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When your house is listed on the market, dirty is not an option. Here’s how to keep it sparkling without bringing in a maid every time your agent calls — even when you have kids.

Cleaning and de-cluttering your house is a big job when you’re a parent. Kids have a way of collecting things (all of the things!) and leaving them in places you’ve designed as kid-free zones. This can make your house look and feel cluttered, small, and neglected. That’s not so bad when your house is “home,” but when your property is listed for sale, you have to look at it as an investment, and one that’s only going to make you money if it is in its best shape. Calling in a cleaning service, which usually costs between $150 and $350 depending on your home’s square footage, for a deep clean, is an option when money isn’t a concern. But when it is, you’ll have to get creative.

Don’t forget the windows!  Clean windows make a lot of difference.  Using a solution of white vinegar and water is the least expensive way to clean them.  If screens are damaged or worn out, replace them (many Ace, True-Value, and Do It Best hardware stores will replace the screening for a small charge) or remove the damaged screen altogether.

Start with a blank canvas

When you bought your house, you walked into each empty room and added your own pieces to make it bright, cheery, and comfortable. It’s time to go through this process again. Start by removing all but the essential pieces of furniture. In the living room, this will be the sofa and a chair or two. Make a plan for each room.  If you want help hire a “stager.” She or he will either advise you for a small fee or do it for you, which is fairly expensive. Rent a small storage unit for everything else. Don’t stick everything in the garage, because you’ll have to clean it out, too. 

Repeat the process throughout the house, and then get to work deep cleaning. Clean the carpets using a professional, since there is plenty that can go wrong with a rental carpet cleaning machine and these do not produce a good result. Check pricing and make sure to note what is included with your quote. CitruSolution Carpet Cleaning offers EXACTimates, so you know how much you will pay up front — there won’t be any hidden fees for heavy soil, multiple spots, or thick carpets. You will also need to scrub the walls, touch up the paint, and dust the baseboards, ceiling fans, and door frames. Don’t neglect the outdoor areas of your house, since curb appeal can make or break a buyer’s first impression. A few flowers (Annuals are inexpensive) and mulch in flower beds will make your home look good.  Build a deck box for the kids’ toys, and make sure they return items they’ve used at the end of each day.

Reduce the steps

You’re a busy parent, so you probably don’t have the time or energy to devote to deep cleaning every day. But with a few simple strategies and an investment in technology, you don’t have to. If you don’t own one already, get a robot vacuum. While they aren’t as efficient as a regular vacuum, the robot will vacuum every day.  These can be a bit pricey, but you’ll take it with you and, with proper care, it will last for years. Spend some time looking at your options; even the scaled-down models can handle most vacuuming tasks. Look for prices at big box stores, e-stores, coupons, and current sales before you buy.  You can probably shave at least a few dollars off your purchase.

Reduce the amount of time you spend dusting by replacing your HVAC filters. Most are less than $25 and will help clean the air. The mid-priced, not the cheapest or most expensive, is often the best value. notes that a dirty filter can also make your system less efficient, which will result in higher heating and cooling bills. Speaking of clean air, don’t use “air fresheners” because these cover up odor.  Use potpourri at your discretion. Deep cleaning will help remove most common household odors.

Moving on to the kitchen, you’ll see fingerprints on the fridge and dishwasher. These will be a distraction to buyers, so use a cleaner that will prevent them in the first place. You won’t waste time wiping them down daily. A quick (and cheap) mixture of vinegar and olive oil will do the trick. WD-40 and lemon-scented furniture polish also work well, and you likely have these products already. Finally, keep a stash of “magic erasers” handy at all times. These budget-friendly cleaning sponges are reusable, and they can tackle everything from cleaning the patio furniture to removing stains from tile grout.

You can’t afford for your house to be out of order when the “For Sale” sign sits in the front yard, but you don’t have to dip into your equity to keep things clean. These tips can get you started. If you still aren’t sure exactly what it means to be “show ready,” ask your Realtor for their expert advice.