The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman


Here are some relatively inexpensive steps, tried-and-true but in no particular order, that sellers can take to maximize their selling prices and find buyers faster. Do all of them, and your place may look so good that you might change your mind and decide to stay a few more years:

-- Paint or re-stain the front door so it looks brand- new. Remember the adage: You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. And you want that first impression to be clean, if not socko.

-- Along the same vein, make sure your plants and shrubs are trimmed and neat, and keep the grass mowed. In the winter, some folks have gone so far as to paint their lawns green so the pictures that accompany their listing are vibrant instead of dull.

-- Don't forget to clean your gutters, especially if you have little plants growing out of them.

-- Consider re-caulking outside around the windows and doors, especially if the old stuff is cracked and pulling away.

-- If your sidewalk, driveway or deck is stained in any way, don't just power-wash the bad spot; do the whole thing so it looks new.

-- Paint goes a long way, which is why you should at least paint the key rooms -- the kitchen, baths, living room and master bedroom. If you have enough lead time, paint one room per weekend so you won't be overwhelmed. But plan to take some extra time for the kitchen and baths. They take longer to paint because of all the angles. If you clean your equipment properly, you can use it over and over again.

By the way, don't do what a former neighbor did and paint one secondary bedroom pink and another blue. Use the same neutral colors throughout. And for goodness sake, paint the ceilings and trim bright white. My ex-neighbor didn't. He painted everything -- including the ceilings -- the same color. Ech!

-- While painting, remove all the hardware and replace them with new locks, doorknobs, hinges, doorstops, switch plates and plug covers.

Again, this will make the place look almost brand-new. Yours truly once went so far as to trade out his old, flat, ugly luan doors for newly painted (white, of course) six-panel colonial doors.

-- Take a good hard look at your windows and screens. If they are not spotless, clean them. Admittedly, this is a laborious task, but it is worth it, even if you have to spend a few hundred dollars for a professional to do the job.

-- Now that the windows are clean, make sure you open the curtains and blinds before every showing so the sun can shine in.

-- Turn on all the lights for each showing so the house appears open and bright.

-- In the kitchen and baths, consider gleaming new faucets and fancy new knobs and drawer pulls. You can change them out in minutes. While you are at it, re-caulk and maybe even re-grout the bath tub and shower. Nothing turns people off like black or moldy strips of old caulk. Yuk!

-- Also think about new light fixtures. You can find relatively inexpensive fixtures at your local hardware or big-box store, which will also serve to brighten up your house. If you don¹t replace the old ones, make sure you at least clean the glass.

-- Now is the time to take care of all those other little things you've lived with and are used to -- slowly dripping faucets, chipped doors and nicked countertops, for instance. They may not bother you, but they could turn off would-be buyers.

-- Change your furnace and air conditioning filters. Savvy buyers look at these things as indicators of just how well you've taken care of your property.

-- Get ride of the clutter. This is a big one. Everyone has clutter ­- stacks of old magazines you intended to read but never got to, small appliances stacked together on a kitchen counter, and toothpaste, hairbrushes and the like gathered on the back of the toilet. Toss the reading material and put the appliances away under the counter where they belong.

Don't forget to work your magic in the garage and storage areas, where things tend to pile up over the years. You may not mind parking in the driveway or on the street, but a buyer may walk if he can't see himself bringing his vehicle inside to sleep at night.

And the same goes for your closets. If your clothes are jammed inside and shoes are piled high on the floor, the closet will appear too small, even if it really is ginormous.

-- A great way to get rid of stuff is to have a yard sale. You could easily make a few hundred dollars and clean your house at the same time. You won't believe what people will buy. At my last yard sale, someone bought the rubber stamps I had made with my children's name on them. She didn't care what they said. She was a teacher who bought them to use by her handicapped students to build their hand-eye coordination.

What you don't sell, you can give away. There are people who will come in at the end of your sale and cart away everything that's left.

-- Move your furniture back so the rooms look larger. This is part and parcel to "staging," and if you don't have an eye for this, consider hiring a professional who will help you put your home's best foot forward by maximizing its attributes and minimizing its faults.

-- If you have a particularly energy efficient house or have been energy conscious, make a list of your previous two years of power bills so you can show prospects your costs relative to your competition. A buyer may not live the way you do, but at least he will know what's possible. Skip this step entirely if you live in a gas-guzzler or you leave the doors open with the air conditioning running.

-- Consider having a home inspection. This will alert you to bigger things that should be corrected before you put the house on the market.

Most buyers will hire their own home inspector. But if your place gets a clean bill of health, you can show it to them, and maybe they won't bother. At the very least, though, you will have a chance to address issues before they become sticky bargaining points.

-- If you have saved those booklets and instruction manuals -- my wife does! -- put them together in a kitchen or laundry room drawer and make sure you show them to prospects. At the very least, this is another indication that you have taken care of your nest.