10 things to do this spring ... if you plan to sell a house

Some tips on improving the curb appeal and interior of a home when preparing for a sale:

March 21, 2004|By ANNE LAUREN HENSLEE | ANNE LAUREN HENSLEE,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

1. Keep landscaping trimmed and outdoor areas neat.

2. Clean, paint or refinish the front door.

3. Eliminate clutter. Make sure closets and other areas are in order. Keep garbage, lawn mowers and hoses out of site.

4. Make repairs to gutters, chimneys and driveway.

5. Wash wallpaper, tiles, paneling, floors, carpets, tubs and showers.

6. Paint or wash the exterior of the home, including windows, shutters, siding and doors.

7. Brighten rooms by painting. Choose colors based on what will appeal to the most buyers. Off-white will make rooms appear more spacious.

8. Test things by flipping light switches, opening doors, turning on faucets and flushing toilets.

9. Look at your house from across the street to see how it compares with others in the neighborhood.

10. Oil squeaky hinges and polish any hardware on doors.

Six years ago, Laurie and Alvin Hunter bought a three-bedroom Cape Cod house in the Ashburton area of Baltimore. They completely renovated the kitchen and bathroom, and updated the electricity, creating a home that they in time filled with three children and many memories

Now, as they prepare to move to Howard County to be closer to his job in Washington, the Hunters find themselves in a position familiar to many homeowners looking to sell: getting rid of all the clutter and enhancing the curb appeal of their house.

"It's really hard, with the kids," said Laurie Hunter, a stay-at-home mother for the couple's 20-month-old twins and 4-year-old son. "It's constantly picking up and putting things away, cleaning out closets, throwing out trash, getting rid of old toys. There's lot of purging going on. And it's difficult to do between naps."

The real estate industry is embarking on its busy season.

Homeowners interested in selling traditionally spend the early months of the year getting their houses ready for sale. Most buyers and sellers choose the warmer months for selling in hopes of moving when it doesn't conflict with the school year.

Experts said most homeowners can tackle a variety of cleanup projects during a weekend of cleaning, painting or landscaping.

Larger projects, such as repairing the roof, replacing storm doors or updating outdated fixtures or other amenities, might require professional help and cost several thousand dollars.

The Hunters' house had been updated, but the couple made a few further minor improvements, such as replacing worn ceiling tiles and fixing squeaky door hinges.

Realtor Wayne Davis of Platinum Realty in Owings Mills also recommended that they replace the house's original front storm door. They are having one custom-made.

But the main challenge was taking inventory of what they had collected over the years and weeding out the excess.

Real estate experts said curb appeal and tidy interiors are two of the most important things that buyers survey when shopping. Their first impression of the house can make or break the sale.

"Clutter is one of those things that can make a place look smaller and less appealing to a potential buyer, which could ... cost you a sale," said Melvin Knight with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

Knight and fellow Realtor Dan Motz recently toured the Charles Village home of Colin and Aliina Sherly, who plan to build a home in Bowleys Quarters. They helped identify areas that needed to be tidied up in the Abell Avenue rowhouse, such as the basement and closets, and windows and woodwork that needed repainting.

"I can't believe how much stuff we've accumulated in the past three years," Aliina Sherly said.

"And we just kind of stuck it in the basement or in a closet. So far, we have four big contractor bags filled with stuff. And that's just the beginning."

With a target of putting the house on the market by April 1, the Sherlys quickly found that they had a long way to go.

"We made a gigantic Excel spreadsheet of what needed to be done, by room. A lot of it is a total cleaning frenzy," Alliina Sherly said.

"I watch those shows about getting ready to move, and they suggest removing all pictures of yourself so people can envision themselves in the house. We went through all our closets and put everything in bags, to be donated."

Some homeowners face additional challenges in preparing their properties for the market.

When Katrina Farrall's out-of-town cousin decided to sell her rental property in upper Fells Point, Farrall agreed to help get the Wolfe Street rowhouse ready. It practically became a full-time job for the stay-at-home mother of twin first-graders.

"It needed everything, from top to bottom. There were bugs, rat traps, squirrels' nests. It was way more than I bargained for," Farrall said of her experience last fall.

Farrall was mindful of every detail. She put up mini-blinds to hide unsightly window views, had the carpet professionally cleaned, replaced the floor registers and had the rooms repainted. They spent about $6,000 in upgrading the home.

Farrall also hired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to inspect the heating and cooling systems.

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