Rarely will an owner leave a mess behind as they are the ones eager to sell their home but when you are dealing with a tenant situation then it's a 50% chance that the place will not be tidied up at all before your appointment.
I usually warn all the parties involved before proceeding into a rental. If it is my listing, I call the showing agent and let them know that there may be a potential mess. If it is my client, I warn them that we may be walking into a disaster zone. The worst is when you pop into a unit and get overwhelmed by the mess because no one warned you.
To judge a home by its mess is UNFAIR to the seller but who's kidding who? We all judge the mess... I hear many agents say that a true buyer will look past the mess. Is this true? Can you look past the mess? I think it may be true for the experienced buyer but that mess is the first thing we see when we walk into the door. What is if stinks in there? What if the dog or cat made a really icky mess and someone steps on it? No one wants to be stepping on kitty litter especially after they were courteous enough to take their shoes off when walking through your home. When comparing a MESS with NO MESS, NO MESS wins!
For sellers, my best advice is to treat EVERY showing like that is going to be the one! It takes one set of buyers to sell a house so ANY showing could be the one that gets you a deal. For sellers with tenants, well that's another story - this is a VERY TOUGH ONE. If you live in the same city as your rental, try to pop in once in awhile, screen your tenants well and make it a deal that they have to keep the place tidy, especially for showings. Give them some incentive to keep it clean. Pay them in wine if you have to.
If you want to sell your house then you'll do what it takes and that may mean getting there 15 minutes before the showing each time to tidy up. It may also mean getting a professional cleaning service before the showing...that's what I would do! Happy selling!
Here are a few awesome examples I found online: