Imagine going on a job interview looking shabby, or trying to sell your car for a good price when it’s filthy and loaded with stuff. In a competitive market, you wouldn’t do well.

The same can be said about selling your home. If it looks neglected and in need of work, some buyers won’t even take a look. This is particularly the case in today’s market where, in many parts of the country, there are far more homeowners anxious to sell than there are buyers interested in buying.

In a business where emotions and pride of ownership play a big role, first impressions can have a lasting effect. Most buyers lack the ability to imagine what a house might look like with a different exterior paint color or a landscaped yard. When there is a lot of inventory on the market, you may have only one chance to catch a buyer’s attention. Make sure it’s not lost before he or she walks through the front door.

One of the first items on a home seller’s agenda should be a critical evaluation of how the home and yard look from the street. It’s a good idea to ask your real estate agent to help with this. Sellers often have strong emotional attachments to their homes and have difficulty seeing it objectively.

Your goal is to identify cost-effective changes you can make to your house and yard that will make it more appealing to buyers. This could be as simple as cleaning up the yard, adding colorful plants, mulching, power washing the entry walk, and washing dirt off the exterior of the house.

However, if the paint is peeling, shutters are deteriorating, the fence is leaning and the yard is a mess, you have a bigger project on your hands. You can sell a house in this condition. But, it will appeal to a limited number of buyers who are willing to tackle a fixer-upper in order to get a bargain price.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Your home will appeal to a larger audience and will sell more quickly and for a better price if you put the time and money into improving its curb appeal. Curb appeal refers to how your house appears from the street. Even if you’re selling a fixer-upper, it’s a good idea to do some cleanup so that buyers can perceive the potential.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get the work done. Your goal is to have good, not superb, work done at a reasonable price. It’s wise to get bids from several contractors. For instance, exterior paint estimates can vary widely. Your real estate agent or neighbors ought to be able to provide references.

By the way, if you are going to paint the exterior of your house before selling, this could be a prime opportunity to improve curb appeal. Consult with a color expert to pick colors that are currently in fashion for the house, trim and front door.

One seller had the exterior of his house repainted before consulting with his agent or a color expert. It was painted the same drab color it had been for decades. Most of the buyers who seriously considered the house mentioned that they thought the house needed an exterior paint job because the color was so unappealing.

It usually doesn’t make financial sense to completely re-landscape a front yard that is shot. Salvage what you can, bring in new plants to replace dead ones and roll out new sod, if necessary.

THE CLOSING: Mulch does wonders to freshen up a garden, particularly one that is sparsely planted.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and 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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