We just sold our fifth house in 25 years of marriage. We have sold in hot markets and slow markets across four different states and various sizes of homes. Working with various agents, we have discovered five steps to prepare a house for sale.

Step One: depersonalize, de-clutter and organize

This can be difficult for some people - they like their stuff. Their personal belongings are what make their house their home. And therein lies the problem. As Laura Brannen, a real estate agent from Jacksonville, FL says, "People need to be able to visualize their own belongings there." So it is important to remove all personal photographs, diplomas and even overtly religious items.

This can be difficult for children as they do not like to see their toys boxed up and packed away. Have each child select a couple of must-have items to keep out. Make sure they understand the need to pick these up as soon as they are done using them.

De-clutter means to remove items in closets, cabinets and even furniture that may make a room look smaller. Sheri Alo, a real estate agent from Raleigh, NC suggests renting a storage unit. "If you don't use it monthly, then store it," she says. I went through closets and cabinets and boxed up any items that were not necessary for everyday living. These, along with some extra furniture pieces that we did not need, were placed in a storage unit. My husband even emptied the garage of all but the most needed items. We also gave quite a bit to thrift shops. No need to move items you don't need or use.

Once you have eliminated extra items then set about organizing your closets and cabinets. As Sheri Alo says, "Buyers do look everywhere!" Make sure linens are folded and stacked neatly, clothing is hung orderly, and everything has its place. The goal is to make your home look as if it has lots of storage and lots of room.

Step Two: light and bright

Make sure all light fixtures have working bulbs at the highest wattage allowed. Be sure your blinds and window coverings are all working so you can open them when showing the house. Check your paint and carpet. If you have vibrant or dark colors, think about painting the walls a more neutral color. Sheri says "Some buyers can't see past what's currently on the walls or may not want to paint right away." Also, if carpet is worn out you may want to replace it. But, again, keep it neutral and not too light. White or off-white carpet always makes me wary as a buyer - too hard to keep clean.

Children can always make it difficult to keep paint and carpets clean. Establish a "no shoes in the house" rule during your home-selling time. Find a basket to set by the door most used and have them place their shoes in it as soon as they come home. Our son always seems to have a pound of sand in his shoes after a day at school. He soon learned he needed to take them off outside and dump the sand out before he came in.

Step Three: clean and fresh

Take the time to really scrub your house top to bottom. Clean the carpets, drapes and window treatments. Wash windows, baseboards and scour your kitchen and bathrooms. Once you have gotten it clean, establish a simple routine, for each morning, to ensure it stays that way. Have your family help. We had each child be sure their beds were made, rooms picked up, and bathroom sinks wiped down each morning.

Also be sure your home smells fresh. Claudia Crocker, a professional stager from Raleigh, NC suggests you place wet towels each morning in the dryer and run it. That way there is no musty, wet towel smell in the bathrooms.

Laura says to be sure the air conditioning filter is clean. This also helps eliminate odors. Avoid cooking items that have strong odors - you may love the smell of grilled onions, but for most buyers, that will be a turn off. Also if you have a pet, be sure their bedding is clean and odor free, as well. However you choose to deodorize make sure the new smells are not overwhelming - your goal is a fresh, clean smell.

Step Four: Curb Appeal

The first impression buyers will have is from the curb when they first drive up. Be sure you trim trees and bushes and mow and trim the lawn. Sheri suggests planting some seasonal flowers in the beds to make it inviting or even add some potted flowers on the front porch. Laura says adding fresh mulch to the beds adds a fresh look to the yard. This can be a family project - what child does not enjoy the chance to dig in the dirt to plant or to move mulch around?

Sheri also suggests "sprucing up the mailbox and post, check that the doorbell works properly and have an attractive mat at the doorstep." This helps give that welcoming first impression.

Step Five: Second Opinions

Before you put your house on the market, have someone whose opinion you value and trust, walk through your home. This can be a trusted, honest friend (not someone who is going to say something nice just to please you), your real estate agent or a professional stager.

We had a stager come through who had simple suggestions of removing a few items, to more complex ideas of rearranging the furniture. What you want is someone with fresh eyes who can view your home as a buyer would with no emotional attachment.

Selling a home can be a traumatic and stressful event in your life. But by following these five steps you can get your house in tip-top selling condition.

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