Buyers are picky: 5 steps to stage your house for sale

By Christine Romans

Housing is healing.
The spring real-estate selling season is well underway and in hot zip codes multiple offers are back. (This time it looks real, not the typical Realtor self-interest "this-is-the-bottom" mantra. Home prices are up 10% year-over-year and sales are up, too.
Four years after the recession, Americans are on the move again -- for jobs, to retire, to get married, or just to move. Interest rates are at record lows and buyers are coming back. But they are picky. And they have a lot of inventory to choose from. When you are getting ready to sell, you've got to make the price and the product look better than the neighbor's.
    1. Take one piece of furniture out of each room
    Jack Otter, author of Worth It... Not Worth It? (Business Plus, 2012), says if you've been in the house more than ten years, consider taking two pieces of furniture out of every room. Clutter is your worst enemy.
    2. Put away personal stuff
    The last thing you want during an open house is potential buyers distracted by looking at your diploma, your baby's pictures, or the kitchen bulletin board with all your bills and to-do lists. Scott Nooner is a New Jersey seller who had more than 100 people go through his recent open house. He put everything personal in the basement, but was still surprised to see that potential buyers had opened his books and desk drawers. Assume these buyers will touch and open everything. You want their eyes focused on the house, not the homeowners.
    3. Decorate in threes
    Strip all the surfaces clean of knick-knacks, and then gather pretty things together three at a time. Homeowner Kate Nooner went to thrift stores and Goodwill for pretty colored glass bottles to arrange on shelves. She bought inexpensive bright pillows from Target to freshen things up and she kept the whole scheme very simple.
    4. Maximize your curb appeal
    Spend some time looking at your house from the street. If you don't hire an landscaper, plan on at least a few weekends working in the yard, filling bare patches with impatiens, overseeding the grass, trimming and shaping the hedges. Pay special attention to your front door and the walkway leading up to it. Kate Nooner took off all her screens, so the newly-clean windows glistened.
    5. Paint
      And don't blow a new paint job or a touch-up with a horrible light-bulb. A garish fixture or a too-bright light will undo all your hard work. And if you have to limited money to spend, spend in this order: curb appeal, painting, fixing. You can do-it-yourself or you can hire someone, but these are the investments that will sell the house.
      We want to hear from you! Tell us what you are seeing in your neighborhood, and whether you think the housing market has bottomed.