As the executor of a relative's estate, it fell to a busy middle-aged woman to oversee the sale of a ranch-style house near San Diego. So she flew there to meet with the real estate agent handling the listing.
"She was in a big rush and hoped to put the house on the market without doing any work to the place," recalls Jeff Dowley, the agent who handled the listing.
But Dowley -- who's sold homes since 2002 -- told the executor it would be folly to put the place up for sale without addressing at least a few basic cosmetic concerns to enhance its salability.
"The kitchen cabinets were chipped and badly needed repainting, along with new hardware. Also, the harvest gold stove -- which dated back to the 1970s -- was absolutely awful-looking and had to be replaced," remembers Dowley, who's affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).
After a lengthy discussion, the woman accepted Dowley's logic. The total cost came in under $1,000, including just $1.15 for each new knob for the kitchen cabinets.
"Because of that work, the house sold in just a few days at full list price," Dowley says.
Dowley stresses the importance of making such improvements before putting a home up for sale, even though many sellers have to be talked into doing so. What stubborn sellers don’t understand, he says, is that very few buyers can imagine how well a property could look once the cosmetic work is completed.
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Repaint brilliantly colored rooms.
Dowley says that in recent years many homeowners have become fans of home-decorating TV shows. Such shows embolden owners to experiment with their decor. For example, he's recently seen many rooms painted in robin's egg blues, eggplant purples, pistachio greens and fuchsia.
"The problem is that buyers can't get past your weird decorating to see how good your rooms would look in a light, neutral shade," he says.
Fortunately for those willing to do their own painting, Dowley estimates it typically costs no more than $200 for paint and other supplies to redo a mid-size room. And he says a professional contractor can be hired for that paint job for about twice that price.
"Painting over bright colors in a soft off-white tone can make a tremendous impact on your sale," Dowley says.
-- Consider doing a few minor bathroom improvements.
Improvements to the kitchen usually give sellers the greatest payback. But bathroom improvements also help homeowners maximize their potential gain from a sale, according to Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "Home Makeovers that Sell."
"Figure you'll get back at least five dollars for every one you spend in your bathrooms," Davis says.
For instance, for a small sum you can replace a dated-looking bathroom light fixture with a new one in a more contemporary style. Or you could replace a small mirror with a larger one that's more appropriately proportioned for your bathroom.
Davis also urges all home sellers to make sure they remove any mold that's accumulated in and around their bathroom tub or shower. If you're unwilling -- or unable -- to do this annoying job yourself, he says you should hire a professional tile cleaning company to do so.
-- Add luster to your laundry room.
"If you've got a dark, dingy laundry room with peeling paint and bad flooring, this leaves a terrible impression about the overall condition of the house," Davis says.
What are some low-cost steps that will make your laundry room more appealing? Davis recommends you hire a carpenter to install built-in shelving. Also, repaint the laundry room, replace worn flooring and upgrade the lighting.
-- Think of cleaning as your most cost-effective project.
You won't need a bundle of cash to achieve the kind of sparkling interior that can have a powerful effect on prospective homebuyers, Davis says.
"It's astonishing how many houses go on the market in an unclean condition, which is a massive turnoff for buyers. They'll assume the worst about your upkeep of the entire house if any part of it is filthy. Conversely, they'll think the best of sellers who've cleaned like crazy," he says.
If you're the sort of person who's oblivious to dust bunnies and cobwebs, you may need others to point out areas of your home that need cleaning.
"Invite a few relatives over. Ask them for a candid critique of your housekeeping," Davis suggests.
If your family members are harsh, which you want them to be, and say your place needs a major cleaning, don't hesitate to hire a professional company to do the work.
"It's not that costly to hire people who really know how to do in-depth cleaning. And it's always money well spent," Davis says.
-- Finish all your upgrades before hitting the market.
Many would-be home sellers assume it's fine to put their property up for sale while remodeling work is still underway. But Davis says you should wait until the painters' ladders and drop cloths are gone, the carpet has been cleaned and all the other projects are done.
"Until the dust settles, you don't want people trooping through. When work is still underway, people can't envision themselves living there," he says.
However, the minute the upgrades are complete, you and your agent should feel free to open your property to interested prospects.
"For most people, the smell of fresh paint is a positive, not a negative," Davis says.
-- Don't rule out borrowing for minor makeovers if you're tight on cash.
Does your home cry out for remodeling work, yet you lack funds for the improvements? If that's the case, Davis recommends you consider taking out a loan rather than trying to sell the property in "as is" condition. Though not ideal, he says it's better to borrow the funds than to put the property on the market without essential upgrades.
"A house that's offered for sale without important cosmetic improvements rarely attracts anyone but vulture buyers. And you can bet they'll expect to pay no more than a rock-bottom price for your house," Davis says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)