Industrious sellers can make their home appeal to buyers

March 14, 2009

Granted, it's no stroll through a rose garden to get a home sold in most neighborhoods nowadays. But that doesn't mean sellers have zero control over their destiny.

"The real estate market is obviously sluggish due to economic issues and job numbers. In some few areas, houses aren't moving at all. But in most communities, sellers can be optimistic about a good sale if they price right and bring out the 'wow factors' in their place," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "Home Makeovers That Sell."

In strong economic times as well as weak, most home buyers make decisions on an emotional basis, Davis says, and there are several inexpensive ways you can encourage them to love your place.

Here are some pointers for home sellers:

o Make your place more lovable through your own hard work.

Expense-conscious sellers - nearly everyone these days - can enjoy substantial savings on house preparation costs by doing some or all of the cosmetic work themselves, according to Davis.


"You shouldn't attempt your own complicated electrical or plumbing work, unless you're a professional in one of those fields. But painting or laying kitchen tile are jobs most people can handle," he says.

In fact, Davis recently witnessed this when he helped a middle-aged couple sell their diminutive cottage, which allowed them to buy the larger dream home they could finally afford after they paid off their kids' college bills.

Rather than hiring contractors, the wife made the house more salable by painting the exterior a pristine white and redoing the shutters in a handsome forest green. She painted the entire interior a pale champagne that blended with the new carpeting installed throughout. She also enhanced the kitchen's appearance by sanding and staining the cabinets and laying new flooring.

"After all her work, the house looked fabulous. It was ripe and ready for someone to fall in love with the place," says Davis.

Indeed, the house was on the market just a couple of weeks when the couple outpaced all the rival sellers in the neighborhood, and the cottage was snapped up for nearly its full list price.

o Aim to create a princely front entrance.

Leo Berard, a real estate broker and charter president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (, says there is a simple way you and your agent can determine if your house is ready to go on the market.

"Step across the street and take a long, hard look at your house from that distance," he says. "If your entrance doesn't look wonderful, you'll want to spend whatever it takes to change that."

"Smart homebuilders," Berard says, "spend money on a polished front entrance because they know how much this influences buyers. I'm talking about the front door, the walkway and any steps leading into the house - as well as landscaping around the front door. All this has to be perfect."

He says this typically shouldn't cost more than a few hundred to a thousand dollars, even if you decide to replace the front door.

o Create a positive ambiance with natural scents.

Much has been made about the power of wonderful aromas to inspire prospective buyers. Restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops have long traded on these sensory lures.

Berard says it's often relatively easy to capture a home buyer's heart by ensuring that a place both smells and looks exceptional.

"Don't use chemical fragrances, like air fresheners," he says. "Many people find those sickly smelling or overpowering. Use natural aromas."

Topping Berard's list of pleasant scents are those from freshly cut flowers and greenery. He's also enthusiastic about a less expensive alternative that creates an appealing aroma: the scent of a fresh apple pie that's baking in the oven when visitors come by.

"Remarkably, these little touches create a tremendous difference in the way your house will be experienced. They won't necessarily the main reason a sale could happen. But they could be an emotional clincher," Berard says.

o Clean like crazy and remove personal items.

Davis says an immaculate property is almost certain to gain extra attention from prospective purchasers.

"People think that just sweeping the floor is enough. But you need to clean every crack, crevice and corner - and to remove every item that's personal to you. This is particularly important in your kitchen and bathrooms," Davis says.

Davis says anything personal must be carted out of a property before it's listed for sale, including trophies, books, family photographs and even the artwork hanging on your walls.

"Everyone who buys a house pictures themselves moving in and getting a fresh start on life," he says. "But they can't imagine doing so if they encounter your imprint everywhere. You need to present your property like a blank canvas on which they can paint their own lives."

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at

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