When does spring begin? It depends on who you ask.

Your local weatherman might tell you Spring begins on March 21st. But if you’re planning on buying or selling a home this year, the first day Spring actually falls on the Monday following Superbowl Sunday

This year, that’s February 7th. The crocuses might not yet be shooting up, but spring comes early when you’re a home buyer or seller. And, with interest rates hovering around their historic 40-year low levels, the market is already heating up quickly.

That means sellers should get in gear to maximize exposure during the prime-time selling season. Here’s a list of items you might want to tackle:

  1. Take a close look at the exterior of your home. Walk around the outside with a pad of paper and a pencil and jot down anything that doesn’t look perfect. Maybe your bushes need a good trip or the front step is cracked or the house needs to be painted, powerwashed or tuck-pointed. Try to figure out a color scheme for planting flowers in the early spring that will give your home a boost of color when it is being shown.

  2. Now, look at the interior of your house. Walk around each room (again, with your pad and pencil in hand) and jot down what you need to do to get that room into its best selling shape. Are the walls filthy? You may need to repaint the interior of your home. Do you have too much furniture in each room? You may need to store artwork and furniture before your move. Are your shelves and closets overcrowded? Now might be a good time to start packing boxes. The result will be a far less cluttered home.

  3. Fix anything that’s broken. The knob that won’t turn. The door that doesn’t quite latch when you close it. The toilet tank that keeps running. The faucet that drips. The window that won’t lock and sticks when you open it. Each of these broken items should be fixed now, before you list the house. Why? You’ll make a better first impression on the agent who comes in to view the property when preparing the Comparative Marketing Analysis (which typically translates into a higher suggested list price). And when you finally do accept an offer, the buyer is likely to hire a home inspector who will find all the broken stuff, and the buyer will ask you to fix it before closing.

  4. Clean your house thoroughly. Buyers react worse to dirt than clutter. They figure, you may be a messy person, but if you’ve let the cleaning go, it’s possible that you’ve let other, more serious, maintenance issues go as well. But a quick cleaning won’t do. If you’re not the world’s best housekeeper, consider hiring a service that will give your home a thorough going over just to get you started. It’s like hiring a professional landscape company to get your garden into shape before you sell. It’s easier for you to maintain it after that.

  5. Take everything off of every horizontal surface. Less is more when it comes to selling your home because when you have less stuff around, your rooms look bigger and more inviting. Completely clear off your countertops in the kitchen and baths, office desk, the tables next to your bed, your coffee table in the living room and your dining room table. Once everything is cleaned off, you can put a few decorative pieces back. In the kitchen, don’t keep more than one or two items on the countertop, such as the coffeemaker and microwave. Fight the urge to put things down wherever you stop and instead try to put them away.

  6. Buy a clutter collector. This is a large, flat, plastic box that you can purchase inexpensively at any hardware store, Target or K-Mart. The idea with a clutter collector is that no matter how hard you try, you probably have one place where the mail, children’s homework, invitations and other paperwork collects. Before a showing, you’ll need a place to quickly store all of this paper clutter. The clutter collector allows you to sweep in all of the paperwork, put the lid on it and store it quickly in a cabinet or under the bed.

  7. Create a focal point for each room. Once your home has been cleaned and uncluttered, walk around each room and figure out which is its best feature. If the best feature is the view, then make sure when a buyer enters the room, there is a clear path to the windows. If the best feature is the generous room size, limit the number of pieces of furniture in the room — too much furniture can make a room look smaller. If a room doesn’t have a focal point, consider creating one. You can make an average bedroom stand out by purchasing a new comforter with matching sheets, matching curtains and an area rug. A bathroom will shine inexpensively with fancy towels, a matching rug and unusual soaps in a pretty dish.