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Small Improvements Can Boost the Resale Value of Your Home


The condo in Hermosa Beach had a great ocean view. But to visitors, it appeared to be a stereotypical "bachelor pad." The condo was painted a stark hospital white. Sports posters were tacked on the walls.

And the unit's austere, worn furnishings were what you'd expect to see in the apartment of a cash-strapped college student.

In truth, the owner was no student. He was a prosperous advertising executive whose clients included professional basketball teams. Still in his 30s, the bachelor was preoccupied with his career, not his home life. The moldy food in his refrigerator was one indication of his priorities.

When it came time to sell the condo, however, the bachelor's agent, W. Darrow Fiedler, issued him a stern warning:

Either redo your interior or take a hit on the price.

That was enough to convince the bachelor to accept Fiedler's suggestion and hire a designer to restage his property.

For a few hundred dollars, the designer gave the bachelor specific instructions for paint colors as well as a list of furniture to buy and instructions on how to arrange the pieces. He soon completed the designer's plan, and the improvement was "dumbfounding," recalled Fiedler, a broker-associate with Re/Max Beach Cities/Westside.

For less than $4,000, the bachelor completely transformed his condo, making an ordinary unit seem "warm, inviting and new," said Fiedler, whose office is in Redondo Beach.

He estimates that the expense of the design job yielded the seller back at least five times its cost when the condo was sold. (And the furnishings the bachelor purchased went with him to his new home.)

Few home sellers recognize the impact a designer can have on the appearance of a home simply by offering one or two hours of advice on the rearrangement of furnishings and the choice of paint colors.

"Many people think going to Home Depot is the whole answer, when really they need the guidance of a designer," Fiedler said.

Hiring a designer is not necessarily an expensive frill, even for the owner of a modest house. Many a good decorator can be hired for as little as $60 to $100 an hour, and real estate agents can provide referrals. "Designers are worth their weight in gold," Fiedler said.

Engaging an interior designer for a couple of hours of counsel before you sell your home is one relatively inexpensive way to make a property more appealing to buyers. Here are four others:

No. 1: Paint your interior the warm ivory of the keys on an old piano.

Many home sellers are aware that a home painted in neutral tones is attractive to a wider array of buyers than one that makes a bold color statement.

"You need to be as inexpressive as possible in your decorating," Fiedler said. Still, some sellers tend to interpret the notion of neutral colors too broadly. For instance, stark white is neutral, but it conveys an institutional look. Light gray is also neutral, but it's a cold, dead color.

No. 2: Remove any bizarre or possibly offensive items from your property.

John Campbell, a broker-associate in the Newport Beach office of Coldwell Banker, tells of a home seller who kept a pet parrot in the living room of the stucco home he owned in a planned community.

Though the property was quite ordinary, the parrot was not. The exotic bird had been tutored to utter a series of obscenities.

"He was a very foul-mouthed parrot," Campbell said.

When he encountered the bird, Campbell was representing a pair of buyers who took such personal offense at the creature's presence that they refused to even visit the second floor of the home. For a small fee, the parrot's owner should have paid someone to "bird-sit" the creature until the home was sold.

Julie Mulligan, a 23-year veteran of the real estate field who sells for Century 21 Award in La Mesa, tells of a homeowner who requested her services as a listing agent.

But she declined to accept the listing. Why? Because the owner refused to take the inexpensive step of painting over an offensive picture on the wall of his master bedroom.

The painting depicted a huge marijuana leaf. The statement inscribed underneath appeared to endorse the use of the drug. "People get very upset when they see something like that," Mulligan said.

No. 3: Bring in a clutter-clearing specialist if you're a pack rat.

Some home sellers are unaware of the crowding that develops as they live in their habitats year after year. Yet the presence of clutter makes a home seem smaller and considerably less inviting.

"Sometimes people have three toasters sitting on a kitchen counter and two of them don't work. Other people have a working television sitting on top of a broken TV," Mulligan said.

If you're someone who finds it wrenchingly difficult to part with any belongings--even useless or broken items--you may need help.

For an hourly fee of $40 to $150, a professional organizer will visit your home and assist you in picking through your possessions, helping you decide which to cast off and which to keep in an inexpensive storage unit until your property is sold.

No. 4: Hire a landscaper or laborer to slash overgrown or dead foliage.

Just as many fail to realize how cluttered the inside of their homes are, so are others unaware that their lots have taken on an Amazon jungle quality through the years.

The idea of greenery is to frame and enhance your home, not to hide it, said Fiedler, the Re/Max broker-associate.

Some homeowners are loath to cut down tall plants, even when they rise well above their window sills, concealing their property and making it less attractive.

"It doesn't cost much to have your mature foliage cut back substantially. Yet when you do so it makes a big difference," Fiedler says.

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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