When we think about mistakes that lower home value, we mostly consider the obvious ones: painting the exterior a wild color, ignoring a leaky roof, even having neighbors that are noisy or allow their yards to deteriorate. While most would-be sellers know they’ve got to address such things to get top dollar offers, many don’t think about the cleaning mistakes that lower home value.
Unless you’re living in your “forever home” there will come a time when you’ll put your house on the market. Take it from a retired military wife who has survived several moves: you’re going to be so busy reducing clutter and preparing for your move that you won’t have the time, energy or money to deal with all of the things that can lower your home’s value.
If you’re lucky enough to list your home in a seller’s market you can pretty much expect a great offer on your home “as is,” but it’s impossible to predict when those happen or how long they’ll last. To save yourself the aggravation, assume you’ll be listing in a buyer’s market, which means your home needs to be in excellent condition inside and out to attract the highest offers.
Cleaning Mistakes That Lower Home Value
When it comes to cleaning mistakes that lower home value, it’s never too early to address these things. Ideally, you’d start as soon as you buy a house, but if you’ve been living in your home for a while, it’s a smart idea to adapt your housekeeping routine now to keep things from getting worse.
1. Not cleaning floors often enough
Problem: Roughly 80% of the stuff you vacuum from your floors consists of dirt or other things tracked in from outside. These substances become embedded in the fibers and padding of your carpet. Regular vacuuming and carpet shampooing every six months prevents dark tracks in high-traffic areas, so you won’t have to replace your flooring or offer a carpeting allowance to potential buyers.
Think you’re safe because you have hardwood or laminate floors? Think again! Dirt and dust are abrasive so they cause fine scratches in the surface of your hard flooring. Over time this leads to a dull, constantly dirty look.
Solution: Learn how to properly vacuum carpeting and give yours a thorough once-over every week. IF you have hard flooring, either vacuum or thoroughly damp mop it weekly. For both types of flooring, add additional cleanings of high-traffic areas based on the number of people and pets living in your home. For instance, a three-person household with one cat needs one thorough weekly cleaning and four high-traffic area cleanings each week.
2. Ignoring carpet stains.
Problem: Time, heat, and constantly walking on carpets stains can cause them to “set,” which means they become chemically bonded to carpet fibers and can’t be removed without damaging the carpet itself. Sure, you can give a “carpet allowance” and reduce your profit, but a very badly stained carpet may be such a sales distraction that would-be buyers don’t make an offer at all.
Solution: Treat spills as soon as they happen and you’ll often avoid a stain altogether. Then, at least once a month, inspect your carpet in every room and deal with any stains you find.
3. Not polishing your front door hardware.
Problem: Curb appeal starts at your front door. Nothing says “nice place” to potential buyers like the brilliant gleam of a polished brass door knocker, handle, and kickplate. If ignored by the homeowner, though, brass fixtures will corrode and can become permanently damaged.
Solution: Keep door hardware in good shape by regularly dislodging dirt and grime with a toothbrush or the dust attachment on your vacuum cleaner. (Use mineral spirits, known as white spirits in the UK, and a toothbrush to remove stubborn grease.) Once a week, wash your door fixtures with soapy water then rinse well to remove any residue.
4. Letting grout get greasy or discolored.
Problem: No one enjoys cleaning grout. Unfortunately, it’s very porous so ignoring it can lead to permanent discoloration. In the kitchen, every time you fry or sautee food it sends grease into the air that eventually settles onto your flooring. In the bathroom, improper ventilation leads to mold and mildew growth on grout.
Solution: Using a splatter screen when you’re cooking helps reduce grease splatters. Running bathroom fans for 10 minutes after every shower keeps humidity from causing mold and mildew. Using a homemade daily shower spray also helps. Even if your weekly cleaning routine addresses these areas, get in the habit of scrubbing grout every month or so to remove discoloration.
5. Not cleaning appliances regularly.
Problem: Buyers are already shelling out considerable money when purchasing a home; they don’t want to have to buy new appliances, too. Allowing your ceramic cooktop to get stained, ignoring the baked-on food coating your oven’s heating element, or allowing grease to build up on appliance fronts will all turn off potential buyers.
Also, since many buyers now ask to see utility bills (and in some states sellers are legally required to provide them), letting dust and pet hair accumulate on your refrigerator coils sends your energy expenses soaring, something that can scare away frugal home shoppers.
Solution: Establish a weekly kitchen cleaning routine to keep grime from building up on your appliance fronts. Then, every six months, engage in a deep kitchen spring cleaning routine that includes a thorough cleansing of appliances.
6. Using the wrong cleaners on hard surfaces.
Problem: Marble, granite, quartz and other stone surfaces are gorgeous to look at and can significantly increase the value of your home — unless you damage them by using the wrong cleaning products. While many of us are making the switch to homemade cleaning products, using a vinegar-based cleaner on natural stone can destroy the shine and cause pitting.
Don’t have stone surfaces? Homemade cleaning products can still cause damage if you aren’t precise about measuring the ingredients. Being heavy-handed with vinegar or lemon juice, for instance, will eventually harm faucets and other metals. Using too much soap leaves behind a sticky residue that attracts dirt and, since dirt is abrasive, can ruin the finish of acrylic tubs, laminate counters, and other surfaces.
Solution: Read the labels of commercial cleaning products closely to ensure they’re safe for your intended use. If using homemade cleaning products, follow the directions exactly and only use cleaning recipes from trusted sources.
7. Not cleaning your HVAC system seasonally.
Problem: Remember what I said about potential buyers asking to see utility bills, and how sellers in some states are legally required to provide them up front? Neglecting your home’s HVAC can send those bills soaring, scaring away buyers who cringe at the thought of costly monthly heating and cooling bills.
Solution: Keep your HVAC in good working condition with regular maintenance. Dirty filters make your unit run harder and longer, so change the air filter at least every three months, and monthly if you have pets. Don’t block cold-air returns or floor registers with furniture, and keep your ducts free of mold and dust buildup. Also, twice a year give your outside unit a good cleaning to keep the vents free of dirt and other debris.
8. Not maintaining proper home humidity.
Problem: The proper indoor humidity is 40-50%. Higher humidity leads to mold and mildew, and not just in the bathroom! Too much indoor humidity leads to condensation on windows that damage their frames and sills, swollen doors that don’t open easily, wood rot, and even mildew in your carpet. Too little humidity causes interior paint to crack and flake, hardwood floors to dry out and crack, the wallpaper will start peeling, and gaps will develop between walls and trim. (You’ll also get more sore throats, coughs, and other illnesses.)
Solution: Get an inexpensive hygrometer so you can monitor your home’s humidity levels year-round. If you have a whole house humidifier, change the filter at least annually — though twice each winter is ideal. Use a freestanding humidifier to add moisture to your indoor air in the winter if necessary. In the summer, when there’s abundant humidity in the air, keep within ideal levels by running bathroom fans for 15 minutes after every shower and using your kitchen exhaust fan when boiling or simmering food. If needed, use a freestanding dehumidifier in rooms with the worst humidity problems.
9. Ignoring signs of pests.
Problem: Bugs and rodents prefer being indoors. Most people don’t like living with them. Some insects, like ants, try sneaking into your house only certain times of the year, usually when the ground is too damp for them to live comfortably. It’s easy enough to time the sale of your home around such incursions, but other infestations never go away. If you’ve noticed cockroaches, silverfish, or rodents, chances are a home inspector will find evidence of them even if you manage to clean up their traces before potential buyers visit your home.
Solution: You can certainly hire a professional pest exterminator to eliminate infestations, but if your home is full of boxes, exposed food, clutter, and other attractants the nuisances will just return. Make a habit of emptying your kitchen trash can nightly and don’t allow piles of newspapers or boxes to build up. Store dry goods in airtight containers, even in your pantry, and never leave food sitting out on your counter. Also, be sure to keep caulk around windows and doors in good condition and seal up any gap in your exterior walls.
Being Proactive Pays Off
Even if you have no plans to move, you never know what may cause that to change. A great job offer elsewhere, an ailing family member you want to live closer to, reduced income, or having horrible neighbors move in next door are just some of the things that cause people to move when they didn’t expect to.
Once relocation becomes inevitable, you’re going to have your hands full looking for your future home, packing your belongings, and preparing for a move. Your finances will be dedicated to making a down payment on your next place and paying a moving company or renting a truck. All of those burdens are reasons why moving is one of life’s 5 most stressful events.
With that emotional and financial pressure, you don’t want to add the hassle and cost of addressing cleaning mistakes that lower home value. You want to attract eager buyers ready to offer top dollar so you can recoup what you paid for your home and make a tidy profit, too. The best way to accomplish that is by incorporating the nine solutions above to keep your home in good order. As a bonus, you’ll find it’s more pleasant to live in, too.