The Househunter: How To Sell Your House

cheyne walk the modern house
Cheyne Walk via The Modern House

We’re going househunting as usual this week everyone but as the house selling season kicks off in earnest in Spring I thought it might be helpful to share this feature I wrote for a newspaper a little while back on tips for helping you to sell.

Spring and Autumn are traditionally the key times to sell a property, when demand usually outstrips supply and prices are at their most buoyant. But things can still be tricky out there so what can you do to make sure that your property is the one that sells before the one next door?

cheyne walk the modern house 3
modern stainless steel kitchen via The Modern House


This might sound obvious but in the housing market you can’t afford to assume anything. You might think you know who your house is for but you need to check with the estate agent who they are planning to market it to. Are they selling it as a house that needs work (prepare yourself for that one) or as one that doesn’t have much potential to add value? Abigail Hall, who stages homes in the West Midlands and who is often called in when a desperate agent is recommending a significant price drop, says: “If you don’t have children but your property is near a good school then that is your target market. I have bought boxes of crayons and toys and left them in the corner of a flat to show that there was room for a playspace.

“It’s all about creating an image for the person who is expected to buy the house. Very often I dress a house in a way that’s completely different for the person who actually lives there but that will work for a potential buyer.

“A good estate agent will help you with this. Ask them why they have set the price and who they plan to contact about viewings. This will help you style your house accordingly.”

cheyne walk the modernhouse 2
open plan living via The Modern House


It’s no good having a viewing booked if the prospective buyer drives past without stopping because the outside is such a mess. Trudy Mclindon, of, who dresses houses in Manchester and Cheshire, says: “It’s very hard to correct an initial bad impression. If the house looks tatty on the outside it doesn’t matter how nice it is inside, it will be very hard to turn that round.

“Make sure the door is painted and the handles aren’t tarnished. Hide the bins behind screens – we all have so many of them these days. Perhaps a plant by the front door to make the place look cared for and well presented. All these little things will make a huge difference and crucially get the potential buyer through the door.”

cheyne walk the modern house 1
monochrome colours and natural textures


The hallway is obviously the first place they see so make sure it’s tidy and inviting. Halls are often dark and now that we all have to have eco bulbs which can take a while to warm up, you need to work even harder to brighten up this space.

Mclindon suggests a mirror to bounce any light around. “Make sure you ask the estate agent to put the lights on, or if you can, leave them on before you go out so the place is nice and bright when people walk in.”

Obviously it’s crucial to have enough coat and shoe storage not only to persuade the buyer that the house can cope with lots of people, but also for the sake of tidiness. Try not to overload the coat hooks, put the ones you don’t need everyday upstairs in a wardrobe.

diamond architects via the modern house 3
via the modern house


It tends to be the kitchen which sells the house as even the most reluctant diyer can cope with repainting a sitting room, which will look very different with their own furniture in it anyway. Likewise many people prefer to do up their own bathrooms as it’s such a personal space. Abigail Hall (Abigail Hall) says it’s the old cliche of the kitchen being the heart of the home. “You are selling a lifestyle. Nowadays with kitchen diners, buyers want to imagine themselves cooking at the stove with a glass of wine, while two beautifully behaved children sit at the table drawing.

“It’s an aspiration but it’s a very persuasive one and if your house presents that image then it will be desirable.”

Hall also recommends a really serious clear out. “The kitchen tends to be the most reflective of our personalities and you need to be really clinical about removing all that,” she says.

“Get rid of the piles of post and the kids’ drawings. You don’t need to have every kitchen gadget you’ve ever bought on the worktop and while you’re putting them in cupboards make sure you clean the inside as well as the outside – people will look.

“You can’t fake expensive appliances but clean ones that look new will impress. If the clutter is tidily arranged in cupboards, buyers will feel that the house has enough storage and be more likely to make an offer.”

Josie McDowell, who with her partner Suzanne Aldridge styles and stages houses for sale and rental in south-west London, says that labels do count.

“If you’ve got a good coffee maker then leave it on the worktop. Put the cheap bread bin in the cupboard and leave out the Dualit toaster. Very often people who are buying a house are stretching up to the next level and if they see familiar, or aspirational gadgets, they will be persuaded that the house is right for them.”

diamond architects via the modern house
converted loft apartment via The Modern House (£1.145m)


 “You would be amazed how few people tidy up before a viewing,” says Mclindon. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money dressing a house but please put the laundry away and do the washing up.

“In the bathroom make sure the towels are hung up and it doesn’t do any harm to have some nice posh soap rather than the supermarket budget one.”

Mclindon advises doing a really critical walk through your house before you even put it on the market.

“Ask yourself why you are moving and if it’s because the house is too small or doesn’t have enough storage then try and remedy that for the buyers.

“Often people have outgrown their houses and they have too much stuff so put some into storage and empty the space a bit.

“I had one client whose house had been on the market for 18 months with only one low offer. I told him everything that was wrong and he put it all right – little things like filling cracked plaster and decluttering – and he had an offer that was £85,000 higher than the previous offer within a week of doing all these small jobs.”

McDowell suggests buying new cushions which will be plump and suggest luxury. “If you don’t want to spend much money then see to the remedial work first – dripping taps, cracks and so on. Then do a little shopping. Replace flat tired cushions, make sure the bed linen is fresh and co-ordinated – you can take that with you to the new house. Perhaps a new beside lamp and in the bathroom put the toothbrushes and deodorant away. Everyone knows you have them but we don’t need to see.”

dimond architects via the modern house
diamond architects via The Modern House


After the kitchen and bathroom, the garden can also sell a house. It doesn’t matter if your buyers are the gardening type, everyone loves the idea of a lawn for the children to run around on and enough space for some al fresco dining. With that in mind make sure it’s all weeded and mowed and any dead plants have been removed. Spend some money on a few flowers – apparently yellow invokes the buying emotion so get some daffodils in.

“If you’ve got a good coffee maker then leave it on the worktop. Put the cheap bread bin in the cupboard and leave out the Dualit toaster. Very often people who are buying a house are stretching up to the next level and if they see familiar, or aspirational gadgets, they will be persuaded that the house is right for them.”

black staircase via the modern house
Schoolbell Mews via the modern house


House doctors are as one when it comes to the small jobs and although many of them would recommend spending between one and two per cent of the asking price on larger items such as painting and carpeting, there are plenty of little things you can do without spending that kind of money. McDowell’s mantra is light and space. “You need to do whatever you can to increase both of those,” she says. “If the curtains are heavy and blocking the light or view of a lovely garden then take them down. There’s a fine line between minimal and neutral and stark and bare so be careful not to remove everything but if it’s there make it count.”

Remember, the idea is that by investing a little time and perhaps some more money, you will achieve the price you want which makes it a worthwhile investment. And people are persuaded by fresh paint and the notion that the house has been well cared for. If the taps are dripping, they may well assume that the drainage is about to break down, which is an expensive job and they are more likely to buy another house in the same area which is better presented.

So as a final tip, check out the competition either on Rightmove or findaproperty and make sure you’re in the lead. Be honest with yourself though. Just because you don’t like their style doesn’t mean your house will sell faster or for more money.

parquet floor
This one bed flat in a converted school is on the market for £425,000


 The tidy up needs to include the front garden

Depersonalise the rooms so buyers can see themselves in the house

Fill in plaster cracks and clean bathroom grout

Pay attention to the finishing touches – clean towels, tidy cupboards, nice soap

Wipe over handles and light switches – anywhere that buyers might need to touch

Make sure each room has a purpose so take the desk out of the bedroom and make an office corner in the sitting room. If you have a large open plan space then zone the areas for relaxing, eating and working so that buyers can see how to live in the property

Ask a friend for a critical overview or the estate agent for an honest opinion.

If you have pets buy an air freshener

Don’t cook curry the night before a viewing

Tidy up again

pendant lamps
via the modern house

I hope this is useful. All the properties featured are currently on the market via The Modern House which is renowed for its beautiful houses and magazine style approach to photography

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Here in Sweden most places that go on the market are immaculate. We paid to have someone dress up our flat when we sold it and it looked so fantastic by the time they finished we really didn’t want to move. They changed furniture, paintings, knick knacks, rugs – bedding – you name it, they changed it. It did rather make me wonder why some of our things were just not up to scratch but we ended up getting a lot more than we expected for the flat so I just Went with it. so the problem is here that you have to try and look past the styling (I find this hard to to) when you plan to buy but you do not have to worry about mess. It amazes me that some British home owners are prepared to put their homes on tv in various programmes even though they are completely messy and cluttered!

  2. I am amazed by the listings where people didn’t make an effort to take decent pictures. Kitchen clutter. Laundry. Robots snaking at the bottom of swimming pools. The dreaded white plastic chair in inappropriate places (is there even an appropriate place?). The sites lovelylisting and uglyhousephotos collect them, if you’re in the mood for an aesthetically superior laugh. Lovelylisting (aka “It’s Lovely! I’ll Take It!”) calls the plastic chair “Chair,” in a “where’s Waldo” meme.

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