Clutter can be a big turnoff for house hunters. (Barbara L. Johnston for The Washington Post)

Next spring may seem like a long time from now, but from the perspective of the real estate market it is right around the corner.

If you are planning to list your home for sale next year, give yourself a head start on getting it ready so that you aren’t trying to get everything done at the last minute when it comes time to list. Many tasks can be accomplished within a few hours each week over the course of the fall and winter months, so you have plenty of time to work through them if you get started now.

The biggest turnoff: Several years ago we surveyed consumers about what turns them off when viewing a listing, and a surprising number said smell was one of the biggest problems. They weren’t talking about overly obvious bad smells, but rather the generic mustiness that comes with homes that have been lived in for many years. Usually, those homeowners are used to it so they don’t notice the effect it has on someone touring the home for the first time. This is something that can take a few months to remedy since it usually means removing old furniture and other belongings that may have piled up over the years. Sometimes it can mean having the carpets professionally cleaned or even replaced completely.

Decluttering: Whether it is the basement or the rest of the house, this almost always takes longer than homeowners anticipate. One tip I hear real estate agents use for their clients is that they should always say yes whenever they get a call from a charity that comes to your door to pick up donations of clothes or small furniture. Even if you don’t have the items ready for collection it gives you a deadline to get them ready and helps overcome the inertia that stops so many sellers from making their house market-ready.

Curb appeal: While the inside of a home is usually what makes the biggest difference in closing on a sale, it is still curb appeal that gets the buyers interested in the home in the first place. Selling season usually starts to pick up momentum in March when it is still too cold for all the outdoor greenery to come into full bloom. So the strategy is to plan early to make the yard look as good as possible in the very early spring. Plant new shrubs that can withstand the cold months and consider overplanting winter grass so the yard is still filled out once all the snow has melted.

Winter weather: It is always a good idea to winterize your house before the cold weather starts, but never more so than the winter before you are going to put your home on the market. The one thing that usually does the most damage is frozen water, whether it is inside your pipes or outside on your roof and gutters. Invest now to ensure they can withstand frozen temperatures. This will help you avoid getting a large repair bill and delaying the listing while everything is getting fixed.

Market research: Finally, it is never too soon to start researching real estate agents. If you plan to attend any holiday parties this winter, they can be a perfect place to get some leads on a future agent. Ask other guests if they have one they recommend and come armed with some follow-up questions about what it was they liked about working with that agent or brokerage and whether the agent is familiar with the neighborhood you live in. It is also worth spending the time to compare your home to other properties that have sold recently so that you have a ballpark idea of their selling prices.

The buyers who start looking for their next home in the early months of the year are often the ones most motivated to purchase a home and, consequently, can be some of the easiest buyers to work with during the whole process. Give yourself the best chance of attracting these buyers by getting your home market-ready now so you aren’t left with a narrower set of choices once you do list.

This past year was one of the best ones for real estate we have seen in some time. Next year could be even better. Get ahead of the game by working on your home before selling season arrives.

David Charron, president and chief executive of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, writes an occasional column about the Washington-area real estate market.