When you bought your current home did you follow that old axiom: "Buy the smallest house in the best neighborhood you can afford"?
Now that you must sell, how can you and your listing agent present the house to make the most of the situation? Should you fret about getting as much as your place is worth?
"There's absolutely no need to panic. If you live in a fancy ZIP code, people want your house. There's a pecking order for neighborhoods. And there are always status-minded people trying to move up the food chain," says Mark Nash, author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."
Still, Nash cautions that the sellers of a small house in a classy neighborhood -- what he calls a "C level" house in an "A level" area -- shouldn't fall prey to inflated expectations.
"Don't kid yourself that you'll get as much for your place as sellers with much larger houses in the same area. Still, on a square-footage basis, you should receive proportionately more, assuming your house looks terrific," says Nash, a veteran real estate broker.
One reason you should sell well in what Nash calls a "wannabe neighborhood" is that highly desirable communities, including those with strong public schools, tend to hold their value across time better than less popular areas.
Here are a few tips for sellers:
-- Restrain your expectations on price.
Joan McLellan Tayler, the author of several real estate books, says sellers who are greedy are punished in the end.
"Overcharge on price, and people will find all kinds of reasons to hate your house -- and local real estate people will resent you, too" says Tayler, the long-time owner of a real estate brokerage.
"There's a risk that when you look at the average sale prices (in your neighborhood), you'll get an exaggerated idea of your home's worth. Using averages can lead you down the wrong path because your house is much smaller than most around you," Tayler says.
As Nash sees it, trying to compare your "C" house with neighboring "A" properties is like comparing a tangerine to a pineapple. Besides the size difference, big homes in a luxury community typically have deluxe features that smaller ones lack.
When comparing your modest place with those offering high-end features, make sure you adjust for differences in amenities as well as size.
-- Make front-yard improvements a priority.
Although you may be seeking to sell one of the more modest homes in your community, you can expect that many prospective buyers attracted to your area will have large egos, Nash says.
"These are folks who like to impress friends and co-workers who drive by. Therefore, it's extra important that the landscape around your house look good," says Nash, who specializes in representing sellers in upper-end areas.
Though the yard in front of your house may lack the splendor of the grounds around bigger homes in the area, you could still benefit substantially from landscape upgrades, he says.
Nash suggests you consider hiring a landscape designer to create an overall plan for your yard, emphasizing blooming plants. Then to contain the cost, do your own installation of the necessary trees and shrubs.
Also, make sure all your greenery, old and new, is pruned below window level, so as not to hide the intrinsic beauty of your home.
-- Give extra attention to interior finishes.
It's rare for a listing agent to recommend major renovation work, such as the addition of a spacious "great room," to a house with only a small den. That's because sellers rarely recoup the cost of such an addition, even in a fancy neighborhood.
But Nash says those trying to sell a modest house in a plush area are typically well compensated for money spent on interior detailing.
"Well-to-do buyers are very attentive to fine features and decorating touches. With your modest house, you'll want to mirror the interior finishes used in the much larger houses around you," Nash says.
"Make sure the painter you hire is highly skilled. When it comes to painting, preparation is tremendously important," he says. "To do a superior job, good painters do extensive preparation to walls and trim and use a primer, along with at least two coats of paint."
-- Make sure your hardwood floors look their best.
Many spacious homes, including brand-new properties, still feature wall-to-wall carpeting in some rooms. However, Nash says homebuyers are increasingly likely to favor hardwood floors, particularly in high-end neighborhoods.
"Hardwood floors never go out of style because they're architectural and have timeless beauty. By comparison, wall-to-wall carpeting seems very dated to contemporary buyers," Nash says.
He strongly recommends that sellers with worn hardwood floors have them refinished before their property is shown to buyers.
"You may even wish to replace wall-to-wall carpeting with new hardwood in highly visible parts of the property," he says.
-- Don't rule out hiring an interior designer.
You and your agent obviously have incentives to make your property shine. But, as Nash says, few homeowners or agents have the expertise to make a place look as appealing as it could.
Nash recommends that sellers planning a redo seek help through the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org). As he says, in many areas you can now hire an interior designer for around $100 an hour or less.
"A good designer will help you select the right paint colors and fabrics to make a major difference in the salability of your property. Remember that good taste outsells everything," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)