Spruce Up for Profits

If you're putting your home up for sale, the right improvements can increase its value by $5,000 or more

One snife, and realtor Janice Brown knew she was in for trouble. Only moments earlier, she’d been certain she had an easy sell on her hands. The attractive two-bedroom, one-bath house boasted a large, hillside-terraced yard, and stood squarely in one of Pasadena, California’s most desirable neighborhoods. Better yet, comparably sized homes in the area went for $200,000 and above. But as she crossed the threshold, the sharp, unmistakable odor of cat urine smacked her square in the face. There right before her eyes were the culprits: seven cats and wall-to-wall carpeting saturated with pet stains.

"I couldn’t believe how bad it was," recalls Brown, an agent with Fred Sands Realtors in Pasadena. Worse still, the elderly owner had scheduled an appraiser to come by in a week. "I knew we were looking at $140,000-$150,000 tops with the house in that condition-that is, if the appraiser could last more than five minutes," quips Brown.

In a snap, Brown resorted to her handy memory of real estate tips. She looked underneath the dingy carpet and discovered hardwood oak floors, albeit stained and sculled, but wood nonetheless. Soon, with the help of the owner’s family, the carpet was yanked up and sent out the front door. "Even if the wood floors weren’t refinished, at least the appraiser could see the potential," she says. A pile of knickknacks and cat memorabilia followed the carpet out to the curb. Next, Brown saw to it that flower beds were planted out front. And finally, every window inside was thrown open to air the place out. Total cost of Brown’s jiffy reparations? A mere $300. And the appraisal? A solid $204,000.

Many experts say you can work similar spruce-up miracles prior to an appraisal of your home. Looking for additional incentive? According to the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor.com), the market is quite strong. Sales of existing single-family homes are expected to increase 3.2% to a total of 4.35 million units in 1998. Meanwhile, the national median home price this spring was $128,200, up 6.2% from a year ago.

On the other hand, maybe you’re looking to boost the appraisal value of your home in order to refinance your mortgage. Again, the time is right: 30-year, fixed mortgage rates should average 7% this year, down from 7.6% in 1997.

Bottom line? It’s a seller’s market now. And, the key to getting the most value-and the best price — for your home is understanding what buyers are willing to pay for and what banks are willing to finance.
Get an appraisal

Whether you’re selling or refinancing, the first step is getting your home appraised. Cita Carter, a community lending specialist with the Kirkland, Washington, branch of Norwest Mortgage, says a lot of homeowners don’t understand why they need an appraisal, although the reason is obvious. "It confirms that your house is worth what a buyer is paying for it," says Carter. "Most reputable banks

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