Selling your home is stressful enough without having it languish on the market.
In the prime house-selling months of 2013, nearly half of all homes for sale sold in less than a month, according to the National Association of Realtors. Historically, the median time on the market is more than two months.
But if you ignore some basics about presentation, you could find your house remains unsold while similar homes are snapped up by eager buyers.
We consulted with real estate experts on easy, quick and frequently inexpensive ways you can make your home more attractive to house shoppers.
Many of these fixes require a bit of elbow grease. But if it makes the difference in how fast you can move on and move out, that shouldn’t be a huge deal.
Follow these 7 ways to dress up your home for a faster sale.
1. Put out a new welcome mat
Potential buyers linger the longest at the front entrance, focusing all of their attention here as their real estate agent retrieves the key from the lockbox.
"It needs to be spic and span," says Danny Frank, regional vice president for the Texas Association of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker United.
But too often, Frank says he finds doors with dingy, cracked paint; porch lights encrusted with dead bugs; and mats that have long worn out their welcome.
Not a great invitation to a could-be buyer.
"They’re going to immediately think that the rest of the house is dirty," he says. Or worse, use it as ammunition to tear the house apart and make a lower offer.
Besides cleaning and general maintenance, perhaps the most effective way to spruce up the front entrance is by repairing or replacing the front door itself.
And you’ll get most of your money back post-sale. Replacing your front door is the most valuable home improvement.
2. Clean up the clutter
We all accumulate "stuff," and when you’ve been in your home awhile, it starts to take over.
"You have to get rid of some of this stuff to make the home show better," says Jim Liptak, a Realtor with Patterson Realty in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Buyers have a hard time looking past clutter and seeing the actual house.
Plus, a clutter-free home will seem larger, and "you want to make your place look as big as you can," Liptak says.
It's time to think about a storage locker if you don't already have one.
Start by clearing counter tops. Put away small appliances like toasters; clear makeup and other personal items in the bathroom. Too much stuff out in plain view can register as a lack of storage space to a buyer breezing through.
Trinkets, knickknacks and personal collections should also be hidden from view.
3. Make it shine
Once you’ve cleared the clutter, it’s time to get down and dirty.
A house that looks and smells clean is most attractive to would-be buyers, says John Price, a real estate agent with The Bouma Group of Ann Arbor, Mich.
"People buy on emotion," he says. "They’re going to come in and feel like this place is ready to go."
They’ll also have the impression that you respect and have taken good care of your property, Price adds.
Pet odor must be eliminated, even if that means removing Fido or Fluffy while the house is on the market. "You cannot have pet smells," Price says. "People walk in and their senses are hit immediately."
Other items for your checklist: steam-cleaning carpets, washing windows, dusting blinds and wiping down walls. Don’t forget the inside of the microwave and oven — they’ll surely be opened during showings.
If your lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to maintaining a clean and tidy home, hire a professional to come in weekly to keep the floors and counter tops sparkling.
4. Set the stage
That storage locker you rented for your clutter? Make sure it’s big enough to fit some of your furniture as well.
Most sellers have too much furniture for their home.
It’s the biggest problem Indianapolis Realtor Shannon Plumer tackles when she stages properties for a quicker sale. "When you feel like you hardly have anything left, you’re ready to put your house on the market," she says.
First to go: that oversized recliner, which Plumer says almost always impedes the flow of a room.
Plumer keeps a stockpile of items to aid in the staging process, such as bedding, throw pillows, new white bath towels and shower curtains.
You might consider removing artwork and personal photos from walls and setting the dining room table with nice dishes.
"You want people to come in and be able to see themselves in your home," says Plumer, a real estate agent with the F.C. Tucker Co.
5. Spruce up the kitchen
A top item on just about every buyer’s wish list is an updated kitchen.
"If the kitchen’s nice, that’s a huge selling point," says Bill Brucks, a broker with RE/MAX Suburban in Arlington Heights, Ill.
While renovating the kitchen in a home you’re about to put on the market probably isn’t in your budget, you can make small changes so it will look — and show — better, he says.
Seriously outdated appliances or ones that don't match will definitely stick out and should be a priority. If you can do nothing else, consider replacing at least one appliance or buying an affordable stove-refrigerator-dishwasher package. Still-popular stainless is especially attractive to buyers, Brucks says.
While replacing older cabinets isn’t reasonable, they can be refaced with new doors, or quickly painted and outfitted with new doorknobs and pulls.
6. A coat of paint goes a long way
A fresh coat of paint is the easiest and most inexpensive way to freshen up your home for prospective buyers.
"A freshly painted room looks completely different than a room that’s been painted for 10 years," says Ashley Jones, a Realtor with Town and Country Real Estate in Susanville, Calif.
Jones advises her clients to choose neutral colors, which appeal to a wider range of people — and buyers. So, while a bold red wall may excite some, others see it as a project that will require three coats of primer and then three coats of paint to cover.
And typically, buyers don’t like projects.
If you’re experienced with rolling and edging, painting is a job you can tackle yourself. But Jones recommends calling in a professional painter to get the job done quicker, especially if the entire interior is getting a new hue.
7. Don’t forget the outside
The exterior is the first impression a would-be buyer has of a home, which is why all real estate agents stress curb appeal.
Poor landscaping is a major distraction, says Dominic Cardone, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Media, Pa. "People have very little imagination when looking at houses."
Shrubbery is his biggest pet peeve. Shrubs are often overgrown, especially with older homes, and having grown over windows, block natural light and cause mold and mildew to accumulate on the home’s exterior.
After manicuring shrubs, or removing them altogether, weed gardens, mulch the lawn, and plant flowers for color if the season is right.
And then, according to Cardone, power wash the exterior of the house and windows, wooden decks, and sidewalk and driveway. "Wherever you can power wash, do it," he says. "You can make an old sidewalk look new with power washing. The before and after is startling."
This article originally appeared on Interest.com.