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Home makeover won’t break the bank

Add buyer appeal by making a series of inexpensive upgrades

Jonathan Starkey The Washington Post

Even with a budget of $1,000 or less, sellers are not priced out of making improvements that can help their home stand out among the competition.

In fact, real estate experts say there are many relatively small upgrades that can go a long way toward attracting buyers.

“There are a lot of things that you can do that won’t cost a lot of money but will sure make your home look a whole lot more appealing,” says Gwyn Thorne, owner of Staged Appeal Homes in Fairfax, Va.

Among Thorne’s top suggestions for a $1,000 budget:

•Swap out old light fixtures to help modernize the feel of the interior. Flush-mounted fixtures suitable for bedrooms and hallways can go for as little as $20 a pair, Thorne says.

“Because a lot of the light fixtures that are in the older houses haven’t been changed, they have a very outdated look,” she says.

•Buy a new bathroom vanity. Vanities start from only about $200. Add a new faucet and relatively inexpensive peel-and-stick tiling, and the bathroom looks like new, says Thorne.

“Bathrooms and kitchens are probably the two most important rooms in the house,” she says.

Nicci Parrish, co-owner of Impress Me Home Staging in Bowie, Md., says sellers should focus on their home’s exterior.

“If it doesn’t look good on the outside, buyers are going to have a negative opinion before they get inside,” she says.

Some of her favorite touches:

•Add colorful flowers in a planter on the front porch.

•Buy a new mailbox to replace a shabby old one.

•Touch up paint on the door and shutters.

All are relatively inexpensive improvements that can help would-be buyers feel more comfortable, says Parrish.

“When someone is coming up to your house, it just makes it a little bit more warm and inviting,” she says.

And make sure house numbers are clearly visible, she adds. Sellers know where they live; buyers don’t.

Deborah Gorham, a real estate agent with Long & Foster in Centreville, Va., says sellers should start simple. Painting, she says, is the best investment a seller can make, and it’s simple enough that people can do it themselves to save money.

Gorham offers some specific tips:

•Apply neutral-colored paint with white trim to help the home’s architectural details stand out and remove the seller’s personal style, which might conflict with buyers’ preferences.

•Replace the oldest kitchen appliance. Specifically, replacing a dishwasher – often viewed as the most unsanitary kitchen appliance – can go a long way with buyers, Gorham says, and it costs only a few hundred dollars.

The kitchen is a room buyers obsess over, she says, and they “just want new.”

•Have the air ducts cleaned. “You can literally look in the intake vents and see how dirty it is,” Gorham says.

Alongside de-cluttering, comprehensively cleaning is the other most fundamental task sellers should take on before their house hits the market, says Elaine Quigley, owner of Topline Home Staging in Burke, Va., and president of the local chapter of International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

“Clean it beyond what (you) can imagine cleanliness is,” Quigley says. “The tracks in the windows, get every cobweb, every piece of dust, get in there with a toothbrush.”

As with painting, sellers can keep cleaning costs down by doing it themselves.

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