How to Show Your House to Buyers

Tips for a Successful Showing so You Can Sell Your Home Fast

Fully Renovated House in Quebec, Canada
••• Anatoli Igolkin / Getty Images

When you show your home, you're trying to present it in the best possible light so buyers will be able to imagine themselves living there and be eager to buy. Since buying a home can be a decision based more on feeling than on logic, try to make your home appealing to potential buyers by engaging all five senses.

In many markets, it is customary for the buyer's agent to tour a listing without the listing agent present, and they'll expect the seller to leave the house. If you are selling your home as a For Sale by Owner, though, you will need to show the home yourself.

Clean (and Clear) the House

Before you open your doors for an open house or a showing, be sure to clean your home from top to bottom. It's cheaper to do the work yourself, especially since you'll want to keep the house in tip-top shape for as long as you have it on the market, but hiring a cleaning company can take the load off if there's too much on your plate.

  • Clear the clutter: The first thing your buyers should see when they walk in the front door should not be piles of papers or possessions. Leave tabletops, counters, and other flat surfaces clear or tastefully styled (with a vase of flowers, perhaps).
  • Ceilings and cobwebs: It's all too easy to let cobwebs and dust collect on ceiling fan blades or in disused corners. Be sure to check light fixtures for dead bugs, too.
  • Walls: While you might skip washing the walls during a busy phase, your buyers will notice dirt and handprints.
  • Floors: Take care to leave your floors sparkling, especially if they haven't been replaced in a while or if there are pets in the home. Steam clean the carpets to take care of lingering dirt or odors. If you have carpeting, vacuum in one direction and don't walk on it again—vacuum lines in the plush will signal good care without trying.

A Gracious Welcome

Once your home is clean and clear of clutter, it's time to throw open the doors and invite buyers to take a look. Although the buyers are guests in your home, you want them to imagine owning it. Don't make them feel like intruders—do everything you can to make your property a welcoming one.

  • First impressions: Begin with your curb appeal. Pay special care to your front porch or stoop as well as the landscaping leading to your front door. Make sure the walk is swept neatly, the porch is inviting, and that there are no toys or yard tools littered about. Be sure any potted flowers or plants show regular care and maintenance. A wreath on the door or tidy furniture on a porch or balcony can set the scene.
  • Shoes stay on: Don't expect the buyer to remove her shoes, unless you are selling to a buyer for whom religious or cultural reasons mandate it. She's not a visitor, she's a potential buyer.
  • Don't pressure: Don't hurry the buyer. Let him know he can take all the time he needs. It may take some extra flexibility on your part, but it will be worth it to get an offer.
  • Leave a note: Set a bowl of wrapped candy or other treats near the front door with a small note thanking the buyer for coming to see your home.
  • Leave the house: You will be tempted to follow the buyers and explain upgrades, amenities, or features. Don't do it. The buyer won't talk about the house in front of you or open doors with you standing there. You and your family should go for a drive, get a coffee, visit the park—just get out of the house so your potential buyer can relax and evaluate.

Set a Comfortable Temperature

Your goal is to create a welcoming atmosphere, so pay attention to your climate systems. A cold house on a cold day or a stuffy house on a hot day won't paint the picture you want buyers to see—it'll leave them uncomfortable, not to mention wondering if your heating or cooling systems are in disrepair.

  • Pay attention to the weather: Showing your home is not the time to worry about your utility bill. If it's cold enough to wear a sweater to stay warm, turn on the heat. If you're known for leaving your thermostat at sub-Arctic temperatures, this is one time when you'll want to dial it up a few degrees. You can always turn it back down again when buyers leave.
  • Crank the AC: On a similar note, if it's warm outside, turn up the air conditioning. You want the temperature inside the home to be cool and comfortable and give the buyer more of a reason to linger. They'll feel refreshed after coming in from the hot or humid outdoors. But don't overshoot the mark and make it too cold, or you'll have the opposite effect.

Turn the Lights up

Brighten up your home inside and out so buyers can clearly see your house's features.

  • Turn on every light: Overhead lights, lamps, even turn on appliance lights and closet lights. Be sure the porch light is on, especially after dark; solar lights along your walkway are a nice touch as well.
  • Let the sunshine in: Open all the curtains and raise all the blinds. It will let as much light in as possible if your showing is during the day and will make the house look inviting from the street if the showing is after dark.
  • Brighten dark rooms: Strategic lamp placement can make the room feel brighter and more welcoming. Add another lamp (or two!) if necessary.
  • Turn off the TV: The moving pictures (not to mention sound) are too distracting. If you're playing music on a computer, turn off the monitor.
  • Open doors: Leave closet doors slightly ajar, too, so a buyer can peek and check out the storage space.

Create a Mood

Staging your home for buyers means setting a tone, creating an atmosphere they want to be a part of. Play up your home's best features by setting the mood, whether it's romantic, relaxing, or exciting. Help your potential buyers envision themselves living their ideal life in your house.

  • Put the fireplace to good use: Light a fire, even if it's the middle of summer.
  • Make it romantic: Place two (clean) champagne glasses on a nearby table with a bottle of champagne.
  • Turn on soft music: Just as stores use gentle music to create a cozy shopping experience, you can, too. Keep the tunes unobtrusive and suitable for a general audience.
  • Power up the water features: Fountains are especially useful for drowning out traffic noise or loud next-door neighbors.
  • Encourage touch: Touch can be a powerful emotional trigger. Drape sensuous fabrics such as velvet wraps, chunky knit blankets, or silk throws over chair arms and sofa backs.

Use Scent Sparingly

A thorough scrubbing should be all you need to ensure a fresh fragrance in your home.

  • Put away the spray: Many people are sensitive or even allergic to artificial scents and deodorizers, so don't use room sprays or plug-in air fresheners. Don't burn candles or spritz perfume for the same reason.
  • Use fresh air: If weather permits, open the windows to let in a breeze and keep your house from smelling stale. Just be alert for distracting noises from outside, such as heavy traffic.
  • Real is better: If you're going to simmer spices in water on the stove (an old home-selling trick), at least put out munchies so buyers aren't disappointed when they reach the kitchen. And don't forget to turn off the heat! The last thing you want is a burnt pot when all the water has boiled away. If instead you decide the scent of freshly-baked cookies is going to entice a buyer, be sure to actually leave some cookies.

Provide Additional Information

You have so little time to make an impression. If there's extra information that a buyer might miss or be unaware of, you can provide nicely printed cards or notes to let them know.

  • Historical details: For example, if you have an antique chandelier in your dining room, put a card out that discloses its age and other important details.
  • Safety precautions: If your basement stairs are steep, attach a card to the railing that cautions buyers to watch their step.
  • Excluded from sale: Take care when placing a card that says: "Not included in the sale." Such a note will make a buyer want whatever it is you're excluding. However, you may be able to play that to your advantage later, during negotiations.

Top It off With Food

The best way to entice buyers to linger and notice even more details about your home is to offer them food. You don't need to cater a lunch, but finger sandwiches, cookies, soft drinks, and bottled water are all welcome. Buyers who are nibbling on snacks are not that eager to leave and might notice more of what your home has to offer.

  • Self-serve: Set out serving utensils, if needed. Provide plates, cups, and napkins; paper products are fine.
  • Easy cleanup: In plain sight, provide a waste receptacle so discarded plates and napkins don't clutter the counter for the next showing.

Encourage Buyer Feedback

Feedback from visitors can be extremely helpful when trying to sell a home, especially if they let you know something that would be an easy change before the next buyer stops by. Ensure that buyers can leave prompt, anonymous feedback—it will be invaluable as you tailor your offering going forward, and anonymity makes it more likely a potential buyer will offer their thoughts.

  • Provide writing utensils: Near the snacks, leave pens and a stack of pre-printed questionnaire cards or a guest book to sign. Buyers may very likely feel obligated to respond to your request after being fed.
  • Ask questions: You may inquire as to their overall impressions, how your home compares with others, even their impression of the price. Don't take their answers too personally. Instead, use them as important data points as you refine the way you stage and sell the home.