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Profitable Home Selling Tips

by Maureen Grenier

Even if you've never been involved in the sale of house before and yours is about to go on the market, you probably know enough about the process to be able to repeat, like a litany: clean it; paint it; fix it. But do you find yourself asking: How clean does the house have to be and how do I tackle the job? Do I really have to paint? What are the best colors to choose? What do I need to repair?

When considering these questions, it's good to remember that most prospective home buyers are an unimaginative lot. Your house may be immaculate but if the rooms are cluttered, crowded, and dark, they may appear to be less clean and much smaller than they really are. Picture this: an old, seven-piece mahogany dining room suite plus a rocking chair and seven boxes of books packed in anticipation of your move are wedged into a dark green room with a brown rug and a window covered by heavy velvet drapes. Why is this decorating scheme a mistake? It's because most people are unable to imagine how big and beautiful the room would look if painted off-white, everything removed but the dining room suite, a pastel tablecloth and a fresh flower centerpiece on the table, curtains stripped from the window, the rug removed, and everything spotlessly clean. In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, you must "make it so"; otherwise, it might take you a very long time to sell your house and the offers to buy will not only be slower, but lower.

Clean, Clean, Clean

Your best friend when cleaning your house for resale will be tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) or its equivalent. TSP is one of the home products that top the list of must-haves, and it's not expensive. Roll up your sleeves, put on your rubber gloves and scrub your walls and ceilings, and anything else that needs your elbow grease. Unless you can afford professional cleaners, there's no way out of this one.

Carpet cleaning is another must and there are home products for the do-it-yourselfer or you can hire a cleaning company to take care of this job. If you have shabby rugs scattered throughout the house, forget cleaning them; it's probably better to remove them altogether.

There are home products to clean things that require special care – ceramic tile, porcelain, stainless steel, wood cabinets, aluminum siding, etc., and you can find whatever you need at your neighborhood hardware store. Ask questions and read labels. When using commercial cleaning products, wear gloves and a mask. It's wise to be careful.

Paint for a Pristine Finish

As thorough as your cleaning job is, it won't have much impact on sagging, faded wallpaper, gouges in the walls, or cracked and peeling paint. Repainting is the solution, and interior painting jobs start with stripping off old wallpaper, attacking cracks and gouges with filler, and then getting to work with your roller and brush. This is also the time to do all the small repairs that need your attention: hammer in nails; repair the broken step; replace the broken glass.

When selecting paint, the best colors for your walls and ceilings are white, off-white, cream, creamy off-white – you get the picture. A light, cool, neutral color can fit into everyone's decorating scheme. (You want that young couple to see your home as the perfect setting for their red plush love seats.) If you have recently painted one or more rooms in quite dramatic colors, leave them as they are. As long as the walls and trim are clean and fresh, prospective buyers won't mind a bit of repainting if they want to change the colors – the main thing is not to overwhelm them.

If you need to paint the outside of your house, it's not necessary to restrict yourself to neutral colors for exterior paint; however, a bright color is not a good choice. Something fairly subdued is better, but be creative when painting the front door; a dramatic touch might be needed to make your house memorable. It's easy for a buyer to repaint a door if he or she doesn't share your love of Christmas red or purple passion.

Remove the Clutter

It's time to say goodbye to your high school chemistry notes, the clothes you outgrew five years ago, the playpen your twelve-year-old no longer needs, and everything else your family will never use again, read again, or wear again. Be tough! Do it! Take it to the dump; hold a garage sale; donate it to your favorite charity. Don't let it take up any more of your storage space – you're going to need it all to store the things that are currently stacked on shelves and floors and cluttering up counter tops throughout the house.

Important home products that can help you deal with this part of your preparation are closet organizers. They come in every size and style imaginable, and you are sure to find something suitable. When you have everything neatly stored in your closets and cupboards, walk through the house and pick up and put out of sight everything else on your counters and table tops that don't need to be there. "Clutter-free" means clutter-free and it won't kill anyone in the family to have to reach under the counter for the dishwashing detergent or the toothpaste for the next few days or weeks.

You probably don't think of furniture as "clutter," but clutter is anything that unnecessarily crowds a room, a doorway, or a hall. If your home has very small rooms and you can manage without some furniture items for awhile, arrange to use a friend's garage or basement to store them. It will "open up" the rooms and make your house appear larger and brighter, and that's a good thing.

Let There be Light

Sunlight is a friend to the house seller, and you should try and let as much of it into the house as you can. Wash windows inside and out and wash or dry clean the window coverings: curtains, drapes, and blinds. Before showing the house to a prospective buyer, replace burned-out light bulbs, turn on the lights, open the windows, lift the blinds, and pull back the drapes.

Final Touches

Ask a non-smoking, non-pet-owning friend to come into your house when you have finished cleaning and painting. Are all the pet odors and smoking odors gone? If the house passes the sniff-test, place some potpourri in open dishes to add a fresh, clean scent; otherwise, get back to work.

Finally, step outside and see what a prospective buyer's first impression of your yard is likely to be. Mow the lawn, trim the hedges and bushes, weed the garden, edge the flowerbeds, and sweep and clean the walkway, deck, or patio. Your yard is another selling feature of your house, and must be clean and tidy, too.

Home products can help make your house appear big, bright, clean, and ready for a prospective buyer to move right in, which is exactly what you want.

About the Author:   Maureen Grenier is former editor and writer for Meridian Magazine, and for the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. She is currently freelance writing and enjoys providing tips to consumers.

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