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Is Your House Clean Enough to Pass a Buyer Inspection?

ForSaleByOwner September 8, 2023

Life is messy. Although you will spend hours cleaning house before you list your home, chances are you’ll still have to do a little light housekeeping each time you schedule a showing or open house. But how clean is clean when interested buyers come knocking? Marcia Bennett always prided herself on maintaining a clean home. At least she did until she decided to sell it.

“Have you ever watched people walk through a house that they’re thinking about buying? They’re relentless. They search everywhere,” says Bennett. “Even if I wasn’t home during a showing, I’d notice an end table moved or something on a shelf that seemed out of place.”

Bennett, who listed and sold her home in Ocala, FL, in 2013 without an agent, says she was surprised at how vulnerable she felt when she began showing her home. Despite the scrutiny, Bennett eventually realized that she did the same thing whenever making a large purchase, whether it was a couch, a car or a house. “If you’re buying something used — and let’s face it, unless it was just built, a house is used — you’re going to give it a thorough inspection,” she says. “I think that a messy garage or a stained driveway gives off the wrong message. It makes people think you’re not really fond of your house in the first place, so why would they like it?”

Bennett says the selling process is all about making a connection with potential buyers. “It’s a major commitment. And if you’re selling your house, especially on your own, you want to make sure you make anyone who walks in feel like they’d be buying a house from someone who really loves that house, not someone who decided to put it on the market it so they could get rid of it,” she says.

That’s why Bennett decided to give her house a thorough cleaning inside and out. “I just went through it like I was possessed,” says Bennett. “I dusted top shelves I hadn’t touched in years. I cleaned out the bottom of cabinets, and my husband power-washed our garage floor and our driveway.”

And the results? “I think it made a tremendous difference,” says Bennett. “The house looked like it was sparkling from the inside. It smelled wonderful.”

Once the major house cleaning was finished, Bennett says it was easy to keep her home ready for a showing because she and her husband spent most of their time outside or on their lanai. “Once you do all the heavy lifting, it’s easy to go back and do a few things here and there,” Bennett says. “The hard part was getting it super clean. Once I did that, I felt like it was manageable. And I felt like it was a house I was proud of. And that’s what helped us eventually sell it — people saw how much pride we took in our home. That’s a powerful selling point.”

According to Bennett, it’s all about showing others how much affection you have for your house in the first place. “How clean your house is can be a pretty good indication of how much you care for it,” she says. “And you take care of the things you love.”

Staging what you can’t see can also influence a buyer’s first impression. Buyers sniff out attempts to cover smells with scented candles and wonder if you’re trying to disguise problems more ominous than just a slow-draining sink. When it’s time to tackle those spring cleaning projects you’ve been avoiding, consider using all-natural cleaning products when you prepare your home for a showing. Green cleaning solutions are a good alternative to overpowering smells of bleach and harsh cleansers.

We want to know: What are your best extreme cleaning tips?