"Really be hard on yourself." 
That's the advice given by Alice T. Chan, a professional stager in San Francisco, when asked what a home seller can do to get a home looking great for its upcoming listing.

She says that most buyers are "so strapped after they purchase a property that they literally just want to move in and live." 

"Even if they want to make upgrades later on, they want to feel like they're getting the best value possible when they buy. So give it to them," is what she tells sellers.

I could not agree more. The only way to guarantee you're getting the maximum amount for your home is to prep it to satisfy buyers before you list it. 

Along those lines, here are some reminders of what buyers expect.

But there are a few commonly overlooked steps that home sellers can take to make sure buyers respond favorably, and give themselves an edge over competing houses. None of these steps cost much money. Some are free. All are smart.
Take advice from Alice T. Chan about home staging. 

1.One bugaboo

You can ruin a budding relationship with a potential buyer if you invite her into your home for a look, only to have a mouse run across the floor when you flick on the garage lights. Or have a trail of ants making their way across your kitchen sink. Even one belly-up cockroach will send some home shoppers running for the door.

Insect problems can be a deal-breaker. Best bet is to address them before you even think about listing your home. The sooner you take action, the less damage there will be.

A roof is an important part of curb appeal. 
It needs to look in good condition.
A home inspection -- required by any financial institution granting a mortgage -- will reveal signs of infestation.

It usually doesn't cost to get a termite inspection or a pest evaluation from an exterminator.

If you have severe termite damage you can expect to spend at least $3,000 for repairs, but at least you can tell your Realtor that the problem is solved.

2. Over your head

Have your roof inspected. Ideally, your roof should be checked at least once or twice or year. If you're planning on listing your home, you should have your roof looked at by a professional. It's another assurance you can give your Realtor that one of the major infrastructures is sound.

Experienced buyers always look at the roof. They're eyeing it for loose shingles, dips, bumps, poor drainage, mold, and signs of other problems. If they see any minor roofing issues, they won't feel comfortable placing a generous offer on your home. If they make an offer, they could ask for a reduction in price to cover roof repairs or re-roofing. Trust me, they will ask for more than it would take you to fix the problem.

3. The air you breathe

The HVAC air that moves through your home moves through filters that trap particles like lint and dust and pollen and dander. Regularly replacing the return air filters will let your entire heating and cooling system function more efficiently, more economically.

A ductwork technician once told me that under normal circumstances expensive filters aren't important. The least expensive ones are just as good as the fancy ones as long as you change them regularly and don't have serious problems with things like smoke or odors or allergens.

No matter how pretty your bathroom is, 
it will not impress a home inspector if it doesn't
deal with water 
as it should. Photo: BHG

4. Water works

Another situation you may have become accustomed to but will not go unnoticed by a home inspector is minor plumbing issues. A toilet that does not automatically cut off the resupply but keeps running is a problem. So is a toilet that intermittently comes on to refill the tank. You may need a toilet repair kit, a minor cost, or just a new flap or float, even cheaper.

Do your sinks drain quickly or slowly? An inspector will check. He will run your dishwasher and washer through a cycle to detect insufficiencies. If sinks and tub or shower drain slowly, you can usually treat them yourself with Draino or Liquid Plumber. If repeated attempts don't fix the problem, it may be time for a plumber visit. Tell him you are preparing to list for sale and see what professional advice he can give you on specific issues he might notice.

Why stage your home 

There are plenty of benefits to staging your home before you list. Increasing the value of your home is the most outstanding benefit. Staged homes typically sell as much as 10% more than homes left as is.

A staged house will appeal to more people and make it stand out from similarly priced homes that are not staged. It's easier for buyers to imagine living in a staged home than an empty house or one filled with clutter or unappealing decor. Selling a staged home is likely to be less stressful for a seller because staged homes sell faster.

If you are selling any kind of home, you can get more tips on staging it in my eBooks. Download and start staging your own home today so you'll attract a serious buyer.