It took James Peterson only six days to sell his house for the full asking price. He did it, says Dallas-Fort Worth real estate agent Geoff Walsh, by making some strategic improvements that were key to getting the house sold. Walsh -- Peterson's neighbor as well as his agent -- advised him to upgrade the appliances and countertops in the kitchen, replace worn carpet and tile, and add some simple landscaping. In Peterson's neighborhood, where comparable homes sell in the $400,000 range, the investment paid off in a quick and profitable sale.

How much money a homeowner should put into enhancing a property for sale is a thorny issue. You don't want to spend too much, because you're unlikely to get it back. But you also need to make upgrades that will help your property compete in a crowded market.

When determining how much to spend, consider price range, region, and what comparable homes for sale in the neighborhood are offering. "You can overdo it for the neighborhood, and your home is not going to command a higher price as a result of [the home improvements]," says Matthew Coates, a Phoenix, Arizona agent with West USA Realty Revelation
Coates suggests spending around 1 to 2 percent of your home's value for home improvement costs. That means, for a $200,000 condo, a seller would spend between $2,000 to $4,000 on pre-sale upgrades. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start, so here are eight home improvement ideas that can help get your home ready for the market for a minimal amount of money:


Transform unfinished space into storage: $300-$500

Walsh, an agent with Weichert Realtors, says that most buyers are looking for ample storage room that's also pleasant to use. If you have an unfinished attic or basement, consider installing some flooring to augment the amount of closet and storage space in your place.

Match your kitchen appliances: $1000-3000

 If comparable homes in your price bracket and neighborhood don't have stainless steel and state-of-the-art appliances, then it might be a waste to upgrade, says Coates. However, he notes that buyers like appliances to be color-coordinated -- for example, all white or silver.

Turn a closet into an office: $500

Pat Conley, a Chicago-area home stager, says it's a fairly easy task to revamp closets into offices by adding an electrical outlet and installing shelves and a desk. (She's also turned closets into a wet bar, and remodeled unused open space for yoga and meditation.)

Paint your walls and consider moldings: $300-500 per room

"A good coat of paint can go a long way," says Brendon DeSimone, a real estate agent with Paragon Real Estate Group. Most buyers prefer neutral colors, such as off-white or beige (plain white is too stark, and dark colors can make the interior look smaller than its actual size). Another home improvement is base or crown moldings. If painted in the same color as the walls, they can visually elongate the height of the room.

Stain cabinets and upgrade the kitchen island countertop: $3000-$5000

Instead of ripping out cabinetry, a less expensive improvement is to change the appearance by stripping and re-staining the cabinets. Older, out-of-style oak cabinets can be concealed with white paint or an antiqued faux finish. For properties priced at $400,000 and above, granite is usually expected, Walsh says. That's an expensive upgrade, but you can reduce the cost by sourcing materials directly from a stone yard.

Replace toilets and clean grout: $500-800

A rusty toilet or black grout can give the appearance that your bathroom is dirty and old. Instead of footing the bill to remodel the entire bathroom, try some quick fixes for improvement, such as buying a new toilet, cleaning the grout, replacing the shower head, or installing a surface-mounted medicine cabinet or shelves for more storage.

Update light fixtures and ceiling fans: $300-$500 per fixture

Brass light fixtures and '70s-era ceiling fans can make a place look dated. One cost-effective home improvement idea, Coates says, is to spend a few hundred dollars at a Lowe's or Home Depot, and replace old lights with either brushed nickel or bronze fixtures, track lighting or recessed lighting.

Invest in landscaping: $100-$500

Because curb appeal is what reels in potential buyers, it's important to make the outside of your home look attractive, too. A few low-cost ideas are to pull out weeds, mow the lawn, and cut back overgrown trees or shrubs. Other home improvements include adding fresh mulch, planting a couple of rose bushes in your front flower garden, or lining the entryway with a colorful assortment of flowers in pots.


Get new interior doors: $500 per door

Nothing screams cheap like featherweight doors, which are often plywood and hollow, so think about upgrading to heavier, solid doors made by manufacturers like SimpsonTruStile and Jeld-Wen.


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Many real estate experts agree that if you put a Vancouver condo up for sale and a few weeks go by without so much as a single bite, something’s needs to be done asap. After all, the longer it’s on the market, the less appealing your home will become to potential buyers – similar to the ol “why are you still single? There must be something wrong with you” psychology.

That’s why at that point Michael McNamara — co-owner of Revamp Home Staging ( — believes you have one of two choices: Either drop your asking price by tens of thousands dollars, or stage your home for thousands of dollars. Do the math and you’ll see why so many sellers choose the latter option. Here, then, is some of McNamara’s top staging tips:


Remember scale is crucial

If you’re dealing with limited square footage and you’ve got a disproportionately big couch dwarfing your living area, you should replace it with smaller seating to give the illusion of more space.


Depersonalize your decor

This isn’t about showing off how homey you’ve made your condo; it’s about presenting an inspiring canvas to potential buyers, so they can let their decor imaginations go wild. With that in mind, you might want to pack up all those eclectic knick-knacks you’ve collected over the years.


Neutralize your colour palette

Say goodbye to your feature wall and don’t take any risks with an accent colour that some may an deem an “acquired taste.” Instead, give your condo a paint job, using softer, neutral shades that will appeal to the masses.


Light things up

You can never really have too much lighting, so the more floor lamps etc, the better. Also, don’t underestimate the power of natural light. Whenever possible, only show your home during daylight hours.

Set the mood 

If there’s temporary construction going on, or high volume traffic within earshot, you might want to distract their auditory senses with some soft music. But don’t crank it. And like your decor, the tunes should be as beige as possible – think adult contemporary.


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Traditionally, most homes have sold during the spring months. In the current volatile housing market, the time of year is not the most reliable predictor of the best time to sell. 

Homes certainly show better in spring than they do on a dark and dreary winter day. Lately, however, weather patterns are hard to predict. 

The weather has some effect on home sales. It can slow things down if incessant rain keeps sellers from being able to prepare their homes for sale. However, a bigger influence on the housing market is the overall economic situation and its impact on buyers' psyche.

Normally, the home-sale market ramps up in March or April and stays busy until the beginning of July when the market tends to slow down for the summer. The 2011 home sales went counter to this. The market was active at the beginning of the year, but stalled in April. If you waited until spring to sell last year, you would have missed the best selling opportunity of the first half of 2011.

The early slowdown was partially due to the expiration of the homebuyer stimulus package. The homebuyer tax credit program accelerated home purchases creating a mini bubble in 2010 that was followed by a significant slowdown in home sales. 

Negative economic news played a big part in the sluggish home sales during most of last year. The stock market was unpredictable, and the earthquake in Japan had repercussions for many industries. Plus, Greece was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the future of the European Union was in doubt.

Bad economic news and massive uncertainty lowers consumer confidence. Buyers need to have jobs, but they also need to feel confident in their future to take on a major purchase like a house.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: The best time to sell is when consumer confidence is on the upswing; interest rates are low; unemployment is decreasing; the economic news is mild; and there are more buyers in your local market niche than there are sellers. A high-demand, low-inventory market gives sellers an edge. 

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index fell in March 2012 to 70.2 (1985=100), down from 71.6 in February, when it was up sharply. 

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, attributed the improvement in consumer confidence in February to less pessimism about current business and employment conditions and more optimism about the short-term outlook for the economy and job prospects despite a rise in gas prices. Franco said the moderate decline seen in March was "due solely to a less favorable short-term outlook." 

Interest rates are currently at historic lows and are expected to stay low for the rest of the year. Even with low rates, buyers have had difficulty qualifying due to rigid mortgage approval underwriting. 

Capital Economics, an analytics firm, expects the housing crisis to end this year partially due to lenders loosening credit. According to Capital Economics, one indicator of loosening is that banks are now lending 82 percent of loan-to-value (LTV), compared with a low of 74 percent LTV reached in mid-2010. This means qualified buyers need less cash to buy, which should lead to more sales this year, although higher home prices are not expected. 

These positive indicators combined with a drop in homes for sale at the end of 2011 and a decrease in unemployment may provide an opportunity for sellers in spring 2012, provided their homes are priced right for the market. A major surprise on the economic front could change the picture. 

THE CLOSING: Regardless of the economic indicators, the best time to sell is when the time is right for you.



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Take the quiz and find out your personalized tips for preparing and staging your house for sale.

1. After finishing your dinner, you...

a. Leave everything on the table and come back to clean up later.

b. Take the dishes off the table, put away the leftovers and pile the dishes in the sink or dishwasher for later.

c. Clean the table, put away the leftovers and wash the dishes right away.

2. Your home office has a desk that is...

a. Covered with papers, receipts and random objects.

b. A pile of stacks. There is enough free space to do your work, and you can still find what you’re looking for.

c. Clean and neat. Everything has its place, and papers are filed right away.

3. You’ve just finished your laundry. You...

a. Leave the clothes in a pile on a chair. It’s easier to find them later this way.

b. Fold and put the clothes in any drawer with available space.

c. Fold and put away your clothes in their appropriate drawers.

4. In your household, you have...

a. A dog or cat that is allowed indoors.

b. A smoker who often/always smokes indoors.

c. Neither of the above.

5. How do you accessorize your house?

a. I like to display personal mementos, souvenirs and family photos around my home.

b. I love decorative accessories and like to feature eclectic ethnic artifacts and antique items around my home.

c. I prefer clean and tidy surfaces, and display few decorative or personal items around the house.

6. Which of the following best describes your house?

a. My home is eclectic and fun, with bright colors and accessories throughout.

b. My home is traditional, with warm paint colors and lots of dark wood.

c. My home is in a modern and simple style, with neutral colors and few accessories.

7. Spring has arrived, and your yard is in need of some maintenance. You...

a. Rake the yard and generally get rid of debris.

b. Clean the yard of debris and mow the lawn.

c. Clean the yard of debris, mow the lawn, clear the weeds, apply fertilizer and plant new flowers.

8. Which best describes your house?

a. I haven’t had the time to properly decorate most of my home, and a couple of the smaller rooms are used only for storage. Some minor repairs are still waiting to be done around the house.

b. The main areas of my home are decorated and furnished, but I never got around to properly decorating and furnishing the basement or guest room. Some minor repairs are still waiting to be fixed around the house.

c. I have taken the time to properly furnish and decorate every room. I have also undertaken several renovation projects throughout the years.

Give yourself a score of 1 for every a, a score of 3 for every b, and a score of 5 for every c answer.

If your score is between 8 and 16...

You need to roll up your sleeves and get working to prepare your house for sale. Based on your responses, your home will need deep-cleaning and de-cluttering before showings start:

1. Deep clean your house, making sure each room and surface is spotless. Make sure to remember your appliances and windows, too.

2. Get rid of the clutter to allow buyers to properly see your home. Pack away unnecessary items and make sure counters and tables are free of appliances and personal items. If any rooms are used for storage alone, pack away the items and properly furnish the rooms. Don’t leave them empty, as buyers will have a hard time visualizing living in a space without any furniture.

3. Put away collectibles and family photos to help de-personalize your home. Buyers will be able to imagine themselves in your space better without your personal items around.

4. Your fun sense of décor and color may suit your personality, but go neutral for the sale. Adding a fresh coat of neutral paint and getting rid of unusual accessories will ensure that your home appeals to a larger pool of buyers.

5. If pets or a smoker reside in your house, remember that you probably won’t notice the smell if you’re around them all the time. Have a trusted friend give you an honest opinion, and deep-clean to get rid of the odor.

6. And lastly, don’t forget curb appeal. First impressions count, and buyers begin to form an opinion as soon as they pull into your driveway. Keep your yard neat and tidy with your lawn and shrubs trimmed, and flower beds weeded. Store away your children’s toys and garbage bins, and give the exterior of your home a good wash or a fresh coat of paint.

If your score is between 17 and 32...

There are a few easy steps you can take to make your home more appealing to buyers:

1. Clean your house from top to bottom, paying special attention to kitchens and bathrooms. Make sure to de-clutter and reorganize your home. Remove any excess furniture to enhance the feel of openness and space. Storage space is a top priority for buyers, so clean and organize your closets and storage areas. Get rid of anything you don’t need, and make sure your closets are not overflowing with items.

2. Brighten and lighten up your home with a fresh coat of neutral-coloured paint. Soft neutrals such as pale yellows and greys can give a house a nice, sophisticated look that appeals to most buyers.

3. Store away your eclectic accessories, and create more room on your counters and tabletops. Your unique items may be an expression of your personality, but they might also make it hard for buyers to visualize themselves in the space.

4. And last but not least, fix that leaky faucet and any other minor repairs you’ve been neglecting around the house.

If your score is between 33 and 40...

Your house is in top shape and will only need a little bit of work to bring in that sale:

1. One great way to stimulate buyers’ imaginations is to set the scene. Put fresh flowers on the mantle, and set the dining room table for a formal dinner. If it’s a cold day, light a fire in the fireplace. Look at your house through a buyer’s eyes, and create an atmosphere that will help them envision themselves living there.

2. To further enhance curb appeal, spruce up your flower beds with new flowers and ground cover to give your home additional touches of color.

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There’s no escaping the raw power of first impressions, especially when it comes to selling your home. Each time a potential buyer walks through your front door, you want their immediate thought to be: WOW!

The key to creating the right impression is being able to envisage what potential buyers will look for in your home. Can they see themselves living there and spending time with friends and family? Is this a space they’d love to entertain in?

Home staging is essential in helping you bring their vision to life and can make a big impact on the selling price and timeframe. Ideally, you’ll want to focus on the entire house, but depending on time and budget, your main selling rooms take priority.

Your front entrance is the introduction area buyers will see. This is where they’ll base their first impression and determine how the rest of the house is going to show. The living room is usually one of the first rooms buyers see as they go through the house. This room will determine the general style of the home whether contemporary or traditional or somewhere in between. The dining room is where buyers will enjoy meals and celebrate holidays and special occasions. The kitchen is where people spend most of their time, and when entertaining friends and family, that’s where everyone tends to gather. The family room or great room is the second area where people spend most of their time relaxing and entertaining. The master bedroom and en-suite is a special sanctuary for buyers. They want to be able to go into this room, close the door and forget about everything else. It needs to feel like the perfect escape from their hectic and busy lifestyle.

The key is to look at each room and determine how you would feel if you were a buyer standing in the doorway looking in. How does your flooring look? Buyers want to purchase a home that is move-in ready and flooring is one of the top selling features a buyer is looking for, so invest in your equity and replace any worn or outdate flooring. What colour are the walls? If your house is painted in very bright or unusual colours, potential buyers may be turned off or at least feel that this is a starting point for them to negotiate on price since they will have to paint as soon as they move in. By going neutral with your colours and adding colour and texture with accessories like pillows and throws, potential buyers will be able to emotionally connect with the home and visualize living there. Does the position of your furniture show off the size of the room? Does the room feel cluttered? Does the furniture in the room tell the buyer how this room can be used? How much lighting is in each room? Properly placed furniture and lighting will show off the prime features and allow buyers to see how each room functions.

Tips for preparing your home for sale:

1 Clean your windows inside and out. When buyers are touring your home they want to see the view from each room. If the windows are dirty, it may make them question how well your house has been maintained.

2 Use frosting spray or interior design film on windows that don’t have the best view. This will block a not-so-attractive view, but still allow light to come in. And it’s cheaper than buying blinds. If you already have blinds, turn the slates up so that light can still come through but the view is muted.

3 Clean out your closets. Buyers always check closets so pack away any off-season items and anything you don’t use on a regular basis. Try to remove as much off the floor as possible; this creates the feeling that the room is more spacious.

4 Create a spa-like feeling in all of your bathrooms. Use white or off-white towels and add a fabric shower curtain. Place greenery on counters or the tub area to create the feeling of warmth and relaxation.

It’s important that you depersonalize and emotionally disconnect from your house. By doing this, you will allow yourself to transform your home into what your potential buyers are looking for. And remember, taking the time to properly prepare your home for sale will help sell it quickly and for top dollar.

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  • Will Pratt
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