Clean up, fix up, spruce up if you want to sell your house

What can you do, if you're hoping to sell your house these days, to be sure it sells fast and for the right price? A lot, real estate broker say.

First, and perhaps the most important, be realistic in the price you are asking.

"I'd say this is the most common mistake most people make," an agent for one Midwestern firm says. "They know real estate has gone up tremendously in value in the last few years and they get some off-the-wall figure in mind that they should get. Then they say they aren't going to come down.

"Occasionally, you'll find someone who, for some reason or other, will pay a very high price for a house; that is, well above market value. But it's rather rare. It's more likely that the weeks will drag by without a buyer, the people begin to get panicky as the moving date approaches, and they they'll drop the price below market value because they're so afriad they'll end up having to make payments on two places at once."

Home sellers should realize that buyers and appraisers aren't going to put a dollar value on the sentimental attachment your home has for you.

"This was our first home," someone says. "We watched our children grow up here. We certainly aren't going to give the place away." Brokers have heard many versions of this general theme.

Of course, it has a sentimental value for you and no one is asking you to "give the place away." But it won't have sentimental value for anyone else. Understand that fact and you are on the way to a realistic asking price that you'll be likely to receive quickly.

Realize also that there are limits to getting back in the sale price the money you might have spent on remodeling and improving a house.

"This is a common snag," the owner of a New England agency says. "People have too often been sold on the idea that, if they add to a house, or remodel, or do this, that, and the other, they'll be sure to get their money out of it when they sell. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't."

There are some improvements (a fireplace is usually a safe investment) that are practically guaranteed to be worth the money. Others are less sure.

"A lot of people think that a garage conversion automatically makes a house more salable," another broker comments.

"When every house was occupied by a family with several children, this was generally true. But a big segment of the market now is couples who don't have children and may not plan to have them, or single people. For them a garage is more valuable than an extra room they don't need.

"Remodel and add on to a house to suit yourself and make yourself happy," a broker advises. "Don't do it only to increase the value, because there's a chance you might not.

"It's possible to price a house completely off the market for its particular area of town by adding too much and making too many changes. When your broker starts talking about value and price, keep this in mind."

If you are asking a realistic price, what's the next step in selling a house fast and for the right amount of money?

Real estate people are unanimous: "Clean the place up," they urge.

"That's the second-biggest problem we have inselling a house," a woman broker in California says. "People say that it's a home and not some decorator's showplace and buyers will know it," she adds. "Or it's a lawn and no one will expect a golf green." The point is that they do.

"When people buy a home they are looking for more than wood and bricks and walls and rooms," she continues. "They want a whole life style and usually an improvement in status and socioeconomic level."

In any price range, prospective buyers are looking for, and want to find, a showplace or a golf-course green. And since there are sellers who understand this fact and will do as much as they can to make thier homes look good; the buyers aren't going to spend a lot of time with a place that doesn't really shine -- unless, of course, the price is right.

"So get in there and work on the lawn," brokers say. Scrub and polish the inside of the house, too, because it will be worth it.

Lawns should be neatly cut and edged, shrubbery and trees pruned and trimmed. Cleaning up a yard can mean anything from removing a stack of lumber or old car tires to picking up the children's toys that may be scattered about.

On the inside, brokers recommend that you start by clearing out rooms as much as possible.

"By clearing out I mean putting away as much as you can of the clutter that accumulates when a family lives in a place for a while," a Chicago broker says. "It's the sort of thing that a family is so used to that it may not even see it any more."

Put away makeup bottles that may be sitting out in the bathroom. Clear off the tops of kitchen counters and put away the appliances you may leave out for convenience. Get them out of sight. Don't leave newspapers or magazines scattered around. Put away children's toys and other things.

"A lot of people think this adds a homey touch," one broker says, "but it doesn't. It just looks messy."

The clearer, cleaner, and more clutterfree a home is, the larger it will look. (This is a familiar optical illusion: Break a large area down into smaller spaces and the overall area will tend to look smaller.)

Wash windows, shampoo carpets, scrub sinks, and shine floors. The more your house can look like a TV cleaner commercial, the more appealing it will be to more people.

There's another aspect of a house that isn't shiny, too. It may give the impression of being hard to keep clean, and this will turn off women buyers. According to most real estate people, whether she decides openly or is "the iron hand in the velvet glove" about it, 90 percent of the time the woman is the one really makes the choice about which house to buy.

"The man will do most of the figuring about payments, equities, etc., but it's the woman who decides that this is where she wants to live," one broker says. "So we know that a house that appeals to a woman will almost always sell quickly and easily."

When you clean a house, be sure to deodorize it. Odors are something that you can get used to, but they can seriously influence buyers. Stale food odors in the kitchen or diaper smells in a baby's room can make the place seem musty and unclean.

One broker recounted the story of a house that was on the market for months and finally sold at far below its fair price. Several years or poorly tended cat-litter boxes had left an odor that drove away buyers before they even had a chance to check out the good points in the house.

"Most of them never got farther than the front two rooms," the agent said gloomily. (Cats aren't the only offenders. Dogs, birds, and even fish tanks can leave a smell that you don't know exist, but that buyers can smell and are turned off by.)

use deodorant cleaning agents in each room. Burning candles also helps to dispel odors.Be a little cautious about using a perfumed roof spray. Some people don't like them, and they also may give the impression of covering up something unpleasant.

Make small repairs. Fix light switches crammed and chaotic garage has driven away many a potential buyer.

Turn on the lights. Raise the shades and open the curtains. A dark or gloomy-looking house will turn away prospective buyers.

If it's cool enough, have a fire in thr fireplace. This alone has made up many buyers' minds.

Contrary to what you may think, you don't have to completely redecorate your house to sell it fast and for a good price. Buy you do have to put some effort into it. Be assured, however, that it will pay off -- and well.

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