No matter how long your house is on the market before being sold, it can be tremendously difficult to keep a home clean and orderly during the showing period, however short.
Aside from correct pricing, the most important steps you can take involve de-cluttering and making sure your house is kept clean during the showing period, says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "House Selling For Dummies."
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Do as much preliminary pre-packing as possible.
Vicki Norris, a professional organizer and former real estate agent, knows how hard it can be to keep a house in prime showing shape. It's especially difficult when people are selling against their will -- for instance, in the wake of a job loss.
"Sometimes life takes people off track and they get unusually disorganized," says Norris, who runs her own consulting firm, Restoring Order (www.restoringorder.com).
To limit upkeep demands during the showing period, Norris recommends that sellers clear through their clutter in advance of putting their place on the market. Throw away or give away any items you don't intend to keep, and place the remainder in neatly stacked boxes in your garage or other storage area.
"You don't have to remove everything, but reduce the quantity. For example, if you can winnow down an over-packed bookshelf from 200 to 30 books, that would be great," Norris says.
-- Seek to keep your house in good condition every day.
Most people who have their homes up for sale for a lengthy period can't count on hired help to do the daily work necessary to keep their place in tip-top showing condition. Still, they must always be ready for visitors.
Ashley Richardson, a real estate agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), advises clients to set aside 15 minutes each morning before work to straighten the home.
"At the very minimum, every day you'll need to sweep the kitchen, put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and hang up any clothes lying around," she says.
-- Ponder the use of a cleaning service.
Are you sloppier than the average homeowner? If so, it might be wise to pay for what real estate agents call a "super-duper cleaning."
"If you start with a professional cleaning at the beginning, you'll have an easier time keeping your house tidy all the way through to your sale," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."
Though it's likely to cost over $100, he says a single in-depth cleaning could hold you for more than a month before another in-depth cleaning job would be necessary.
Unfortunately, hiring a cleaning crew won't spare you the need for routine upkeep. "This will be no substitute for keeping your dishes washed and your bathroom toiletries put away. But it's still a big step going forward," Davis says.
-- Try to get everyone in your household to cooperate.
After a home has sat unsold for more than a month, those who live there can easily lose focus and slip back into their bad habits.
'The problem is that keeping your house in show condition is not a relaxed way of living, so people get tired of it," Davis says.
According to Richardson, it can be especially tough to ensure that children's rooms are kept orderly and that their toys are put away.
"Often, the kids are protesting the move. So the parents may need to clean their rooms for them. Alternatively, to get the kids to do it themselves, you might need to bribe them with pizza or a dinner out," she says.
-- Realize that the ordeal is temporary.
Donna Goings, a veteran real estate agent, says homeowners who earnestly want to sell should "keep their houses looking good enough to appear in a magazine." But she cautions that even picture-perfect properties that are fairly priced can languish unsold for a lengthy period through no fault of their owners.
"Sometimes, there's no rhyme or reason why a particular house won't sell for a long time. Even if you make the house beautiful and set the price right, it could stay on the market for months," Goings says.
Richardson advises her clients to avoid dwelling on critiques of their property.
"Buyers are more candid than they were in the past, and sometimes can be quite blunt in their feedback after a showing," Richardson says.
To limit the amount of unfiltered and discouraging negativity that can flow to you about your home, she suggests you tell your listing agent to filter out all pointlessly critical comments about your place.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)