Once the "For Sale" sign is plunked in your lawn, the real work begins.

Your house only gets one chance to make a first impression, according to Century 21 Classic sales consultant Lynn Murray, and that means it’s your job to dress it for success.

“Many potential buyers don’t even realize they want to move, until they walk into the perfect open house,” she said. “So if you don’t have your house ready, you could miss out on the perfect buyer.”

If you want your house sold — like, yesterday — here are five ways to whip it into shape:

• Fix the furniture: The beat-up couch in your family room might be more than an eyesore — it could actually be changing people’s perceptions about the size of the entire room.

“If the furniture is too big, it makes the room appear small,” said Denise Hermanson of DH Design. “Properly proportioned furniture, arranged efficiently, can show potential buyers that the room has plenty of space.”

• Can the clutter: You’ve probably thought to tidy up that pile of half-opened mail on the kitchen table, but according to the experts, that’s not enough.

“Clutter completely takes away from the house itself,” Murray said. “Potential buyers get too distracted by the current owner’s ‘stuff.’”

• Sniff out any smells: While everyone loves a yummy Indian dinner and a cuddly kitty, the lingering smell of curry and a litter box is less desirable.

Hermanson says you should scour the bathrooms, the kitchen, and any stinky pet zones. Spritz furniture or curtains that smell musty, and use baking soda to freshen up older carpeting.

• Let there be llight: Nobody’s shelling out for a dungeon, so show those potential buyers that Mr. Sun is a free gift with purchase.

“Pull back the blinds and curtains, and open up the windows to let fresh air and sunshine in,” Murray said.

It’s not eco-friendly to turn on all of the lights, but many agents recommend it — even on a sunny day — to provide maximum brightness.

• Turn up the traditional: We’re all a little old-fashioned at heart, and many prospective buyers can be won over with tidy green lawns, pretty flowerbeds, and a generally “homey” home. So turn on some soft music and channel your inner Martha.

“You don't want to make it sterile — just clean, fresh and sunny,” Murray said.

– Heather Clarke is a Halifax-based writer with a penchant for pretty things.

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