Back when the real estate market was hot, sellers barely had to make their beds and do the dishes for their houses to attract buyers. Any extra effort often elicited multiple offers for over the asking price.
In today's cool market, however, those same extras can mean the difference between getting one offer or none at all, says Lisa LaPorta, cohost of HGTV's "Designed to Sell."
Sellers frustrated with the stagnant market should consider turning their anxiety into action. As inventory grows, a few inexpensive moves can make your house stand apart.
Here are 12 cheap tricks real estate experts recommend sellers consider to speed sales:
1. Get the right mindset. Once you list your home, detach yourself. Treat the house as a commodity, which means making changes that will broaden its appeal but that may erase some of your personal style. "I tell sellers in our first meeting that I may say things that offend them, but if I do it's because I feel it's for the benefit of the sale," says Dan Verbin, general manager of Re/Max Marquee Partners, which oversees 14 offices in the South Bay and throughout Greater Los Angeles.
2. Start at the curb. Look at what people see when they pull up, says Sandy Fish, broker owner of Re/Max Ranch and Beach in San Diego, where she's been selling real estate for 20 years. Trim hedges, prune trees, mow the lawn and plant oodles of colorful flowers. If the mailbox is tired and the address numbers are falling off, replace them. Walk around the house. Get all debris -- old patio furniture, rusty barbecues -- off the property. Everything outside should look perfect.
3. Paint -- it's money in a can. Outside, if a good power wash isn't enough, a coat of paint is one of the best facelifts you can give a house for a relatively low price. If you don't want to paint the whole house, do the trim. Inside, paint walls a soft neutral such as warm beige, sage or gold. Paint not only says new start, but it also masks odors.
4. Focus on the entry. Put some energy into the front door, because it makes a strong first impression. A few years ago, LaPorta fixed up a Pasadena home for her show. The home had a traditional old-fashioned front door, which looked like all the other doors on the street. She bought a stock door from a lumber supplier, painted it glossy burgundy, put a pediment over it, thick molding around it and flanked it with two large potted topiaries. The whole upgrade cost $2,000. The result? After the listing agent saw the improvements, she raised the original asking price by $40,000 to $739,000. The owners received multiple offers and sold in the high $700,000s, LaPorta said, "because we made an ordinary entry look stately and elegant."
5. Catch up on maintenance. Get around to the repairs you should have been doing all along. "Fix the little stuff," Re/Max Marquee Partner's Verbin says. "Repair the cracked tile in the bathroom and torn screens. Replace broken light-switch covers and burned-out lightbulbs. Tape up or pin wires from audio systems and computers."
These easy fixes show potential buyers that you pay attention to detail, which signals that you must care about the big stuff too.
6. Look for alternatives to expensive or messy upgrades. "Don't take on a big remodel when you're thinking of selling," says Reva Kussmaul, a remodel coach and owner of Eye for Detail, in Pasadena. "Keep improvements small and manageable. A major project creates more mess and can take up time you could be on the market."
However, do investigate small ways to get big results. If your tile is 1950s pink or 1970s brown, look into companies that can spray tile to make it a new color, she says. Miracle Method, for example, gives a clean, fresh look without the demo, dust or fat price tag.
If dated cabinets still work well, consider painting or staining rather than replacing them. Today's house hunter prefers either dark wood cabinets in shades of espresso or ebony, or painted cabinets. Mid-toned browns and grainy golds are out. A dark stain over light, coarse-grained wood will quiet busy grain and make wood a color more people prefer, as will painting. Put on some new knobs, and for a couple thousand dollars, your kitchen will look as though it had a $20,000 makeover.
7. Consider new appliances. In LaPorta's experience, sellers typically get every dollar back that they spend on new appliances. "When people see new kitchen appliances, they often see a new kitchen," LaPorta says. "That rates high on people's radar, especially men's."
8. Add some house bling. Make anything metal in your home look new and shiny. "People see shiny new metal and say 'Oooh,' and it's not that expensive," LaPorta says. You can pick up a new dining room light fixture for $200 and one for the porch for $40; people will notice. Change the front-door handle, faucets and curtain rods if they're worn and dull. These should all look fresh.