When we bought our first house 10 years ago, the Washington market was hot. Often, homes sold the first day they were listed, and many times the seller had several contracts to pick from.

The house we selected had been on the market three hours. We raced to a nearby shopping center parking lot to write out our full-priced contract so we could beat out several other interested parties.

Open houses sold homes in those days, but today the first open house and the first few weeks of a new listing are just as crucial to a sale. First impressions are lasting, so sellers who wants to snag one of the few qualified buyers should give great attention to the first showings. For in addition to to potential buyers, the house must impress the multitudes of real estate agents who preview new listings.

While investment value and financing are factors in all home sales, people are buying a home that will be the center for their family. In each house they visit, they try to picture themselves. They react emotionally to sights, sounds, and smells. Any agent will tell you a lived-in, bright, warm house "shows" much better than an empty one. Warmth, security and love are for sale in a home. Here are some ways you can make your house look friendly:

1. Pick up the exterior. In winter it's easy to overlook scraps in the yard, trash cans, tools, sleds, snow shovels and toys in disarray.

2. Keep the house neat. Piles of junk and clutter may make a house looked lived-in, but you must avoid the "over lived-in" look. And clutter makes a room look smaller.

3. Several days before the house will be shown, perform all cleaning chores that leave an odor. Ten years later, I remember one house as "the one that smelled like oven cleaner." Looking back, I recall it wasn't a bad house, but that smell made us rush through.

4. Remove all garbage. Make sure the diaper pail and kitty litter are absolutely fresh. Get rid of anything moldy.

5. Remove pets. A barking dog is an annoyance, and not everyone loves pets. I remember another home as the one where the dog had just made a mess on the floor. With all those strangers marching through his domain, it's no wonder he got nervous.

6. If you have small children, check to see toilet is flushed. "The house with the unflushed toilet" is not the image you are after.

7. Now that you are rid of all unpleasant odors, you may wants to add some pleasant ones. Bake bread, bake cookies, or simmer chicken soup, but stay away from ethnic, spicy cooking. You may adore curry or garlic, but another person may find it foreign and alien to his palate and thus, his life style.

8. Clean the windows and shine up interior glass. Polish silver, copper, and brass. Rinse out dusty glassware that's on display. Gleaming surfaces give the appearance of clean and perhaps buyers won't notice the dust balls in the corner.

9. Keep lighting pleasant. Leave the light on in the basement and garage.

10. Keep the house warm. Even if you live at 60 degrees with sweaters, this isn't the time to scrimp. Coming into a warm house is one of the most homey feelings there is. If it's chilly, a fire in the fireplace is a real charmer. If it smokes or overheats the room, forget it.

11. Keep disturbing noises down. You may love to blast rock music or classic music, but not everyone does. Ditto for television.

12. Plants should look lively, so run them under the shower to remove dust and turn them so that the sunny side faces the room.

13. Unless you are selling by owner or have nerves of steel and the tough hide of an alligator, leave when buyers come through. A good realty agent can show the house better than you can