REAL ESTATE

Last-Minute Visitors? Clean Your Home in 5 Minutes (or Less)

cleaning-bottles

cleaning-bottles  (Peter Dazeley)

It's the call every home seller loves to hate: Your listing agent phones to say she's got a hot prospect in her office, and wants to know if she can bring them by right now. Of course you shouldn't refuse, but your dog just barfed in the kitchen, your husband's golf clubs are littering the entryway, and, all in all, your home looks like hell. This is hardly the first impression you want to give buyers, right?

While you may not have time to clean your home from roof to basement, there are some easy ways to fake a polished abode in record time. Try a few of these tactics to whip your home into showing shape by the time the buyers pull up in front of your home.

Clear counters

The kitchen is key, says Heather Walker, a professional organizer and founder of Functional Spaces Organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Remove everything from the countertops except for the appliances and maybe a fruit bowl," she advises.

A side benefit of this activity? Your bare countertops will appear bigger. This is critical for potential buyers -- who may want to imagine baking cookies in your (now very organized) kitchen with their kids. Keep a basket handy and swipe everything into it -- bills, catalogs, kids' art projects, and pesky permission slips. Done!

Let in the light

There's a reason phrases such as "lots of light," "sun-drenched," and "huge windows" pepper listings: Dimly lit homes feel small, dirty, and depressing. So, take 10 seconds to maximize light by opening drapes and shades wide, which not only lets in the sunshine, but also shows off your lawn, trees, and/or flowers. (No view? You may want to think about getting a second layer of sheer curtains.) If it's dark out, do the next best thing: Turn on every single light in your home.

"Everyone wants to walk into a house that's well-lit, so if you don't have natural light, pull out a couple of lamps from the closet and plug them in," suggests Walker.

Stash stuff under the bed

Many home sellers make the mistake of stashing things they want to quickly hide in their closet. Bad idea: Any home buyers worth their salt are going to check out your closets, and the more you store in there, the more cramped they will look. So what's a better alternative? Under your bed. Few will stoop so low as to check under this furniture, so feel free to quickly stash clutter here.

"Buyers seldom look under the bed, especially with the use of a bed skirt," says Patricia Loria, principal interior designer of the Loria Design Group in Northport, NY. Under-bed storage is key for a quick cleanup in the bedrooms, especially in children's rooms (think toys, picture books, clothes).

Purge pets

"We all love our pets, but people have very different tolerances," Loria says.

You can't exactly drive the cat to the kennel every time you get one of these be-there-in-five-minutes calls, but you can eliminate most signs of your pet. For starters, scrape out stinky wet food from your pet's bowl, toss toys in a basket or drawer, and stash the pet bed in a closet (or under the bed!). Don't bother dragging out your heavy vac; instead, grab the hand-held version and suck up dry kibble as well as tufts of hair on the kitchen floor and couch cushions.

Check the bath

You don't have time to reglaze the tub or scour grout (but definitely do these at another time). What you should do is make a fast pass over the faucet and sink with a sponge and disinfectant and swab the toilet with a squirt of cleaner.

A dirty bathroom will send a buyer running in the other direction. Let's be honest: No one wants to visualize a stranger going through their hygiene routine, let alone witness any evidence.

Straighten up

There's something to be said for right angles, so create them in your wake as you zip through the living and dining rooms. Push chairs in, stack magazines carefully, and fluff up throw pillows. Spritz a bit of furniture polish on a rag and run it over any wooden furniture surfaces.

Depersonalize

What's the harm in having a few family photos up, or artwork from your kids on the fridge? Such personal touches make it clear to home buyers that this home is yours, not (potentially) theirs.

"Prospective home buyers need to envision themselves in the space, but this can be difficult to do if the home is unkempt or too personalized by the current owner," Loria says. So take a moment to stash these items in a drawer.

Banish bad smells

No matter how great your home looks, it will all be for naught if your home has some kind of smell, whether that's a whiff of dog or the lingering odors of lunch. So whether or not you suspect your home is haunted by a slight funk -- it's hard to tell if you're already in it -- play it safe and open all the windows, turn on the vents, and light a scented candle. Or at the very least, splash some cleaning fluid in the sinks for that just-cleaned smell.

Get out

There's one last thing you need to clear from the premises: yourself! Much as you may think it's helpful to hang around to answer questions or explain the great features of your home, now is the time to let it speak for itself.

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