The Oft-Forgotten Chore a Real Estate Agent Says You Need to Prioritize

published Jan 4, 2023
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Credit: Emma Fiala

For all the attention given to home staging and curb appeal, never underestimate how much a clean house can impress buyers. Aside from scrubbing surfaces and floors to prep for an open house, there’s one thing your real estate agent would really, really like you to clean as well: your windows.

Jodi Terrell, owner and broker of JNG Real Estate Solutions in North Alabama, has seen more than her fair share of dirty windows throughout her career in real estate. They’re not a good look for any listing.

“My biggest pet peeve is walking to the front door with a prospective buyer only to be met with windows covered with spider webs and gunk from years of neglect,” she says. “And that’s the key word: neglect. It sets an unpalatable tone for the rest of the showing. A buyer may think ‘What else have they neglected over the years?’”

Christa Kenin, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in Fairfield County, Connecticut, also recommends that her clients wash their windows. “You can’t imagine the difference it makes until you have it done,” she says. “The glass will sparkle and make your home look fresh and clean.” Aside from that, it might distract buyers from the fact that they’re not new windows, she says. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you don’t have time to wash the windows yourself, Kenin recommends hiring a reputable company to do it. They won’t just show up with a rag and a bottle of Windex, though. In addition to cleaning windows both inside and out, pros will take the time to remove and wash screens and wipe down the thresholds. “Window thresholds can get quite grimy since they are open to the elements outside,” she explains.

And aside from cleaning off dirt and grime, Terrell says to look out for sprays of paint from when the interior or exterior was painted. “A fine mist of paint can make the windows appear hazy which could lead some people to believe that the seals are broken,” she explains. “Broken window seals are a big deal whereas paint overspray is not.” If this is how it looks in your home, she recommends taking a scraper and gently removing any spots you see. 

No matter what’s on your windows, Terrell and Kenin are in agreement: Do not use a pressure washer to clean them.

“A pressure washer has enough force to dislodge the caulking around your windows and cause damage to wood frames,” Terrell says, noting that the powerful spray can even crack the window pane. She recommends Windex Outdoor, a glass cleaner that you can attach to a garden hose. 

Kenin says that pressure washing or power washing — the latter has the addition of steam — is often the blanket term people use for home exterior cleaning. What windows really need is known as soft washing, which lessens the water pressure so that it won’t damage the siding and windows. 

Both agents say that when in doubt about your maintenance method (or if you cannot safely reach windows to clean them), hire a pro.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What If You Live in a Co-op or Condo?

​​All this talk about cleaning windows is fine if you’re living in a single-family home. But what if you live in an apartment building where cleaning windows is a death-defying feat, if not impossible? David Harris, an agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City, weighs in on what to do if you are selling a condo or co-op — and no, it doesn’t involve renting a scaffold.

“I stress to the sellers I work with to know the details: How often does the building clean the windows? When was the last time your apartment windows were cleaned?” he says. “Such information relayed to me as the seller’s agent allows me to provide prompt information to a potential buyer if such questions arise.”

Of course, knowledge of when the windows were/will be cleaned doesn’t make up for the fact that they are currently dirty. If this is your situation, he recommends two options:

  • Window decor: An artfully arranged flower or plant can provide some distraction. So can a window herb garden in bloom. Even a stylish-looking candle (and a good fragrance) can do the trick, says Harris.
  • Window treatments: Harris prefers blinds because even when they are mostly closed, they still let some natural light in. Curtains, drapes, and shades are all-or-nothing in that once they’re closed, they block the light — but they’ll cover up nasty-looking windows, too.

Personally, I lean more toward the window decor because the more natural light I have shining through, the better, and who doesn’t like fresh flowers?” Harris says. But nothing is a replacement for clean windows. If you’re selling, he says it’s worth a shot to ask building management if they can clean them before you list. And if they say no, he feels your pain.

“I’ve lived in my building going on three years now, and my windows haven’t been cleaned once,” Harris laments.