Some ideas to consider when preparing your home to sell, from Julie Dana and other sources:
* In addition to making any necessary repairs, decluttering, cleaning and getting rid of smells are essential steps in preparing to sell your home. Everything from windows to faucet handles should shine.
* Get a handle on pets: One critical issue is, again, the smell. Get rid of it. The other is the physical presence of pets. If at all possible, get them out of the house during open houses, Dana said.
* Remove prescription bottles, cash, expensive jewelry as well as personal items such as toiletries, mail and groupings of family photographs (you want potential buyers to envision their own family members living in the house).
Other things to remove: Religious, political or military memorabilia.
"Your house is essentially having a conversation with a stranger -- hopefully a buyer. It's the same thing in social circles; you don't talk about controversial things with a stranger," Dana said.
Carole Holcberg said she does not mind some family photographs in the house -- to make it look warm, comfortable and loved -- but the pet hair and tchotchkes must go, she said.
* Say goodbye to ugly houseplants. "Plants are a big issue -- houseplants that are dead or dying," Dana said. The potential buyer may think: "If you can't take care of a houseplant, what does that say about how you can take care of a house?"
If a client whines, "But I'm nursing it back to health," Dana stands firm: Either get rid of it or give it to a gardening friend and let her nurse it back.
* Clean out the fireplace: You don't want a bucket full of ashes at the bottom.
* Clear the closets: "Closets should be really neat," Holcberg said.
Dana even recommends that closets be no more than half full. Half empty closets translate to plenty of storage space to prospective buyers.
* Reduce: Remove extra furniture and possessions -- reducing your inventory by half will make your home look much more spacious, Dana said. Remove the extra leaf from your dining room table; reduce extra chairs. The room will appear larger.
But don't set the table to look as if you are throwing a glorious dinner party.
"Too trite," Dana said. Stick with pretty candlesticks and a table runner.
Reducing goes for small kitchen appliances as well.
"If you have 12 or 13 appliances on your kitchen counter, you no longer have counter space. Put away seldom-used appliances. Depending on the size of the kitchen, I usually recommend no more than three," Dana said.
Finally, remember this: There is no such thing as a hiding place in your house.
"People will look everywhere, which also means that every place has to be neat and tidy, even the garage. If the garage is picked up, people will say: 'Even the garage is clean.' That sends the message that this is a well-taken-care-of house," Dana said.
And worth every penny, Dana said.
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Using decorating guidelines offered by Julie Dana (www.thehomestylist.com), we staged our own "Before" and "After" living room makeover, as if preparing to sell.
Afterward, Dana critiqued the photos: Nice work decluttering the bookcases, she said. Good job reducing amount of furniture, removing signs of pet life and eliminating some personal items such as photographs. Dana, however, was not too keen on the rattan ottoman brought in for the "after" shot. She would have stuck with a coffee table but decluttered its surface.
-- Susan Martin