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Stage presence

First impressions can be huge for potential home buyers, which puts more emphasis on reorganizing, beautification

Melissa Rayworth Associated Press

It’s a question all homeowners face when they decide to sell: How can you make your home as appealing to potential buyers as possible?

In today’s market, that question has become even more crucial.

“It really depends how much your home is worth,” says New York-based interior designer Janine Carendi. “Is it in move-in condition, and will buyers expect it to be?”

Not everyone should invest in fancy upgrades and fresh coats of paint, she says. But all homeowners can benefit from reorganizing and beautification.

Carendi and fellow designers Mallory Mathison and Brian Patrick Flynn offer some tips on making your home market-ready on a budget:

Outside help

“Always listen to the professional you’re hiring to sell your home,” Carendi says. “The agent has so much experience, and he or she can see the potential of the home and how they want to market it.”

Some owners hire a staging company to redecorate their home specifically to appeal to buyers. A cool twist on that idea: Flynn suggests hiring a photo stylist (a local magazine can probably recommend one) to give your place a fresh look.

“Home stagers are all the rage right now,” Flynn says, “but magazine photo stylists are the masters at turning spaces into cover shots packed with ‘wow’ factor. They not only make the rooms look their best but they also know the proper styling to suggest a room’s use.”

First impressions

A good first impression won’t guarantee a sale, but a bad one can scuttle it, says Mathison: “If the entry way is blase, that can set a precedent for the rest of the house.”

Outside, she says, clean thoroughly and “pay close attention to the front door. You want it freshly painted or stained.”

Keep the lawn trimmed, if you have one, and add a few potted plants near the door for a look that’s “pulled together but not overdone.”

Inside, consider touchup painting in the entryway, and add a mirror if the area doesn’t get much natural light.

If the front door leads directly into your living room without a foyer or vestibule, Flynn suggests using furniture to “create the sense that you’re walking into the area where you decompress.” Add a bench near the door and a console where someone could drop their keys and mail on arriving home.

Clean and fresh

“I see fingerprints on white doors all the time,” Carendi says of homes that are for sale.

Clean as thoroughly as you can, perhaps hiring a cleaning service for one or two visits. Pay attention to doors, baseboards, light switch plates, ceiling fans and windows. Clean all appliances, especially older ones, so they sparkle.

Then take a good look around and consider minor repairs or repainting.

“Anything that shows the age of the home needs to be tackled,” Carendi says. “You don’t want people noticing a water stain. The problem might have already been fixed, but the person sees it and says, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ ”

Other details: Bunches of fresh mint or rosemary can freshen air naturally, says Mathison, and a vase of flowers is always welcome. For a quick facelift, lightly sand the frames around your windows, then add a coat or two of white paint, Carendi says.

Clear the way

Banishing clutter is crucial: Uncluttered rooms feel larger, and buyers will have an easier time envisioning their own belongings in the space.

Spend a weekend clearing off countertops and purging the home of anything you don’t want or need. Box up offseason clothes and put them in storage – your closets will look bigger and part of the packing will be done when it’s time to move. Put extraneous furniture in temporary storage or lend it to a friend.

Also, says Mathison, remove anything you’re sure you don’t want to part with.

Got some vintage light fixtures or beloved furniture?

“Take that out of the equation, if you can’t part with it,” she says, “so there’s no arguing over it in negotiations.”

Remove yourself

“It’s kind of a rule to take out two-thirds of your personal things,” Mathison says. “Make it a generally inviting space, rather than something right just for your family.”

Think about the way it feels when you check into a good hotel room, these designers say. The space is clean, comfortable and stylish, but also something of a blank canvas. A home that’s for sale should have that sensibility.

To help buyers envision themselves living there, repaint boldly colored walls a more neutral color. Flynn suggests a pale gray – it’s more interesting than plain white, but still neutral.

Remove any furniture or art that is really distinctive (“Stick with landscapes,” Flynn advises) and replace unique window treatments with simple, solid-color draperies.

Editing your personal design sensibility out of the space can be uncomfortable, says Carendi, but it’s vital.

“Don’t think about it as your home anymore. It is not your home,” she says. “It is now a piece of property you have, an asset you’re trying to sell at the highest price possible.”

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