Help Your Messy Sellers Clean Their Ways

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Styled, Staged & Sold caught up with real estate pro Cheryl Kirby, co-creator of a new instructional staging DVD for real estate professionals — “Get Ready, Get Set, Get Sold!” — to talk about the simple things you can do to spruce up a property, and when you might need to intervene to stop a seller’s messy ways.

Cheryl Kirby

Cheryl Kirby

Why did you produce the video “Get Ready, Get Set, Get Sold”?

KIRBY: My associate-Cari Gililland-and I are both REALTORS®. We always go on home tours and put our listings on home tours too. We’d go through some of these homes and go “oh my gosh, they really think they can sell this home with all of this dirty stuff all over the place! Don’t they understand what they need to do to sell a home?”

We kept talking about producing a video for real estate professionals because some get really uncomfortable saying to their clients: “Your house is dirty, and you really need to clean it.” So we wanted to be able to offer them a tool to give to their clients to show them here’s what you need to do to compete in the market.

How bad of a condition have you seen properties in?

KIRBY: I’ve seen homes that smell so bad you can’t even walk in, the carpet is stained, and the walls need touch ups. The garbage is overflowing, there’s laundry scattered on the floor in the bedroom, pet hair all over, and junk all in the yard. You name it, I’ve seen it!

So what are some of these important things that sellers can do to get a home ready to sell?

KIRBY: Smell is huge. Smoke, cooking certain foods, and garbage overflowing can really make a home smell bad. The minute a buyer opens the door: The smell is there and can be a quick turn off.

Empty the garbage often. Don’t open the windows; the wind can carry in smells to the home.

If someone is a smoker, they need to first eliminate all smoking in the house, or even outside of the home when the doors are open. Get an ionizer, which is great for removing  smoke smells.

Also, remember that it might not be a good idea if someone might see your house tomorrow to cook lamb, broccoli, garlic or fish the night before. You won’t be able to get those smells out of the house in time before a showing. Also, make sure to take the garbage out often.

If you can’t make cookies every day to improve the smell of the home, then get a very subtle plug-in air freshener. Make sure to have it set to the lowest setting. The No. 1 scent is cinnamon; No. 2 is vanilla. Just don’t put them all over the house — it will be overpowering! If you have a two-story home, put one upstairs and one downstairs.


Real estate professionals also need to tell their clients to dust — clean the fans and dust the windows. Vacuum the furniture, not just the floors. Open the blinds on the windows, remove any pet dishes, and have the home set to a comfortable temperature.


A yard that is plain Jane with not a lot of wow can easily be spruced up with just two potted flowers, for example, in purple. The cost? Only $20 each. You can put it in the entry way. Get a new welcome doormat and make sure all the front doors are clean.  The minute buyers get out of the car is when they start looking and a pot of fresh flowers and a new welcome mat can go a long way.



How much of this really falls on the real estate professional’s responsibility though?

KIRBY: I kind of hold the real estate professional responsible too, as much as the seller. It’s the real estate professionals’ responsibility to advise their clients. And one part of the job if you want to sell for the best price and least amount of time is you need to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and ask what you can do to outshine competition and win a buyer?

We tell them in the video that there’s basically three reasons people buy a home: Location, price and condition.  We can’t do anything about location, and price is determined by market, but you can work with a real estate professional on the condition — that’s one thing you have control over. If the condition is good, you can sell at the higher end of the price bracket and sell faster.


Should you completely de-personalize the home?

KIRBY: You should not have it all lined with family photos, but at the same time, I’m not one of these that say you have to get rid of everything. A photo here and there makes it feel like a home. A family photo on an end table or entertainment center –one or two is totally OK. Even model homes, have family photos displayed. It warms up the home. But you probably wouldn’t want to have the entire hallway lined with family photos.

Make sure all the clutter is removed. Don’t have kids toys piled in the living room or on the floor. You don’t need to make it look like no one lives there but you want to make sure that it shows that the people who do live there, live neatly.

How about for vacant homes? How critical is it to stage a vacant home?

KIRBY: Staging doesn’t have to necessarily be bringing in furniture. It doesn’t have to cost you to get ready for a showing. You don’t need to go in and have designer paint colors all over.

Bringing in nice accessories, some photos, and a few pieces of greenery can make a huge difference. You would be amazed at how these simple touches can change personality of a house and liven up a cold, empty house.


Do you consider staging even more important now in a softening housing market?

KIRBY: Absolutely! A lot of people think staging is just rearranging furniture and bringing in a lot of pretty things and painting. But those things are not going to make up for the basics: cleaning and organizing.

There is such a need for sellers to understand what it will take to get a buyer. It’s not just sticking a “For Sale” sign out in the yard. If the home is disgusting, buyers will go find another home. No one wants to move into dirt.



For more information on Kirby and Gililland‘s 20-minute instructional staging video, visit Kirby and Gililland are real estate pros with Keller Williams Integrity First Realty in Mesa, Ariz.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Steve Chader

    I’ve seen the video and it’s excellent!. It’s great to have a third party professional help you educate your client what they should do to get their home sold quickly for the highest price.

  2. Ron Moore

    This video should be in every REALTOR’s tool box. The message is delivered professionally without making someone feel uncomfortable. The ability to re-order checklists allows you to re-use the CD over and over with the same impact as the first time use.

  3. Hola,
    Although I have not seen the video I think it is a great idea.
    We are in the process of cleaning up a property left empty, as the owners moved back to the US for health reasons.
    I enlisted the person who has their power of attorney for selling the house and she got the OK to up date the landscaping on a wonderful terraced property which will show the home off as it should be. This will be a big job but worth it, we believe.
    I also hired a cleaning company to scrub down the kitchen in every nook and cranny and the 3.5 baths. I had the curtains cleaned.
    When it is completed we plan to hold a twilight open house as the property will show well at that time because of yard lighting. We look forward to the response.

  4. Greetings from Greece! I have not seen the dvd either but I can definately confirm that
    it is an excellent idea. People underestimate the importance of condition and we often experience that with re sales even at the stage of taking photographs to promote a property. Helping the seller to “stage” a home can go a long way for its presentation and impact to potential buyers so it worths the trouble.

  5. Hello from Northeast Florida – Jacksonville! I have not seen the DVD, but I am researching it. It is an excellent idea to stage a home and the cookies work. I often arrive early and make cookies then serve them at an open house. It makes the whole house smell great!. As a REALTOR, it is important that we tell sellers not just the good, but the bad as well and offer them advice. If a home is bad enough and the seller will not make the adjustments, it is just not ethical to take the listing. Any agent can list a home, but not all can sell one.

  6. el

    Absolutely don’t put plug in scented air fresheners in the walls.
    Just bake cookies or use a ionizer etc to remove smells. Adding artifical scents to the air is disgusting and when I was buying a house that reeked of that air “freshener” or shall we say air toxin, I steered clear of those houses just as much as the stinky dog ones. Yuck!

  7. Amanda

    Melissa, I love this! This is great information to educate both realtors and clients! I was recently in a situation where I took on a listing, a colonial style house, beautiful on the outside, but not so much on the inside. Before I took pictures of the interior, I sent a check list to the clients, and also told them what should be done. Helped a little, didn’t really get the message? It’s tough because they are still living in the house, and I do not want to say the wrong thing, anything that will offend the client. But reading this has helped me a lot. I’ll have to watch the DVD now too!

    -Thank you!