Some years ago, most people followed the old adage repeated by real estate pros: "Buy the least expensive house in the best neighborhood you can afford."
Back then, you didn't have the means to buy an upscale place in the area you chose, so you had to settle for second-best. Now that you must sell, how can you and your listing agent present the house in such a way as to make the most of the situation?
"There's absolutely no need for panic," says Mark Nash, author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home." "Across time, property values in posh neighborhoods always stay strong," he states.
Home values hold up well in fancy neighborhoods because status always sells, says Joan McLellan Tayler, the author of several real estate books.
But Nash cautions that the owners of a small house in a grand neighborhood -- what he calls a "C level" house in an "A level" area -- should avoid inflated expectations.
"Don't fall in the trap of thinking you can get an inflated price for your house because it's surrounded by palaces. But console yourself by knowing that on a square- foot basis, you'll probably get even more than the big guys," Nash says.
Why do homes of any size sell well in an elite neighborhood?
Here are a few pointers for the sellers of a modest home in a classy area:
-- Don't overshoot on price.
Sellers who overshoot on price at the outset can be severely punished later, especially if their property lingers unsold for a long time and all the excitement drains away. Then you may have to sharply discount the house to get it sold, Tayler says.
If you're at the lower end of the price range in a neighborhood with widely varied properties and many large homes, she says you should be especially careful to hit the price target correctly on the first try.
When comparing your modest home with a larger one with sumptuous features, make sure you and your agent adjust for the difference in amenities as well as size.
-- Make the appearance of your front yard a priority.
Though the yard in front of your modest property may lack the grandeur of the grounds around other nearby homes, you'll still benefit significantly from landscape upgrades, Nash says.
Consider hiring a landscape designer to create an overall plan for your yard, emphasizing blooming plants. Then to save money, do your own installation of the trees and shrubs included in the plan.
Also, make sure all your greenery, old and new, is pruned below window level so as not to hide the intrinsic beauty of your place.
-- Focus on fine detailing for minor upgrades to your interior.
Realtors are understandably reluctant to recommend major renovation work, such as the addition of a full family room to a house that has only a small den. That's because sellers often don't recoup the cost of major improvements, even in a fancy neighborhood.
But Nash says you can expect to be well compensated for money outlays on quality interior improvements.
"Though your house is small, top-grade detailing gives potential buyers visual clues that you fit into the neighborhood. Perceptive purchasers appreciate fine moldings, well-chosen paint colors and specialty wallpaper," he says.
You'll probably also want to steer clear of the painter offering the lowest bid. When it comes to painting, preparation is more important than price. To obtain a superior job, the painter should do extensive preparation of walls and trim.
"A superb paint job can iron out lots of flaws," Nash says.
-- Zero in on your floors.
Many brand-new homes still feature wall-to-wall carpet, especially in bedrooms. But Nash says an increasing number of buyers, including many young millennials, favor hardwood floors.
"Hardwood is architecturally elegant and conveys good taste. In contrast, wall-to-wall carpeting seems retro and tired," he says.
Nash urges sellers who already have hardwood floors to consider getting them refinished. Those living in prestige communities may even wish to replace wall-to-wall carpeting with new hardwood in parts of their property that are highly visible.
-- Consider hiring a home stager or an interior designer.
Clearly, sellers have the best intentions when trying to choose and arrange furnishings in a way that best shows off their property. But as Nash says, few sellers possess the experience and skills to create the best possible look.
One way to enhance your home's appearance is to hire a professional home stager recommended by your listing agent. Or heed the advice of Nash and engage an interior designer for an hour or two's worth of advice on furniture arrangement and paint colors. One source for referrals is the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org).
"For that small house in an elite neighborhood, a minor makeover can make a world of difference to your success as a seller," Nash says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)