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Putting Your Home's Best Foot Forward

Unless your house is nearly new, chances are you'll want to do some work to get it ready to market. The type and amount of work depends largely on the price you're asking, the time you have to sell, and of course, the present condition of the house.

In general—stick to light, neutral colors. Keep the yard and rooms free of clutter or kids' toys. Remember, when a buyer looks at a house, he or she is trying to imagine living there. Create as clean a canvas as possible.

Here are a few low-cost ways to achieve that:

· "Curb appeal" is the common real estate term for everything prospective buyers can see from the street that might make them want to come in and take a look. Keep two key words in mind: neat and neutral. New paint, an immaculate lawn, picture-perfect shrubbery, a newly sealed driveway, potted plants at the front door—put them all together, and drive-by shoppers will probably want to see the rest of the house.

· People may look behind closet and crawl space doors, as well as those to the bedrooms and bathrooms. So get rid of all the clutter; have that garage sale and haul away the leftovers.

· After you've cleaned, try to correct any cosmetic flaws you've noticed. Paint rooms that need it, regrout tile walls and floors, remove or replace any worn-out carpets. Replace dated faucets, light fixtures and the handles and knobs on your kitchen drawers and cabinets.

· Clear as much from your walls, shelves and countertops as you can. Give your prospects plenty of room to dream.

Certain higher-cost home improvements have proved to add value and/or speed the sale of houses. These include:

· Adding central air conditioning to the heating system

· Building a deck or patio

· Finishing a basement

· Doing some kitchen remodeling (updating colors on cabinets, countertops, appliances, panels, etc.)

· Adding new floor and/or wall coverings, especially in bathrooms

Improvements that return less than what they cost are generally items that appeal to personal tastes, like adding fireplaces, wet bars, swimming pools, or converting the garage into an extra room.