Showing a home in this competitive buyer's market has taken on a new importance. The cardinal rule is: Be prepared.

This is where real estate experts say you can make or break a sale.

When prospective buyers walk into your home, they know it could very well become their home for the next 10 years or so, and they'll want to be certain it is in superior condition before making the investment.

A homeowner may want to consider investing some time and money in the house to enhance its value.

Experts say buyers will pay $5,000 more for a house that's neat, orderly and in good condition. They don't want the bother or expense of a house that may be priced lower but that will require a lot of fixing up later.

Here are suggestions for giving attention to these areas:

The outside of the home sets the stage. A well groomed lawn, trimmed hedges and neat, clean flowerbeds greatly enhance your home's beauty. Make sure the lawn and walks are free from clutter, such as lawn tools and bikes.

Inside the house, check the basics. Repair cracks in the walls or warped doors, and put a fresh coat of quality paint on worn or peeling surfaces, preferably white or pastel colors. Faulty wiring should be repaired immediately, as should leaking or noisy plumbing. Even minor problems, such as squeaky hinges, should be corrected.

Buyers certainly will look in closets. A cleared floor and orderly shelves will show off the closets utility.

Basements can be a real plus, as many families want storage or a future recreation room. Even if yours has a concrete floor, be sure it is swept and the room organized.

Clean kitchens and baths are often good selling points, so shine the faucets and polish the porcelain.

Avoid a houseful of people, or a customer may feel like an intruder and hurry through the house.

If you've hired a realtor, remember that the agent will want to be free from distractions so he or she can talk with the customer. Help by turning off the TV or radio. Although you may know your home better than anyone else, let the agent answer the customer's questions, since he or she knows what the customer is looking for. Let your agent negotiate price, terms, possession dates and other contract terms. However, you should be on hand to answer questions.