John Rygiol, a real estate broker who's worked with homebuyers since 1971, has a few words of advice for home sellers and their agents: Remember that first impressions count.
"It just blows me away when sellers fail to fix little things that are huge turnoffs to buyers," says Rygiol, who specializes in the sale of upper-end properties.
One of his biggest beefs is with sellers who have broken or tricky front door locks that frustrate buyers even before they step into a place.
"Everyone's time gets wasted, and the buyers get hopping mad," Rygiol says.
Another gripe: sellers with noisy or bothersome pets.
Another turnoff is a house so cluttered with collectibles that buyers can't appreciate the sizes of the rooms or picture themselves living there.
Savvy sellers should not only address these troublesome issues but also take proactive steps to make a property welcoming, says Sid Davis, a veteran of the real estate business and author of "Home Makeovers That Sell."
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Repair or replace faulty front door locks.
Rygiol is hardly the only real estate broker who underscores the importance of well-functioning front door locks. Another is Merrill Ottwein, a former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
"When the lock doesn't work, this conveys indifference on the part of the sellers and alerts buyers to the prospect of more serious problems within," Ottwein says.
Assuming you have two or more locks on your front door, he recommends you eliminate all but the deadbolt.
"Redundant locks drive a lot of people crazy," he says.
While you're at it, double-check that your doorbell is working perfectly.
"Like a malfunctioning lock, an out-of-repair doorbell is a big turnoff," Ottwein says.
-- Surround your entrance with attractive landscaping.
For those wishing to make a powerful impression on potential buyers, good landscaping is a must, Ottwein says.
One common error committed by sellers is to allow their bushes and other plants to grow too tall or too close to the front walls of the house.
"This obscures the view of the house from the street. The place looks cramped, as if the greenery has been shoehorned in," Ottwein says.
Creating the right landscaping doesn't require an expensive designer. But it may mean removal of trees that are positioned anywhere in the front yard so as to hide the home.
"To me, the definition of a weed is any plant or tree that's out of place," Ottwein says.
-- Make your front door beguiling.
As Ottwein says, the front door of a home can either attract or repel visitors.
Often, the owners of homes that are well kept inside are scarcely aware that their front doors look shabby, he says, because they habitually enter through a back door or the garage. But buyers will undoubtedly come in through the front.
"It's usually not expensive to greatly improve the look of your front door, unless you have a big mahogany door that needs replacing," Ottwein says.
A thorough cleaning and removal of cobwebs in and around the front door is virtually free, but for the expense of cleaning supplies. And a door that merely suffers from peeling paint can usually be redone for under $100.
-- Welcome visitors with pleasant aromas.
Ottwein, a former veterinarian turned real estate broker, is very favorable to pets. Still, he cautions that the smell of animals in a home can repel buyers as quickly as any other factor.
"A lot of people try to use spray fresheners to cover animal smells, cigarette smoke or other bad odors. But air fresheners can be overwhelming and create a very negative impression, like a woman wearing too much perfume," Ottwein says.
A home that is thoroughly clean and devoid of pet problems and mold issues should also be free of odors --assuming nonsmokers inhabit it.
"You don't need to spray anything in your house to make it smell fresh, which is perfect in and of itself. Beyond that, the only positive would be to have the scent of freshly baked cookies or bread circulating in the air," Ottwein says.
-- Enhance your place with flowers.
There's a good reason why flowers are the primary decor items used at weddings and other elegant events. They create a qualitative difference that no other design element can match -- not even the most remarkable furnishings or works of art.
Potted flowers add welcoming appeal when placed alongside the front door of a house. Also, bouquets of cut flowers can make an otherwise unremarkable home interior look extraordinary.
It can be pricey to keep your vases filled with fresh flowers throughout the time period when your property is being shown for sale. But fresh flowers create so classy an impression that many sellers consider flowers their secret weapon.
"Why bother with fake flowers? This is the biggest sale of your life, so it's foolhardy to shortchange yourself on this expense," Ottwein says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)