We run across a lot of houses that have fallen victim to what we euphemistically call “deferred maintenance.” Seniors aging in place sometimes lack the means and/or the awareness to keep up with the inevitable decline of the structure around them. When the owner can't afford home repairs, often relatives, guardians, or the state finally step in. Their first inclination is often to sell the property as is. Why invest any time or money cleaning out a place that is probably going to be gutted or razed?

That could be an expensive mistake. The fact is, the more rundown the house, the more important it is to clean it out completely so that any prospective buyers can see exactly what they are getting into—warts and all.

It may sound like reverse logic, but if the house is cluttered and shows evidence of deferred maintenance, buyers will assume that it needs more work than it really does. When you completely clean out a house, you not only make it look bigger, you create a blank canvas that potential buyers can use to visualize the house’s potential.

Prioritize the Work

The first step in tackling a job like this is to get it cleaned out as quickly as possible so that you can fully assess the situation, and whether you can or can’t afford home repairs.

  • If there are any valuables worth saving or selling, move them offsite and then go through the rooms one at a time.
  • If the walls and ceiling are in good shape, just give them a good cleaning and a fresh coat of white paint.
  • If the wallpaper is peeling, go ahead and pull it all down and repair the plaster.
  • Old, dirty carpets should be pulled up. It’s better to let buyers see the bare floor, even if it needs work, than to leave it to the imagination. Otherwise, they’ll assume that squeaky floorboards will have to pulled up, and that raises the possibility that joists have to be replaced.
  • Get rid of any smells! Old houses can absorb the odors of pets, smokers, and sick occupants, and even the most seasoned house flippers can be put off by offensive odors. Prospective buyers will wonder if there is something rotting behind a wall or under the floors, so consider hiring an ozone or air filtering service if a good scrubbing doesn't solve the problem.

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Maximize the potential

Honestly evaluate the property’s best options. If a property owner can't afford home repairs, the house may need to be put in the hands of a flipper or someone who can afford to do a significant renovation. If so, you want to present it in way that allows these buyers to imprint their own vision onto the house. Then they will bid based on that vision. That’s how we get the best prices for our clients.

Here’s how that plays out in real life when owners can't afford home repairs. We worked on one house in a hot real estate market. Flippers were ready to jump, offering $600,000 and $700,000 for the property “as is.”

We cleaned it out and presented in a way that revealed that the house needed a lot of work, but bidders could clearly see what needed to be done. It sold at auction for more than $1 million.

With another house that needed significant renovations, our client had three realtors come through and assess the property before we had a chance to clean it out. They all recommended listing it for between $450,000 and $500,000. After some landscaping and minor cosmetic work, it sold for $650,000.

When you can't afford home repairs, the bottom line is that there is no point in trying to stage a house that needs a lot of renovation work. And trying to mask any flaws makes even less sense. Savvy buyers know how to look past the superficial flaws for a house’s real potential, and they will pay top dollar when they see it.


At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.