One of the first things you should do if you’re thinking about selling is to walk through your home and examine it with a critical eye. Imagine yourself as a buyer and force yourself to make mental note of all the imperfections you’ve ignored for years.

Don’t be surprised if you’re overwhelmed by what you see. The drapes may be faded and frayed from years of sun exposure. If you have children or pets, the interior doors and baseboards may be nicked and need paint. Your furniture might be outdated and the floors might look worn. It may strike you that the place needs so much work that you ought to just move out, slap on a fresh coat of paint, redo the floors and sell the house vacant.

Painting and floor refurbishing are good ideas. Renewing the interior surfaces of your home when you sell is one of the most cost-effective improvements you can make to increase your net proceeds. Buyers usually pay more for homes that are in move-in condition.

However, selling a vacant home could result in a lower net return. The main reason for this is that first impressions play a big part in selling homes. When buyers walk into a home that looks bright, inviting and comfortable, they feel good. When most buyers walk into a vacant home, they feel that something is missing.

HOME SELLER TIP: Many people have a hard time imagining what a vacant home will look like when it’s furnished. For these buyers, a vacant house poses a problem. They walk into an empty living room and start worrying about how they’d furnish it. It can be a threatening experience.

Home buying is stressful enough without having to worry about how the floor plan works and which room is used for what. A strategically furnished house creates a more pleasurable viewing experience and reduces the stress of buying.

Granted some buyers, such as architects and designers, have the ability to conceptualize in three-dimension. Some experienced buyers have moved so many times that they’ve developed the knack of visualizing their furniture in an empty space. But, you are likely to sell your home for more money if you can appeal to the entire pool of prospective buyers, not just those who have a particular expertise.

You can certainly sell your home vacant. Virtually everything sells at a price. The question is how much more could you sell your home for if it was attractively furnished?

A listing in the Oakland Hills (Calif.) was put on the market last fall. It had a great view, but was vacant. It did not sell after three months on the market during a time when all well-priced listings in the area were selling. The listing was temporarily withdrawn from the market and staged with rental furniture and accessories. It was put back on the market at the same price and sold right away.

The cost of staging your home for sale may seem prohibitive, but it needn’t be. Many sellers who stage their homes for sale use their own furniture after removing outdated pieces and rearranging the rest.

Tattered draperies can be removed and often don’t need to be replaced, unless they cover an unsightly or distracting outlook. For selling purposes, it’s important to let in as much light as possible.

It’s a good idea to consult with a decorator who specializes in staging homes for sale. A stager can arrange to bring in furniture if you decide that’s what you need. To keep costs down, you may be able to create an inviting ambiance without furnishing your entire house or condo.

THE CLOSING: The living and dining room, kitchen, family room and master bedroom are the most important places to concentrate your staging efforts.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.


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