Clean Up, Fix Up, Or Toss Out
Today, the home that stands out among similarly-priced
houses is the home that sells. Why? Because it makes a good first impression that
lasts right to the settlement table.
You may not be able to improve the market value of your house (finish basement,
remodel kitchen, etc.), but you can improve its marketability. And usually this
can be done with more elbow grease than hard cash. The key is to put yourself in
the buyer's shoes. In fact, if you drop by some open houses (you may soon be a buyer
yourself), you'll pick up some pointers. Then practice making your house as appealing
and uncluttered as the home you wish to buy.
The exterior. Start here with "curb appeal". Basics: A trim lawn, well-proportioned
shrubs. Remove garden hoses, lawn tools, dog house and toys from the yard. Check
for flat-fitting roof shingles; straight lines on gutters, shutters, windows and
siding; solid caulking around frames and seams; paint. Keep walks and steps free
of snow and ice. Extras: Brass door knocker. Seasonal door decorations. Wrought
iron lamp posts. Small landscaped courtyard. Flower beds.
The front hall. Aura and atmosphere give a hint of what's inside. Basics: Light
(from window, skylight, lamp or overhead fixture; perhaps even use a stronger light
bulb). For evening inspection, turn on every light in the house for a welcoming
glow. Make sure the house smells fresh and clean. Make sure that the woodwork is
unmarred and the carpeting spotless. A fresh coat of paint is a good investment,
and it's most appealing in a neutral tone, since strong color is so subjective.
Remove unsightly or worn throw rugs. Extras: Door chime. Dead bolt lock and chain.
The living room. Strive for a lived-in, cozy feeling. Discard worn, chipped or frayed
furniture. Open curtains. Furnishings here and throughout the house should be well
placed and in good repair. Set out fresh flowers, and even put a drop of bath oil
or vanilla on light bulbs for a subtle scent.
The kitchen. Many buyers judge the house by the way the oven and stove are kept.
Basics: Appliances should be spotless and in perfect working condition. Replace
or repair anything that sticks, squeaks or drips. Counter, cooking, cabinet and
eating spaces should be kept open and uncluttered, without countertop appliances.
Clean butcher block. Floors and walls should be in inviting light colors, and serviceable
(resistant to grease and moisture).
The master bedroom. The second-most appealing room to the buyer (after the kitchen,
before the garage). Basics: Uncluttered furnishings; defined areas (sleeping, dressing,
sitting) by furniture arrangement. Show the true size of closets by removing or
packing items that can be stored elsewhere (since you're moving away), like off-season
Bathrooms. Practicality combines with attractiveness. Basics: Sink, toilet, bathtub,
tile, even shower curtains should be immaculate. Fix leaky faucets — rust stains
indicate faulty plumbing. Repair caulking and grouting. Minor flaws suggest neglect
to the prospect. Light should be soft (no harsh fluorescents), but bright. Extras:
Use some potpourri for a pleasant scent.
The recreation room. An atmosphere of relaxation, fun and activity should pervade.
Basics: Open space to accommodate an assortment of activities. Make sure the fireplace
or wood stove is clean, with fresh logs. Extras: Track lighting; ceiling fan.
The garage. Convenience is the key here (the perfect garage holds only cars). Basics:
Uncluttered space. Sell, giveaway or toss unnecessary articles. Clean oily cement
floor. Strong overhead light (fluorescent or bulb). Orderly storage area, tidy workbench.
The basement. Organize, hang tools on peg boards, and put items on shelves. Cure
damp smell by placing bag of limestone in damp area. Clean the water heater outside,
change the furnace filter and make inspection- access easy. Brighten the basement
by painting walls.
The attic. Yes, it's for sale, too. Tidy it up. Light it up. Again, pack anything
you're going to move. Get rid of the rest. Be sure your energy-saving insulation
is apparent and the air vent works.
Questions and Answers
Should we redecorate? The big problem in major redecorating arises because it is
very difficult to anticipate the tastes of strangers. Best to stick to fresh paint
in very neutral colors and present a sparkling clean house without the redecorating
Is it possible to over-improve? Yes. Your landscaping may be divine. You may have
the only cabana and swimming pool in the neighborhood, but it may be difficult to
sell a $450,000 home in an area of $420,000 homes. Consult your listing broker to
determine if added improvement means added marketability.
Are "fixing up expenses" tax deductible? Yes. You can reduce your taxable capital
gain by "fixing up", but only under strict guidelines. Check with your tax consultant
Many states now require that sellers provide buyers with either a residential property
disclosure or a disclaimer statement.