Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips For Painlessly Prepping Your Home For Sale

Due to acute financial problems, an engineer and his wife called a real estate broker, Mark Minchew, about the pressing need to sell their house and use the proceeds to pay bills.

Minchew gave the couple a checklist of tasks to complete before their place could be ready for show time. But it took more than seven months for them to finish all the necessary repairs and cleaning chores -- putting them in a serious time bind at the end.

Minchew entered the real estate field in 1977 and since then has closed more than 1,700 home sales. With each year that passes, he says he encounters more homeowners who have trouble grappling with the process of prepping their homes for sale.

"Sometimes I have to guilt sellers into hiring help," says Minchew, who's affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (

Of course, many busy sellers can't afford to delegate their tasks to stand-ins. That's why Lee Silber, a time management expert and the author of multiple books on the topic, suggests swapping services.

"There are people who love to de-clutter, organize, decorate and clean a house. Maybe you could cook or babysit for them in exchange for their help getting you ready to sell," Silber says.

Whether you're in the "must sell" or "want to sell" category, there are many ways to make the pre-sale process less onerous.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Get real about your time constraints by setting priorities.

"Nowadays, more people and their children are busy in a scheduled, programmed way," says Rita Emmett, a time management specialist and author of "The Procrastinator's Handbook."

Emmett suggests you make a list of discretionary activities that could be cut from your schedule, if only temporarily.

Beyond TV viewing -- which can digest a sizeable amount of time for most people -- there's time-consuming social media, including Facebook.

Surprisingly, many people can free time by cooking simple meals at home rather than eating out, says Emmett, noting that the drive back and forth to a restaurant takes more minutes than most people estimate. Plus there's the time you spend waiting to be served, even at fast food places.

"In terms of time, it's a wash to eat out rather than do basic food preparation at home. And restaurant meals suck up lots of money you could use to make your house look better, which could bring you better offers," she says.

-- Write down your strategic plan.

Silber, author of "Time Management For the Creative Person," says too few people embark on major projects with a written plan.

Many home sellers mistakenly believe they can proceed as efficiently with a mental plan as with a written one, according to Silber.

"In fact, what you have in your head is clutter unless you put it down on paper or into a computer document you can print out," he says.

Are you unsure which tasks need to be done to get your home ready for market? If so, Silber suggests you ask your agent for a step-by-step list. Then go down the checklist, circling steps with the highest impact.

For example, replacing a stained living room carpet could make a significant difference in the salability of your place. But fixing the stains on your concrete walkways may not.

-- Keep your "To-Do List" in a prominent place.

Not only do home sellers need a comprehensive list of tasks to prep their properties for market, Emmett says they should keep that list in full view.

"Type it in a large font and put it where you can study it when you're put on hold. Drawing from this list, work in one-hour increments. Each day, try to do at least three small tasks, such as going to the store for the cardboard boxes you'll use to de-clutter your home. And don't forget to give yourself a small treat when you finish each task," she says.

-- Incorporate fun into your home preparation process.

You'll gain more momentum in your quest to ready your home for market if you can make an otherwise boring project more interesting, Silber says.

For instance, he suggests you consider what he calls "the fishbowl game." Take a copy of your to-do list and cut the paper into pieces, one task per piece. Then, when you have a block of time to move forward, place all the pieces in a bowl and pick out one at random to start your day. After that task is done, reach into the bowl for the next one.

Another of Silber's ideas is to stage a "pre-sale party." Just as you're launching into home prep, send out invitations to friends for a fest scheduled to happen right before your home is listed.

"Knowing your friends will be over to see your place when it's done should help keep you on track to the finish line," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at