DEAR BERNICE: We’re thinking about selling our 9-year-old home. It has the original appliances. There are quite a few new homes on the market about a mile from where we live. What can we do to compete? Do we need to update our kitchen? –Sally U.

DEAR SALLY: As a general rule, it doesn’t make sense to do major upgrades on your property. What you select to upgrade may be what the buyer hates most about your property. In other words, what you pick out, the next buyer may tear out. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some money upgrading your property before you list it.

We were facing a similar dilemma when we sold our home — lots of competition from new homes just a mile away. Even though I have 31 years of experience and have trained thousands of agents, I hired the most competent Realtor I could find to represent us. She did a fabulous job. In fact, we sold the house in one day at full asking price. Here’s what she advised us to do:

1. Take down the kitchen and bathroom wallpaper — it makes your house look dated.

2. Change the light fixtures above the center island and over the table in the breakfast room so that they are up-to-date. She suggested some inexpensive light fixtures from Lowe’s or Home Depot.

3. We had a beautiful bay window in our breakfast area. She had us paint that wall plus the wall around the fireplace in the great room with a beautiful shade of moss green. (The windows were trimmed in white to create a contrast). When you walked into the kitchen, your eyes immediately went to the breakfast area with the pretty chandelier, the green wall, and the trees and beautiful flowers outside the window. Everyone commented on how pretty it was. No one mentioned the Corian countertops or the original appliances.

4. Get rid of all of your personal items. Help the buyer imagine the house with their things, not yours. Your goal is to make your home look attractive, but not lived-in by you. If you need ideas, visit any of the model homes in your area.

5. Convey relaxation. Our Realtor went shopping and came back with plenty of pillows and throws. We also had a single cup coffee maker. At open house, our agent invited visitors to sit down, make themselves at home, and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea.

6. We had carpet in the master bath and in two upstairs bathrooms. She had us replace the carpet with an inexpensive 12-inch tile that looked great.

7. The house was brick, but she had us refinish the front door and paint the trim. We also cleaned the carpets and planted lots of flowers both in the front and the back. …CONTINUED

8. In case anyone was concerned about the age of our appliances, we ordered a home warranty that would replace the appliances if they broke during the listing period. Our policy transferred the coverage to the new buyer and protected them for a year after closing.

The entire job came in for around $3,000 about the same cost for replacing the stove and the dishwasher. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a great effect. In most cases, a few small expenses can result in a big payoff when your property sells for a much higher price.

DEAR BERNICE: We’re about to list our house. I have two small children and am concerned about people who I don’t know knocking on my door. What can I do to keep that from happening? –Karen W.

DEAR KAREN: Assuming that you are going to list your property with a Realtor, you can have him or her place a rider on your yard sign that says, "By appointment only." You can also post a note above the doorbell that says, "This home is shown by appointment only."

A different way to get around this issue is to avoid putting a "For Sale" sign in your front yard. I don’t recommend this, since the yard signs still produce a major percentage of the leads for your property.

An even more important issue is how accessible your property is. Properties that are easy to show have more showings than those that are difficult to show. The easiest way to make your property accessible is to have your agent install a lockbox or keysafe. Your agent will place your keys inside the keysafe, a mechanical device that can only be opened by members of the Multiple Listing Service. As a result, agents do not have to wait for the listing agent to show the property. Nor do they have to make two trips to the listing agent’s office to pick up and drop off keys. The more sophisticated versions allow the agent to program the times that the lockbox will open. This allows you to have private time with your family.

If someone knocks on your door without an appointment, you have no obligation to open the door. That’s the simplest way to avoid explaining why you don’t want to show your house at the moment. It’s also the best way to maintain your safety.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at


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