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Tips for making your house a hot sales commodity

Like dressing windows, many homes are staged for

Like dressing windows, many homes are staged for sale, enough to give a house hunter a sense of the structures good points. Credit: Handout

Want to be the seller who goes to market instead of the one who stays home? The difference might be a few of the things you do before you plant that "for sale" sign.

Your house has competition, and that means you have to do some work to get it ready to sell. So, while your home looks great compared to the neighbor's foreclosure, it might not quite compare to that house a block over where, rumor has it, the owner clips the lawn with an electric razor.

You don't have to spend a ton of time or money. A few simple tricks can get your home ready for the market.

Here are tips from top agents to give your home the edge:

Break out the cleaning supplies

"Give it a really good cleaning," said Jeff Wiren, immediate past president of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors in Oregon.

The problem: "A lot of sellers might not have the same perception of 'deep cleaning' that a buyer would," he said. For that reason, "it might be worth spending a couple hundred dollars to have professionals come in and clean."

Two places where clean can be critical for buyers are kitchens and bathrooms, says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors. Having those rooms clean and sparkling can make a huge difference in the perception of "whether a house is kept up or not," she said.

Windows and baseboards are crucial, said Mark Ramsey, broker with The Ramsey Group at Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, N.C. If you're not replacing carpets, have those cleaned, too, Wiren said. The potential outlay for a cleaning service and carpet cleaning is likely in the neighborhood of $300 to $500 total, he estimated. "It has a much greater impact than most sellers think."

Ditch junk and clutter

"This is now a showcase," says Patricia Szot, immediate past president of the Dallas-based MetroTex Association of Realtors. "You are no longer living in it; you are showing it."

Take tips from the pros

Laundry room: Make it neat and orderly, Szot said. Your goal is to make it look like the room is plenty big enough for the job.

Pantry: It's for food only, Ramsey said. Using the pantry for general storage screams, "Not enough cupboard space."

Garage: If it's a two-car garage, make room for two cars, Szot said. For a lot of men, if the garage "looks small because of the clutter, there's an issue."

"And while you're decluttering, you're depersonalizing," Wiren said. "You really need the buyer to be able to picture your home as their home." A picture of your kids on the nightstand is "not a big deal," he said. But you don't want the family portrait gallery lining the hallway.

With paint, stick to neutrals, several agents said.

"I have had people who painted some of their rooms and picked the colors themselves" in shades of pink and purple, said Combs, who is vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt Realty in Grand Rapids, Mich. "And it was more of a negative than a positive when they put their homes on the market."

Their mistake wasn't DIY painting but color selection, she said. Opt for neutrals, which have broader appeal.

"Then consider the flooring. If the carpeting is old and stained, put in new carpeting," said Szot, operating principal with Keller Williams Realty, Lake Cities at Firewheel.

Keep any planned changes to the house reasonable and in character with the home and the neighborhood.

"Don't lie to yourself," said Wiren, a principal broker with Re/Max Equity Group. If the house has areas that show wear, get that work done before offering the home.

"The price of your house is going to determine what things you should do," Combs said. One client spent $10,000 putting in hickory cabinets and granite countertops in the kitchen of a home that listed in the $100,000 range, she recalled.

"In that price range, it wasn't necessary," Combs said. "And we couldn't get any more money for the house."

View the house from the buyer's perspective. "Pull up and stop right in front of it, just like a buyer's going to do," Ramsey said. Then "let yourself in the front door, like a buyer's going to do."

How does your home compare to others on the street? Is it inviting? Does it make you want to see more?

"Walk through the home with the eyes of a buyer," Szot said. If you're buying another house, think about what you want to see in your new home, she said.

Pay special attention to the entryway, Ramsey said. "You want it to be open as much as possible," he said. Look at the furnishings you have in the area, and err on the side of less-is-more. "When in doubt, get it out," Ramsey said.

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