The ad said "picturesque." In fact, the house was an affront to the eye. The lawn had not been mowed in months, the exterior paint did not match, the inside of the house was no where near "show" condition, a leaking upstairs bathroom caused the living room ceiling to crack and the kitchen was an ecological disaster.

This example, which is both true and extreme, may have cost the sellers many thousand of dollars. Who would want a home in such terrible shape? Yet with planning, time and a few dollars, the sellers could have resolved these largely superficial problems.

Correctly preparing a home means doing many little chores. The best way to begin the preparation process is to make a list of all the needed repairs both inside and outside the home. From this list the seller can then determine how long the repair period will take, which projects are do-it yourself jobs and what items are best handled by professionals.

If a home is to be sold in April and repairs are expected to take two months, the seller should begin fixing up in late January. If an appraisal is going to be made, repairs must be completed before the appraiser arrives. Since an appraisal report takes three or four weeks to receive, the seller should start fixing up that much sooner.

Most preparation for a residential sale can be done directly by sellers, but consider professional help as well. The cost of these repairs should be balanced against potential time savings and quality workmanship.

Typical fix-up projects could include:

Painting: A fresh coat of paint is about the easiest way to add value to a home. Bright colors can make rooms appear larger and new paint can hide years of wear. Sellers should paint properly; that means sanding and patching before the first brush is wet.

Kitchens: All kitchen appliances must be thorughly cleaned. The best way to do this is with scouring powder and a toothbrush. Cabinets should be cleaned and whatever can be thrown out should be removed to create a more spacious look. It may be worthwhile to move some kitchen items to the basement for temporary storages. Any drip damage beneath the sink, which is usually caused by condensation, should be repaired.

Bathrooms: All sinks and tubs should be caulked. Tile grout should be replaced or cleaned (try bleach and a toothbrush). Accumulated hair and other obstacles should be cleaned from drain pipes. Washers should be changed if necessary. The toilet should be immaculate and the holding tank should not "run".

Basement: Junk should be removed. Moisture damage, if any, should be repaired. The entire basement should be aired out for as long as possible.

General: Broken glass, shades, screens deal light bulbs, etc., should be replaced. Floors and carpets should be cleaned with machines if possible.

The best assessments and prices come from well-prepared homes. Sellers who do not fix up only reduce their bargaining position while limiting the pool of potential buyers.

Peters G. Miller teaches the course "How to Sell Your Own Home - With or Without a Broker" though the Consumer Information Institute here.