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Selling points Looking for buyers? Here's some expert advice for shaping up the inside of your home to ensure the best possible first impression

You are passionate about your display of campaign buttons. You love the family vacation photos and souvenirs lined up on the fireplace mantel. And, like many pet-lovers, you don't think twice about the cat hair adorning the cushions in the living room.

That's fine . . . unless you are planning to sell your home anytime soon. And, if you are, here's some advice: Remove it. All of it. The political paraphernalia, the knickknacks and, most definitely, the pet hair.

That is, if you want to get the most money for your home.

So says Julie Dana, owner of the Home Stylist and a local interior "redesigner" who uses homeowners' own furniture and accessories to update decor. Dana, an accredited staging professional (a trademark of StagedHomes.com), is also trained to help homeowners spiff up a house so it sells for the most amount of money, in the least amount of time.

The idea: You want potential buyers to be able to envision themselves living comfortably in a clean, easy-to-care-for home. And to convince them your home is worth every penny you are asking (maybe even more).

"It's really not about decorating; it's about marketing. It's not about personal style choices; it's about what sells the house," Dana said.

Thinking about selling? Experts say first impressions count for a lot.

"We're really talking emotions and senses. Whether the house is fancy or simple, it should look well-loved and cared for," said Carole Holcberg, of Holcberg Realty.

What turns prospective buyers off?

"Dull, dingy, dark and dirty," Holcberg said.

"Oftentimes the seller will say, 'I am not going to spend $500 to paint this room because someone may not like the color,' " Holcberg said.,

But that $500 investment could turn into thousands more when it comes to the selling price.

A fresh coat of paint -- and more -- is worth it.

So is taking the time to learn other strategies for preparing your home to sell (see accompanying story for suggestions). Real estate agents; stagers; television shows such as Home and Garden Television's "Designed to Sell," Web sites (www.realtor.com and www.ourfamilyplace.com are just two of them); books, and magazines all offer plenty of ideas that can help.

"Some improvements, like repairing serious plumbing leaks or updating electrical work, may require professional help. But most projects, like getting rid of clutter and cleaning, you'll be able to tackle yourself," write Jeffrey Wuorio and Marcia Layton Turner, authors of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Selling Your Own Home" (Alpha, $19.95), which includes tips from Julie Dana, who lives in East Aurora.

And, often, such projects cost little or no money. Decluttering and cleaning thoroughly requires more elbow grease than cash, for example.

> Worthwhile investments

As with the cost of a fresh coat of paint, there are other times when it may be worth investing some money into sprucing up the place, however.

As creators of ourfamilyplace.com point out: "Most buyers do not have vision. They are not able to look at a room that needs paint and carpet and imagine it fresh and attractive."

HGTV's "Designed to Sell," for example, gives sellers a $2,000 budget and team of experts "to transform their house into the hottest property on the block." In one episode, an outdated kitchen was given a complete face-lift with new cabinet doors, kitchen island, window treatments, fresh paint and decorative accessories.

Another simple -- yet important -- thing to think about is the spot that prospective buyers stand the longest while looking at a house. It's the front door -- waiting for the real estate agent to open up, Dana said.

"There should be no peeling trim, the mailbox should look shiny and new, and the address should be prominent and clear," she said.

A clean front porch with pots of fresh flowers, a pristine mat and nary a burned-out light bulb or piece of litter in sight also creates a good impression.

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com

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