Woo buyers with a house that’s dressed for success. Mow the lawn, polish the hardware, and make everything look attractive and tidy.

If little things mean a lot in matters of the heart, they mean even more when you’re trying to sell your house. The way you present your property to prospective buyers can make all the difference between success and failure. Intangibles often help a sale – the way the light reflects off a gleaming oak table in a bay window can make buyers realize what they wanted all along was a house with a bay window in the kitchen.

To show your house in the “best light” many of today’s sellers rely on a relatively new real estate sales tool: Home Staging. Home staging involves using a professional who is well-versed in what makes local homes sell and who can put that knowledge to work for you to by decorating it to sell quickly and for top dollar. Staging can be as simple as rearranging furniture or as complex as bringing in new furnishings, artwork and accessories. Every house is different. Staging can cost as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as thousands, depending upon the condition of your house and furnishings…and your budget. Effective staging can yield a significant return on its investment, allow you to list for a higher price and increase the pool of interested buyers. For more detail on staging see page 103.

Whether or not you choose to use a stager you will want to show your home to its very best advantage. There are a lot of easy, inexpensive ways to put a shine on it and enhance its over-all desirability. Here are some easy-to-do suggestions.

Curb Appeal

This is the impression buyers get when they first drive up to your house, and that first look is all important. If prospective buyers don’t find your house appealing, they won’t be interested in seeing what’s inside.

How can you turn that initial impression into love at first sight? Trimmed shrubbery and mowed lawns are as important as windows so clean they positively sparkle. If your house could use a paint job and you don’t have the time or money to do it right away, sometimes repainting the trim will update the entire facade. Or, try painting just the side that can be seen from the street.

You don’t want to lead your buyers up the garden path but you do want to get them to the front door, so the walkway should be as attractive as possible. Seasonal plantings can do a lot to zip up the look of the approach and, even if you’re not an enthusiastic gardener, it’s not difficult to add a row of annuals on each side of the walkway.

Tidy Up

Everyone knows, of course, that neatness counts, both inside and out. Gardening equipment and tools should be put away and hoses neatly coiled. It’s also helpful to park your cars in your garage or somewhere down the street rather than leaving them in the driveway.

If someone in the family is working on a car, or a bike, or boat outside, this is the time to be ruthless. Insist that it has to go out of sight, or off the property.

Remember, buyers are going to be looking closely at your front door, so it ought to be clean, freshly painted, and oiled so it swings smoothly. Brass or metal doorknobs should be polished until they are shiny bright.

Inside, everything should be spotless. If you can afford it, this is the time to hire someone to do what used to be called spring cleaning – a heavy-duty overhaul of all the nooks and crannies.

Then go through every room using “less is more” as your guideline. You want to make every room look as spacious as possible, and with that end in mind, remove as much furniture as you can – that extra rocker, footstool, or table.

If you have an awkward door that complicates movement from one room to the next, take it off its hinges and store it in the garage for the duration.

Check each room in the house for hazards. Make sure all extension cords are out of sight and remove any potentially slippery throw rugs. Incidentally, it never helps to put a rug over a spot in the carpet; all that does is call attention to the problem. Better yet, replace the stained carpet with a new, inexpensive one that will make a room look like a million bucks.

Also, now’s the time to pack away a lot of that bric-a-brac that seems to accumulate, to sort through your magazines and get rid of those you don’t want to keep, to throw out those old throw pillows that have gotten a little tired.

Take a good look at your kitchen counters, too, and weed out everything you absolutely don’t have to use every day. Everything else should go into the cupboard.

Mini blinds are not only inexpensive, but they’re a terrific solution to all kinds of window decorating problems. If your curtains are a little worn or faded, replace them with mini blinds. They not only give a room a fresh, modern look, but if you buy them in a color that matches the walls, the room will seem much larger.

Kitchen and Bath Appeal

Buyers react most strongly to kitchens, closets, and bathrooms, so it pays to concentrate your efforts in these areas. If you feel your kitchen cabinets aren’t as up to date as you’d like them to be, sometimes just switching knobs and door handles is a dramatic improvement. Wonderful reproductions of colored glass knobs and pulls are now available everywhere. White porcelain knobs may be a good choice, too.

To enhance the atmosphere in your kitchen and make the prospective buyer feel like a welcome guest, use the subliminal appeal of warm and friendly scents, such as the smell of bread baking in the oven. Some people swear by ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls for maximum effect. If you bake something, however, make sure you have a loud kitchen timer handy. It’s quite easy to get distracted when you’re readying the house for an inspection by a stranger and the one smell you don’t want in the house is that of baked goods burning.

Any kind of potpourri will help, too, and
the simmering kind seems to be particularly effective.

New shower curtains for every bathroom in the house are a must before you start to show it. Tired, streaky shower curtains are a real turnoff. If you can afford it, buy a set of coordinating towels for each bath as well. Keep this new set for show only and tuck them away the minute prospective buyers leave.

Little Details

Indoors, plants and flowers are as effective as they are outside. Plan on using them as much as possible to dress up several rooms in your home.

If your real estate agent is conducting an open house, you might want to invest in a festive floral arrangement for the occasion, but avoid that kind of formality when you’re seeing one prospective buyer at a time. Instead, put a few casual bouquets around the house – a simple vase of daisies or tulips in a bathroom, for example, or a bowl of lilacs in a bedroom. You don’t have to spend a lot on flowers; one bright geranium will go a long way to spark up a room.

To get some pointers on decorating successfully with flowers, study the home decorating magazines. Almost every room will have an artfully placed bouquet or two.

Leafy green plants help, too. A word of warning, though. Enthusiastic indoor gardeners love all their growing things and tend to overlook the plant with brown tips or bald patches that ought to be thrown out. If you have plants that aren’t in great shape, find a place to hide them while you’re showing your house. Scruffy plants very easily make any room look messy.

If you have an empty room that you need to fill, try using large plants. Buy three, and set them on small benches or tables of varying heights. They will create the illusion of a room in use. You can find them at a nominal price in almost any supermarket garden shop.

Perfect Timing

Most of the time, your agent will show your house by appointment. But, there will be times when a real estate agent will call and say a client wants to come over right away for a quick look. That is your cue to say, calmly, that the prospective buyer can see the house in an hour or two, giving you enough time for a quick cleanup.

To make a last minute sprucing up easier, buy two-handled baskets, similar to the kind you see in supermarkets. Stack them in a convenient closet and fill the top basket with a hand vacuum, all-purpose spray cleaner, paper towels, and any other cleaning product you like to use. Carry both baskets with you as you move from room to room and collect anything that’s out of place in the second basket. This system is a real time-saver.

If it’s one of those days when the house is a complete disaster, tell the agent the buyer will have to look at it another time. You are doing yourself no favors by showing your home when it’s not at its best.

Even if your dog is your best friend, this is one time when pets shouldn’t be around. Before the prospect arrives, put your pets outside, in a detached garage, or even in pet carriers. Animals know when something’s up, and if there’s ever a time when a pet is going to act up, it’s when a prospective buyer is going through a house. Then, too, however much some of us love our pets, a lot of people don’t – they may even be allergic to them.

Show and Tell

Turn all the lights on when you show your prospect through the house, even if it’s a sunny day. And if the weather is cold or rainy and you have a fireplace, have a fire burning steadily.

As you and your agent go through the house, you may want to point out certain details, i.e., the carved mantel, or parquet floor, but don’t try to sell the place by listing improvements you think would make it look even better. In fact, it’s wise not to be present at all when the agent shows your house. If you are present, remember: If you wait for the buyer to come up with ideas of his own, that’s a good indication he’s beginning to feel possessive and is seriously considering making an offer.

And if two or three or even a dozen buyers come and go, don’t be discouraged. Sooner or later, someone will walk in the door and decide they love the house.

Photos courtesy of Decorating Den Interiors, www.DecoratingDen.com

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