When it comes to selling your home, appearance is everything. But hiring a professional "stager" to prepare the home for prospective buyers can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour, according to Jessica Page, a Realtor with Innovative Real Estate in Denver.
Fortunately, homeowners can take matters into their own hands.
Pack Away Personal Items
Packing away personal items is one of the simplest -- and cheapest -- things you can do to sell your house or condo quickly, according to Page and Radice.
"The reason you want to 'de-personalize' your home is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home," Page says.
Prospective buyers won't be able to picture themselves in the house if they're surrounded by dozens of photos of your children and grandparents.
"Pictures are extremely distracting. You cannot believe how long potential buyers will stop and stare at people they do not know in photos," says Radice, who also recommends removing any religious items from plain view.
"You want your home to show like a model," Radice says.
In addition to attracting the buyer, "you want the buyer's agent to enjoy showing the home. You never know whom they may have, if this particular buyer is not interested," says Radice, who is in the top 1% of Realtors nationwide.
The cost: $2 to $3 for a roll of packaging tape. You already have the scissors on hand and you can often score the boxes for free from a neighborhood store.
Clear Away Clutter
Ridding your home of clutter is another simple way to get buyers to focus on the bones of the house, not the titles in your CD collection.
"This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house," Page says.
"After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it. Clutter collects on shelves and countertops, and in drawers, closets, garages, attics and basements," she says.
Radice recommends removing items from countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms.
"If you have kids, get rid of the toys all around the house. For all you know, the buyers could be empty nesters," Radice says.
She suggests putting things in boxes and neatly stacking them in the corner of the garage. Anything extra should go in a small, rented storage unit.
Even better, ask a friend or relative to hang onto your items for free.
"Pack up 90% of your home," Radice says.
The cost: The price of a storage unit varies (around $45 a month for a 5-foot-by-5-foot unit).
Rearrange and Neutralize Rooms
Rearrange the rooms in your home to reel in prospective buyers. Make sure each room has a distinct, useful purpose.
Page suggests touring builders' models to see how the rooms are furnished.
"Builders are experts on preparing their product for prospective buyers," she says.
Radice says closets should be "neat and organized."
"The pair of shoes that you haven't worn in 10 years, get rid of," she says.
If your home has been painted recently, consider yourself ahead of the game. If not, take a paintbrush to the rooms that need it most. Sellers who paint the interior of their home will see a large return on the investment, Page says.
"Fresh, neutral paint on the walls, trim and doors is worth its weight in gold -- it makes everything appear clean and new," she says.
The cost: Anywhere from $12 to $50 per gallon for paint, plus another $10 to $50 for other painting supplies (primer, brushes, drop cloths, etc.) You can get back some of that money as a refund on your taxes for any items you donate to charity (such as those extra shoes in the closet).
Scrub and Deodorize
No one wants to look at a dirty, smelly home -- especially not prospective buyers. So make sure your house or condo shines from top to bottom.
Page says cleaning and deodorizing a home before every showing "should be first and foremost."
The goal is to help buyers imagine themselves living in the home, Page says.
"When buyers see an unkempt home or smell something when they first walk in, they become turned off immediately," Page says. "They can rarely see past it to look at all of the great features in the home."
Radice suggests having the house professionally cleaned so that everything is spotless -- windows, sliding glass door tracks, garage, basement, ceiling fans, etc.
"This is worth the money spent," Radice says.
She also recommends baking cookies in the oven, bringing cinnamon sticks to a slow boil in a pot of water or using air freshener to mask smells before each showing. Ridding the home of litter boxes is also a must.
The cost: Varies by the location and size of the home cleaning service, but typically less than $100 to clean a four-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home. Cookie dough runs about $3.
Enhance Curb Appeal
Whatever you do, do not overlook the home's exterior when selling.
"Curb appeal is just as important as cleaning the inside of the home -- it's the buyer's first impression of your home," Page says.
Radice agrees. "You only have one chance to make a first impression. There are so few buyers out there -- you want your home to stand out."
Mow the lawn, make sure the sidewalk and driveway are free of clutter and debris, and ensure the house number is easily visible.
It may also be beneficial to pressure-clean the exterior of your home, driveway and sidewalk, if needed.
Another valuable low-cost solution? Mulch.
"Mulch is cheap and covers a multitude of sins. It makes everything look trim and neat," Radice says.
The cost: Mulch costs around $3 per bag.The cost of renting a pressure washer varies, but you may be able to get one from a local hardware store for around $50 per day. It may cost double that to purchase a pressure washer. Professional cleaning with a pressure washer for a 2,500 square-foot-house may set you back about $250.