7 Must-Know Tips for Selling an Older House

Jacqueline Zenn
Written by Jacqueline Zenn
Updated April 18, 2022
A historic home with picket fence
Photo: Nando Azevedo / Adobe Stock

It's all about highlighting the standout features

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

The key to selling an older home: use its charm to your advantage! An old house has character and gravitas that newer models simply can’t compete with. Playing up the positives—like its curb appeal and unique features—will make it stand out from comparable properties. 

Here are some tips for showcasing the best of your old house when you’re trying to sell.

1. Stage the Home

When selling a house, whether new or old, ensure everything looks great to potential buyers by staging the property well. Adding some curb appeal by mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, or otherwise making sure that the yard is in peak condition can go a long way towards helping your home sell. 

You should also clean and declutter the home as much as you can and tuck away any dated furniture. You want the buyers to feel like they’ve discovered an amazing vintage find—like the perfect art deco credenza or mid-century modern pendant light fixture, not as if they’ve stepped into a stuffy antique store.  

If your older house has smaller or more compartmentalized rooms, play to its strengths by staging in ways that wouldn’t work in a more contemporary open floor plan. For instance, create a home office, home gym, craft room, or other unique space so potential buyers can see all the opportunities more clearly. A local home staging professional can help you set all these dedicated vignettes up. 

2. Update the Interior Design

Living room interior of historic home
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Making simple changes like removing popcorn ceilings or taking down dated wallpaper can help showcase the house’s bones. 

Installing new hardware, including doorknobs or cabinet pulls, can also make a big difference, and a fresh coat of paint is a good idea when you’re staging any home—regardless of its age. Changing your light bulbs and fixtures for contemporary and energy-efficient options like LEDs can also make a big difference in the way the space is perceived; in addition, newer bulbs may photograph better than old fluorescents, so this change literally portrays your home in a more positive light.

Remember: Even if you love a more traditional look, the goal of any interior design update for a space you’re trying to sell is to not distract prospective buyers with outdated or distracting design elements.

3. Make all Minor Repairs

Small issues like peeling paint or a leaky faucet can distract prospective owners from the amazing characteristics of your house. Repairing any small issues like broken doorknobs and caulking windows can make the home feel more turnkey.

Consider these repairs or projects as part of the cost of selling your home and weigh the price of any work and materials against the potential profits. 

You should also be aware of the time it takes to make these repairs and how it will affect the selling process, especially if you want to sell quickly. Small updates can boost the curb appeal and attract more buyers—therefore encouraging a quicker sale—while bigger projects may push out the timeline.

4. Point Out Your Home’s Unique Characteristics

Front porch of historic home
Photo: Jamie Hooper / Adobe Stock

One of the many advantages that older homes have is their unique features and architectural quirks you simply don’t see in newer builds. 

Play into the saying “they just don’t make them like they used to” by making sure details such as ornate crown molding, wainscotting, ceiling medallions, original hardwood floors, marble mantelpieces, built-in shelving and niches, and other unique elements are on full display.

Highlight these details in your home’s listing description and photos, and make sure they are clearly visible and your real estate agent points them out during showings. Also point out the positive aspects like a larger lot size or more square footage than comparable new construction nearby, if applicable. 

Of course, if your home has a unique history or is on the National Historic Register, you should always bring that up as well—and not just because of the financial incentives. Older homes have a story to tell and there will be buyers who fall in love with that connection to the past and the generations that lived there previously.

5. Emphasize the Ability to Customize

One reason people buy fixer-uppers or older homes is that they can personalize them to fit their lifestyle. Yes, the bathrooms might need updating and the kitchen could use a remodel, but that means the possibilities are nearly endless in regard to designing the kind of spaces the new owners really want. 

Use the listing description to showcase the property’s potential. Perhaps there is a great opportunity to finish the basement and make that an in-law apartment or amazing rec room with a wet bar and a built-in entertainment center.

6. Be Honest About Any Drawbacks

If your home needs significant work or there are major issues that buyers will have to deal with, be upfront about it. Chances are they are going to quickly discover those problems during the inspection process anyways, so it is better to put it out there before things progress any further. You may want to get a pre-inspection before you list the home to uncover any surprises yourself first.

Also, consider doing some repairs like replacing the boiler or hot water heater or making other concessions if you are selling an older house, especially if you want to sell the property fairly quickly.

7. Get Your Paperwork in Order

Being able to show that you’ve kept up with maintenance on an older home and providing inspection reports on the foundation, roof, plumbing, electrical wiring, and other potentially expensive areas can go a long way toward building trust in the minds of prospective buyers. Having receipts and warranties for purchases of major appliances and materials is also a good idea. 

If you are selling an older or “vintage” home, you may also be asked to disclose your utility bills or the average costs of utilities, since older homes are often less energy-efficient or cost more to heat and cool than newer construction. 

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.