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NUTS & BOLTS / PATRICK MOTT

Sell House As If It Was Never Your Home

October 10, 1992|PATRICK MOTT

If you're a veteran Southern Californian, here are three words you've never spoken: my ancestral home.

Go ahead, try it. You can't quite form the phrase, can you? That's because we, as true Southlanders, have geographic roots that go about as deep as algae. In a corner of the world where traditions are established at breakfast and abandoned as anachronistic by dinner, we have come to envy the solidity of military brats. We don't own homes; we occupy real estate. We keep change-of-address forms in our wallets.

Everybody's moving, especially now. We're dealing in real estate the way Little Leaguers deal in baseball cards, and at a faster clip. People are getting the bends trying to rocket through escrow.

Sellers, in particular, are wooing buyers the way Romeo never wooed. But they may unwittingly be blowing it. They may be willing to throw in Laker season tickets, a trip for two to Homestead, Fla., and a free subscription to the Playboy Channel, but if their place looks like the Joad family just moved in, buyers are likely to dodge it as if it were radioactive.

So says Catherine Monaghan, owner of Valuable Suggestions, a home design consulting firm in Newport Beach. For eight months, Monaghan has specialized in coaching home sellers on the finer points of sprucing up their digs to appeal to the hordes of nomadic--and critical--home buyers.

What many sellers don't realize, Monaghan said, is that potential buyers likely don't have the discerning eye needed to strip away the furniture, the personal items, the color scheme and the clutter of normal daily life and see instead the basic home that lies beneath it all. The one they want to buy.

It's a little like a first date: You may be a prince, but you can kiss off date No. 2 if you dress like a frog. Once again, the bugaboo of the good first impression is running the show.

And, Monaghan said, the impressions begin even before the buyers come through the front door. On a recent job, for instance, Monaghan tactfully suggested that the homeowner remove the outdoor Christmas lights and repaint the front door and garage door. Polishing the light fixtures, putting out a welcome mat and moving an unsightly dog house around the side of the house also were suggested.

Once inside, she said, buyers want to see space or at least the illusion of it. Floor space, in particular, is valued, so Monaghan may suggest that furniture be rearranged to show more of it or removed if things appear too crowded.

She told of a female customer who had made several craft items, such as stuffed animals--so many, in fact, that they began to take over the house. One potential buyer "didn't even realize she had a fireplace," Monaghan said. The items were temporarily removed.

Such "personal" items--framed photos on the piano, clippings on the refrigerator, trinkets with special meaning for you but none for anyone else--should disappear during home show time, Monaghan said.

"You want people to start envisioning their own items in the house," she said, "and when people live in their homes for a time, they just don't see these things anymore."

And it's not enough to simply cram all the excess into a closet, Monaghan said. Closets are part of the package, too, and should be kept free of clutter. Again, the idea is to indicate usable space.

Cleanliness may go without saying, but Monaghan said that it is particularly critical in kitchens and bathrooms, where clean means clean. Sanitary.

And no kowtowing to the kids. If junior has his purple walls covered with Metallica posters, down they come. And on goes a neutral paint. Likewise, if the carpet is threadbare, it should be replaced with a neutral color, Monaghan said.

Too few things to look at is also a sin. Monaghan said that one bachelor client had a single piece of artwork hanging on a single wall of the home he wanted to sell. She said she suggested he buy and hang more.

"You can't present a place like that," she said. "It just doesn't look homey." Sometimes, she said, all it takes is a subtle shift in the arrangement of the furniture, a few plants, some color accents and some warm-up lighting to make the room appear not only more distinctive but more spacious.

This she did for Howard Brooke, a client who lives in Irvine. By shifting the position of a pair of beige love seats, accenting them with dark throw pillows, framing them with plants potted in Chinese urns and backing it all with an Oriental screen lighted from behind and below, Monaghan opened up the room and added much-needed color to what had been a fairly monochromatic setting.

If Brooke's place sounds good enough to buy, too bad. Although Monaghan did help him design another of his properties for sale--and it did sell--he decided to buck his history as a Southern Californian and stay put for a while. But he still retained Monaghan to help keep his home in good order. You never know.

What the heck. Make him an offer.

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