When it comes to the little things that sellers do to make their homes stand out from the competition, a new splash of paint is usually at the top of the list. Sprucing up the front yard and removing the clutter you have learned to live with over the years also rank high.
But the No. 1 step you can take, according to a survey of real estate agents, is cleaning the place from top to bottom. Spending a few hundred bucks for cleaning supplies, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work will pay huge dividends, dollar for dollar, according to nearly all the 500 agents who participated in the HomeGain poll.
Actually, cleaning has ranked as the top home improvement suggested by realty professionals ever since HomeGain began asking the question in 2003. In the latest survey, the agents said spending $400 on cleaning is likely to gain sellers $2,000 more at closing. That's a 400 percent return on investment.
Of course, there is clean and then there is really CLEAN! Here are some tips gleaned mainly from the folks at The Maids, a residential cleaning service with about 150 franchises in 40 states, with suggestions from Mary Moppins thrown in for good measure:
-- You may not look up when you walk around your house, but would-be buyers do. They look everywhere, so knock down any cobwebs, clean the blades on the ceiling fans and remove the dust that has built up on the top of window and door frames, as well as other places it tends to accumulate.
Now look down and clean your baseboards.
-- Wash the windows, inside and out. Professional house cleaner Mary Findley, aka the aforementioned Mary Moppins, cleans windows with a 32-ounce spray bottle filled with 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and the rest distilled water.
For best results, wash windows on a cloudy day. Sunlight dries the glass quickly, causing streaks.
-- You'll want to shower your place with light to show it off, especially at night, so remove the bugs that have accumulated in your light fixtures and clean the glass. Replace the bulbs with new ones. That way, Findley says, you won't have a burnout during a showing.
-- Clean the stove and oven. If you have burner drip trays, replace them. The cost is minimal, and they will make the range sparkle. As an alternative, Findley suggests placing dirty drip pans in a plastic bag with a 50/50 mixture of water and ammonia. Let sit for a day, then scour and rinse.
Don't overlook the range hood -- not just the top, but also underneath where grease tends to accumulate. Spray foaming tile and tub cleaner, wait a few minutes and wipe.
-- Window treatments tend to trap dust and odors. Dry-clean or at least vacuum drapes. Roll up blinds to remove them. Then loosen and wash in a tub of warm, soapy water with a cup of white vinegar. Rinse and lay flat on a towel outside to dry.
Alternatively, hang the blinds outside with the slats facing down. Spray from bottom to top with foaming tub and tile cleaner, a Findley favorite. Sponge off with water, then flip them over, turn the slats in the other direction and repeat. "Sparkling blinds in 15 minutes," Findley says.
-- Eliminate lingering odors in the dishwasher by running it with a couple tablespoons of Tang, the powdered breakfast drink.
-- Decluttering goes along with cleaning. Since lookers will peer in your kitchen cabinets and drawers, take everything out, pack away what you're not using and neatly restack what's left -- but not before wiping the shelves and drawers clean.
-- Cabinet doors don't need to be replaced or resurfaced, just cleaned, Findley says. Start with a wood cleaner to deep-clean the doors, than apply a wood restorer to replenish the finish.
-- Shampoo carpets and then vacuum daily. "Nothing screams 'clean' like visible carpet pile lines," according to The Maids.
Wood and tile floors should be mopped. Clean the grout, too. If your linoleum floor no longer holds a shine, strip it with a janitorial-grade wax remover and redo with janitorial non-yellowing wax, which Findley says holds up longer than most store waxes. That way, if it takes longer than expected to sell, at least you won't have to rewax.
-- In the bathroom, clean showers, sinks and tubs. Remove hard-water spots and soap scum by spraying them with undiluted, heated white vinegar. Let soak 15 minutes before scrubbing.
Alternatively, Findley suggests applying a concentrated orange-based cleaner full-strength. Give it at least an hour to dissolve soap residue. Then use a white scrub pad -- only white; any other color will scratch the surface -- to remove the buildup.
-- To get rid of water rings in the toilet bowl, drain the bowl and saturate several heavy-duty shop paper towels with either orange cleaner or white vinegar. Plaster the sides of the bowl with the towels and let sit for several hours. For a quicker solution, try the stuff you use to clean tile grout.
-- Wash shower curtains and liners. Wash glass doors as you would showers and tubs above. Treat fiberglass walls with a Molly Moppins product called Gel Gloss, available in the bathtub section of hardware stores.
Hit mildew with straight hydrogen peroxide as opposed to bleach, the fumes of which can be overpowering in small spaces.
-- Walls and ceilings should be dusted. For textured surfaces and rough wood, slip three lint roller tubes over a paint roller and roll.
-- Wipe down front and back doors, including screens. Remove oil spots from garage floor and driveway. Polish doorknobs, hinges and drawer handles, and clean your trash cans.