home: Deep Clean to Make Your House Shine

A few weeks ago we kicked off a new series: How-To: Sell Your Home in a Down Market with an overview of the important factors that home sellers must address if they want to succeed in selling their homes in today’s market:

  1. Pricing
  2. Marketing
  3. Cleaning
  4. Extras

Rather than tackling these in the above order of priority, we’re going to hit them in chronological order. Therefore, today we’re going to take a closer look at the first thing you should do when you decide you are serious about selling your house: cleaning.

If you really want to sell your house, you’re going to have to do a lot more than just vacuum the floors and dust the shelves. A proper pre-sale cleaning is a thorough deep-clean of the inside and outside.

Here’s a good starting checklist for your pre-sale cleaning:

  • Steam-clean the carpets and/or buff/shine the hardwood floors.
  • Take everything off the walls and wash them.
  • If it’s been more than a few years since the interior has been painted or if you have any walls that are “bold” colors, put on a fresh coat of paint in a neutral color.
  • Pressure-wash the roof (use another method if your roof is asphalt shingles).
  • Put on a fresh coat of exterior paint or pressure-wash the siding.
  • Manicure the landscaping: pull the weeds, mow the lawn, prune the bushes & trees, kill anything growing in your driveway or sidewalks, put down some fresh mulch around the bushes and flowers.
  • Clean every window, inside and out.
  • Clean out the gutters.
  • Thoroughly clean inside and out any appliances that stay (oven, fridge, etc.)
  • Take down and wash any light fixtures with dust / dead bug buildup.
  • De-clutter and simplify every room.

You can do these things yourself, or hire a professional. Either way you will probably be spending between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, but by presenting a high-quality product you will be reducing the buyer’s ability (and desire) to negotiate a lower price.

Pay special attention to maximizing your “curb appeal” through pre-sale cleaning. The first impression your house makes on the potential buyer will set the mood for their entire viewing. You want a house that says “you would be proud to live here” from the moment they drive up.

It is also impossible to over-stress the importance of de-cluttering. A lot has been made recently of “home staging” to improve a home’s chances of selling. Paying a professional home stager is the easiest way to de-clutter your home, but you can accomplish much of the same results by doing a few simple things on your own:

  • Take down all personal decorations: family photos, etc.
  • Eliminate any furniture that looks old or “eclectic”
  • Sparsely furnish each room, making sure that all furniture and decor fits the overall “feel”

If you’re the DIY type, the best way to prepare the interior of your house may be to go through the house one room at a time and completely empty the room, clean the floors, paint the walls, then “stage” it per the suggestions above.

The end result of a thorough inside and out deep-cleaning will be a house that looks great in pictures, and makes potential buyers say “wow” when they see it in person. If you truly want to get the best price possible for your home, do not put it on the market until you have achieved the “wow factor.”

How-To: Sell Your Home in a Down Market

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1


    Cleaning old rugs: $200-300, and they still look like old rugs that devalue the house anyway. How about reduce the price about half the cost of rug replacement [say $1000-1500]…..use it as buyer incentive to pick their own rugs/colors out?

    Cleaning the junk out? Where do you put it Tim? In storage at $100-200 a month?

    Painting the walls after you take all the pictures down is probably a good idea, with picture marks and hanging holes to patch….or how about take about half the cost of painting the house off the price [say $1000-1500] and tell the buyer they can paint it themselves, any colors they want.

    Sure, you can do the work yourself, but add in a hotel room for a couple weeks or even a month if you work full time, while you’re remodeling, painting and tearing your house apart? [$2000-3000 cost] Or live in the paint fumes and/or break your back moving the couches and piano around for the carpet cleaner?

    Painting the outside of house is the same conundrum…buyers want their color, [unless it’s one of those HOAs that only let you paint it light brown or some other blaw color]….leave it alone and chop off another $1000-1500. Let it be a selling point.

    Let’s see, the seller did hardly no work, shaved like $3-5K off the price and didn’t have to pay a contractor like $6-10K for the same work. If I was going to put any money into a house for selling, I’d like replace the old roof for like $10-15K….building inspectors will kill a deal over that little over-sight and a new roof is a wonderful selling point to buyers with brains.

    Now, if you’re in an upside down loan, forget what I said and follow The Tim’s advice to the “T”… plenty of beer and get your friends to help you….

  2. 2
    David Losh says:

    We clean about two places a week to prepare for sale. Our sister company can do everything, but I agree that in today’s market it is all about price. It’s been about six months since we did a complete rework for sale.

    Cleaning is the cheapest most cost effective thing you can do. Painting is tricky and a continued liability. The job needs to be done well. Tricks fool very few people.

    For the people who frequent the Seattle Bubble I am more than happy to consult. My companies have prepared thousands of houses for sale.

  3. 3
    Kevin Lisota says:

    The Tim is coming dangerously close to becoming a real estate agent :) Tim, you should contact us at findwell if you ever choose to join our ranks :)

    @softwarengineer – While valid points, it is MUCH, MUCH harder to sell a fixer upper, even at a lower price. There is a segment of the population that cannot, under any circumstances, see past a dirty, unkept, and cluttered home. My experience says that such opinions reflect a majority of the population. Those buyers will simply ignore the home and move on to the next one. I know it doesn’t make logical sense. Personally I can see past anything and recognize potential, but most home buyers are a picky bunch.

    Also, I’ve written a few similar posts giving sellers tips on getting their home sold.

  4. 4
    EconE says:


    :::runs and hides from the environmentalists:::

  5. 5
    Racket says:

    By EconE @ 4:


    :::runs and hides from the environmentalists:::

    Can you even buy that anymore?

  6. 6
    David Losh says:

    RE: Racket @ 5

    What? I don’t think so. I think everything is phosphate free. We use that orange cleaner for the tough stuff.

  7. 7
    EconE says:

    RE: Racket @ 5

    Not really sure.

    I think it depends on where you live.

    They had it in Missouri a few years ago…but that’s a dirty, nasty state…so I’m not surprised.

    Cleans like crazy though.

  8. 8
    EconE says:

    Yup…looks like it is available…just not in “phosphate restricted areas”.

  9. 9
    Greg Perry says:

    Good list.

    One small area that may get someone in a little trouble is “pressure washing the roof”.

    Pressure washing can blow the granules off a comp roof (erasing years).

  10. 10
    Alan says:

    RE: softwarengineer @ 1

    Those are perfectly rational thoughts, SE. I think many buyers are not rational and many of Tim’s suggestions seem to have a positive return.

  11. 11
    Ray Pepper says:

    yes, yes, yes, clean, scrub, mow, pine sol, paint……I think the Bubble heads are way ahead of the curve on this stuff. At least all the ones I have spoken with over the last 2 years.

    Any laggards or newbies should 1st watch this video because its far more important …….then begin your scrubbing…

    and btw…..don’t pay more then 500 to LIST….Hopefully Tim covers this topic soon!

  12. 12
    The Tim says:

    RE: softwarengineer @ 1 – As Kevin said @ 3, many (most?) buyers are simply not interested in a “fixer upper.” Personally, I tend to disregard homes that are in sparkling condition, because I know that those will attract the most interest and likely command a higher price. But I recognize that I am not representative of the average home shopper in that regard.

    RE: Greg Perry @ 9 – Yes, depending on the type of roof, that could be an issue. I would hope that the seller would be smart enough to use a low setting, just enough to get off any minor moss build-up. I should probably have clarified.

  13. 13
    BillE says:

    “Manicure the landscaping: pull the weeds, mow the lawn, prune the bushes & trees, kill anything growing in your driveway or sidewalks, put down some fresh mulch around the bushes and flowers.”

    At the last house I went through, those weeds in the back yard were hiding an old toilet. Should they still get rid of the weeds? What if that toilet was nicer than the one that was actually in one of the bathrooms?

  14. 14
    Plastic Bags says:

    RE: BillE @ 13
    Haha I can imagine some crazy sellers marketing it as a half bath and patting themselves on the back for their own ingenuity.

  15. 15
    Pat says:

    Well, I went to the house I just bought yesterday and with all their stuff out of it, I will now be paying for the deep cleaning, About $300.00. Yuck. Gross oven, sticky filthy counters, dirt everywhere, greasy kitchen. Plus, with the furniture out, you could see the unpainted trim with paint onto the hardwoods, damage to the hardwoods, and all the little unfinished details that were hidden behind furniture. The yard was allowed to get weedy and long, Amazing how much dirt can accumulate in 6 weeks and a move. Hole in the bathroom sink. etc.

    I’m thinking about $3,000.00 to take care of all this before moving in. Sweet.

  16. 16
    David Losh says:

    Buyers will walk away from the smallest things in a home. They are usually eliminating properties more than building a list of properties to buy. The trick to creating the desire to live some place is if the buyer can imagine themselves living there. Do you really want to live in a house that has a toilet in the back yard?

    A lot of people go through this crazy period of “fixing” a house for sale when it’s best to do it over time. We suggest for people who are thinking of selling a home to start working on it in the winter. Rather than pressure wash a roof most professionals use a solution of fifty per cent bleach with a detergent, I mentioned the organge cleaner. Apply the solution evenly like with a garden sprayer or watering can. It’s best to kill the moss. It will hose off easily.

    You really should think ahead and have some benefit to the work you do. If you do the work over time it’s more plausible that the home is maintained. Paint a room at a time. Get rid of some of your junk. Improve the quality of your life and take care of yourself.

    The declutter part is kind of a dance. It is harder for people to move out and stage a place when the market is down. We do much more regularly scheduled house cleaning than whole house make overs lately. Over the listing period there is much more bang for the buck by having a clean house.

    People realize they will also be living in a home. As long as your living conditions are attractive there is less harm in having your stuff there. It can be arranged to provide more room or access, but you live there, they can live there.

    The yard should be managable. We do a thing called ground zero land scraping. We eliminate as much of the work for a future buyer as possible. The thing about bringing in pretty plants and color is a very nice idea in a fast market, but plantings need to be cared for. You should be sure you have a viable plan for the yard. It’s best to start the yard in the winter and plant it in early spring to be sure it will take hold.

    As I said before you can e-mail me about your property. Consultations are free, up to a point.

    You have also noticed a great many people with card board signs and day laborers. Before hiring an expensive contractor I would suggest the Millionaires Club or Casa Latina for help with your projects. Taking people off the street is risky, but many need work. Construction jobs are few and far between. There are some great folks looking for work. I’m just saying.

  17. 17
    Kary L. Krismer says:

    By Greg Perry @ 9:

    Good list.

    One small area that may get someone in a little trouble is “pressure washing the roof”.

    Pressure washing can blow the granules off a comp roof (erasing years).

    I was going to comment on that too. In addition to that, you can have some idiot aim the water the wrong direction, peeling them all back, making them more vulnerable in wind storms. Treatment and brushing is a better option.

    On shakes I prefer pressurized air to water.

  18. 18
    truthtold says:

    Looking for work….mememe.
    I’ld like to see self-promotion on RCG, where no one goes for more than the ads.
    e-mail me about your property. Of course, consultations are free,
    up to a point. No need to hire an expensive contractor…not when you have
    Love SeattleBubble and Mr. Losh and misc. contributing realtors, just not this hash.

  19. 19
    pannkake says:

    Please clean the soot off the wall over the fireplace. That looks horrible in listing photos.

  20. 20

    RE: Kevin Lisota @ 3


    It’s just that most folks don’t have time/money to move perfectly good furniture [albeit used and worthless] about; and/or trucks/backs/money to accomplish the task while living in the house.

    You also may be selling listed homes and asking 10-15% off last year’s prices [way too high in my book]; and yes, I agree with you, they all must look like “god palaces” to even have a chance of snagging a less informed buyer with money.

    The problem with RE folks, in my opinion, is they sometimes live in the past. That was then, this is now. I’ve had many RE professionals show me the homes that they personally buy as quick sell investments [especially when they find out I’m one of the very small percentage of buyers that’s negotiating 50% down or more], then whitewash them on the cheap, and sell them for 25% profit and 25% below comparable list too. They make a great extra living doing it too.

    Sell your home without a realitor [like the RE professionals do too, ask them] and you save even more and can reduce the price even more too:

    But, none of that matters, just do as you’re told and don’t ask the RE insiders who leveled with me, like I have.

    Years ago there was even a newspaper called “Investor’s Edge” that a RE professional friend turned me on to, which listed all the default bargains out there that you could grab up before the court auctions. It showed any leans and title description contacts too. You needed 100% cash though. Most of the prices were at least 50% off with pay the bank principle off plus [I’d add] some negotiated profit for the distressed seller [they’re going to be evicted soon anyway and then they get no money].

    I will admit, you need to be a psychologist type to swing these sweetheart deals, as you’re sometimes dealing with mentally imbalanced folks that got themselves in this mess. I’m not talking upside down loan short sells or repos; those bank owned homes are generally too expensive, as any savvy RE pro knows. I’m talking homes bought in the 90s, where the owner is being evicted soon and there’s still lots of equity left.

    Don’t try my method if you have kids or a spouse….it’s definitely a single person’s game to move, fix, then move again, fix, etc, etc….but the profits are huge. Even if you just sell it as a fixer upper.

  21. 21
    Scott Weitz says:

    Location, and Price!! A dirty, cheap house in a nice neighborhood has a better chance to sell than the cleanest house in a lousy neighborhood.

    Rule #6: Don’t have 13 cars parked in the front yard.

  22. 22
    Angie says:

    Going back a bit: TSP is right there on the shelf at Home Depot and Lowes. I wouldn’t use anything else on the wall to prep for painting–nothing else is as good at de-greasing and deglossing.

    The problem with TSP is that it’s too good for the environment. Phosphate is a valuable nutrient and when too much of it gets into the waterways it causes algae blooms due to the increased nutrient concentrations from the wastewater. If phosphates are in many many popular formulations for everyday use, such as detergents (as it was in the 70s or whenever) it turns into a problem. For less frequent jobs like prepping walls for painting, it’s not a big deal.

  23. 23
    David Losh says:

    RE: truthtold @ 18

    Funny, but consultations are usually by referral. From what I’m told we are expensive.

    My point was that I could have, or was going to, refer people to my blog, but each situation is different, that’s why i offered the free consultation.

    To be more clear, I’m here learning how to blog. Over at the RCG I was shouted down so much it just wasn’t worth the time. Here people criticize but they usually have a point.

    My goal is to expand my blog at into a a DIY site for people who would like to save some money.

    i mentioned before we had a painter and carpenter on call as well as my helper who was a full time person. We contracted with companies only to find casual labor showing up to do the work. I began hiring my own casual labor and we ran the company that way for about two years.

    As we got more successful family members began joining our ranks.

    It was my wife who got us into the cleaning business and it seems to be doing well. My ability to take houses apart and put them back together seems like a losing proposition in today’s market. So we rely on the cleaning business.

    We still have a couple of people we can refer for work.

    I’m old and tired. I like this blogging thing and think there may be some way to make money at it. We’ll see.

    in the mean time my offer stills stands and if there was a way to post pictures of your project that might work too.

  24. 24
    Kevin Lisota says:

    RE: softwarengineer @ 20 – You’ll get no argument from me about this sort of approach to investing. There are certainly deals to be had if you can see past ugly houses. Most people cannot, however.

    But, for the general public selling their home, Tim’s list of tips is crucial, even if the home is priced correctly. The average home buyer is picky and easily turned off. That dynamic hasn’t changed. In fact, I’d argue that buyer expectations are higher than ever since professional staging became commonplace. Most buyers want to buy a place that is “perfect” or nearly so.

    I see buyer reactions every single day, and homes will sell faster, and sometimes for more money, if they are prepared properly. The only time I would advise selling it as a “fixer” is if it is truly in bad shape and would require major investment to bring it back into good shape. But for the average house, a little de-cluttering and reorganization goes a long way to increasing its appeal.

  25. 25

    […] pull the weeds, put down some mulch, maybe even consider painting the trim.As for the cleaning, hit up this post for a detailed look at that topic. Also, if anyone has interest in me going back to finish the […]

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