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This article was published on: 04/01/2008

2008 List Issue: Home & Design

Your home savvy is put to the test every day as you whip less-than-perfect listings into shape and answer buyer questions about the care and feeding of a home. Here are dozens of tips you can use to help sellers get top dollar by making their homes current, clean, and green.

8 Quick Fixes to Increase Value

With buyers scarcer, sellers must up the ante to convince them that their property offers what many want most — top value for dollar expended. Here are eight fast fixes:

1. Buff up curb appeal. You’ve heard it before, but it’s critical to get buyers to want to look on the inside. Be objective. View listings from the street. Check the condition of the landscaping, paint, roof, shutters, front door, knocker, windows, house number, and even how window treatments look from the outside. Add something special—such as big flower pots or an antique bench — to help viewers remember house A from B.

2. Enrich with color. Paint’s cheap, but forget the adage that it must be white or neutral. Just don’t let sellers get too avant-garde with jarring pinks, oranges, and purples. Recommend soft colors that say “welcome,” lead the eye from room to room, and flatter skin tones. Think soft yellows and pale greens. Tint ceilings a lighter shade.

3. Upgrade the kitchen and bathroom. These make-or-break rooms can spur a sale. But besides making each squeaky clean and clutter-free, update the pulls, sinks, and faucets. In a kitchen, add one cool appliance, such as an espresso maker. In the bathroom, hang a flat-screen TV to mimic a hotel. Room service, anyone?

4. Add old-world patina. Make Andrea Palladio proud. Install crown molding at least six to nine inches in depth, proportional to the room’s size, and architecturally compatible. For ceilings nine feet high or higher, add dentil detailing, small tooth-shaped blocks used as a repeating ornament. It’s all in the details, after all.

5. Screen hardwood floors. Buyers favor wood over carpet, but refinishing is costly and time-consuming. Screening cuts dust, time, and expense. What it entails: a light sanding, not a full stripping of color or polyurethane, then a coat of finish.

6. Clean out, organize closets. Get sorting—organize your piles into “don’t need,” “haven’t worn,” and “keep.” Closets must be only half-full so buyers can visualize fitting their stuff in.

7. Update window treatments. Buyers want light and views, not dated, fancy-schmancy drapes that darken. To diffuse light and add privacy, consider energy-efficient shades and blinds.

8. Hire a home inspector. Do a preemptive strike, since busy home owners seek maintenance-free living. Fix problems before you list the home and then display receipts and wait for buyers to offer kudos to sellers for being so responsible.

Sources: Ernie Roth, Roth Interiors, Los Angeles; Angel Petragallo, abr, Group One, Boise, Idaho; Melissa Galt, Galt Interiors, Atlanta; Steve Kleiman, CEO, Oakington Realty, Houston; Sid Davis, Sid Davis & Associates, Farmington, Utah, and author of First-Time Homeowners’ Survival Guide (Amacom, 2007); Steve Hochman, Friendly Note Buyers, Roxbury, N.Y.; Margi Kyle, designer and spokesperson for Hunter Douglas.

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Then and Now: How Home Construction has Changed

Besides building homes bigger, construction has evolved drastically over the last decade. Here are just a few ways:
  • Swankier modular construction. Forget thinking that modular homes are tacky, small, and amenity-free. Homes built mostly in a factory and completed on-site can be big, stylish, loaded with bells and whistles, and indistinguishable from stick-built houses.
  • Better energy efficiency. HVAC systems outfitted with furnaces that have computer-controlled chambers can sense outside temperatures and adjust interior heat or cold. More windows come standard with low-E glass and vinyl-clad rather than aluminum frames for better heating and cooling transfer. Also, roof insulation has more than doubled to R-38 or R-42 from R-19.
  • Greater severe weather tolerance. Houses used to be able to withstand 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds, but with structural steel plates and rods and huge fastening systems, exterior walls now can hold them in place from the roof to the foundation footers during 120-mph storms. Metal roofs also are favored since they remain intact, unlike asphalt or fiberglass shingles that may crack.
  • Healthier materials. Anything that had contained toxic ingredients in the past—paint, carpeting, adhesive, stain, or glue — has been replaced with healthier variations. Many are water-based rather than oil-based, which also has driven down costs.
  • Changes in layouts. The dining room may still be alive and well, even if infrequently used, but more homes are built with a casual living space instead of a formal living room. Gaining popularity instead are first-floor master suites, gourmet kitchens, laundry and mud rooms, a shaft for a future elevator, wiring for a media center rather than a separate theater, and screened porches with the option of glass panes for three- or four-season use.
  • Greater detailing. Instead of spare spaces that often look cold, many builders now fashion warm, inviting interiors with carved cabinetry, crown and baseboard molding, and lavish paint finishes.
  • Radiant heat. No more surges of power to heat and cool, radiant tubing distributes heat evenly throughout a house, and can be controlled by a thermostat, and even zoned.
  • Synthetic decks and porches. Manmade materials — wood chips and plastic formed into boards — are replacing wood and pressure-treated wood to save trees, cut mildew and rot, eliminate poisonous materials leaking into the soil, and make outdoor living areas impervious to weather.
  • Smart wiring. With easier living a goal, improved technology now allows sprinklers, lights, audio-video systems, and security to be programmed from an office or any computer connection rather than flicked on and off at home.

Sources: Bryan Lendry, president, Brylend Homes Ltd, Jacksonville, Fla.; Orren Pickell, president, Orren Pickell, Designers & Builders, Lincolnshire, Ill.; Howie McArdle, McArdle Construction Inc., Stephentown, N.Y; Ahmed Abdelaziz, president and CEO, Omarica Home Builders, Oak Brook, Ill.

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What's In, What's Out

Each year, Mark Nash of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Chicago asks subscribers to his e-zine what buyers want most. His most recent poll shows:

  • A reduced carbon footprint: How your home and you impact the earth matters to more buyers who want a home that lets them save energy and lessen their contribution to global warming.
  • Outdoor living: Massive fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, and under-patio heating to extend the season are not just for the Sun Belt anymore.
  • Fully concealed appliances: That wood-printed cover for the fridge is not enough any longer; now appliances are hidden behind hinged doors.
  • Floating homes: Not your father’s houseboat, these nonmobile homes are basically ranch houses sitting on stationary barges in a lake or river.
  • Home elevators: Even builders of mid-priced homes are adding this essential for boomers wanting to age in place.
  • Pet showers: Clean pets mean clean homes, and who wants to mess up the bathtub when this feature can be a part of the garage or mudroom?
  • Freestanding bathtubs: These oversized soaker tubs, or “bath thrones,” have supplanted whirlpool baths as the must-have bathroom centerpiece.
  • Bathroom suites: Whether it’s multiple flat-screen TVs or a mini fridge and cappuccino maker, you’ll soon have a whole home inside this one room.

  • Living rooms: The incredible shrinking parlor has ceased to exist in some homes.
  • Voluminous ceiling heights: The absurd look and wasted space of 20-foot ceilings in 12- by 10-foot rooms is finally dawning on buyers. Tiny balconies Room for only one chair is worthless; balconies must now function for entertaining too.
  • McMansions: Could it be that “small is beautiful” finally is gaining traction?


2008 Interior Design Trends
2008 Exterior Design Trends

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2008 Color Trends

Liven up your listings using bold, vivid colors mixed with some earthy, natural tones. Paint, furnishings, and accessories are influenced by the natural environment. A few contrasting accents colors will have buyers taking notice.

Bring nature home.

Capturing the colors of the natural world is gaining traction this year with handmade, undyed, and unbleached materials. Off-white, sandy, and linen colors mixed with rock and soil colors and brownish greens are calling nature inside.

Blue hues.

The environment also is inspiring sky and water blues to come inside, even in livening up the kitchen. Be on the lookout in 2009: A deep navy blue that appears almost black and is inspired by the techno world will pop up in more homes.

Ethnic accents.

Color scheme influences from India, China, and Latin America will be evident this year. Expect Moroccan reds and glowing oranges to mix with rosy pinks, sunny golden yellows, and turquoise. For the ultimate color punch, pair them with rich browns and neutrals.

Subdue the shine.

Shimmery metallic finishes are still in, but chrome and nickel are starting to be replaced by softer shades. More homes are being outfitted with copper and bronze tones and bringing more warmth to metallic finishes.

Source: Color Marketing Group, an international association of color design professionals, which reports on color trends every year.

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Want Better Photos? Stay Level

Just one unflattering photo of your listing can keep buyers away, says photographer Barbara Lane. Don’t let your photo abilities — or lack thereof — hold your listings back. For example, it’s a common amateur mistake to tilt the camera while taking a photo — mostly because you don’t realize you’re doing it. The camera should always remain level. Otherwise, walls start looking like they’re leaning and windows go sideways.

Quick fix: Use a tripod. If that’s not available, manually keep yourself in check: Look inside your camera’s viewfinder and make sure the vertical lines of the walls are parallel to the sides of your viewfinder. You may need to squat lower or stand on stairs or a chair to get the image level.

Source: Barbara Lane, author of How to Photograph Interiors When You Barely Know How to Work a Camera (Barbara Lane Photography, 2007).

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Spring Cleaning Checklist

With spring selling season arriving, take the time now to help your sellers polish their listings to perfection.
  • Let the sun in. Make any room look brighter with clean blinds and windows. Mix a solution of one part white vinegar to eight parts water, plus a drop or two of liquid dishwashing liquid, for a green window cleaner. Spray on and wipe with newspaper to avoid streaks. Washing on a cloudy day also reduces streaking.
  • Sniff out smells. Check the drip tray underneath your refrigerator and wash out any standing water from defrosting. Remove inside odors by washing the inside of the fridge with a baking soda and water solution. Boil lemon juice in your microwave and add it to your dishwasher to eliminate bad smells. Also, put the lemon rinds down the disposal. Add activated charcoal in the fridge to keep odors at bay.
  • Make your bed better. Vacuum mattresses and box springs, and then rotate and flip over. Do the same for removable furniture cushions. This is also a great time to wash or dry-clean the dust ruffle and mattress pad.
  • Clean those coils. Improve energy efficiency by vacuuming grates, coils, and condensers in your furnace, stove, and refrigerator (either underneath or in back). If a vacuum won’t reach, try a rag tied to a yardstick.
  • Wash the walls. Grease, smoke, and dust can adhere to walls and make even the best decorating look dingy. Wash walls using a general-purpose cleaner with hot water. Start at the top of the wall to avoid drips and in a corner so that you wash one wall at a time. Rinse the mop head frequently in clean water. And don’t press too hard, because flat latex paint won’t absorb much water.

The Spring Cleaning Checklist is one of dozens available free in our Handouts for Customers section. Download helpful handouts to give to your customers, add your logo, and include them in your marketing materials.

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5 Showing Tips

1. Replace heavy drapes with lightweight sheers during warmer months to give a room a brighter, lighter feel.

2. Make the fridge smell fresh instantly with cotton balls soaked in vanilla extract or orange juice.

3. Help the home owner add new fluff to a lumpy comforter by having two people vigorously shake the quilt up and down to redistribute stuffing.

4. Shut some air conditioning vents on the first floor or basement so that more air will reach and cool the second floor. Reverse the process in winter for heat vents.

5. Resist the temptation to spot-clean walls since it will make the rest of the wall look dingy.

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5 Potential Dangers in a Home

Home inspection company Pillar to Post has identified these common dangers. Point out these household hazards to buyers and sellers and advise clients to contact a home inspector to make sure these problems aren’t present.


This colorless, odorless gas can seep into the home from the ground and has been called the second most common cause of lung cancer.

What to look for: Basements or any protrusions into the ground offer entry points for radon. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a map of high prevalence areas for radon.A radon test can determine if high levels of radon are present.


This fibrous material — once popular in building materials because it provides heat insulation and fire resistance — was banned in 1985. It may still be found in older homes’ insulation materials, floor tiles, roof coverings, and siding. If disturbed or damaged, it can enter the air and cause severe illness.

What to look for: Homes built before 1985 are at risk of having asbestos within construction materials. Home owners should be careful when remodeling because disturbing insulation may cause the asbestos to become airborne.


This toxic metal, used in home products for many years, can contribute to several health problems, especially among children. Exposure can occur from deteriorating lead-based paint, lead pipes, or lead-contaminated dust or soil.

What to look for: Homes built prior to 1978 may have lead present. Look for peeling paint and check old pipes. To get a HUD-insured loan, buyers must show a certificate that homes built prior to 1978 are lead-safe.


Stockpiles of household items — such as paint solvents, pesticides, fertilizers, and motor oils — can create a dangerous situation if not properly stored or disposed. They can cause illness or even death if small amounts are ingested.

What to look for: Make sure these items aren’t tucked away in corners, crawl spaces, garages, or garden sheds. Home owners often don’t realize these products can pose a danger and may forget they’re storing them. But buyers don’t want it to become their problem — and expense — to dispose of. If these products are found, make sure the buyer requires their removal and gets a disposal certificate prior to closing, which proves the products were disposed of properly and not just dumped in the backyard.


Hazardous chemicals that are illegally disposed of can seep through the soil and enter water supplies. A leaking underground oil tank or faulty septic system can also lead to contamination.

What to look for: Look for any conditions that may be conducive to leakage. Homes near light industrial areas or facilities may be at risk. Also a concern: areas once used for industry that are now residential. Pillar to Post offers a Neighborhood Environmental Report that details any dangers or remedies of environmental incidences and sources of contamination that have occurred at a specified address and within its vicinity.

Source: Pillar to Post

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4 Common Home Hazards

These issues don’t necessarily cause illness but are serious nonetheless. The following are common hazards home inspectors often find:

1. Faulty wiring: Overloaded circuits, loose wires, missing covers on distribution boxes, abandoned appliances, or aluminum wiring, which can become problematic with age.

2. Loose guard rails: Stairway guardrails, especially on exterior stairways, that are not securely connected. Decks — often installed by home owners unfamiliar with building codes — that have loose boards.

3. Shower doors: Shower doors that lack safety glass and are not properly secured. A home owner who slips when stepping out of the bathtub and grabs a glass door that isn’t properly fastened could be severely injured.

4. Drainage problems: Downspouts discharging next to an exterior wall or a negative grade that slopes toward the home and brings water toward the home, causing foundation deterioration. This can lead to water damage, often seen in the basement, and possibly mold growth. Look for cracks, foundation wall stains, and musty, damp smells.

Source: Pillar to Post

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Water-Free Ways to Spruce Up Landscaping

Last year was Atlanta’s second driest on record. New England has seen water reserves reach record lows, and destructive, deadly brush fires have become more routine in the West, where severe drought conditions exist, says real estate list master Bert Sperling, who tracks shortages at

But curb appeal doesn’t have to suffer. It can flourish without heavy watering if smart choices are made.

1. Go dry. Some plants require a little water to get established, but once they’ve matured, they can remain dry. Xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant landscaping, refers to landscaping approaches that require little water to prosper. Specific plants must be selected for each climate. For Reno, Nev., for instance, an alpine desert area with significant development, one landscape architect suggests Artemisia-family plants such as Silver Mound and Dusty Miller. Also, mulch to conserve water around plant roots. The site offers more tips.

2. Fake grass. Originally used for sports centers, faux grass has gone residential with products such as EasyTurf.One glitch: a green lawn may look a bit out of place when everything else in winter is barren or brown, warns Rachel Hart, landscape architect with Artemesia Landscape Architecture in Rena, Nev.

3. Lay the groundwork. Ground covers that look good all year are smart substitutes for grass. Consider creeping thyme, low-growing yarrow, and low-growing sedums.

4. Spread pebbles. For a nice textural Zen look, think pea gravel, decomposed granite, or colored rocks such as Arizona river rock. Accent with large boulders. Don’t cover a yard completely with rocks since it will reflect too much heat, especially if pebbles are white, says Lance Walheim, garden expert for Bayer Advanced in Peoria, Ill.

5. Pave with hardscape, such as brick. Because brick is porous, water percolates through it and into reserves rather than running off. Pockets of xeriscaping materials soften edges and add color.

Sources: Bert Sperling,; Rachel Hart, landscape architect, Artemesia Design;Lance Walheim, horticulturist, Bayer Advanced.


Paired with an electronic control, a drip irrigation system will conserve water by applying it directly to roots rather than dousing a wide area. Even the best system, however, needs diligent home owners who adjust it according to the seasons.


Best of the Backyard: View more trends in landscaping


Green Home Design and Sales
Your Handbook for Success: Read More Lists
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