We love our pets, whether they be dogs, cats, hamsters, capybaras, hedgehogs, or pygmy goats—but that doesn’t mean that they want to see said pets (or any evidence of them) when looking at a home they’re thinking of buying.
“Pets are either an attractive distraction, so cute they distract prospective buyers from looking at the real estate, or completely the opposite—smelly, frightening, or otherwise off-putting,” says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates.
Don’t want your precious property to be known as “that dog house”? Well, you need to pet-proof your place when preparing and showing it for sale. Here’s how, in six simple steps.
1. Check your insurance
Although you know your pets would never hurt anyone, they could scratch or bite a potential buyer whom they mistake for an intruder on their territory. You could be held liable for any harm your pet causes, so make sure your homeowners insurance covers you for incidents like these.
However, some insurers will not cover anyone who owns what they deem vicious or aggressive breeds, such as pit bulls; and if they do provide coverage, it could be expensive. If you have such a dog (and even if you don’t), it’s best to keep him out of the house during a showing.
2. Prepare your yard
Buyers will walk around your yard, a stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop or turn an ankle where your dog likes to dig.
Perform a poop patrol before each showing. Double-bag the waste before disposing, so your garbage cans don’t smell when buyers walk by. Fill all holes and sprinkle grass seed on top.
Before putting your house on the market, make sure your yard is a green oasis—not a brown-and-yellow dustbowl created when pets pee on grass. You can try to aerate and seed bare spots. But if that doesn’t work fast enough, you can replace ugly patches with new sod. Then, train Travis the Titan Terrier to use an out-of-the-way spot for his business. Or take him for very long walks.
3. Remove the odors
Removing the odors pets leave behind is one of the biggest challenges. It’s easy to clean and tuck away kitty’s litter box. But it’s way harder to erase years of piddle from rugs and hardwood.
If a bacteria-eating pet odor remover doesn’t banish all traces of cat or dog urine, you might have to hire a professional service to clean carpets or rugs. (Perhaps you should consider this whether you are selling your home or not.) Often, however, the odor returns, so if a carpet continues to reek, replace it before buyers trek through.
Clean turtle, hamster, and guinea pig cages frequently, to prevent odors. And make fish tanks sparkle; a daily swipe with an eraser sponge will do the trick.
4. Clean up the hair
Not only does a layer of pet hair on floors and sofas make your home look messy, it can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door.
Before each showing, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander. Or, consider buying a vacuuming robot (such as a Roomba) that you can schedule to suck up hair several times a day. They actually work.
If your pet sheds, brush him frequently outside, so the hair doesn’t fly around the house. Bathing can help minimize shedding, too.
5. Hide the evidence
Like kids, pets (or rather, their caretakers) tend to accumulate lots of stuff—leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, food, cute sweaters, and costumes for Christmas and Halloween (ladies and gentlemen: It’s canine Ken Bone!). But no matter how adorable you may think it all is, to buyers, it’s just clutter.
Make sure you stow pet paraphernalia in a cupboard or closet. Put dry food bins in a laundry or mud room. Wash pet beds to remove odors and dirt, and only display them if they’re attractive.
6. Say goodbye to your pets (just for a while!)
If you decide to leave your dogs or cats at home, either crate them or confine them to a special area of the house, and make sure your real estate agent knows where they are. Keep them busy with interactive toys or long-lasting treats, says Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, based in Livonia, MI.
“Even purchasing a new exciting toy or treat just prior to company coming may keep them more preoccupied,” he says.
But it’s best for everyone if you can find a playdate for your pet before a showing, or to send him to Grandma’s for an extended stay. But remember that pets have emotions, too—especially when it comes to change in their routines.
When you stow their toys, move their water bowl, or put them in a crate when strangers inspect their home, some pets will feel confused and anxious. So before making any major changes in the life of a dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can help you ease your pet’s transition to a temporary new home.
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning writer who’s covered real estate and home improvement for realtor.com, Yahoo, AOL, Popular Mechanics, and HouseLogic. When she’s not writing, Lisa’s fly-fishing on catch-and-release streams.