If you're selling a home, realty specialists suggest you repeat this mantra: paint-paint-paint-paint-paint.
"Now, more than ever, a seller has to be fanatical about the appearance of the house. And painting gives you one of the best returns on your investment," says Gene Gallagher, principal broker for an ERA office in Bethesda.
Spend a few hundred dollars on paint and brushes and it could yield you thousands at the settlement table when the property sells. Or, it could mean the difference between selling or not selling your home, Mr. Gallagher insists.
"With a large inventory of homes on the market, there's a great likelihood the buyer will take the house in tiptop shape before he'll even consider buying the other house," he says.
The economy may be improving, but it's still a buyer's market in most neighborhoods. All other things being equal, a home with the right sort of freshly painted walls will sell faster and for a better price than one where the painted walls are tinted, dark or discolored.
"For sellers, painting should be right up on the top of the list -- along with being neat and tidy," says Cheryl Moseley, a vice president with the RE/MAX International realty chain.
Still, not all paint jobs will be equally valuable. Painting your rooms pink, yellow, lavender or Kelly green could hurt rather than help you sell. And painting them blue could actually drive buyers away, psychologists say. That's because, for much of the population, blue is a depressing color inside a home.
"A neutral off-white is the right choice," according to Ms. Moseley and most other real estate specialists. When you chose a white paint with a hint of beige, which is a true off-white, you're selecting a color that will neither offend nor conflict with a prospective buyer's furnishings.
"The universal color to paint a house is two coats of shell white," Mr. Gallagher says.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell by name alone whether you have selected a true off-white. One manufacturer's shell white is another's oyster or antique.
"Every paint company has different terminology," says Tammy Adamson-McMullen, of the National Decorating Products Association, a trade group representing 7,000 retailers of paint, wallpaper and window treatments.
The important thing is to steer clear of an off-white that is tinted (no matter how subtly) with gray, blue, purple, gold, green or another color that makes matching difficult.
"Suppose your rooms are light green and your buyer has a red sofa. That way you would be forcing them to paint your house before they move in. Nobody wants to do that," says Norman Thomas, president of the decorating products retailers' trade group.
Off-white walls also make your interior seem bigger. "A 10-by-10 room in shell white will look larger than a 10-by-10 room done in blue, pink or yellow," says Mr. Gallagher, the ERA broker.
When it comes to painting a property that's for sale, consider these pointers:
* Select the paint carefully.
Because of the confusion related to paint terminology, you can easily make the wrong color choice if you don't buy through a dealer who can assist with the purchase. Look for a dealer-owner or well-informed clerk who can distinguish one paint from another.
The store should also help steer you to a paint with the right finish. Flat latex paint is a popular and attractive choice but becomes easily soiled. Semi-gloss is fine for walls in bathrooms, kitchens or other smaller rooms that get dirty frequently, because semi-gloss is easily cleaned.
But painting large wall areas -- such as living, dining or family rooms -- in semi-gloss paint -- is considered a poor idea. "The problem with semi-gloss on interior walls is that the light reflects off the surface and you can see all the imperfections," says Mr. Thomas, the trade group president.
Fortunately, paint buyers now have a third choice -- a nice compromise between flat and semi-gloss paint. Paint with an "eggshell finish" should give you much of the beauty of flat latex paint but still allow you to keep the walls clean while your home is on the market. This could be particularly important if there are small children living in your home.
"Eggshell paint may be a couple dollars more per gallon but it's worth it because it's washable," Mr. Thomas says.
* Don't think it's too late to paint because your home has already been listed for sale.
Soon after a home has gone to market, many a seller becomes aware that it's not presenting well. Often the awareness comes from comments left by agents and prospects who have trooped through.
Ignore feedback about the condition of your walls at your own peril. Most buyers can't envision how the house would look when the walls are painted -- so an explanation about how little work would be involved for the new buyer to paint would do you little good.
The wise thing is to limit buyers' access to your property until you can get the paint job done by a professional or do the work yourself. There's little point in having would-be buyers troop through a house undergoing a paint job. With furniture and floors covered with tarps, it's hard to tell how the place would look. And the odor of paint gives many people headaches.
On the other hand, limiting access to a property can create an element of suspense as prospects try to imagine how the finished job will look, says Mr. Gallagher, the ERA broker. Furthermore, painting your home shouldn't take long.
"In a matter of two or three days, you can have the house totally painted," he says.