"House prep" is so important to selling a home that real estate agent Debra Whittington offers a nine-page booklet of how-to’s. "I tell clients to lighten, whiten and brighten," she says.


Take down heavy drapes and blinds. Paint over dark or dated colors; she generally recommends light taupe with bright white trim. Make everything gleam. Scrape out the gunk around plumbing fixtures. Use CLR on lime deposits. Car wax is great for shining sinks.


To get an idea of what to do, look at a builder spec home. Keep changes in harmony with the house; don’t try making a traditional house contemporary or vice versa. And, to minimize clutter: "Start packing now."


A spruce-up doesn’t have to cost much, says real estate agent Leslie Jackson. The house needs warmth and life. Opt for fresh paint and a beautiful front door.


"Clean kitchens are a big deal," she says. "Even older kitchens can look clean."


Have broken tiles fixed and the grout cleaned. Put in new shelf paper; details make a huge difference.


All the experts agree, disarray is deadly. Aim for clean lines. ("If a room is cramped," advises Jackson, "for heaven’s sake, take something out!") One large piece of art is more elegant than several smaller ones. Pack away collections; they distract. Depersonalize as much as possible, so prospective buyers can see themselves living there.


Exile pets, or at least keep them in one room; keep pet hair off carpets and furniture. Hide that cat box, and keep it scrupulously clean.


Jackson recommends hiring professionals. Have the home inspected before putting it on the market. For remodeling, it’s cost-efficient to hire an architect. And she also advocates consulting a stylist.


Home stylists can work a little magic — or a lot. Karen Eubank and Cynthia Smith-Freed of Roominations are experts at helping houses sell fast and for the optimum price. They say the first room a buyer sees has to impress. It must appeal to all the senses, so the house feels like home. Make it smell wonderful. Colors should be neutral but homey. Have fresh flowers, music, and a plate of freshly-baked cookies on the kitchen counter.


Clean the fridge inside and out; people look inside even if it’s going with the seller. They open cupboards and drawers and look in the attic. Keep spaces uncluttered, organized and appealing, especially in children’s rooms.


Curb appeal is also critical; spiffing up the exterior, Eubank says, "is like putting makeup on." Find a great doormat. Potted plants work miracles for front and back yards. Be picky: Does the gaslight work? Are there wasp nests on the front porch?


The experts agree that, for numerous reasons, sellers definitely should not be present during a showing. The seller must be able to say, "It’s not my home any longer." In fact, a seller needs to do this even before consulting a stylist. Letting go can be hard, but after the seller has done this, he or she can be objective about the changes he must make to market the home.

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