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Make sure the kitchen of the house you’re selling is clean, spare, updated and free of clutter. It will pay off exponentially when the house sells. (Photo by Pbroks13 via wikimedia commons)

With the Washington Metro area housing remaining hot and competitive and the national housing recovery underway, maybe it’s time to put your house on the market.

When selling a home, you obviously want to get as much money as possible for the property but not everyone knows how to achieve that goal. While you can’t change the location of your home or turn a rambler into a colonial, you can make your home look its best to buyers with certain easy improvements and changes.

The first step in preparing your home for sale is to take a good look at it objectively. At many residential real estate firms, several sales agents will tour a house, not only for pricing, but also to give the listing agent and the seller tips on repairs or changes that will maximize the sales price. Most people are willing to paint and redecorate if they know they will come out ahead.

Well-placed repairs and changes can earn you a return of three to four times the money invested so clearly certain repairs are worth doing. Here are some improvements that can raise the sale price of your home.

First impressions: the exterior

If a potential buyer sees a broken shutter, an overgrown lawn and dying shrubbery and a dog-scratched front door, you have made a bad first impression. This is extremely hard to counteract later on. Even if the buyer likes the interior, the damage has already been done and they are already feeling negative about the house before they enter the house.

Second impressions: the interior

Once inside, if they see clutter and too much furniture or smell lingering pet odors, you have to make changes. Paint the interior if needed and get advice on de-cluttering spaces from your real estate agent. Your house preparation mantra should be “clutter is bad; sparse is good.”

Moving furniture opens up the spaces and painting gets you the “biggest bang for your buck.” If the rooms are small and crowded, remove some of the furniture and pack away unnecessary items. Neutrals and soft colors on the walls are generally best, with white paint for trim and moldings. Heavy curtains should be opened up or removed to leave only sheers.

Get rid of dying plants, limit wall pictures, and pack away seasonal décor, such as Christmas wreaths in January. Shampoo the carpeting, or better yet, remove it. Wash the windows to make them sparkle as dirty windows make a house look neglected.

Hot spots: the kitchen, master bedroom and bath

The kitchen gets the most attention when buyers value a house so spend your fix-up dollars here first. If the cabinets are in good shape but outdated, you may get away with simply painting the cabinets and changing the hardware. Remove dated wallpaper, replace old appliances and consider refinishing or replacing flooring.

Eating space in the kitchen is very important so if it doesn’t currently exist, try to create some space. Put a table in the adjacent family room or two bar stools next to a counter overhang which can be created when you replace the countertop. A new granite countertop will pay for itself two to three times over.

All too often, the master bedroom suite is neglected or cluttered and the master bath is crowded with toiletries on every surface, mismatched towels and old mats on the floor. Luckily, quick fixes can be done cheaply.

In the bedroom, clean out the closets and pack up clothes you won’t need for awhile. Paint the room in soft colors and do the bed coverings and curtains in white or off-white. This gives the room a quiet, luxurious and larger look.

If the bathroom needs redoing, consider replacing only toilet and sink and be sure the tub and shower are scrubbed and caulked. Old medicine cabinets and light fixtures are also fairly cheap and easy to replace. Buy matching towels, remove wallpaper and re-paint where necessary. Use the same fixes for other bathrooms in the house.

The rest of the house

Let’s hope all the stuff you just got rid of in the rest of the house isn’t in the basement. If your basement is overflowing, it’s a good time to have a garage sale or rent a storage space. Deal with a wet or damp basement before you put the house on the market as even the hint of water is a big turn-off. If the basement is finished, furnish it carefully, so you will get full credit for the finished rooms.

The yard is very important and a neat, mulched yard is appealing and will appear to be easy to care for, even if it isn’t. Mulch and edge all the beds and if weather permits, plant flowers and use sod to cover any bare patches in the lawn; grass seed takes too long.

These recommendations for getting a house ready to sell do pay off. Selling your house without these changes and repairs will get you a lower price than the size and location your property would otherwise garner.

Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run residential real estate firm in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington-area history.