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Getting Ready to Sell

I've been reading a lot of web sites with tips on how to sell your house faster lately.

Not because I want to sell my beloved pile, but because they give me good ideas about how to make fast, cheap changes to where I live. In fact, many of the tips make me wonder why people would not do that to begin with.

For example: Sweep the front walk and plant some flowers. These are a couple simple ways to make a house look more inviting and home-like. So why do people even have to be told that? Because when it's your own house, it is home, so you don't need to make it look more that way to sell yourself. On the other hand, doing some landscaping around the house will make you happy every time you see it, and it's relatively cheap. Just remember to water those plants.

Don't mask smells with scented products. The real estate agents rightly point out that this will make everybody who visits you wonder what you're trying to cover up. Smells come from somewhere: find out where and get rid of it (musty bathrooms may need a ventilation fan replaced or installed). Wash your kitchen floors and walls regularly (yes, the walls get dirty if you cook at home). You want people to notice a nice, fresh, clean smell when they walk in the door, not "Clean Scent" deodorizer.

Have you considered painting those rooms? A fresh coat of paint can really spruce up a room, especially if it is not plain white. Lots of people paint once before they move in and never paint again because it will be too much effort. Well, use the opportunity to declutter all the stuff piled around the walls and paint that room. While you're at it, washing the glass covers on light fixtures regularly not only brightens the place up, but removes any fly corpses waiting up there to gross somebody out.

Don't turn on all the lights, or use side lights instead of overhead lighting. Let's face it, overhead lighting sucks. It glares, it is unflattering, and it takes all the character out of a room. Table lamps and floor lamps can make a room much more attractive and interesting, and it doesn't take much effort to use them rather than a horrible overhead light.

Dump the knick-knacks. Large collections especially. They look busy and get dusty fast, and it's hard to appreciate anything small and grouped together from ten feet away. The test I give little jobbies is this: when I'm doing anything other than looking at them, are they in scale with what I'm doing, or too small or too large? I have smaller things on bookshelves (one or three in a space between books), larger things in a shelf by themselves, and the few very large things I have are either furniture or garden ornaments. I don't have room for a life-sized stuffed panda in my living room.

Hire a cleaning service to give the place a going-over. Agents hire cleaning services to get the stuff we miss every day, like the gunge that builds up around faucets, and the grease in cracks in the cupboards -- this is the stuff buyers notice right away, but don't think you never see it, even if you never notice it. We hired a cleaning service to come every other week and do the big stuff (floor washing) and the details (gunge removal), but you can make a huge difference in your house by hiring a service as infrequently as twice a year for a thorough cleaning. Costs vary depending on what you want done. Make sure to have them dust your bookshelves, because you would not believe what is in there.

Clean the curtains and carpets regularly. We tend to forget the curtains and carpets. They become part of the furniture, as it were, and we can forget that any smell or dirt or dust in the house gathers in them, too. There are carpet cleaning services that also do drapes, or you can rent a cleaner and do it yourself fairly cheaply. I installed machine-washable curtains in the messy rooms, so I can just take them down and throw them in the wash.

Clean your upholstered furniture, too. Especially dining room chairs. If you have upholstery in a messy room like the kitchen, consider getting slipcovers or making them yourself. Slipcovers, of course, should be machine washable, or you are kidding yourself. Yes, chenille looks lovely... for five days, and then you have to dry clean it. Do you really want to be dry cleaning dining room chair slipcovers every week? I don't think so.

Clear everything off the fridge or message boards. I'm a big offender on this one. I'll leave a note to myself up for so long that I couldn't even tell you when I wrote it. Or menus from delivery places, or coupons for toilet paper. This stuff needs to get off the fridge, off the cork board, and only important messages should be there, so you can see them. It'll clear the visual clutter from the kitchen. An effect that will be improved if you also stop using the countertops for storage. Find a home in a cupboard or shelf for that stuff. If you don't use it every day, it should be put away. If you don't have a place to put it, get rid of something else to make room.

That's far from every tip for staging a house. Real professionals have an eye for what will work and what will not, but it all comes down to a few simple principles:

  1. Refresh surfaces with paint, plants, or cleaning

  2. Remove visual clutter that comes from collections or accumulations

  3. Little things can make a big difference