An open house is a huge opportunity for anyone hoping to sell — it’s a chance for you to present your home looking its very best to a wide pool of buyers who can walk through and decide whether it’s a fit. When you hold a successful open house, it’s not uncommon for the offers to come rushing in; buyers will hear and see each other enjoying the space, and their fear of missing out can push them to bid on your place.

But you can’t just throw open the doors of your home as-is and expect great results. Although your house is lovely and desirable just the way it is, you’ll have a much better experience if you prepare your house for the event and work to make it appealing to a wide range of possible buyers. So before you get ready to open your house up to the masses, make sure you’re following all of these steps — many of which will also make your sales process itself smoother and less stressful.

Remove all possible clutter

People living in homes tend to accumulate stuff. (That’s not a law of thermodynamics, but maybe it should be.) And it’s hard to make a room with a lot of stuff look crisp, clean, and inviting until you remove some of that stuff.

If you are ruthless with your decluttering on the first sweep, you’ll save yourself a lot of time down the road. It’s much easier to clean a mostly empty room than it is to clean a stuffed-to-the-gills room, so remove any “extra” furniture, box up your keepsakes and clear as much as you can off your bookcases and shelves.

Instead of stashing everything you’ve collected in a closet, consider asking a neighbor with a big garage if they’d be willing to help you out, or rent a storage unit where you can keep your things safe until you move them into your new home.

Deep clean

When was the last time you cleaned every nook and cranny of your home, top to bottom? For most people the answer is probably “never,” or “not since I moved in.” So before you throw open your doors to prospective buyers, scour everything until it’s sparkling clean and looks spanking new.

Pay extra attention to places and spots where you don’t normally clean. Scrub your baseboards, and wipe off switchplates and doors, which may have attracted some day-to-day smudges. Clean cobwebs out of every corner. Dust and polish any and all surfaces. And if your budget will stretch to accommodate it, consider hiring a cleaning professional or two to spend a full day getting your house in pristine shape.

Excise personal items

When you’re trying to make your house look welcoming to the widest array of possible buyers, it’s very easy to overlook the little things that could make them feel like they’re a visitor in your home instead of walking through their own. That could mean anything from the monogrammed pillow on your master bed to the deer head on the wall from your most successful hunting outing.

A good rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t see it decorating a hotel room, it probably doesn’t belong at your open house. Family photos, religious items, and political signs or figurines are all on the list of personal items that you should be putting away for display in your new home.

Set the scene

Some sellers hire a professional stager to provide furniture and decor that make the house look its very best. That’s not realistic for every homeowner, however; if it’s not in the cards for you, there’s still a lot you can do to emulate professional staging yourself and draw buyers into a cozy scene that you’ve set just for them.

Stagers usually like to leave only a handful of furniture items in each room, and are equally sparing with surface and wall decorations. Decluttering and cleaning can get you a long way toward staging, but spend some time anyway examining each room and deciding what will stay and what will go for the open house.

Clear your surfaces

We all know how nice a clean, clear coffee table makes your living room look — so apply that to every surface in your house. Nightstands, fireplace mantles, dresser tops, even your kitchen and bathroom counters should be cleared entirely.

Once they are clear, wipe them down, polish them up, then consider adding back a handful of items to make the space pop. Try to just work with singles or pairs of items: One vase of flowers on your coffee table, some place settings in the dining room, a single book with a candle on a nightstand, or one cookbook on the kitchen counter.

Look to your walls

We see our walls every day, but don’t always notice them. If there are chips in the paint, your wallpaper is peeling, or you need to patch up a dent, it’s a good idea to take care of all those things before any prospective buyers come strolling through. And it will also cut down on requested repairs, so it’s a win for all sides!

Dig out the ‘nice’ linens

If there are towels you save especially for guests, or a bedding set that you consider your best, it’s well worth digging them out of storage if they aren’t already on display. Fresh, fluffy towels and bathmats in the bathroom plus a soft, inviting comforter set in the bedroom will make buyers want to make themselves right at home, which is the whole idea. You might even want to consider investing in a new set of tea towels in the kitchen if yours are stained and tattered.

Hang mirrors

A strategically placed mirror can change the whole look of a room, brightening it up and making it feel larger than it really is. Clean and polish any mirrors in the bathrooms and bedrooms, and consider hanging more up to help give your house a space lift.

Spruce up sinks, showers, and toilets

Indoor plumbing is amazing, but it also comes with side effects like mildew and mold. Spend some time deep-cleaning your showers and tubs; you can throw shower curtains in the washing machine to remove soap scum, too.

Make sure all the drains are draining and toilets are flushing throughout the house (visitors just might check), and give your sinks and commode an extra scrub before you step out the door to ensure they are sparkling clean. Nothing to see here!

Fix leaky faucets

You might not even notice that dripping, leaky faucet because it’s such a normal part of your environment, but you’d better believe that buyers are going to see it and factor it into any offers they make. Tighten up your faucets so they’re drip-free before any buyers see them or turn the taps to test the water temperature.

Replace light bulbs

A house with lots of light is warmer and more inviting than a house where all the bulbs are blown. Do a room-by-room inventory and replace any bulbs that aren’t working. While you’re at it, if a light switch isn’t connected to a light, label it so that the people experiencing your home for the first time won’t wonder about your wiring.

Clear out closets

Storage space is important to buyers, and they’re going to want to know how much your home has so they can figure out whether their things will fit in your place. That means they are going to be opening coat closets, linen closets, kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, bedroom closets — the works. An overstuffed closet or cabinet is not only unattractive; it also makes it impossible to see how much space there really is. Remove and store anything you won’t need immediately from your closets, like out-of-season clothing, board games or toys, luggage, or whatever else is taking up your closet space. Tidy them up and then do your best to keep them that way before the open house.

Assess your curb appeal

Besides painting or power-washing the outside of your house, there’s a lot you can do to make it look like the prettiest house on the block. Flowers and a nice, green lawn always make a house look nice, but try to look beyond the basics in order to really maximize your home’s curb appeal. Does the fence need painting? Could that mailbox stand to be replaced? Are the house numbers rusting and illegible? It might even be a good idea to buy a fresh, new welcome mat to place by your front door the day of the open house.

Secure the pets

Pets are our family members, and although open houses are a lot of work for everybody, they can be downright traumatic for the fur children in the home. You’ll want to make arrangements for them during the open house itself, so don’t forget about it. Locking them in a room in the house is probably a bad plan (house-shoppers like to open doors, and you don’t want Spot escaping), so do your very best to find accommodations that will allow your visitors to wander freely and keep your pets out of the way entirely.

Lock up any valuables

It would be nice to be able to trust everyone, but the sad fact of the matter is that some people walk through open houses with an intent to steal from you. Make sure that any jewelry, expensive equipment, medication, and any other potentially eye-catching item is safely locked up and stored away from the house. If there are any family heirlooms that you’ve left out but that you’d be very sorry to lose, it’s usually a good idea to secure those, too.

Advertise, advertise, advertise

To get people in the door of your open house, you need to let them know where and when it’s happening! Your real estate agent likely has a plan for how to promote the open house, so ask them what it is. Ideally, it’ll include social media and local outreach, signage on the day of the open house, and other ways and means to let your potential buyers know that your house is on the market and they can peruse it to their heart’s desire at the open house.

Open your windows

Opening your curtains and blinds bathes your rooms in natural light, making them look brighter and even bigger. If the weather is appropriate, opening the windows themselves can bring another dimension to a buyer’s experience. They can hear the birds, feel cool air breeze through the house, smell the fresh-cut grass — but only if you open the windows. 

Provide informational fliers

Your agent can be an excellent resource for providing fliers that answer common buyer questions about the house itself and the neighborhood around it. Consider printing a stack to leave with general information about the home, like the year it was built, its materials, the square footage, property tax data, and any other information that your agent suggests. Adding more details about your favorite restaurant, the park within walking distance, or the local schools can also be a good way to give buyers a sense of what it’s like to live there.

Consider cookies

The power of cookies at an open house is twofold. First, if you bake them fresh in the house, you’re enticing the senses and boosting the lovability of the house just by infusing it with that unmistakable cookie smell. Second, you can leave a plate on the kitchen counter with a stack of napkins. Who wouldn’t love the house they’re viewing when they’re offered a cookie during the open house?

To minimize mess, consider buying the dough and popping the cookies on a disposal cookie sheet that you can whisk away with you when they’re done.

Vacate the premises

This can be the hardest part for some sellers, but it’s critical. Buyers do not want to look at a house while the owner is peering over their shoulder, even if it’s to helpfully point out a feature that they missed. And they definitely won’t give you honest answers about how much (or how little) they like it because, well, the seller is the one asking.

No matter how tempted you are, resist any temptations to stay and lurk during the open house. The pets had to go, and now so do you — maybe you can take the dog to the park for a few hours?

Listen to feedback

If you aren’t there in person to breathe down their necks, buyers will usually be very forthcoming about whether they liked the house or not. Often, it will be a reason you can’t control — not big enough for a growing family, perhaps. But sometimes there’s a nugget of truth in there that can be tough for sellers to swallow, so do your best to keep an open mind and understand the feedback that comes in. No seller wants to hear that their home is priced $20,000 above a comparable house two blocks away, but if you’re consistently hearing the same things from buyer after buyer, it’s possible you may need to make some adjustments to your sales strategy.

Open houses aren’t easy, but when done well, they’re a fantastic way to get lots of qualified buyers walking through your house. Make sure you don’t cut any corners, don’t hesitate to clear the premises … then wait for the offers to start arriving!