- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

A home often is an expression of the owner’s personality. It can be hard to decide what should stay and what should go.

Sellers eventually must realize that some buyers might not appreciate the flower-garden mural in the dining room. Letting go can be a challenge.

Real estate agents emphasize the importance of decluttering a home to make it more appealing. Many agents carry that idea to the extreme, virtually depersonalizing a home before it goes on the market.

Yet a unique structural feature could make a house stand out from the pack. It’s mostly a matter of presentation and balance, home staging experts and agents say.

So before packing up all of the family photos and getting out the dropcloths, rollers and 10-gallon cans of bright white paint, consider consulting an agent or staging professional for advice. It might not be necessary to remove or repaint everything. Replacing some small items can go a long way toward broadening a home’s appeal.

Prospective buyers want to be able to picture themselves in the home. A house with too many personal items or unique features can make it hard for a buyer to picture the house as his or her own.

“A house that is too personalized could turn off buyers as they cannot picture themselves being comfortable in the home and may feel that it would be too costly to redecorate,” says Edith Pulscak of Long & Foster’s Fort Washington office.

She adds that walls covered with family photos should be emptied, and any art, collections or items that could possibly offend any prospective buyer should be removed.

Jill Oliver, owner of Get Organized! Solutions for the Home (getorganizedsolutions.com) says it is very important to depersonalize a home before putting it on the market. Ms. Oliver, a certified professional organizer and home stager in Southern Maryland, says if clients are adamant about their pictures, she tells them to leave a couple in the more private places of the home, such as the bedrooms.

Ms. Pulscak says she personally doesn’t mind just a few photos because they make the sellers “real people.”

Sellers should make the home as neutral as possible, industry experts suggest.

“You want to market the home to as many different people as possible,” Ms. Oliver says. “Neutralize the color scheme; neutralize the decorating and the furniture.”

However meaningful they might be to the owner, questionable or outdated features also can cast a shadow. Ms. Oliver says that in Southern Maryland alone, more than 1,700 houses are on the market. Making a home stand out from the competition — for the right reasons — should be a priority.

“Most people think that their house is wonderful and there is nothing wrong with it,” Ms. Oliver says. She works with agents and does walk-throughs of homes for sellers to tell them what needs to be changed before the house goes on the market.

“If you have turquoise Formica countertops, pink carpeting or black walls, they have to go,” Ms. Oliver says.

Ms. Pulscak says out-of-style or worn items such as carpeting should be replaced and that heavy drapes should be removed. She says that sometimes changing other items can depend on how well the rest of the house shows.

One tough decision sellers must make is whether to paint the walls. Though gold sponge-painted or red walls may have made the seller feel right at home, prospective buyers may not find them so appealing.

Real estate agents say toning down bright or unusually colored walls will help prospective buyers get a true picture of the room. Cartoon characters painted all over the child’s bedroom need to be painted over.

A neutral color is good, says Donna Carpenter of Weichert, Realtors in Fairfax. “A lot of buyers find that bright colors are distracting, and they can make the room look smaller.”

She says first-time buyers especially like to see homes that are move-in ready. They do not want to take on remodeling projects.

Ms. Oliver agrees. Bold colors should be replaced with a softer neutral color, she says, but that doesn’t mean it has to be white.

“We can usually find a neutral color that is in the same family as the bold color, and the client is happy and the house is neutralized,” she says.

Because paint contributes immensely to the look of a room, Luis Lama of Long & Foster in Falls Church says to make sure the paint looks good and be sure to patch up any nail holes in the wall left by picture hangings.

Mr. Lama advises sellers to get the home painted professionally. He says most people can tell if the homeowner was the painter because the paint will be unevenly applied.

Getting rid of clutter along with personal items also will go far in helping the home sell.

“Sort everything; throw away, give away, have a yard sale and rent storage space if necessary to make the home look as spacious as possible,” Ms. Pulscak says.

“With so many homes on the market, a few things are very critical, including getting rid of clutter,” says Mr. Lama, past chairman of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. He advises homeowners to pay particular attention to the kitchen and bathrooms.

“Get rid of those refrigerator magnets, make sure the tub is spotless, and the light fixtures in the bathroom should have clear bulbs,” Mr. Lama says. He also says that changing the switch plates on the outlets and light switches doesn’t cost much and can make a big difference.

Outdoor curb appeal is just as important and helps attract potential buyers. Trim the bushes, mulch, care for the lawn and paint the front door and shutters if needed, Ms. Pulscak says.

Some homeowners have personalized their back yard with treehouses, hot tubs and miniplaygrounds. Mr. Lama says he advises sellers that if these items are going to convey to the new owners, they must be in good working condition. If not, they should be removed or the listing should indicate that they will convey “as is.”

The same goes for sheds. Mr. Lama says sheds can be a selling point.

“Many times the shed is overlooked by the sellers, but people love sheds,” he says.

Agents warn sellers not to overdo it. Though they say cosmetic items should be addressed, they advise sellers against major remodeling projects unless the house has problems.

“They may not recoup the expenditure in today’s market,” Ms. Pulscak says.

A little personality is necessary. The experts say buyers don’t like a house that looks stark. Sellers must know where to draw the line.

“Some personal items can add charming character to a home rather than being like some sterile models,” Ms. Pulscak says.

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