Preparing a home for sale means making improvements that will help you sell the home faster--not necessarily fetch a higher price.
The objective is to take on easy cosmetic jobs, such as brushing on a fresh coat of paint or careful landscaping, rather than remodeling projects where you are unlikely to recoup your costs.
For example, you may think that remodeling the kitchen is your best bet. While the kitchen is one of the high-profile rooms in a home, remodeling is a costly endeavor that will most likely not provide an adequate return on your investment.
When in doubt about what to fix up, ask your Realtor. He or she will be looking at your home with fresh eyes and will notice things you overlook.
Here's a room-by-room list of improvements, along with jobs to avoid because they require too much investment in time or money.
* Remove stains from toilets, tubs and sinks.
* If fixtures are outdated or leak, replace them.
* Replace the shower curtain.
* Inspect, repair and replace any worn out grout in tiles.
* Caulk all joints for a watertight seal.
* Replace the flooring unless it's damaged.
* Re-tile unless it can't be patched or repaired.
* Make sure the faucet works properly, shuts off quickly and looks good. Repair or replace as needed.
* Keep the sink spotless. If you can't remove stains, consider replacing the sink with a more modern look. Quality porcelain sinks made with cast iron are a good choice since they're available in many colors, are quiet and stand up well over time. If you replace the sink, you may as well update the faucet at the same time--you'd be surprised how much this will improve the look of a kitchen.
* Clean the appliances and make sure they're in good working order.
* Clean the cabinets. If they're dark, consider repainting them to give the entire kitchen a fresh, new look. This is also an excellent time to upgrade the cabinet hardware (pulls, knobs, etc).
* Consider adding an appliance garage or two to store appliances and create an uncluttered counter-top.
* Install new flooring unless the old floor is damaged or unattractive.
Living Areas, Bedrooms
* Patch cracks in the walls and touch up with paint. Consider a fresh coat of paint on all walls and trim work. White always works, but if you want to add color, stick with light pastels. Darker colors make rooms look smaller than they are.
* Inspect wallpaper to make sure there are no loose areas. Reaffix as needed with wallpaper glue.
* Have the curtains or drapes cleaned as well as the carpet.
* Polish wood floors and buy new scatter rugs.
* Install new carpeting unless the old carpet is damaged and can't be repaired.
* Paint the walls a dark color.
* Replace lighting fixtures unless they're broken; odds are the new homeowner will replace them with a different style.
The exterior of your home provides the first and often strongest impression. It's important that this be a positive one.
* Have your siding, stucco or brick professionally power-washed and then touch up walls and trim with paint.
* Give your front door a fresh coat of paint.
* Consider adding a highly polished brass door knocker.
* Make sure the house number is prominent, and in good shape (brass numbers make a good impression).
* Oil the door hinges and make sure the doorbell works.
* Inspect the roof and clear away any debris. Replace any broken or missing shingles.
* Clean windows and make sure they open freely without binding.
* Repair any damaged storm windows or screens.
* Apply a fresh top coat of sealant to asphalt driveways.
* Clean your deck with deck cleaner and apply a fresh coat of stain.
* Have the entire exterior painted unless necessary. Consult your Realtor; he or she will be able to tell at a glance if you need to paint it.
* Reshingle the roof unless it leaks or it's falling apart.
Here's a list of simple things you can do to help your home sell fast:
* Grass trimmed and edged, leaves raked, toys picked up, shrubs and trees pruned.
* Buy new doormats.
* Sweep and vacuum all floors.
* Set flowers or a dish of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter-tops.
* Replace dingy curtains in any of the rooms that need them.
* Store kitchen counter-top appliances in the cabinets to maximize counter space.
* Place colorful towels and soaps in the bathrooms.
* Clean fireplaces and place logs on the grate.
* Minimize the number of knickknacks in the house--they tend to create a cluttered look that makes rooms appear smaller.
* Make sure beds are made, laundry is put away and floors are free of clutter.
* Turn on all the lights in the house, open all the curtains.
* A little soft music playing is a nice touch.
* Make sure closets are as empty as possible and neatly organized.
* Add some mums or other colorful flowers to the entryway.
Most improvements will help you sell faster even though they won't increase the value of your home. That's why it's smart to choose improvements with minimal investment. Stick with cosmetics and let the new homeowner remodel.
And remember: Clean and tidy equals a quick sale. Neatness really does count.
Ron Hazelton is host of the nationally syndicated weekly program "HouseCalls" and home improvement editor for ABC-TV's "Good Morning America." He is the author of "Ron Hazelton's HouseCalls: America's Most Requested Home Improvement Projects" (Time Life Books, 1999). Questions can be submitted to Hazelton through his Web site at www.ronhazelton.com.