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How to prepare your house for sale

Car dealers do it, department stores do it, bakeries do it and you can, too -- make your product look good, that is. If you're ready to sell your house or apartment, make it easier and more lucrative by following these simple tips.

Cosmetic changes don't have to cost a lot and they can help you get a much better price on your home. The two most important places are the kitchen and the exterior, according to Daniel T. Forsman, president of Prudential Atlanta/Georgia Realty in Roswell, Ga.

Don't think a little paint and some pansies on the porch will cover up major flaws, though. Even if the scent of gingerbread and a well-scrubbed floor distract the buyer, the inspector they hire will likely discover those leaky pipes and termites.

"Most sales are subject to an inspection," says Forsman. "Cosmetic changes will not cover up problems. You get into serious disclosure issues." If your home requires major work, get it done or lower the price. If not, there are many things you can do to improve the look and price of your place.

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Spit and polish 'til she shines
Even in a beautiful house, sloppy housekeeping will give buyers pause. Cleaning your home is the easiest and most cost-effective thing you can do to make it more appealing. You want their focus on the bay window and two-car garage -- not the carpet stains.

  • Tend to the little things -- oil squeaky hinges, tighten cabinet knobs and fix leaky faucets.
  • Shampoo dirty carpets.
  • Make sure the bathroom is spotless. Polish the fixtures, replace the old shower curtain, de-clutter the countertops.
  • Clean or replace heating and air conditioning filters.
  • Clean the oven -- many people check there for a clue to your housekeeping habits.
  • Work out an arrangement with your kids to keep their rooms neat.
  • Clear out the clutter

    We're all proud of our decorating abilities, but unless you're selling the place furnished, it's more important to help prospective buyers envision their stuff in your house. They need to imagine themselves in your space, so make it easy for them.

    • Clear stuff out from garage, basement, attic and closets.
    • Put extra furniture and belongings in storage.
    • Let the light in. Open drapes and blinds (unless your view is of a parking lot or your neighbor's lawn ornament collection).
    • If you hire a real estate agent, they should advise you about improvements. Agents are in and out of a lot of homes. They know what most appeals to buyers in your area. Get the skinny on what does and doesn't work.

    Catch the buyer's eye
    A potential buyer's first impression is what real estate agents call "curb appeal." When the weather allows, be sure your humble abode makes it past that initial drive-by:

    • Maintain the lawn and shrubs.
    • Put in a few small flowering plants.
    • Make sure the entrance is tidy and welcoming.
    • Paint window casings, shutters and doors.
    • Keep garbage cans out of sight.
    • Clean out gutters and downspouts.

    Now, plant those pansies and get to work on that oven.

    -- Updated: Jan. 16, 2003

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