10 things to banish from your open house

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | May 30, 2014

You never know for sure what's going to turn up at an open house. Don't leave catastrophes to chance if you've got old wiring or bad plumbing. Get your house up to snuff well ahead of time.

As for open house attendees, be prepared for anything and everyone -- looky-loos, nosy neighbors, moochers, snoops, and even some very picky home buyers. But the most important person you need to worry about is that one potential home buyer who could fall in love with your house, if only…

Here are 10 things you absolutely need to get rid of before you show your home:

  1. Poorly maintained exterior: Remove weeds and dead shrubs. A bald lawn, peeling paint, broken concrete, or an oil-stained driveway all give the message, whether right or wrong, that this is a home that has been neglected for a long time. Address these outdoor issues, or your potential home buyer may not even get as far as the front door.
  2. Odors: We often do not notice the lingering scent of cooked food, cigarette smoke, doggie odors, litter-box smell,s and even certain pungent foods wafting from the refrigerator in our own homes. The human olfactory sense can trigger a lot of reactions based on associations, and the first rule of home-selling is to create an environment where potential home buyers can imagine themselves and their own families living. Be sure to have a professional deep-cleaning and deodorizing done; steam clean the flooring, change the baking soda in the fridge, and remove pet bedding and litter boxes from the premises during home showings. Like the visuals, keep the smell of your house fresh and neutral.
  3. Pets: Most pet owners enjoy other peoples' pets, but contrary to what the Internet leads us to believe, not everyone is a pet owner or pet lover. Some have pets, but they may have distinct preferences. The mastiff owner, for example, may hate Chihuahuas and vice versa. Then there are also buyers with pet allergies and asthma or phobias about certain animals. It's best to keep your pets off the premises along with their paraphernalia when potential buyers come to call. Besides, you wouldn't want your boa getting loose by accident and causing a stir.
  4. Tacky, worn, or extreme décor: The Addams family had a shark trophy on their drawing room wall with a leg hanging from its mouth. Visitors failed to appreciate the family's unique tastes. If you suspect that your wall hangings are controversial, pack them up to take to your next home before showing your house. If upholstery or rugs are badly worn or torn up by pets, remove the worst offending piece(s) and rearrange what's left. Typically, the less furniture you have, the bigger your rooms will look. The same goes for area rugs -- they tend to chop up the space.
  5. Prescription drugs: These have been known to disappear from a homeowner's medicine cabinet during a busy open house. The Realtor may not be able to keep track of every visitor, especially when they are talking to a very interested potential home buyer. Lock up your medications.
  6. Bills and other identifying personal documents: Like the unfortunate situation with drugs, anything with your personal information can be taken, or just viewed in passing and later used to steal your identity. Lock files and shred whatever you don't need to keep. Turn off computers when showing the house.
  7. Valuables or firearms: Make certain that you remove anything that you don't want broken, stolen or remembered for a return pick up when no one is home. If you own firearms or other weapons, keep them well out of sight and locked up, not displayed over your fireplace mantle.
  8. Anything politically polarizing. If it's something that has stirred up controversy, it could upset potential buyers. Unless you are planning to sell only to someone who agrees with your strongly held beliefs, do not prominently display those viewpoints on refrigerator magnets, notes, reading materials, or photographs -- including personal or autographed photos -- while you're trying to sell your house.
  9. Clutter: Have a yard sale, post items on Craigslist and Facebook, or give stuff away to your favorite local charity, but make sure you purge the house of excess. Whatever you cannot bear to part with -- but that takes up too much space in your home -- put in a storage unit or pod. Just make sure it's out of the house before you hang out the "For Sale" sign.
  10. You! Homeowners and their family members or friends should never be present during an open house. Remember, the buyers need to visualize your home as their own. Leave the sales pitch to the Realtor.

If you're offended that something of yours could be upsetting to potential buyers, chances are those are exactly the things you need to take out of the house before the first house-hunter arrives on your doorstep. Remember, the person who falls in love with your house does not have to fall in love with you.