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Selling your home? Get an edge in a slow market

Smart cleanup and redecorating can help you sell faster and for more.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 22, 2011 3:44PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


The real-estate market still looks much brighter for buyers than for sellers. So far this has been the worst year for sales since 1998 and prices may continue to decline until 2013, according to USA Today.


One way sellers can put a happier face on things might be to put a better face on their homes. It's called "staging": spending time and money -- sometimes significant money -- to make your house look like a model home. Does it work? While an obviously biased source, the International Association of Home Staging Professionals says more than 90% of professionally staged homes sell within a month.


In the video below, Stacy Johnson talks with master accredited staging professional Sandra Holmes. Check it out, then read on for more tips to help sell your home.

The idea behind staging is simple: You do whatever it takes to present your home in the best possible light.


The process doesn't have to be expensive. Holmes says it can run from $0 (do-it-yourself with a free consultation) to $5,000. But, according to her, it's always worth it. "The investment of staging your home will always be less than your first price reduction or the carrying costs on the property," she says. 


Staging can be as simple as packing up and removing clutter or rearranging your existing furniture. It can also be as complicated as paying $1,500 a month to furnish the place with rented stuff, and even having other people live in the home.


Even if you decide that your home doesn't require staging to sell, Holmes says people "should invest at least $5,000 to get their home prepared for sale." That could include painting, maintenance, and professional cleaning. "Whatever it is to get it updated and fresh-looking," Holmes adds.


Here's some advice to help keep that budget down and get the home looking nice:

  • Ask for help. Even if you don't get a pro, a second set of eyes that hasn't lived at the property is helpful. They haven't seen all the changes and improvements you've made, and won't miss the deterioration and disrepair you don't really notice. 
  • Make breathing room. Moving things around is free (although storing them elsewhere probably isn't). Rooms that have a lot of furniture may look cozy to you but crowded to potential buyers. Spacing things out makes a room look bigger, and lets buyers mentally fill in the gaps with their own stuff.
  • Be sparse, not Spartan. Perhaps worse than clutter is nothing at all. An empty room is not going to excite anyone, and it will draw more attention to the condition of the walls, floor and ceiling. While a tidy decor shouldn't be used to hide defects, it may save you the expense of redoing an unappealing paint job. Think of a pleasant-looking budget hotel room: There are simple decorations that catch your eye, but they're spaced out. Flowers look nicer than random decorative objects but will require care.
  • Minimize personal stuff. In the bathroom, clear the countertops and shower of excessive bottles, brushes and cosmetics, and use simple, color-coordinated towels. Take down personal photos, including off the fridge (magnets too). Pack up the knickknacks scattered across the shelves and dressers. You don't necessarily need to rent a storage unit for all this: You can keep it in the garage, as long as it's tidy.
  • Make things shine. Polish furniture. Clean windows, fixtures, doorknobs, fans and lights. This is simple and cheap but makes a big visual difference.
  • Think twice about big customizations. Replacing the carpet or repainting may seem logical, but not everybody has the same taste and the buyer may want to change things again anyway. You should consider a change if age or crazy style are issues. If you do, go for simple, neutral colors.
  • Create curb appeal. Don't focus on the inside and forget the outside. First impressions matter. Clear out the tools and junk (especially on the patio and front porch), mow the lawn, and trim the hedges. Fresh mulch may spruce things up cheaply, and if you don't want to paint the whole house, paint the trim, door and shutters. (Your city may even offer enough free paint for the job; some give away limited quantities.) If it's in the budget, the next step may be some pro landscaping or a simple garden.

Bottom line? You want to create the widest appeal possible on the smallest budget, and may want the opinion, if not the services, of somebody with a fresh perspective.


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