Q: How important is it to spruce up your home before putting it up for sale in this economy?
A: It's always a good idea to spruce up your house and declutter it to improve the marketability. Put flowers out front and keep it clean and make it smell good. You might not get more money, but you will get it sold. There are a lot of houses out there that look awful — they are bank-owned or short sales — and they are dirty. If someone is looking at two houses and one is pretty and clean, looking like it's taken care of, it will get an offer sooner than the other. But my rule is don't spend more than $50. I tell my clients to clean the carpets and open the curtains to make it light and airy.
Q: You can't control the rest of the neighborhood, but what can you do to provide curb appeal?
A: Plant flowers such as pansies. You don't have to go really expensive. Mow the lawn and edge it. Make sure your gutters are clean. Touch up any peeling paint — use the same color. That should be taken care of anyway, as a homeowner, because exposed wood can rot. Move the chair off the porch, pick up children's toys; things like that shouldn't be left around. You want it to be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes when people drive by. Granted, they go on the Internet first and then they drive by, but if a house looks as if it's well taken care of, it will look as if it was well-loved. This is true even if there's a short sale of the home. Clean up surrounding garbage. If there are a bunch of old cars, it will look like it's a repair shop; that will distract. But ski-mobiles and things like that are OK. Make sure the animals are locked up, the dogs especially. Some dogs are very friendly, but people don't like having dogs they don't know jumping on them. It's better if the sellers aren't home when people come to show the house.
Q: What about the entryway?
A: Make sure you've swept up the leaves, so it's nice and clean. Get all the cobwebs down and look again to see whether the front door needs painting. Brass plates at the bottom of the door can certainly brighten up the doorway, as well.
Q: What's the first thing buyers get hit by when they walk in the door?
A: Smell. If the house smells funky, that's a turnoff. The heat or air conditioning should be on; you want normal temperatures. If the house is cold, they aren't going to take the time to look at the house. Have the lights on and music on. You don't know what kind of music they like, but a little soft classic or light jazz is always in good taste.
Q: What are the expenses you might want to avoid?
A: If you put a whole lot of money into something like new flooring or carpeting, then you are probably not going to get it back. Unless it's really, really bad, where it wouldn't finance, you don't need to replace it.
Q: What's the biggest mistake sellers make when prepping the house?
A: If they are not sure about getting it ready, then they should consult with a real-estate agent, a stager or a relative. Sellers have lived in the house, and they are comfortable with it. They should get an outside opinion. Another mistake is taking the good smell to an extreme. The message then is: "What are they trying to hide?" And please don't leave candles burning when people come.
Q: What do you want in the living room?
A: You don't want it cluttered with personal pictures and such. That's lovely, but it makes a room seem smaller. I do make an exception for children's bedrooms. Let the kids have a life; it doesn't have to be immaculate. It's hard for little kids to have toys picked up; I'd give them a pass.
Q: Are kitchens a make-or-break element when selling the house?
A: They are huge — kitchens for the ladies and garages for the guys. Most people do cook, and so it should be spotless. If you have an older home, you may go to Big Lots or T.J. Maxx and pick up some throw rugs and get some new dish towels. It brightens things up, but again, keep it in the $25 to $30 range. You can also take those towels to your new house.
Q: Is cupboard organization a big deal?
A: If you have some pullouts, that's great. But you don't have to feel like you need things alphabetically organized. I've seen that, but not in my house. People still have to live their lives while it's on the market.
Q: What about the bath and utility rooms?
A: They need to be clean, clean, squeaky clean. Bathrooms need to be pristine, but laundry rooms can have dirty clothes. Make sure to get rid of mildew and caulking that has turned colors. Black spots are a turn-off. They can recaulk if necessary.
Q: What should the backyard and side yards look like?
A: Have them mowed, and pick up any trash. I would recommend picking up land mines the dogs have left behind. Birdbaths and such are not going to make or break a sale.
Q: What kind of attention should be devoted to the garage and storage areas?
A: I don't want to sound sexist, but in a garage you expect to find tools and camping gear. The perfect shop won't make or break the deal.
Q: Ultimately what is the most important thing people can do in preparing to sell their house?
A: Price. If people price the house too high and then chase the market, they won't sell the house. The price needs to be competitive with short sales and banked-owned properties.
Reach Mail Tribune business editor Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.