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Key Interior Improvements

Curb appeal draws buyers into your house. But appealing interiors make the sale. You don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on your house prior to putting up the For Sale sign. On the contrary, the little things you do generally give the biggest increase in value. Concentrate on the three Cs -- clean up, clear out, and cosmetic improvements.

Just because we recommend using neutral colors doesn't mean that you should make your house boring. Use fabric -- area rugs, table cloths, napkins, sofa cushions, window curtains or drapes, bedspreads and quilts, bath and hand towels, shower curtains, and so on -- to create temporary color accents in rooms. Unlike other more permanent improvements, you can take these items with you for use in your next home. You can also use flower arrangements to add bright splashes of color to rooms.

  • Clean, scrub, and polish: Your stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave oven, and other appliances must be spotlessly clean inside and out. Scour walls, floors, bathtubs, showers, and sinks until they sparkle. Don't forget to clean the ventilating hood in your kitchen.
  • Eliminate odors: Buyers will notice strong smells as soon as they walk through your front door, so eliminate smoke, mildew, and pet odors. Cleaning drapes and carpets helps get rid of odors. Remove ashes from the fireplace. If you're a smoker, clean all ashtrays daily and take your smoking breaks in the great outdoors until you sell your house. Use air fresheners or citrus-scented potpourri to keep your house odor free. Whether you do the work or hire someone, make sure that your house is spotless and smell-less.
  • Fix drippy faucets: If any of your sinks or bathtubs drain slowly, unclog them. Just as car buyers love to kick tires, some property buyers test houses by flushing toilets and running water in sinks and bathtubs to check drains.
  • Get rid of clutter: Keep clutter off kitchen counters and dirty dishes out of the sink. Eliminating clutter and excess furniture makes rooms appear larger. Store, sell, or give away surplus or bulky furniture. Recycle those stacks of old magazines and newspapers you've been saving for no good reason. Dump all that junk you've accumulated over the years in your attic and basement. Closet space sells houses. Clean and organize closets, bookcases, and drawers.
  • Profit from your junk: Ironically, the clutter that reduces your house's value is far from worthless. On the contrary, your junk is someone else's treasure. Make a donation to your favorite charity and earn a tax deduction (be sure to ask for a donation receipt). Have a garage sale.
  • Make cosmetic improvements: Painting isn't expensive if you do it yourself, but be careful when selecting interior colors. Avoid cherry red, canary yellow, cobalt blue, emerald green, and other bold colors with strong visual impact. You may love the effect, but you aren't the buyer. Stick to conventional whites, soft pastels, and other neutral colors that won't clash with most prospective buyers' tastes. If, like most basements, yours is dark and gloomy, paint the walls and ceiling a light color and put the highest wattage lightbulbs you can safely use in your light fixtures to brighten the space up. Repair cracks in the floor.