Prepare your home for sale

When it comes to the property market, May is when it all starts to happen.

According to figures from the National Association of Estate Agents, estate agent branches up and down the country completed an average peak of 10 sales in May 2009 – which compares with just five in December.

But for May this year, there may be an even greater incentive to sell. February data from both Halifax and Nationwide revealed that average house prices slumped by 1.5% and 1% respectively during the month.

This marks the first fall in nine consecutive months and, unsurprisingly, property professionals have been quick to respond.

Time to sell?

David Smith, senior partner at property consultancy Carter Jonas, says: "Our advice to sellers is to take advantage of the market now.

There is every chance prices will fall back in the second half of the year, particularly if interest rates rise. This will force more properties onto the market and apply downward pressure on prices."

But shifting your home in the current market is still not going to be a picnic. Sellers will want to attract as many buyers as possible – and that means putting in some time and effort. So where do you start?

Work on kerb appeal

So-called 'kerb appeal' may sound clichéd, but if you ignore its importance you won't be showing your home to anyone.
"These days 90% of people start their search online, so the first thing they see are the online photos," says Graham Coton, senior associate partner at Martin Treasure estate agents in St Albans.

"It's important to get the lighting – and contents – of these photos absolutely right or there will be no appointment to view in the first place."

Sprucing up your home for the marketing snaps does not have to be expensive.

Quick fixes

"It's a simple case of cutting back the garden, painting the front door, cleaning the windows and fixing and clearing out the guttering,” says Coton. "Touches like this show you care about your home."

If the outside looks good enough to entice your buyer through the door, you'll need to present the interior in the best light possible too.

But, again, this need not mean forking out thousands of pounds to replace the kitchen or bathroom, says Tracy Kellet, managing director of home search company, BDI Homefinders.

Avoid costly home improvements

"One of my biggest bugbears is sellers who decide to fit a new kitchen before they show their home, but opt for the cheapest one they can find," she says. 

"Buyers usually prefer to rip out the existing kitchen themselves and replace it with one of their own taste. But if it's already new, they feel they can't. It actually limits a seller's options."
The cost of changes to your home – even for the purposes of trying to sell it – will come straight out of your pocket too.

The only changes that are tax-deductible apply to investment homes – and then they will need to constitute necessary repairs and/or maintenance.

However, what you don't need to spend in cash, you'll need to spend in effort, says Coton.

"The first step is to completely de-clutter. If you have things out everywhere on display, not only will the interior appear smaller, but it will suggest that it doesn't have much storage."

Depersonalise, depersonalise, depersonalise
Depersonalising your home is the next step. On a basic level this means getting rid of day-to-day paraphernalia, such as piles of washing, paperwork or children's toys.

But going one stage further and clearing the walls and shelves of holiday snaps, self-portraits or your child's latest potato-print picture will present your home in a far more professional light.
When it comes to décor, it's a case of the plainer, the better. This means giving all the walls a lick of paint with an inoffensive colour – beige or cream is always a good bet.

Not only will this serve to really freshen up the place, but it will conceal any cracks and damp patches – both of which are obvious turn-offs.

Time for a clean up

It goes without saying that your home and its carpets will also have to be immaculately clean. A typical one-off payment of £100 to a professional company for a 'deep clean' will be money well spent.

At the same time, 'family smells' should be banished from your home, whether it's smoke, wet dog or even over-powering plug-ins. "You might be accustomed to your home's smell, but to strangers it can be obvious and off-putting," says Coton.

Presenting the house as it was meant to be lived in – in other words, getting the rooms back to their original purpose – is also a good idea as it means potential buyers won't be forced to employ their imagination.

Plan your viewings
Of course, it's a tall order to live in a show home, especially if you have a young family. In this case, arrange allocated time slots for viewings – Saturday afternoons, for example.

This will be the time you all agree to pull together and whip the house back into 'viewing mode'.
During viewings, make sure that pets – and even children – are well clear of proceedings.

"Owners have a special relationship with their dog but can be completely blind to how uncomfortable it makes other people feel," says Dean Sanderson, managing director of Sanderson James Estate Agents in Manchester.