If you are getting your home ready to sell, part of your "homework" should be to check what's current in your local online real estate listings.

This kind of research is crucial because once you see how homes like yours look and what the asking prices are, you'll have a good idea what your competition will be.

Don't compare your property to the ones that show poorly. Compare yours to the ones that show well, and then do what's smart to meet or beat them.

If you're like me, looking at online photos or at open houses, you'll begin to see some common mistakes made by poorly motivated (or else naive) home sellers.

These are the three that stand out for me, mistakes I don't want you to make!

Old style kitchen

The kitchen is to many buyers the most important room of the house. Because so much goes on in the typical kitchen, a lovable one can be a major selling feature.

And an unlovable kitchen can be a dealbreaker. How does yours look? How does it function? Does it show off some updates?

You don't need a full renovation to keep your kitchen market-ready. Good kitchen cabinets can last up to 50 years. If your cabinets are well-maintained and sturdy, consider giving them an update with a coat of paint and new hardware. My vote goes to white cabinets, either bright white, or a softer white, depending on what other fixed features are in the room. Work with the undertones in your flooring, counters and backsplash to choose a good white.

All white kitchens are still popular. Don't be afraid your white kitchen will look too sterile. You can add warmth and color with props like cutting boards, plants, fruit, cookware, or dishes.

If your kitchen floor is dated or shows signs of wear, get estimates on replacing the flooring. Depending on what type of flooring you choose and the size of the room, you may be surprised at what a quick and economical fix it can be.

If your kitchen is large enough to accommodate one, add an island, one that is not fixed to the floor, but one you can take with you like a commercial-grade, stainless work table, or a farmhouse-style vintage table.

A jazzy new faucet and sink are sure to impress buyers. Shop around for the best bargains. Or work with a local plumber who can give you suggestions for saving money.

White is always in style, in dining rooms,
kitchens, baths...everywhere.
It's easy to warm up these spaces with wood tones
and the right accessories. Even though
this dining room has a wall of windows,
a light over the table centers
the room and adds another layer of light. 

Dark rooms

A well-lit home is a brighter, more spacious home. Sometimes just changing light bulbs to LEDs isn't enough. You don't have to purchase high-end lighting fixtures to make a room look big and bright. Shop online or at a Habitat ReStore for modern, economical fixtures that add plenty of illumination and style.

If you've rearranged furniture and the ceiling fixture isn't in an appropriate place anymore, it's possible you can easily swag it to a new location. You can find tutorials online for swagging or wiring a ceiling fixture yourself. Just follow instructions carefully. Take your time, watch where you step, and use a wooden or resin ladder that does not conduct electricity. You never see an electrician with an aluminum ladder!

Most rooms need some accent lights and task lights in addition to general ambient lighting.  I like floor lamps because they look important, illuminate well, and don't eat up tabletop space. For your table lamps and floor lamps, avoid lampshades that obscure too much light. White, drum-shaped lampshades are in style now and they allow plenty of light to shine through and above and below them.

Don't list your house until you've made it as light and bright as you can. Pull back those curtains or use sheers. Make sure your Realtor knows where important light switches and lamps are located, and label them if it's not clear. Put some of your lights on timers or smart devices.

Your bath may not be huge or glamorous, 
but the right staging can help it 
look that way! Photo: Betsy Brown 

Nothing unique

I hope you have one element of your home that sets it apart from all the other homes in your price range. If it's something you're proud of, make sure buyers see it!

Your unique feature could be the one thing they remember about your home after viewing five other properties that day. They will want to return for another look.

What you see as special about your home might not appeal to every buyer, but those who appreciate it will be willing to pay for a beneficial and unique characteristic. Again, go through those online pictures of your competition to discover what you have that the others do not.

Maybe you have an extra-large backyard. If so, show it off with landscaping or even adding a major element like an herb garden, a seating area around a fire pit, a patio with a grill, an enclosed hot tub, or a tennis court. These are the kind of improvements that make a home above average in buyers' minds.

Maybe you have a beautiful fireplace. Make it the focal point of the room. If your master bathroom is what you love most about your home, keep it pristine and gorgeously staged like a spa. If the garage is a selling point, don't use it for storage, but organize it, clean it, and stage it to make people jealous.

Don't have photos of your house taken until you have at least one special feature that will make online house hunters want to schedule a viewing.

A fireplace is always an asset, so make yours the
star of the show by clustering furniture
 around it. Artwork above and a simple
mantel staging make this beautiful
Sarah Richardson's living room fireplace-focused.

Your home inspection 

While you prep your home for sale, remember that whoever makes an offer on your property will likely be paying for a home inspection. You won't have any secrets. That mold in the basement? He will write it up. That window that doesn't close? He'll notice. That bathtub that drains slowly? Yup, that goes into his report, too.

Buyers will either want these problems fixed, or they will want a discount. You can speed up the sale of your home and save yourself some money by taking care of any neglected maintenance issues before you even talk to Realtors. The discounts buyers ask for will probably exceed what your repair costs will be.

So, make those roof repairs. Check stairways and railings, both inside and out, so there is nothing that could cause someone to fall. Have your HVAC system and plumbing system checked. I recently read that a trillion gallons of water, worth $6 billion, are wasted each year as the result of running toilets, dripping faucets, or other leaks. If a buyer sees that your home has damaged fixtures or obsolete systems, they may put an offer on a home they like as much but that needs fewer repairs. People want move-in ready!

Get the look, get the book

You can avoid these mistakes and others common to home sellers if you download my home staging eBook. I'll walk you through all the smart steps you need to get your home market-ready so you can get the price you like, and quickly. Staged homes sell faster and for more money than unstaged homes. Maximize your investment when you sell. It's easy when I show you how.