1. Declutter - get rid of as much extra furniture, toys, and personal decorations as possible. This was not at all easy with two little ones, but we managed to keep toys only in the nursery and a couple hidden places in the house (like a kitchen drawer, some baskets in a bookcase, and a reusable shopping bag that went with us during showings). We stored our extra furniture in the garage, but there are all kinds of long and short term storage options you can use. We even went so far as to take the small appliances and the knife block off the counters to show off the spacious kitchen. It was amazing how open it looked! Before we listed the house, I went through every single closet and purged as much as possible. Honestly, it felt really good to get rid of all the stuff we hadn't touched in years.
2. Clean - make it sparkle! Clean every surface, every wall, every little tiny space you never knew could get dirty. Clean under furniture, fan blades, window treatments, you name it. Remember, to your potential buyer, this is going to be their "new house" and they don't want any reminders that someone else has been living there. This is especially true in bathrooms and kitchens. Put a fresh coat of paint on any walls that need it (opt for neutral grays, creams, and tans if you do repaint). Just before the showing, vacuum the carpets. Who doesn't love freshly vacuumed carpets with even little lines all going the same direction? Yes, it's exhausting. No, it's not what you want to do until 3am after working a 13 hour shift. But it will pay off. Don't forget the outside, too! (Pay close attention to the front door, it will be their first impression of the home.)
3. Fresh flowers - Especially during the winter months when you don't have flowers blooming outside, it's nice to have fresh flowers inside. It brightens the house and the mood, and lets the potential buyer know that you are grateful they are there. Besides the traditional flowers on the kitchen table, I also put some green in the bathroom and living rooms.
4. BBQ ready - set the stage for a backyard BBQ, even if it's waaaay too cold (note the snow lingering near the patio?). Put the cushions on the patio furniture, take the cover off the grill, and set out some plastic cups and plates. Help the potential buyer envision entertaining in the space.
5. Clear walk ways and drive ways - This is key in the winter months! You don't want potential buyers or agents slipping and falling on their way to the house. Make sure everything is freshly shoveled and salted, if needed. Other than that, try to use snow to your advantage - keep the yard snow untouched and beautiful. If there's no snow, try to clean up the yard as much as possible (no stray items, branches/sticks, etc.). Touch up outdoor paint as weather permits.
6. Front porch dreaming - I'll be the first to say it, I'm a sucker for a beautiful front porch. This is one of the first things a potential buyer will see, even if they are just driving by for the first time before an official showing. Try to dress it up. For our open house, I arranged our rocking chairs with a couple scarves, hats, lanterns with LED candles, and decorations to creat an inviting appearance. I even hinted at spring by putting a gardening hat on one chair and a few seed packets on the table next to it. Even though it's cold, reminding people that spring is just around the corner never hurts. Hard to do when it's below freezing, but if you can, be sure to power wash the house and porch, too.
7. Display pictures of the house in warmer weather - This is a great use for that big photo collage you just took down to de-personalize the space. Using frames and arrangements I already had, I printed some photos of the house in the spring and summer to show potential buyers that it's not always so dreary out there. I printed some at different times of the year to show the different flowering trees and landscaping. In the center, I placed a letter that read, "Baby it's COLD outside! But when it's not, here's an idea of what the house looks like..."
8. Your very own bathroom spa - Kitchens and bathrooms are always big selling points, so don't forget to stage bathrooms, too. Rolled fresh towels, candles, fresh flowers, stones, and fancy soaps create a relaxing spa-like feel. Clear out shampoo bottles, razors, and used towels from the inside of the showers. Put a new toilet paper roll on. Take out the trash. Make everything look fresh, clean, and unused. I had a set of "showing towels" for each bathroom that we put out only during showings.
9. Set the mood - A big part of staging is creating emotion. Set out an open cookbook in the kitchen. Put logs in the fireplace (even if you never use it). Place a tea kettle and a couple mugs on a serving tray. Set out an interesting book and a cozy throw across the couch in the living room. Sprinkle in some seasonal decor (for us it was around Valentine's day, so I got out my heart table runner and mantle decorations). Lastly, open all the curtains/blinds and turn on ALL the lights, even in closets. It will make the house appear brighter, bigger, and save them from having to search for light switches.
10. The little extras - Thank potential buyers for coming to look at the house. I set out Dove chocolates and personalized water bottles that said "Thanks for stopping by!" and the address. (I simply typed them up and used packing tape to pseudo-laminate both sides, then replaced the bottle label with mine.) Create a list of distance/time from the house to local points of interest (schools, hospitals, restaurants, shopping, zoos, parks, museums, etc.). Highlight what's special about the home, neighborhood, or area. Next to the listing sheets, I set out a little write up about our neighborhood, including a little about our annual block party that takes place on our road.
11. The laundry basket - Ok, you've worked super hard to get everything perfect before the open house. It's the morning of and you are quickly polishing the countertops one last time just to be sure the potential buyers can see their reflection in them. You grab the kids, put them in the car, and run back in for one last quick look through. Take a laundry basket. Anything that's out of place, dirty, or cluttered - toss in the basket. Stray toys, dirty laundry, towels from cleaning, 800 to-do lists reminding you of everything you need to remember - in the basket, then in the car with you. You can put it all away when you get back. Now take a deep breath, cross your fingers, and try to enjoy the next couple hours. Remember, it just takes one person to fall in love with your house the way that you did.