The holidays are over, and you can now catch your breath.

Browning needles from the Christmas tree can still be found in the living room. The bright red leaves of once-brilliant poinsettias have long ago curled up and dropped to the floor. Boxes of holiday trimmings wait to be stored in the attic for the next 11 months.

It’s the middle of winter. There’s a little more daylight each day since the winter solstice, though you probably don’t sense it yet. Spring is still a couple of months away, and the promise of a vaccine available for everyone against the coronavirus looms large in the new year.

So it’s January, and you are thinking about putting your house on the market when warmer weather arrives or when you feel safe enough to allow people back inside your COVID-19 fortress. 

What can you do in the middle of winter to get your house in order for the traditional spring home-buying season or a post-pandemic listing?

Accentuate curb appeal, declutter the house and invest in an updated kitchen.

Those are three of the main things homeowners can do to get their house ready to sell, according to Owen Tyler, the immediate past president of the South Carolina Realtors Association and the managing broker and partner of Charleston residential real estate firm The Cassina Group.

“One of the big things is getting your exterior cleaned up,” he said. “Now more than ever it’s first impression when people drive by a house. You want to make sure you don’t get passed over. They want to see something pretty and clean.”

That includes a new coat of paint, pressure washing the house and replacing any rotten wood around windows, doors or anywhere on the house.

But don’t wait until warmer weather to call a repairman.

“All of the home repair contractors are so busy that you have to start scheduling them now,” Tyler said. “If you want someone in February, schedule them in January.”

Clean, clean, clean

On the interior, clean the house, get rid of any smells such as cigarette smoke or pet odors and stage the house with less furniture to make rooms look larger.

“What we are seeing is that buyers are looking for Instagram-worthy stuff,” Tyler said. “They want to see stone countertops, such as granite or marble. Get your Realtor over there to look at your countertops. If you don’t have a Realtor, you can go online and make sure the kitchen is comparable to other houses around your price range.”

Bathrooms are important, Tyler said, but the kitchen is No. 1. 

“It’s the central place where everybody comes together,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 place to be updated.”

To stage the house, in addition to putting some furniture in storage to declutter the rooms, Tyler said hanging window treatments higher will make a room look bigger.

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“So many people put a house on the market and don’t clean it,” Tyler said. “A house needs a deep cleaning.”

Baseboards and windows are often overlooked. If they are dirty, you might lose a potential buyer.

“If there is an odor and a Realtor points out the deficiency, don’t get your feelings hurt. Fix it,” Tyler said. “Sometimes there’s a dog or cat odor and you don’t realize it because you are used to it. Additionally, if you are a smoker — and not many people smoke nowadays — it’s a huge turn-off. Get an ionizer machine.”

Hired help

A professional real estate agent is also highly recommended.

You might save some cash by plopping down a “For Sale By Owner” sign in the front yard since you don’t have to pay an agent’s fee, but real estate agents know the ins and outs of what sells and what doesn’t. To avoid a disaster, get an expert to steer you through the process and tell you what needs to be done, according to

And don’t select the first one who sends you a flyer through the mail seeking your business. Do some research. You want someone with whom you feel comfortable. Check out a few of them, and select the one you believe will help you get top dollar for your house.

In addition to curb appeal and decluttering, also suggests removing personal items and family photos so the prospective buyers can visualize their own living spaces.

Also, if your walls are bold colors, repaint them in neutral tones so they won’t turn off buyers. Scuff marks on walls should be painted over, and baseboards should sparkle.

“When buyers walk into an open house, or go on a home tour, they want to fall in love with the house, not add a bunch of small repairs to their to-do list,” according to

Fix loose handles, replace burned-out light bulbs and add some plants where the hulking piece of furniture was removed to make the room look bigger. 

On the kitchen counter, a bouquet of flowers or a bowl of fruit are inviting and add color (read: life) to a room.

Lastly, recommends that valuables be hidden, locked up or stored offsite. That includes art and jewelry.

“You can’t trust everyone who comes into your house, even when you’re trying to sell it,” said. “Sometimes things disappear during an open house, and there’s little the seller can do to get those things back.”

Preparation is the key to selling your home. Without some effort and a little elbow grease, you might be sitting on your house longer or you might even have to settle for less money if a lot of repairs are needed.

And if you are still finding needles from your Christmas tree in the spring, a more thorough cleaning might be needed.

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