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First things first: What to do to get your home ready to sell

April 09, 2006|Dinah Eng | Special to The Times

'Tis the spring selling season, or, more precisely, the season to get your home ready to sell. Especially if you hope to move on before the kids have to head back to school.

No matter how grand or modest your fix-up plans, cleaning should be the top priority, the pros say.

"If I only had $100 for prep work, I would spend all of it on cleaning," says Frank Marshall, a Realtor with Re/Max Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach. "Clean the windows, the carpet, shine the sinks, make everything spotless. Nothing is as important as a clean, clutter-free environment."

A cleaning service will charge, on average, about $60 per hour for a two-person crew that can whip your home into shape. An average three-bedroom, two-bath house will take about two to 2 1/2 hours to clean (for a cost of $120 to $150).

When it comes to prepping a place for market, what needs to be done will depend on the home's condition, and the cost will fluctuate accordingly.

Realtors say that for homes of up to 1,800 square feet, owners generally spend $3,000 to $5,000 to prepare a place for sale. For larger homes, the budget goes up, depending on what needs to be done.

So, besides making the house sparkle, what improvements do experts say translate into higher prices and faster sales?

Fix-up budget: $500

Sellers should concentrate on cleaning, landscaping and painting. After that, any money left over can be spent on creating a more polished look, like upgrading plastic patio furniture with a nicer table and chairs.

Curb appeal is a priority.

"I had one client whose lawn was yellowed, and [he] hadn't had an offer in six months," says home stager Ed Marshall, a former Realtor and now owner of Marshall Design Group in Sherman Oaks.

"We hired a gardener to dye the lawn, which takes a couple of hours to do and costs about $150. We also had him plant one tall ficus tree and some shrubs in front of a bare wall, which also cost about $150. The place sold within 10 to 12 days."

Marshall says the dye, when properly applied, looks realistic enough to give buyers an idea of what the lawn could look like if properly maintained.

For enhanced curb appeal, popular plants are calla lilies ($6 for a gallon-size plant); Ranunculus ($2 for a gallon-size plant) and date palms ($11 for a gallon-size plant).

If there are no flowers outside, put geraniums in full bloom in containers. Make sure you buy the right type of geranium, as some prefer sunlight and others shade. And unless the home is small and cottage-like, skip window boxes -- which Marshall says are outdated.

Moving inside, he suggests investing $85 to $150 on a contemporary Asian-style area rug, in vogue now.

The home stager dismisses mirrors as a way to enhance the size of a room. They simply add clutter, he says. Instead, paint the walls a light color and use an even lighter shade on the ceiling. A 10-by-10 room requires 2 gallons of paint -- at a cost of $23 or less per gallon.

"Arrange your furniture for good pathways," Marshall says. "Don't put your sofa so that it blocks the entryway to the living room. If you have heavy drapes, tie them back to open the space and let light in from the window."

Natural light should sell the house, he says, but if the windows don't let enough in, supplement with table lamps.

To give buyers a sense of comfort and style, Marshall suggests setting the dining table with your best china and putting wine bottles and a dish of nuts or candy on the counter.

Homeowners can cut labor costs by doing some work themselves. James Palomaria, general manager of the Home Depot in Marina del Rey, says the most popular home-prepping materials aren't that expensive. Many people, he says, buy plastic totes (about $5 each) to store knickknacks and clutter.

Other inexpensive fix-ups that make a difference? A basic kitchen faucet in brushed nickel runs about $128, a bathroom faucet, $99.

Fix-up budget: $5,000

For those with $5,000 to spend, rule No. 1 still prevails: Use the money first to clean, landscape and paint.

With what's left, take care of any necessary repairs. Update and replace whatever appliances you can -- microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher -- and replace or refinish old kitchen cabinets, advises Jimmy Wood, a Realtor with ZipRealty in Los Angeles. Clay Hinrichs, a Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Studio City, says hardwood floors are a hot-ticket item; it costs about $2,500 to sand, re-stain and varnish floors in an 1,800-square-foot home. "People are darkening them into walnut, mahogany and dark cherry tones," he says. "I recommend that people pull up carpets if they've got hardwood underneath."

Recessed lighting is also very popular. It costs about $150 per light, plus the electrician's fee. People install them in hallways and kitchens, and use them in rooms to spotlight artwork.

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