Personal Finance > Your Home
Rev up your resale value
Selling your home? Basic landscaping, new paint and clean carpets are a must.
August 19, 2002: 12:41 PM EDT
By Annelena Lobb, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Before you put your home on the market, remember, buyers do judge books by their covers. If you're a seller-to-be, a facelift for your house is in order.

To make your house look as spiffy as possible, you'll have to clean and scrub diligently. Even if you can't afford the fancy renovations and repairs that often make resale prices leap, one thing is certain: a few finishing touches give your profit a potential boost.

We're talking about "curb appeal", or the details that make a model home. If your home has cobwebs in the corners, your screen door has a hole and the paint on the picket fence is peeling, your bargaining power drops.

On the other hand, if your flowerbeds are tidy, and everything is clean and fresh, you'll likely be rewarded.

"These projects make a substantial difference. A prospective buyer gets a clear sense of how well the home has been maintained. Clean is everything, and curb appeal hits the buyer's emotional hot buttons," said Nancy Knott, a Realtor with ReMax of Rancho Bernardo, Calif. "If a buyer sees a model home, it makes a huge difference in what they're willing to pay."

To get your home in the best possible shape for sale, consider tackling a few of the projects below.

Find your green thumb

A well-kept, green lawn adorned with seasonal flowers makes a great first impression -- and in the world of real estate, first impressions go a long way.

"If the lawn looks sharp, you're going to walk into the house and you're automatically going to be interested in it," said Earl Nichols, sales manager at Heritage Home Improvement Services. "Make sure your landscaping looks good, your grass looks green, and your flowerbeds look nice."

Start with simple tasks like mowing the lawn, trimming your shrubs and weeding the flowerbeds. A few flowers work wonders, said Vicki Bendure, a spokesperson for the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. It's also a good time to mulch flowerbeds and plant shrubs.

"Consider planting flowers both in beds and in containers," she said. "People often forget that they can expand beyond their flowerbeds. Lining porches and walkways with flowers in containers can expand your range of colors and create a great first impression for a buyer."

Because landscaping work yields a dollar-for-dollar return, Nichols said you easily can tack the amount you spend on lawn and landscaping costs onto the sale price of your home.

Learn to add and subtract

Hoarders take heed. Reducing clutter is mission critical -- less of your miscellaneous paraphernalia means more space, which buyers like. Piles of trunks and boxes, mile-high stacks of books, and teetering towers of shoeboxes in your closet have to go, said Katie Hamilton, co-author of "Home Improvement for Dummies" and co-creator of Do it Yourself...or Not?, a website to help homeowners decide whether to tackle home improvements.

"Take at least half the junk in your closet out. The more you can take out the better, especially in storage spaces," she said. "That also goes for furnishings, if you're a pack rat. People have a hard enough time visualizing space as it is."

Remember, everyone wants to see that they'll have plenty of breathing room, and that the home offers adequate cabinet and closet space.

On the flip side, there are a few things you'll want to buy to improve your home's coziness factor: Knott swears by any kind of wreath you can put on your door, a fresh, bright welcome mat, and seasonal potted plants.

Repaint your home

A simple paint job makes all the difference, said Nichols. It's tough work, but if you're handy and can hack it in the sun, painting the outside of your house can raise your home's resale value by 10 percent, Nichols said. Now, that's not too shabby.

Knott stressed the importance of touching up indoor paint, too: consumers on the market for a house look for such details, and react badly if it you haven't paid attention to them.

"Painting the inside is good, but buyers expect that. But painting the outside of your home is even better," Nichols said. "It gives your home an automatic facelift. It is a project many people tackle on their own, and it can be done inexpensively with Sherwin/Williams paint."

According to Nichols, the big paint makers out there manufacture in cahoots, selling the same product with different names and price points. He finds Sherwin/Williams costs the least.

Take a good, clean whiff

"People always like to see that a home is clean and doesn't show neglect," said Hamilton. "Forget the potpourri and steaming cinnamon tea. You just have to make sure the air smells clean."

To that end, it's crucial to make sure filters are clean and fresh, pet odors are gone (you may not notice them anymore -- but trust us, they're there), and your carpets are spotless.

"Make sure the air conditioner filter gets changed," Hamilton said. "When it turns on, it shouldn't smell dirty and musty."

Get carpets steam-cleaned by a pro and get a professional house cleaning from top to bottom, Knott said.

Prices for carpet cleaning can vary immensely across the United States, according to Paul Flanagan, president of Celtic Cleaning Concepts, Inc., in Boston, Mass. His own prices vary from about 25 cents a square foot to 38 cents a square foot.

"Steam cleaning uses a hot water extraction that goes up to 200 degrees and helps extract the dirt more easily," Flanagan said. "What you need done depends on your carpets and how much traffic they get. Do you have pets? Do you eat in your TV room? Do you smoke?"

Whatever you do in your home, you don't want someone else taking offense. So haul in the pros, and make sure your home is a breath of fresh air before you let buyers set foot inside.

Kitchens and bathrooms, anyone?

Within the home, the first places potential buyers check are kitchens and bathroom(s). Major renovation projects in the kitchen yield the greatest bang for your buck in resale value. But baby upgrades in the kitchen and the loo go a long way as well.

"You can restain or repaint your cabinets really cheaply," Nichols said. "You can go to Home Depot or your local hardware store and take a free class that teaches you how, and then you can go right ahead and do it yourself."

If you don't want to refinish your cabinets, be sure to clean the doors, Hamilton said. Smudges and fingerprints on highly-trafficked cabinets are a no-no.

Bathrooms are also prime candidates. Installing new faucets or retiling a surface, for example, is an easy way to add some luster. Faucet sets start at under $100 at hardware stores. Tile prices vary as well, from $3 per square foot to as much as $30 a square foot. Besides tiling, you'll need adhesive and grout.

Tiling isn't something you're born knowing how to do, but it's not tough. Again, a class at your local hardware store should set you straight, and the whole project shouldn't take longer than 2 days.  Top of page

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