- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

The spring home-buying season, often the busiest time of year for home sales, may start early this year as buyers try to meet the April 30 deadline to qualify for the federal homebuyers tax credit. Springtime home sellers need to start now to get their homes ready to capture buyers’ attention.

Nearly every home seller in the country has been told his home needs to look “model-home perfect” or resemble a Crate & Barrel showroom to attract a buyer. One problem with that scenario is that not all sellers can afford to spend the money to transform their home into a television-worthy dream home.

The following projects, which each can be accomplished for less than $500 - some substantially less - can add sparkle to a home and catch the eye of prospective spring buyers.

1. Fresh paint provides an instant lift to any room and an inexpensive one, too. Even if you decide to skip painting the entire house, at least touch up trim near the front door and around windows, which is particularly visible to visitors.

2. Declutter and depersonalize your home.

“A few pictures are OK, but the more of your personal belongings you can move out, the more a buyer can visualize their own possessions in the home,” says Realtor Jim Downing with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District. “Buyers won’t want to see a stuffed closet, either, because they will worry that there won’t be enough storage.”

Mr. Downing says homeowners can spend $50 to $75 per month for a storage unit where they can keep all their boxes and extra items until they move.

3. Buy closet organizers. Mr. Downing says simple, inexpensive organizers or even just nice boxes or baskets can transform a closet and make it more attractive to buyers. Target and the Container Store, for example, both sell myriad types of shelving that can be installed or placed in closets to make them more efficient.

4. Replace your front door.

“Curb appeal is so important,” says Brandon Green, principal broker with the Brandon Green Team at Keller Williams Realty in the District. “You can buy an inexpensive door and paint it. First impressions are psychologically important, so spending a little money on your door can mean a lot.”

5. Change the hardware on your front door. Sita Kapur, broker and owner of Arlington Premier Realty in Arlington, Va., says putting in a new knob is especially important if the door is hard to open or the locks stick. A shiny new knob can make a good first impression.

6. Replace the doorknobs inside, too. If all of your doorknobs are hard to clean or look old, one of the easiest jobs a homeowner can do is to replace them with fresh hardware.

7. Replace all your switch plates and outlet covers. Mr. Green says having every cover plate matching, new and clean is a quick fix that can make your whole home look newer.

8. Pull up your old carpet if you have hardwood flooring underneath. “Hardwood flooring is very popular right now,” Mr. Downing says. “You may need to buff the floor, but buyers will be much more attracted by hardwood than carpeting.”

9. Update your light fixtures and ceiling fans. Mr. Green recommends spending a few hundred dollars or less at a hardware store to replace older-looking brass light fixtures with something a little more modern. Mr. Downing recommends replacing a faded ceiling fan with a new one.

10. Add more lighting. Ms. Kapur suggests that sellers add extra lamps, particularly in rooms without overhead lighting.

“Buyers like homes to look bright, so if you can fit in extra lights without cluttering the room, that will help your home be more appealing,” she says.

11. Install under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen. “I bought some really inexpensive under-cabinet lights at Ikea, and it completely brightened up my kitchen,” Mr. Downing says.

12. Buy plantation-style shutters for inside your basement windows. Realtor Colleen Barlow with W.C. & A.N. Miller in Potomac, Md., says, “It’s so important to get as much light as possible in a basement, especially when it is a true basement with small, high windows. I tell sellers to buy inexpensive shutters that are about 2 feet longer than the window and hang them so that they [extend] below the window. If you keep the shutters closed, but angle the slats so that light filters in, you give the illusion of a larger window and more sunlight.”

13. Replace faded curtains and old blinds. A quick and inexpensive way to brighten the windows and rooms of your home (besides cleaning the windows), Ms. Kapur suggests, is to add new curtains.

14. Refresh your bathroom linens.

“Kitchens and bathrooms are what people look at the most when buying a home, so you should spend a little money and put in a new shower curtain, a new bath mat and some new towels,” Mr. Downing says.

15. For a tired-looking bathroom, Mr. Green recommends regrouting the tile.

“Replacing a tile floor can be expensive, but if you just redo the grout, it will look like the bathroom has been renovated,” Mr. Green says. “As long as you are a little handy, you can do this yourself. Hardware stores sell a scraper to get out the old grout, and then you just mix the new grout with water and spread it over the floor and wipe it up.”

While you’re at it, Mr. Downing recommends caulking your tub or shower because dirty or moldy caulk reminds buyers that the home is “used.”

16. Reglaze your bathtub. If your tub is chipped or scratched and you cannot afford to replace it, Mr. Downing says reglazing can make it look new for less than $500.

17. Replace the faucets. An old-fashioned or tired-looking bathroom or kitchen faucet can be replaced for much less than $500, Mr. Downing says, and will give a quick update to those important rooms. Some homeowners can do this job themselves, but others may need to hire a plumber to make sure it is done properly.

18. Replace or paint your bathroom vanity or replace the vanity top. If you are even a little bit handy, this can be a do-it-yourself project for less than $500. A fresh coat of paint inside and outside the vanity can renew it, but for older vanities, a new top may be in order.

19. Scrub your home top to bottom. Ms. Kapur says. “Either do it yourself or hire a cleaning team, but your home has to be spotless the whole time it is on the market.” She also recommends having carpets professionally cleaned.

20. Fix all minor problems in the home.

“Fix every little thing that isn’t right,” Mr. Downing says. “Spraying WD40 on a squeaky door takes a second, and it makes a big difference to a buyer, who could be turned off by even such a small detail.”

21. Pull weeds and trim shrubs.

“It may be too early to put flowers out, but you should do your best to make the outside of your home look neat and attractive, especially in the front,” Ms. Kapur says. “Curb appeal is so important. I’ve had buyers decide not to get out of the car if a home doesn’t look good enough.”

While some of these projects cost a little bit of money, most of them just require homeowners to put time and energy into cleaning, repairing and improving their home. Nearly every successful seller will tell you that the effort pays off with a faster transaction or an offer close to the asking price. What they may not tell you is, after cleaning out the closets and shining up the appliances, some sellers wonder if they should just stay in their newly appealing home.

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