10 Low-Cost Ideas To Help You Sell Your Home

For many homeowners, the inability to afford an expensive remodel or update interferes with listing their home confidently, or even at all. But it’s not always the major renovations which catch buyers’ attention – the finer details can be equally important. Consider this list of affordable tips to sell your home before hanging up your for-sale sign.

1.    Improve Your Curb Appeal

They don’t call it “curb appeal” for nothing. Simply improving the functionality and look of your home’s exterior and landscaping can serve as a great first impression for potential home buyers.

Make sure your gutters are up to snuff by checking for loose parts or clogs. You also want to be sure there are no broken or missing flashing materials, which help prevent leaks behind your gutters. Check that your garage door is in working condition and that none of your home’s window shutters are crooked or dangling. Lastly, mowing the grass and trimming up your hedges are other easy ways to spruce up your yard.

Estimated Costs

Completely replacing your home’s gutters can be expensive, so you’ll want to replace parts if possible. A 10-foot gutter starts at around $6, with downspouts starting closer to $8.

Garage doors can cost as much as $1,000 on the high end, but you can get a decorative garage door hardware kit for as little as $19. And if you or a loved one are particularly handy, much of the mechanics behind fixing a garage door can quickly be DIY’d.

2.    Make That Front Door (And Doorbell) Stand Out

When it comes to life and open houses, we all know that first impressions matter. Although many of us don’t always enter our homes through the front door, prospective buyers will.

“While the REALTOR® is fiddling with the lockbox, trying to get the door open, the buyer is standing there looking around,” says stager and interior designer Deborah Goode of A Goode Start Decorating and Home Staging in Annapolis, Maryland.

So be sure to update your home’s front door and walkway by fixing any cracks or peeling with spackle and a fresh coat of paint. You should also double check that your front door’s locks and doorbell are all in working order so that your home seems move-in ready.

Estimated Costs

Exterior paints typically start at $30 per gallon and doorbells are $10 and up.

3.    Evaluate Every Entrance

As important as your front door is, it’s not the only one that will get the once-over.

“Doors offer a huge bang for the buck visually,” says Chris Neumann, director of operations for Pyramid Builders in Annapolis. Neumann suggests that homeowners consider updating their interior doors, or at the least, replace their door hinges and knobs. “And replace any junky bi-folds with double-swing or heavier solid-core doors,” he adds.

Estimated Costs

Bronze door hinges can cost $3; solid-core, unfinished pine interior doors start at $99.

4.    Look Down

As buyers walk in and remove their shoes or wipe their feet, their eyes will be drawn to your home’s flooring. While blemishes such as stained carpets, raggedy rugs and scratched floors could be enough to put off a potential buyer, they’re easy fixes that you can tackle before an open house.

Estimated Costs

Carpet steamers can be rented starting at just $60, and while the price of area rugs varies greatly, your local hardware or furniture store will most likely carry them starting at around $100.

5.    Select The Right Scent

If you’ve ever wandered around the candle aisle at the grocery store, then you know how compelling or comforting different scents can be. Be sure to eliminate any nose agitators and avoid the dreaded question: “What is that smell?”

If you have any pets, make sure that their necessities are clean – for cats this means clean litter boxes. For any small caged animals, such as hamsters or guinea pigs, this means clean cages. And if you’re living in your home during the selling process, make sure that your pets are bathed before any showings – just to ensure that potential buyers won’t mistakenly associate your home with a wet dog smell or any other unsavory odor.

You should also clean out your refrigerator – people may be nosy! – and banish the kids’ stinky sports equipment to the basement or garage.

Once you’ve gotten rid of any potential for house stink, choose a scent to you love to use throughout your home. Whether you use a candle, room spray or plug-in, just be sure not to go overboard combining different scents or by using too much fragrance.

Estimated Cost

Scented candles can cost $10; plug-in odor eliminators start at $17.

6.   Quick-Clean And Spot Treat

Walls are an excellent canvas, but they also clearly display age, dirt, indifference, even foundation issues. Fix any scuff marks, nail holes and paint cracks. “Remove all peeling wallpaper and repaint in neutrals to maximize the natural light,” says interior designer Jana Abel, president of J. Abel Interiors in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Estimated Cost

Spackling paste starts at $18; interior paint costs $28 a gallon and up.

7.    Have A Place For Everything

When it comes to showings or open houses, potential buyers are there to look at your home and imagine what it’d be like living there – which can be hard with clutter reminding them of the current homeowners. “I always advise my clients to take out at least a third of what they have in closets,” Goode says. Make sure anything that’s not on display — shoes, coats, papers, pots, pans — is tucked away and neatly organized.

Estimated Cost

Attractive bins and baskets cost $20 and up; basic shelving systems start at $200.

8.    Check Your Drawers

The same way you wouldn’t want to get caught with an ill-working doorbell or garage door, you don’t want a potential buyer opening a cabinet or drawer and having it stick or get jammed. So, if you have a lopsided utensil drawer that you’ve learned to live with, just know that it’s something your buyers might not be able to.

Although new cabinetry can be pricey, simply fix any bent drawer tracks and slides, or replace dangling pulls and tighten screws and handles.

Estimated Costs

Basic rail-drawer-track kits start at $3; decorative cabinet knobs start at $4 each.

9.    Make Your Appliances Shine

While it may seem like a no-brainer to clean your home before welcoming people over, the kitchen is a space which oftentimes gets overlooked. Remember to scrub down your refrigerator, microwave, oven, stovetop, sink, and any other appliance included in the sale of your home. Buyers will want shiny new appliances, not evidence of last week’s tuna casserole.

Estimated Cost

Most cleaning products start at $4; elbow grease is free.

10. Finish With Some Finishes

Bathroom gut jobs can be pricey, but replacing finishing elements such as faucets, showerheads, towel racks and toilet paper holders can significantly brighten a room. “If you have polished chrome faucets or shower valves, you can pick up any chrome accessories and they will match, unlike satin nickel or oil-rubbed bronze,” says Abel. New shower curtains, hand towels and bathmats will also help the room look updated and clean, she adds.

Estimated Cost

Showerheads can cost $40 and up; bath towels start at $10; faucets are $70 and up.


How Can I Sell My House Fast?

This day and age, most home buying business occurs online. So, make a good and lasting impression by posting high-quality photos of a clean and depersonalized home.

Also be sure to take photos during the daytime, when lighting is the brightest and most natural, and consider borrowing a friend’s DSLR camera or even hiring a photographer for those sharp and professional looking photos. Check out our article on real estate photography for more tips on how to stand out in the online market.

Should I Stage My House?

While home staging is usually advantageous for selling your home, it’s not always a necessity. Check out our article on home staging to see what works for you.


10+ Winter Plants That Survive And Thrive In The Cold

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your home exterior needs to be, too. Create a warm and inviting look by using winter plants among your other holiday decorations. A quick trip to the nursery will save you staging time and effort, especially if you plan on selling your own home. First impressions mean a lot, so whether you’re looking to sell, renovate or just give your property a quick facelift, winter plants and flowers are a smart way to go.


Use the list below to jump to the topic that interests you the most:


How To Protect Plants In Winter

winter plant care tips

As a rule, it’s crucial that you research the needs of the individual plants and flowers you pick beforehand. The fact of the matter is that not all plants can survive a harsh winter. Depending on the climate you live in and the specific plant type, it’s care requirements will change – use tools like Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder for care specifics. 

It’s also important to note the classification of your plant. According to, plants can be classified as annual, biennial, or perennial. Annuals live for one growing season, biennials live for two growing seasons, and perennials live for two years. This has a large effect on the care they’ll need. Below you’ll see some basic tactics used to protect plants from chilly weather.

  • Take some indoors: Certain plants are just not built to survive winter and must be taken in for shelter. Some varieties require that their bulbs be dug up and removed for winter.
  • Insulate perennials: Some plants will simply require a couple of inches of mulch to protect their root systems 
  • Adequate watering: Water trees and shrubs generously (about two times as much) before the first frost when the ground freezes over. This ensures they have enough water to get them through the winter, and the frozen ice layer acts as insulation. If you don’t experience a seasonal freeze, plants will require considerably less water once the weather is colder.


10 Colorful Plants That Survive Winter 

Even though most plants and flowers do best in the warmer months, there are many that survive and thrive in freezing temperatures. The best way to tell if a plant can handle winter is by its “hardiness zone” rating, which is based on an area’s climate in its relation to supporting plant growth.

Different zones can support different types of plants depending on if they’re built for colder or warmer climates. If their zone falls within the hardiness zone where you live, you should be good to go as long as you treat the plant with proper care.

Looking for some cold weather garden and front yard inspiration? We’ve got you covered with the visual below. It explores 10 different colorful plants and flowers, their hardiness ratings, when they bloom as well as what makes them special. 

See a condensed visual here and more detail in the copy below:

button to Download winter plant guide


1. Snowdrop (Galanthus Nivalis)

photo of snowdrop flowers in the snow

With a name like “Snowdrop,” it’s no wonder these plants are a great winter garden option. They are able to survive in zones as low as 3, or -40°F (-40°C). Depending on where you live, you can expect to see blooms as early as February. It’s important to note that these plants are poisonous to humans, dogs and cats, so plant with care if you have little ones or critters around.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 7
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Mid-winter
  • Great for: Walking paths 


2. Helleborus (Helleborus Orientalis)

photo of a helleborus

Helleborus flowers are no strangers to some frost and snow – they typically bloom in late winter and are about 1 foot tall. The petals come in a variety of colors from white to pink to purple, contrasted against vibrant yellow stamen. These flowers are not only hardy to inclement weather, they are also pollution- and deer-resistant.

  • Hardiness Zone: 4 – 8
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Part shade to full shade
  • Blooms in: Late winter/early spring
  • Great for: Ground cover


3. Camellia (Camellia Japonica)

photo of camellias

These colorful beauties bloom on branches that grow to about 7 – 12 feet tall, perfect for hedges. Depending on your region, you can count on blooms anywhere from December to March. They require a little more attention than some other varieties as they are susceptible to some fungal diseases and pests like aphids, mites and mealybugs.

  • Hardiness Zone: 7 – 9
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Sun: Part Shade
  • Blooms in: Winter
  • Great for: Hedges


4. Mountain Fire (Pieris Japonica)

photo of mountain fire

Mountain Fire feels very festive with green and red leaves. when it blooms in late winter/early spring, it produces white flower buds. These deer-resistant plants do best in rich, slightly acidic soil. When mature, they can reach heights up to 12 feet but earlier on they are usually 4 – 8 feet. Also called “Japanese pieris,” they are especially fitting in a predominantly Japanese garden. 

  • Hardiness Zone: 5 – 8
  • Maintenance: High
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Late winter/early spring
  • Great for: Borders and fences


5. Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)

photo of winterberries

A classic winter plant, the vibrant winterberry is a no-brainer for your cold-climate garden collection. These resilient plants survive well in wet, eroded or clay soil. They grow somewhat slowly and usually fall in the range of 3 – 12 feet tall. As a bonus, these trees attract birds and will surely provide a beautiful bird-watching spot when the weather gets warmer.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Fall/winter
  • Great for: Rainy climates


6. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana)

photo of witch hazel

Witch hazel is hailed as a skincare solution and medicinal powerhouse, but these plants also make a great winter garden addition. Give your space a vibrant pop as these plants bloom in late fall into early winter. Due to their deer-resistance and tall height, 15 – 20 feet, they make great garden borders. When the weather warms up, witch hazel also attracts birds.

  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 8
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Fall/winter
  • Great for: Medicinal uses


7. Winter Jasmine (Jasminum Nudiflorum)

photo of winter jasmine

These yellow stunners are native to Northern China and can survive temperatures as low as -10°F (-23.3°C). Throughout the cold months, winter jasmine boasts pretty green vines and in mid- to late-winter, their pretty blooms appear. Their malleable 10 – 15-foot vines are great for sloping ground and to train on wall trellises.

  • Hardiness Zone: 6 – 10
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Mid-winter/early spring
  • Great for: Wall trellises


8. Sester Dwarf (Picea Pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’)

photo of a sester dwarf

Sester dwarfs are extremely similar to the massive evergreen trees you’d expect to find in the Rocky Mountains, only these are only about 3 – 5 feet tall. Their height combined with their thick, sturdy spread of needles make them great for hedges. Also, this spruce variety is deer-, rabbit- and drought-resistant. Try dressing these shrubs up with lights for a festive touch.

  • Hardiness Zone: 2 – 7
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Blooms in: Non-flowering
  • Great for: Shrubs


9. Pansy (Viola × Wittrockiana)

photo of a pansy in the snow

Pansies come in a great variety of colors ranging from blue, purple, pink and red to yellow, coral and white. These deer-resistant blooms can survive in temperatures as low as -10°F (-23.3°C). When the cold weather melts away, they are great for attracting butterflies to your garden. Their smaller size (no taller than 8 inches) makes them ideal for container gardening, bedding and window boxes. 

  • Hardiness Zone: 6 – 10
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Blooms in: Fall
  • Great for: Containers 


10. Algerian Iris (Iris Unguicularis)

photo of an Algerian iris

Algerian Iris are also known as “Winter Iris” and can survive in temperatures as low as 0°F (-17.8°C). The stunning blooms come in a deep purple and are drought-, deer- and rabbit-resistant. They grow to be about 2 feet tall, which makes them ideal for pathways and flowerbed borders. This is another variety that does well in loamy, chalky, or clay-rich soil.

  • Hardiness Zone: 7–9
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Blooms in: Late fall–spring
  • Great for: Bed borders


Winter Plants Perfect For Curb Appeal And Staging

Just because you’re spending more time inside doesn’t mean you should neglect the exterior of your space, especially if you are trying to sell your home. The holidays are a special time of year for most buyers. Help them envision themselves in your home by including elegant and seasonal winter touches. 

Not only is winter curb appeal a great way to tie your home’s interior and exterior together, it’s also a great way to increase offers on your home. First impressions mean a lot, so remember that your front exterior is the first thing potential buyers will see.

10 Additional Winter Plants 

Below is a list of plants that are perfect for winter staging:

    • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
    • Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
    • Catmint (Nepeta)
    • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
    • Kaffir lily (Schizostylis coccinea)
    • American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)
    • Coneflower (Echinacea)
    • Siberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata)
    • Sunset Kale (Brassica oleracea)
    • Honeywort (Cerinthe)

Pro Tip: If you don’t have the resources to fully landscape, focus on your front door and porch area. Add potted plants and portable topiaries to increase your curb appeal on a budget.


How to Style Colorful Winter Flowers and Plants

When staging your exterior, it’s important to keep general staging tactics in mind:

      • Mass-appeal: Make sure your space appeals to a wide range of buyers.
      • Show off: Highlight the best features of your property.
      • Color choices: Neutral colors are preferred by most buyers, but don’t forget to add in pops of color and pattern in the decor.
      • Cohesiveness: The whole property should have a unified look that goes along with the architecture of your home and the area you live in.

With these basic staging ideas in mind, here are some tips for styling winter plants and flowers on the exterior of your home:

    1. Frame your entrance: This can be done by using topiaries, garlands or even lights.
    2. Accessorize your door: After giving your door a fresh coat of paint, adorn it with an elegant and seasonal wreath. 
    3. Complement existing decor: Try adding potted plants or window boxes to the setting.
    4. Replace delicate flora: Remove plants that can’t withstand the cold and replace with hardier ones.
    5. Landscaping upkeep: It’s crucial that you tend to your landscaping as well as plowing the pathways to your house. 
    6. Consider snow cover: Some plants will look great year-round and will be especially pretty with snow cover. Keep this in mind when landscaping. The hardy plants you pick must be taller than your average snowfall so they aren’t buried.

Pro Tip: In your online listing, include pictures of your property’s exterior from all different seasons. This makes it easier for buyers to envision their life there year-round.


Tie It All Together: Seasonal Botanical Prints

Photo of two winter plant botanical prints on the wall, namely a spruce print and a winterberry print

A great way to tie your exterior into your interior and give your home a fresh feel is by including touches of plants and flowers indoors. Aside from adding evergreen garland and colorful holiday plants, another fun nod to the outdoors is using a fun and seasonal print. Use this simple and elegant prints below to spruce up your interior this winter.

button to Download botanical prints

It’s easy to shake off the winter blues and increase buyer interest with simple touches of greenery and seasonal flowers. Many people don’t see winter as the ideal time to sell. Turn that idea on its head by leaning on the nostalgia and love that surrounds the holiday season. 

There are many buyers still searching for homes in the colder months, so take advantage of the decreased competition and make your place stand out. You will have great success in selling your home if you are able to create a lively atmosphere that helps buyers imagine hosting their family for years to come.



3 Essential Places to Stage for a Sale

As you begin to prepare your home for sale, staging every square inch of your home can seem like a challenge, especially if you’re concerned about your budget and time. By focusing first on the most important areas to stage for a home sale you can impress buyers and maximize your budget while keeping your expenses down.

Kick Your Curb Appeal Up a Notch
When it comes to staging you should always start at the curb. Your front yard is the first thing buyers will see as they drive by and your home’s curb appeal will be a major deciding factor in that buyer slowing down and taking a closer look. Creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere on the walk up to your front door will make buyers feel comfortable and more eager to see the inside of the home. Here are some tips to grab a buyer’s attention from the start:

  1. Manicure your landscaping. Mow the lawn, trim bushes & trees, and lay down mulch.
  2. Remove dead debris to make way for seasonal flowers and plants.
  3. Power wash the exterior of your home and walkways.
  4. Spruce up your front door with paint and potted topiaries.
  5. Add a welcome mat and a seasonal wreath on the door.

Lighten Up The Living Room
Upon entering the home, one of the most important rooms to stage is the living room. This is a main living area, where all family members will gather, as well as a place that will entertain guests. It’s no wonder this room ranks number one as the most important room to stage among buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors 2015 Profile of Home Staging. So, how do you make this room stand out? Try these tips to make buyers feel at home:

  1. Consider painting this room a warm neutral color, like Benjamin Moore’s Silver Fox (2108-50) or Shaker Beige (HC-45).
  2. Rearrange furniture to avoid closing off the space or blocking traffic flow.
  3. Declutter built-ins and shelves.
  4. Keep artwork to a minimum, try a large piece over the couch.
  5. Avoid having toy clutter, by using creative storage solutions.

Showcase Your Killer Kitchen
The third place to target in your home when staging is not only the heart of the home, but the second most important space to stage among buyers. The kitchen is another common area where everyone gathers and is used frequently throughout the day. Buyers want to know their new kitchen will be able to sustain the demands of daily life. Use these tips to showcase your kitchen:

  1. Do your best to make sure your kitchen is up-to-date with today’s trends. Opt for neutral colors, granite or quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances.
  2. Keep a maximum of three appliances on your countertops and remove clutter build up.
  3. Organize your pantry, cabinets and drawers to show how efficient and spacious this area is.
  4. Highlight an island or eat-in space by setting the table.
  5. Make sure this space is tidy and smells fresh.

By tackling these three areas of your home, you’ll be one step closer to the closing table. Remember to make improvements in these locations and then declutter, clean and reuse items you have in your home to promote a lifestyle your buyers will envy.

Tori Toth is a Certified Home Staging Expert, Regional Vice President for Real Estate Staging Association and owner of Stylish Stagers, Inc. She has been interviewed on CNN Money and was named a Professional Stager of the Year Finalist in 2012. Learn more about Tori and her Stage 2 Sell Strategy at


5 Steps to Stunning Curb Appeal

Ethan Roberts is a real estate writer, editor and investor. He’s a frequent contributor to, and his work has been featured on and He’s been investing in real estate since 1995 and has been a Realtor since 1998. He also teaches classes on investing in residential real estate.

Whether your goal is to to sell your own primary residence or to flip a great foreclosure, the shortcut to a fast sale at top dollar begins with creating great “curb appeal” for the home.

What exactly is “curb appeal”? It’s that vital first (and long-lasting) impression that prospective buyers get when they step out of their car and see your home for the first time. Since today that first view is often on the Internet rather than at the actual curbside, you’ll not only want to enhance the home’s look but also make sure you take great photos of it.

When I teach people how to create great curb appeal, I don’t just stop with the exterior of the home. Improving the interior, which I’ll cover in part 2 of this article, is just as important.

Here are five important changes to make that will create great exterior curb appeal and improve the chances of selling your home fast and for a top price:

1. Paint the exterior.
Nothing gives a home a better look and returns a great value on an appraisal than a fresh coat of paint. Select a color that’s warm, but somewhat neutral for the exterior walls. A dark color will make the home look smaller, so keep it light. I usually paint my homes beige, and then offset that with white for the trim and garage door. The front door and shutters can add some color to really make the home “pop” upon first impression.

2. Pressure wash.
Before you paint, buy or rent a pressure washer (or hire someone to do it), and remove all of the dirt and green mold (which is harmless, by the way) off the exterior of the home. You should also pressure wash the driveway, walkway to the front door, and sidewalks and curbs. Your home will look sparkling fresh and clean for just a few hours of effort. Safety tip: Watch out for spider webs, wasps, or bees around the soffits of your home as you’re pressure washing. Hire a professional pest control company first if your home has an abundance of hives or nests.

3. Improve that landscaping.
Make sure the lawn is mowed and edged once a week while your home is on the market. Brown patches or empty spots should be filled with fresh sod, or put grass seed down a month before you list the home for sale. Bushes should be neatly trimmed, leaves raked and bagged, dead branches removed from trees, and weeds pulled from beds and walkways. Adding red Cyprus mulch around flowerbeds brings some nice color to the home. If too many bushes are hiding your home from view, consider removing some of them. A nice pot of small, colorful flowers by the front door or planted in a window box is a great touch as well.

4. Spruce up the front door.
Make sure you pressure wash and paint the front door along with the rest of the home. Paint the door a colorful accent color like red, burgundy, black, brown, or green. It should match the shutters if you have them. You can also add a kick plate or door knocker in silver, black, or white to enhance the look of the door. An old, worn out doorbell is very easy and inexpensive to change. If your door still looks old and worn after painting it, consider buying a new one. Realtors know that buyers do take notice of a front door’s appearance in evaluating the condition of your home.

5. Surprise those buyers.
You can add miscellaneous items around the front that will elicit comments of pleasant surprise from those who view your home. For example, add a small filtered pond with goldfish, a row of solar lights, or a wrought iron bench under a tree to enhance the curb appeal. But don’t add too many items or your home may look cluttered and produce the opposite effect of what you intended.

Many of these home improvements are easy and inexpensive for an investor or homeowner to do, and should add equal or more value to the appraisal than what you spend. Be sure to let the buyer’s appraiser know all of the improvements you made so they will be considered toward evaluating your sales price.

Are you giving buyers the right first impression of your home online? Make sure you show off your curb appeal by including the photos every house hunter wants to see in your listing.

This information was originally published on LLC, the nation’s leading online real estate marketplace.

Blog Video

23 Easy Home Staging Tips for Any Budget

Going the extra mile to spruce up a home and make sure it looks like a million bucks is a home seller’s first, best step towards finding a buyer. Homeowners might think they’ll need to spend a bundle, but many projects don’t require a lot of money. These ideas will work with any budget.

Display the Best Features of Your Home
Whether they’re gazing out a car window or looking at a photo on a smartphone or tablet, the first view prospective buyers have of your home probably will be from the street. As a seller, your goal is to impress them so much with your home’s curb appeal that they want to know more. If you fail to do this, buyers simply will go on to the next property.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression, and you want it to be a good one, one that a buyer will remember,” says Donna L. Stoutenburg of Artistic Endeavors 4 U, a staging and redesign company based in Streamwood, Illinois. “It’s imperative that your house looks good from the street.”

9 Inexpensive Projects to Increase Curb Appeal
1. Make sure exterior walls are not chipping or dirty. If there’s any dirt or grime, consider power washing.

2. If window treatments or furniture can be seen from outside your home, ensure that they complement the exterior.

3. Remove unsightly items that distract from your home’s overall appearance like toys, debris and dead vegetation.

4. Trim the lawn and pull any weeds.

5. If you have a mailbox, clean or replace it. Also make sure the house numbers are recent, legible and match the architecture’s design aesthetic.

6. Utility boxes often can be seen from the street and almost always look obnoxious, so camouflage them by painting them the same color as your home.

7. Repaint the front door.

8. When seasonally appropriate, add flowers to planters to create memorable splashes of color.

9. Sweep or shovel the entrance and all walkways.

Want to really impress? Stoutenburg tells her clients to paint their walkways. Although special paints are required, the process is straightforward. “Scrub the area thoroughly, give it a good acid wash and let it dry. Apply a coat of primer, then the colored paint and you’ve updated this (exterior) space,” she says. Be sure to check the weather forecast before you start: Stoutenburg cautions that successfully completing this project requires a sunny day with no wind.

Cook Up Something Memorable
Because members of a household spend so much time in the kitchen, this room requires special attention, according to Leslie Molloy, a Certified Kitchen Designer and residential designer at Normandy Remodeling in Hinsdale, Illinois. “People want to move into something that’s ready, and minor tweaks can really help a lot,” she says.

Patricia Marie Kelly of Marie Kelly Unlimited, a home staging and interior redesign firm based in Algonquin, Illinois, agrees, and emphasizes that kitchens are an area where clutter is a no-no. “No one wants to smell, see or view your dirty laundry … or a week’s worth of dishes piled in the sink or last night’s dinner in the garbage,” Kelly says.

4 Quick Kitchen Staging Suggestions
1. Repaint cabinets that are an outdated color like olive green or harvest gold.

2. Replace knobs and finishes on cabinets and drawers.

3. Remove magnets, postcards and school artwork from refrigerator doors.

4. If you have a little more to spend, consider replacing appliances and, possibly, installing a new granite or composite counter.

3 Simple Ways to Make a Bathroom Shine
1. “A lot of times bathroom fixtures are simply construction grade,” Stoutenburg says — meaning they’re functional but uninspired. For example, many bathrooms have “Hollywood” lights — a line of a half dozen or more exposed bulbs above the mirror that make you feel as if you’re getting ready for your close-up. She says that although there are kits that can simply cover up this dated fixture, the lights are not that expensive to replace.

2. Want to quickly stage a bathroom and make it look more upscale? “Remove the shower curtain, replace it with (just) a liner and add a floor-to-ceiling drape,” Stoutenburg suggests. “The drape would be made of linen or a similar fabric.” Use a tension rod to secure the drape.

3. Nothing emphasizes an outdated bathroom like a color toilet. “You can replace that for about $125 or so,” Stoutenburg says.

When It’s OK to Be Boring in the Bedroom
This is one room where private tastes quickly become public atrocities if not carefully staged. Surprisingly, Barb Schwarz of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals suggests borrowing a lesson she credits to Disneyland and Disney World, where placement of everything is carefully considered to convey a harmonious experience. When staging bedrooms, that means removing anything that would prevent a prospective buyer from seeing themselves in that bedroom.

4 Easy Expert Bedroom Staging Tips
1. Remove all evidence of hobby clutter. Schwarz has made clients deep-six golf ball collections, teddy bears, Hollywood memorabilia — and even Disney character posters.

2. Avoid bold, shocking colors. Many parents allow their children to decide what color to paint their bedroom walls, and the result is what you’d expect. Repaint in neutral tones.

3. Clean the carpet or the floors.

4. If you notice at the last minute that your favorite bedspread is torn or has a small stain, consider either flipping it over or adding strategically placed throw pillows or an extra blanket.

3 Details to Add to Any Room
Accessorize. Accessorize. Accessorize! It’s the little touches that can really make a big difference in every room.

1. Spice up a dull living room or den by adding a few throw pillows in fresh colors.

2. Enliven your home with strategically placed plants. If they’re real, make sure they’re healthy. Artificial plants can look surprisingly lifelike these days, too.

3. Want to make sure prospective buyers appreciate a room with a tall ceiling? Place tasteful, neutral artwork near the top so visitors look all the way up.

Follow these strategies and with just a little cash and elbow grease, you’ll ensure that your home is the one that prospective buyers will want to see again.

Read more: Prepare Your Home for Photos and Visitors


Best and Worst Improvements If You Want to Sell Your Home

Home improvements are one of those aspects of real estate that can’t always be summed up solely with cold hard facts.

One benchmark for judging the best home improvements is the annual Cost vs. Value Report published by Remodeling magazine in cooperation with the National Association of Realtors for the past 16 years. The report, which can be downloaded free, compares 35 midrange and upscale improvements in 100 markets nationwide. The projects range from relatively inexpensive ones like replacing entry and garage doors to substantial investments like adding an attic bedroom or an entire second story.

5 Improvements that Provide the Most Resale Value:*

  • entry door replacement (96.6 percent)
  • deck addition (wood) (87.4 percent)
  • attic bedroom (84.3 percent)
  • garage door replacement (83.7 percent)
  • minor kitchen remodel (82.7 percent)

* Based on percentage of cost recouped nationwide according to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report

Home office remodeling returns the worst value at 48.9 percent, according to the Cost vs. Value Report. Other potentially poor choices are sunroom additions, bathroom additions, master suite additions and backup power generators, all of which yielded less than a 68 percent return on investment.

With window replacement so highly rated, another area to consider when investing in home improvements is energy efficiency. According to a new National Association of Home Builders Remodelers survey, high-performing, low-emissive windows proved to be the most common green building products used by residential remodelers.

“Remodeling can not only improve the overall layout and features of a home, but depending on the upgrades you choose, you can also save money on utilities, improve indoor air quality and strengthen the long-term value of your home,” says NAHB Remodelers Chair Paul Sullivan.

The home builders group says other popular green projects include high efficiency HVAC systems, programmable thermostats and Energy Star appliances.

Go Green to Get Green
The return on investment of green home features shouldn’t be underestimated. In Builder magazine, researcher Suzanne Shelton says that about 25 percent of the population has embraced the concept of more sustainable, efficient, healthier homes. “They see it not only as something good for them and their families, but as a way they can do their part to make the world (and) environment a bit better,” Shelton says. “They tend to be on the affluent side, and consistently tell us they would pay a price premium for a home with sustainable, efficient features.” Shelton estimates that a home with such features could yield a 5 percent to 10 percent price premium.

Although some projects can be expensive and extensive, careful attention to a home’s exterior curb appeal and its interior staging can pay off in many ways, not the least of which is in ensuring a great first impression for potential buyers.

Kitchen Aids
Minor kitchen upgrades provides one such good return on investment. Leslie Molloy, a Certified Kitchen Designer and residential designer at Normandy Remodeling in Hinsdale, Illinois, says that at an absolute minimum she recommends updating finishes, painting cabinets that are a less-than desirable color and adding new knobs and hinges. “That would be huge,” Molloy says.

Granite countertops are big, too, she says — but advises caution. “I’ve seen so many kitchens with new granite but dated cabinets and fixtures. People will pick up on the fact if you’ve done a half-hearted job.”

When considering home improvement projects, don’t forget to evaluate your kitchen appliances. If any are more than 20 years old, homeowners should consider replacing them. “Stainless is a way to convey modernity and quality,” Molloy says.

Making sure your kitchen impresses prospective buyers is extremely important. “People want to move into something that’s ready,” she says. In addition, with today’s buyer preference for open floor plans, buyers realize they’ll be “staring at that kitchen the whole time.”

The Power of Paint
In the kitchen and elsewhere, paint goes a long way, Molloy notes. Get rid of dark trim, and if, like so many homes built 25 years ago, yours has “oak everywhere,” whip out that paintbrush. “Paint oak railings, pine doors and wood trim (in a white tone). That will have a huge visual impact.”

Donna L. Stoutenburg of Artistic Endeavors 4 U, a staging and redesign company based in Streamwood, Illinois, agrees that small remodeling can have a big impact. She agrees with Molloy that painting is something sellers must address, especially if they have rooms — bedrooms are repeat offenders — with garish colors.

In such situations, prospective buyers see negative dollar signs. “They know they’re going to have to paint, and that one coat isn’t going to do it,” Stoutenburg says. Sellers should do the painting themselves, rather than risk having a buyer suggest a price reduction.

Neglecting to perform careful and cost-effective remodeling and staging can seriously derail your ability to market your home, she says. If a home remains on the market for a long time, incremental reductions demanded by a property that fails to ignite buyer interest can add up.

“We’re talking maybe $20,000 in a year’s time,” Stoutenburg says. “If (the sellers) had spent $2,000 in the beginning, they’d be out of there and in their new home.”

Read this: The repairs that improve FSBO home sales

Articles FAQs Preparing Virtual Agent

Why Staging a Home Starts Outside at the Curb

It’s the largest space any seller has to stage, but it’s often the most overlooked. Before buyers see your spacious living room, newly remodeled kitchen or master bedroom with walk-in closets and its own Jacuzzi, what’s the first thing they’ll see? The outside of your home. More than 90 percent of all buyers use the Internet during their home search, and an exterior photo usually appears next to search results on real estate websites. Buyers often drive around neighborhoods even before showings or open houses are scheduled And we all know first impressions are powerful.

Before you take photos in preparing to list your home, walk across the street and take a look back. What’s the first thing that you notice? What’s in good shape? What needs to be fixed? What needs to be painted?

Use these questions to evaluate your home’s curb appeal:
1. Are your soffit, gutters and facia in good shape, on the house and the garage?
2. Does your wood trim need to be painted?
3. If your home is brick, does it need to be tuckpointed?
4. Are your sidewalk and driveway level and crack-free?
5. Are your garage doors, overhead and side entry, well painted and in good working order?
6. Do your front door and storm door look attractive from the outside?
7. Can you see the window treatments clearly from the outside, and if so do they frame your windows nicely?
8. Is your chimney properly capped?
9. Is your outdoor furniture clean and inviting?
10. Is your landscaping in good shape, or could it be improved with just a little effort?

Take notes while you look over your home’s exterior, then make a plan to fix or update what you can within your budget. Once you’ve given your curb appeal a boost, snap away! Go photo crazy. You’ll want to have lots of choices when it comes to deciding which photos to use in your marketing efforts. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer if you have a digital camera and put a few photo-taking tips to use.


Boost Sales with Home Staging Strategies from the Pros

As the spring and summer selling season begins, careful attention to a property’s appearance from the outside in will mean faster sales and higher asking prices, home-staging experts tell by-owner sellers.

Some 95 percent of homes staged by the group’s members sell in an average of 11 days or less and for 17 percent more than homes whose owners didn’t tailor their properties to appeal to buyers, according to Barb Schwarz of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

And a staged home sells 78 percent faster than a non-staged property, according to a Real Estate Staging Association survey cited by Patricia Marie Kelly, owner of Marie Kelly Unlimited, an Algonquin, Illinois-based company specializing in real estate services including home staging, decorating and photography.

This link between staging and selling isn’t surprising considering how buyers find homes for sale, Kelly says. “In today’s ever-increasing technology-based shopping, more than 90 percent of buyers look online for homes first,” she says. “A properly staged home will always attract more shoppers, which equals more showings, which equals greater potential for offers and a sale.”

The art of home staging is a new concept for many first-time sellers. Schwarz, who has performed professionally on stage, says it’s no coincidence that tailoring a home for buyer browsing is called “staging.” “This is not decorating,” Schwarz says. “Decorating is personalized. Staging is depersonalized.” The goal is to create a visual space that prospective buyers can envision making their own.
Schwarz compares the seller and bank to the show’s producers and the “audience” to potential home buyers.

Kelly says crafting a sell-out performance actually begins outdoors. “A home with great curb appeal can significantly raise the perceived value of a home,” she says. “A properly staged home starts at the curb, not at the front door. From the moment a potential buyer drives up to your home, the decision process begins. Great curb appeal draws them to your front door in anticipation of what’s inside.”

The first rule of curb appeal is the same as with the interior of any home: declutter and clean. And spring is a great time to spruce up that exterior. Kelly suggests removing dead shrubbery, excessive amounts of potted plants and lawn ornaments. She also advises that sellers check gutters, roofs, garage doors and front doors for signs of wear. “Sometimes just simply repainting the front door and adding new hardware can add a wealth of value to a home needing that extra punch of curb appeal that draws in buyers,” Kelly says.

Spring and summer also are great times to showcase blooming plants, but make sure the plantings complement your home’s color and style, she says.

Once inside, sellers should apply the same approach to create a “look” that prospective buyers can envision themselves living in.

Whether sellers hire a professional stager or do it themselves, staging is money well spent. Schwarz points to a survey by HomeGain, a website that compiles information on home buying, selling and mortgage rates that found every staging task, even the minor ones, significantly increases a home’s selling price. Spending $75 on inexpensive portable lighting fixtures to brighten dark areas, for example, allows sellers to ask $1,000 to $1,500 to the asking price, the survey reported. Investing $250 in springtime seasonal yard improvements yields an increase of from $1,000 to $1,500.

Both Schwarz and Kelly warn by-owner sellers staging their homes themselves to make sure the house and the marketing materials match.

“The analogy I like to use is online dating,” Schwarz says. “People will set up a meeting, and then the person who walks in looks nothing like the one in the online picture. People really get burned that way.”

Kelly agrees. “The worst thing you can do is stage a home for MLS photos, only to disappoint your potential buyer by removing the items during the selling process,” she says. “Buyers might view this as bait and switch.” Her advice: Give buyers what they want. Before a showing or open house, stage your home again so what buyers encounter when they visit your home matches what they’ve seen in your online listing.

Tell us in the comments: What are your best spring home staging tips?