Spruce Up an Open House

Use these quick and easy tips to ensure that potential buyers appreciate a home's finer details from the moment they walk through the door.

September 1, 2006

When potential buyers look at a property, their eyes should be glued to the architectural highlights that lend to the home's character: the crown molding, the built-in cabinets, the lavish fireplace, the open floor plan.

But if your sellers didn't get a head start on cleaning and packing, there's a chance buyers will instead focus on the cluttered shelves, the old family photos, or the less-than-sparkling windows.

When a listing needs some sprucing up, it takes diplomacy and a delicate touch to make suggestions to sellers and to provide solutions. It might seem awkward to ask clients to tidy up their house, yet some simple improvements might be the difference between a home that sells quickly and one that languishes on the market.

Here are few key points for making a home's finest details stand out:

  • Start with the entryway. What is your first impression as you approach the house and open the front door? The lawn should look well tended and the landscaping cared for. Exterior architectural features, such as columns or a front porch, should be on display — not hidden behind overgrown shrubs. Garden tools and lawn ornaments should be tidied up or removed altogether.
  • Tackle the clutter issue. You've undoubtedly heard this advice before, but that's because it's so important: Sellers will have to deal with clutter sooner or later, so they ought to do it sooner, before potential buyers have already come and gone. Clutter detracts from the home and should be packed up or thrown away. Pay special attention to the kitchen, where prospective buyers are sure to spend much of their time.
  • Shine doorknobs, handrails, and more. Add a layer of sparkle in each room and the hallways by polishing the doorknobs, handrails, hinges, vents, and lighting fixtures — especially if you want to draw attention to vintage features or unique details that make the home stand out from the rest. Clean the molding and baseboards, too.
  • Show off the windows. Those bay windows can be a major selling point — if they're clean, that is. A good cleaning (don't forget the screens!) will help to highlight the style of the windows, bring in natural light, and draw attention to great views. Pull the curtains back so potential buyers can appreciate the full shape of each window.
  • Accentuate closet space. In older homes, small closets are a common challenge. They'll look bigger if they're organized and not stuffed to the gills. A buyer should be able to look into a closet and be able to visualize placing his or her belongings into it. Box up non-essential items and store them in a rented storage space, an attic, a basement or a garage. A closet will look much more organized if, instead of a tangle of wire hangers, you use matching plastic or wooden hangers.
  • Pack the personal items. Family photographs, children's artwork, and religious or ethnic decorations make it difficult for potential buyers to see the space as their own. Ask the sellers to move their personal items out of sight. Potential buyers also don't need to see the seller's prescription medications, toothbrush, or socks hanging out to dry.
  • Conquer stale smells. While a seller might not think twice about, or even notice, the smell of cigarette smoke, a kitty litter box, or dogs, a potential buyer is sure to be turned off. This can be a delicate issue, but it's necessary to address. Ask the seller to keep odors to a minimum by smoking outside, paying more attention to the kitty litter, or generally being aware of the issue.

Beyond these tips, there are some other things that you can do to enhance home showings. Place a vase of fresh-cut flowers in rooms that you want buyers to linger longer. On the kitchen table, a big bowl of fresh fruit such as apples, lemons, and limes makes a wonderful centerpiece. And use lighting to enhance special details, such as the marble kitchen counters or high ceilings.

If you feel that you need extra help to prepare a home for sale, you can contact professional stagers in your area, who can provide a range of services to home owners. Some real estate practitioners offer staging as part of their commission, while others refer sellers to a few stagers they've met and feel comfortable working with.

As you know, first impressions are a big deal in real estate. A home with great architectural details should be able to sell itself. Make sure that distractions that could deter buyer interest are eliminated so that it's easy for potential buyers to say, "This is the one for me."

Leslie Banker is co-author of The Pocket Decorator (2004) and The Pocket Renovator(2007),  published by Universe.


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