Step No. 1 in selling your house: give it `sell-appeal'. Specialist says `market ready' houses better draw for buyers

What can you do to make a house sell more quickly - and for more money? Plenty, says Valli Swerdlow of Andover, Mass., who considers herself a specialist in home-selling strategies.

``Buyers respond positively to privacy, brightness, and spaciousness,'' she says. ``They also react to immaculate cleanness and to a place that appears to be in good working order.''

For six years, Ms. Swerdlow, whose background is in commercial interior design, sales, and marketing, has been carving out a career niche for herself as a ``resale home enhancement specialist.''

``Now,'' she says, ``I combine interior design principles with a knowledge of consumer buying behavior and real estate selling strategies.''

Along the way to learning about how to improve one's efforts to resell a home, she spent five years interviewing corporate professionals to work out a plan to help transferring employees sell their homes.

She has assisted such corporations as Colgate-Palmolive, Eastman Kodak, and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance to help transferees learn resale techniques. Her booklet, ``Dress Your Home for Success,'' appears in ``relocation packages'' of several large corporations.

Swerdlow also offers her services to individual clients seeking help in selling their homes.

``I remind people that just putting up a `For Sale' sign and listing the house with an agent does not always net a sale. And since it is the wife who usually must get a home ready to sell, I advise her not to call in a real estate agent until they have properly prepared their house. That first impression is a lasting one, and a messy or poorly functioning house can quickly turn off an agent, just as it can a prospective buyer.''

Her contention is that homeowners who follow her tips feel far less anxious and much more in control of their house sale and their move.

``The simple and inexpensive ways are my specialty,'' she says - ``ways short of remodeling the kitchen, putting in a swimming pool, or repainting the entire house. Although if people want to improve certain areas of their home, I can tell them which give the best payback when it comes time to sell - kitchens and bathrooms, of course!''

Swerdlow contends that most people undersell their homes because they haven't properly made them ``market ready.'' Home sellers, she says, need to put themselves in the shoes of prospective buyers and help them visualize their own furnishings in the house.

``The great irony,'' she continues, ``is that the seller needs to distance himself/herself emotionally in order to create an emotionally appealing environment for the buyer. You do this by removing or storing away selected signs and signals that this is your house.'' Her tips fall into categories for outside landscape, siding, windows, walls, plumbing, fireplaces, and appliances. She says there is no ``most important tip or set of tips,'' because each homeowner must determine what tips apply most.

Here are a few:

Prune bushes and trees so that their shapes are well defined, and remove dead or ailing bushes.

Remove garden tools, hoses, toys, and bicycles from the yard, but in nice weather do leave out lawn chairs, picnic tables, and grills.

Repaint worn or peeling siding paint. Clean surfaces that show fingerprints and dirt, especially around front doorways and entranceways. Repair all cracked masonry and areas where grout has come loose.

Make sure your house has curbside appeal by standing at the curb and looking at the general exterior, taking note of any needed repairs, crooked shutters, or straggly window boxes.

Drive around the neighborhood and check out those features that attract you or repel you, and be guided thereby.

Since exterior paint color is such a vital selling consideration, you may wish to repaint. Remember that a small, one-story home should be painted one color, with the window boxes and shutters painted a tone lighter or darker than the body.

Clean windows until they sparkle.

If you are repainting, choose light, neutral wall colors. If you are applying new wallpaper, choose solid colors, miniprints, or small geometrics, not big, splashy florals.

Remove all political pictures, posters, and emblems from your walls.

Be sure all plumbing fixtures are immaculate. Repair any dripping faucets, and check caulking around tubs and sinks to be sure it is tight.

Check for proper flushing of toilets and make sure their handles are securely fastened. Keep toilet seats closed when house is being shown.

Put out new fluffy towels in neutral colors. Even towels can be used as a statement of quality.

Remove and clean ashes from your fireplace when it is not in use. Or, if the weather is cold, set a crackling fire ablaze, since buyers respond positively to the glow, smell, and sounds of a fire.

Clean all appliances inside and out. A dirty oven or a greasy glass oven door can send all the wrong signals.

``Dress Your Home for Success'' is available for $5.95, postage paid, from Valli Swerdlow, 27 Wolcott Ave., Andover, MA 018l0.

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