Spruce Up Your Home for Potential Buyers

There's no second chance to make a good first impression. Here's how to put a fresh face on the ol' homestead.

Any real estate agent can tell you that a home that is well-maintained and nicely decorated "shows well." Other things being equal, this kind of home will sell faster and for a higher price than a comparable house that isn't as attractive.

See Our Slide Show: 7 Features Home Buyers Want

Do not, however, undertake a major redecorating just to prepare it for sale. Why? Your tastes may not coincide with those of the buyer. Rather than crediting you with work already done, a would-be buyer is going to factor in the estimated cost of redecorating the premises his or her way when figuring how much to offer you.

So stay away from such things as expensive new curtains and wallpaper, and don't install wall-to-wall carpeting over otherwise good floors, such as plank hardwood or parquet.

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Concentrate instead on the decorating you believe is needed to make your home look good -- painting, replacing worn linoleum or placing wall-to-wall carpet over unfinished flooring. Choose neutral colors and simple patterns that are likely to harmonize with the tastes of most prospective buyers; they'll view these improvements as savings to them in both money and time.

While you're at it, round up old utility bills and figure annual totals and monthly averages. Pull together appliance receipts, service records and information on when major systems -- such as the furnace -- were installed. Collect warranties on siding, roof shingles, and so forth. Organize them in a folder for easy reference.

First Impressions Count

Start with a curb-to-door cleanup. Our indoor and outdoor seller's checklists include items you should inspect and repair before putting your house on the market.

Make your home look as spacious as possible. Get rid of everything extraneous, admit as much daylight as possible, and keep things shipshape. Clutter turns buyers off, so empty out crammed closets, pack away extra books and rarely used china, and sort out attic and basement storage spaces to avoid the flea-market look. Sell, give away or throw away what you can before you start showing the house.

Depersonalize your space. You want prospective buyers to imagine their things in the house, don't distract them with yours.

Are Disclosures Needed?

Many states require that owners who sell residential real estate disclose to all prospective buyers any material defect that the owner is aware of. Depending on the law in your state, you may be required to reveal known problems and defects in your home's roof, walls, foundation, basement, plumbing, heating and electrical systems, as well as past pest problems and the presence of hazardous materials such as radon, lead-based paint and asbestos.