To do it right, home-owners can utilize the quiet mid-winter months to do their decorating and marketing homework for today's home buyers. The dated wallpaper and faded parquet floors say more about the way you've kept house and possibly the way you have maintained your home to prospective buyers than you realize. It might also lower the bottom line on the sale of your home. The best way to shorten the time your home is on market and possibly bring the highest price is take the time during the winter months to make a plan of action and put it into motion, so when the robins sing you can place a "sold" sign in your yard.
-Host a pre-market open house. Invite friends, family and three full time real estate agents to an early Sunday afternoon "get to know" your home open house. Prepare some hot chocolate, coffee and homemade sweets to serve your invitation-only guests. People love a sneak preview and it will help get the word out that you'll be selling your home in spring market. Ask for feedback from all guests and be ready for what you'll hear, the good and the bad.
-Start a file on the sale of your home. Have a to-do list of repairs, updates and streamlining with a timeline to complete before your home goes on market. Gather references for contractors if you need to hire work done. Mid-winter months are typically slow for the building trades and a good time to schedule repairs.
-Establish a must-do list of items that have to be completed before you go on market. These can include cleaning or installing new carpeting, refinishing hardwood floors or eliminating dated and worn wallpaper. New kitchen appliances can do wonders for otherwise tired kitchens, and buyers love new stainless steel look.
-Don't forget to have all the inside and outside surfaces of your windows cleaned. This often over-looked and laborious job can be hired-out and should be done within a week of placing your home on market.
-Take all left-over holiday decorations down, organize and donate any you haven't used in years.
-If a room requires a freshing-up with new paint, trend colors might be right for you, but neutral warm colors are favored by the majority of homebuyers.
-Take a good look at your artwork before you reinstall after painting. Pack and store excessive amounts of family photos, religious art and anything offensive including nudity.
-Heavy drapes weigh rooms down. A quick decorating update for any room is new blinds or shades. Choose neutral colors so buyers perceive that they won't have to spend the time or money to install new window fashions.
-Thinning closets, cabinets, basements, attics and garages will help your storage spaces look larger. If you can't part with items, rent a storage locker to hold items for decision making later.
-Fireplaces are a big plus. If you have one but don't use it, hire a chimney sweep and have the firebox and ash pit cleaned.
-Don't forget the basement, dark, dirty and musty basements are a turn-off to buyers. Add extra lighting, paint the floor and vacum out all the cobwebs. Organize storage areas and take the time to clean the washing machine and dryer. To spruce up the hot water heater and furnace, wipe down with a strong cleaner. Scrub the laundry tub and sweep left-over leaves out of exterior stairs and window wells. Run a dehumidifier to reduce basment moisture.
-Have your furnace and air-conditioning systems serviced.Test smoke detectors and install carbon monoixde detectors if you don't already have. Home inspectors red-flag homes without pro-active warning systems.
-The garage might not be a top priority, but neat, well-maintained garage/workshops are in big demand. Verify if your automatic garage door opener operates properly and lubicate all overhead door tracks.
-Don't overlook the landscaping. Over-grown trees and shrubs can be pruned back or cut down in the winter months.
Mark Nash, real estate author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home" and a real estate broker in Chicago. Mr. Nash's consumer-centric real estate perspective has been featured on CBS The Early Show, Bloomberg TV, Fidelity Investor's Weekly, Dow Jones Market Watch, MSNBC.Com, The New York Times, Universal Press Syndicate and USA Today.