“I rarely advise to renovate just to sell because of the time, money and mess,” says Cestari. “Sometimes it’s optimal to replace a refrigerator, a countertop or cabinet knobs.”
Impressing some buyers may be as simple as getting rid of clutter and painting. A cost-effective way to make interiors feel bigger, lighter and more unified is to paint your walls in neutral rather than taste-specific colors.
“Paint is like magic. It is so cheap and easy and can brighten up a room,” says Elizabeth Lien, who applied Benjamin Moore’s “Mocha Cream” and “Pearl Gray” to the basement rooms of her historic home in the District’s Shaw neighborhood before listing it.
Lien, who works at the Treasury Department, and her husband Fernando Rodriguez, an energy analyst, bought the house for $375,000 in 2007 and, a year later, spent about $18,000 to renovate the kitchen. In April, they received four bids in five days and accepted an offer for the full asking price of $450,000.
Experts recommend paring down and neutralizing belongings to appeal to a wider range of buyers. “Anything that is personal, political or religious has to be removed,” says Monica Murphy of Preferred Staging in Sterling, who also nixes wallpaper, dried flowers and bright paint colors.
“You probably have to remove more stuff than you think,” says Alyssa Cannon of McEnearney Associates in Arlington.
Even before the Stecks listed their house for $949,000, the couple moved out their belongings and hired stager Mike Sandifer to create what Bob Steck calls a “Pottery Barn look” with wicker chairs, white sofas and a mix of antiques. Staging is “about showing to buyers how their stuff can fit into the rooms,” Sandifer says.
Many real estate agents agree that a furnished home sells better than an empty one. Be prepared to spend about 1 percent of the asking price to stage a vacant home for two months, says Murphy. For sellers who haven’t moved out, she recommends a consultation with a stager (cost: $200 to $350) as an effective way to weed out and rearrange furnishings to the best effect.
Because a growing number of buyers use the Internet to narrow their choices, sellers need to focus on posting the most appealing online photos of their homes.
“The more open space, the better,” says Adam Elnagdy of Home Visit, a realty photo service in Chantilly. “Put away toys and get as many things off the countertops as you can.”
Sprucing up the front of the house is especially important in conveying curb appeal and making a good first impression. “This is going to be the first photo people see online, so make sure the lawn is manicured, garage doors are closed and trash cans are removed,” says real estate photographer Denise Smallwood of the DS Creative Group in Springfield.
“Edit the shots to put your best foot forward,” says Morris. “If the basement isn’t finished, don’t post a photo of it.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer. Staff writer Olga Khazan contributed to this report.
Next week: Trends in new construction