They're called "power ZIP codes": neighborhoods that massage residents' egos, giving them bragging rights at cocktail parties. They feature sumptuous homes with well-landscaped grounds and give residents easy access to acclaimed schools and tony amenities, such as fine restaurants.
Do you live in one of the smallest and least opulent properties in one of these ritzy neighborhoods? And do you plan to soon sell your modest place, yet worry about competing with larger, statelier houses already up for sale?
If so, don't panic, says Mark Nash, a veteran real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."
"Remember that you're the gatekeeper to a great community for many people who otherwise couldn't afford to live there," Nash says.
Granted, more luxurious homes in the same area probably have more high-end features than does your place. Likely they have more bedrooms and built-in kitchen amenities that you couldn't squeeze into your home, such as a massive side-by-side refrigerator and a large wine cooler.
Still, when it comes to selling your property, you can expect to attract a more sizeable pool of potential buyers.
"Don't forget there are many wannabe buyers who dream of living in your power ZIP code," Nash says.
Here are a few pointers for the sellers of modest houses in power ZIP codes:
-- Avoid the temptation of pricing as if you had a larger place.
Joan McLellan Tayler, the author of several real estate books, tells the true story of a couple in their 40s with four children under the age of 10. They had a tight housing budget, but desperately wanted to live in a fancy suburb of San Francisco with top public schools.
To accomplish their goal, they found a reasonably priced yet tiny English cottage in their favorite neighborhood, a place with just two bedrooms. They bought the house and accommodated all their kids -- dormitory style -- in a single bedroom.
"The couple obtained the house for a fair price. Had it been overpriced, they could never have bought it, nor could others in the same price range. The sellers would have eliminated a lot of well-qualified buyers," says Tayler, who formerly owned a realty firm.
"Price too high and you'll be sorry, because you won't fool anyone. Don't forget that the defects really pop out in the overpriced house, giving people lots of reasons not to buy it," she says.
-- Give your front yard priority attention.
Though you can't list your property for as much as more spacious and better-appointed homes in the same community, Nash says you nevertheless need to make your turf look nearly as appealing.
"People are competitive, and ... a great yard is a status symbol for many folks," Nash says.
He recommends you hire a landscape designer to create an overall plan for your yard, emphasizing bushes and trees that flower when the season is right. Then to save money, you can do your own installation of the plants chosen by your designer.
In addition, make sure all your greenery, old and new, is pruned below window level, so as not to hide the intrinsic beauty of your home.
-- Focus on interior detailing.
Real estate agents rarely recommend major renovation work in advance of a sale. For example, they wouldn't say a petite house with only a very small den should have a large family room added on. The reason is that sellers usually don't recoup the cost of such a major remodeling job, even in a prestige neighborhood.
But Nash says you can better than recoup the money you spend on most interior detailing.
"Though your house is much smaller, you still want to give buyers the visual clues that it fits within your high- status neighborhood. Your buyers will be attuned to the right paint colors and specialty wallpapers," he says.
As sellers, he recommends you invest in quality workmanship for your interior finishes.
"Look for painters who do a superior job. When it comes to painting, the prep work is extremely important. To obtain the best results, the painter should do extensive preparation of walls and trim and use a primer, along with at least two coats of paint," according to Nash.
-- Invest in your flooring.
Many upscale homes -- including brand new properties -- still feature wall-to-wall carpeting in bedroom areas. However, Nash says homebuyers are increasingly likely to favor hardwood floors.
"Hardwood is elegant and architectural. In contrast, much wall-to-wall carpeting seems tired and dated," Nash says.
Nash urges sellers who already have hardwood floors to consider getting them refinished. Those living in upscale communities may even wish to replace wall-to-wall carpeting with new hardwood in very visible parts of their property.
-- Seek guidance through a design professional.
In attempting to improve the look of a home you're selling, you undoubtedly have the best of intentions. But Nash says few sellers have the good taste and skills to pull off the best possible look.
He recommends that sellers planning a redo seek help through the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org). In many areas, interior designers are willing to work on an hourly basis, says Nash, who contends that getting professional advice to select the right fabrics and paint colors can make a major difference.
"Look for a designer who does a lot of business in your neighborhood. That way you'll not only enhance your house, but also find someone to talk it up to people hoping to live in your area," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)