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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Cleanliness Is a Seller's Best Friend for Good Impressions, Agents Say

March 26, 1994|From Associated Press

Those old adages that neatness counts and cleanliness is next to godliness are right on the money when it comes to selling a house.

"It's the tidy and clean home that sells faster," says Carolyn Anderson, an interior decorator and real estate broker. "Prospective buyers pick up the subliminal message, 'If I buy this house, maybe I can have a tidy existence.' "

After eight years of showing houses, Anderson can say with some assurance that good impressions start at the front door. A polished doorknob and trimmed shrubbery set the right tone. Once inside, most house hunters notice the living room first. Then they head for the kitchen and bathrooms.

A separate master bath is highly desirable. If there's only one bath, make it as attractive as possible. If it's dark, install a new ceiling fixture. If it's small, make it look bigger, perhaps by replacing a small mirror with a large one.

Most people want a house bathed in light. It costs nothing to open the curtains and pull up the shades to the top of the window. Wash those newly exposed windows and dust the bulbs of light fixtures and lamps so they give off more light. Replace burned-out or missing bulbs and increase wattage without going past manufacturers' recommendations on your fixtures.

A fresh interior paint job with light neutrals or soft pastels may require a cash outlay, but it can mean a faster sale, especially if the rooms are dark or in dated colors.

Touching up existing paint can make a big difference, too. Start with the woodwork around the windows. If there is flaking paint, scrape it and repaint. Flaking paint is unsightly and may suggest problems such as leaks.

In a kitchen, there's probably grease buildup. Washing or repainting the ceiling can make a surprising difference in the room's brightness.

"Prospective buyers might not open the children's closets, but they will open the master bedroom closets," Anderson says. "Be prepared. Most shoe stores are happy to let you have some of their shoe boxes. It looks a lot better if you put your sneakers and old slippers in shoe boxes. If necessary, rent a storage cubicle for bulky items."

Add spaciousness around the house by storing excess furniture, especially if it obstructs natural pathways.

"Depersonalize your home when you are ready to put it on the market," Anderson suggests. "If you have too many photographs and memorabilia, it interferes with somebody else's ability to imagine themselves in the house."

If you turned a spare bedroom into a sewing room or home office, return it to a bedroom if possible. Most people want the maximum number of bedrooms and may have trouble visualizing one unless it has a bed in it.

Little things, such as wiping off smudges around light switches, mean a lot. Buyers turn lights on and off, so their eyes are directed to the switch plates and the area around them.

A bad smell can be an immediate turnoff, and frequently the odor emanates from areas inhabited by pets. Be especially vigilant about keeping those areas clean and use lemon- or pine-scented products, which are generally associated with cleanliness.

Fresh flowers or a few healthy house plants will enhance any room. They needn't be expensive. Even a single bloom in a small container is welcoming. Or use a few fresh flowers with artificial greenery.

Once you've made your house appealing to others, don't be surprised if you decide you like it too much to move.

One of Anderson's clients recently fixed up a house before listing it. Quite a bit of furniture was removed and the rest rearranged. Several rooms were repainted in light colors. Window shades were replaced, and heavy curtains were removed to expose the view.

"The family liked the changes so much, they took it off the market," she says.

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