Moving expert Caroline Carter on preparing to sell your home

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Home transition and move management expert Caroline Carter. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Caroline Carter is a home transition and move management expert who has helped more than 2,000 families prepare their homes for sale and deal with the stress of moving. Her company, Done in a Day, is based in Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach, Fla., and clients include political figures, media celebrities and busy families. Her book “Smart Moves” takes readers through the emotional, financial and physical aspects of selling a home and gives tips on how to achieve maximum market value.

Carter joined The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: How much personal stuff should you remove when you’re getting a home ready to be photographed for sale?

A: The rule of thumb is to entirely remove your personal footprint. It may sound harsh, but selling your house is not about you. It’s important for the buyer to imagine themselves living in the house, and to do that, you need to pack away everything that made your house a home.

Q: I’ve dreamed of owning an older house for a long time. What tips do you have for evaluating how well historical details have been preserved and for assessing what work might go into restoration?

A: The first step is to find an architect in your area who focuses on the restoration of older homes. Make an appointment to familiarize yourself with what you need to know before taking on this type of project. This information will serve you well as you begin your search.

Q: Do you have to invest in plants and shrubs to get curb appeal to sell?

A: Curb appeal is critical for two reasons: It’s typically shown as part of the first photo of your home online (the “money shot”), and what potential buyers see on the outside of your home will typically determine whether they want to see the inside. This will vary by which area of the country you live in and what growing zone you’re in. Determine your zone to see which foundation plants (the ones that frame the house and front facade) will grow and thrive in your area.

Q: When people prepare their homes for sale, what projects do they wish they would have done before selling? We’re refreshing the house for ourselves.

A: Updating your house for yourselves is wonderful, as long as the changes are made with an ultimate sale in mind. Focus on the top four updates: paint, lighting, flooring/carpeting and furniture. Kitchens and baths with white fixtures and stainless, chrome or brass accents present a clean, classic look in any house.

Q: Are plain white bedrooms best for resale, or is a bit of color a good thing?

A: Neutral walls and bedding allow potential buyers to see the width and depth of the room, the lighting and the flooring. This is what they’re trying to see. Bits of accent color can be added with throw pillows, artwork or rugs. Remember that you’ll be looking at this room much longer than they will. In the first showing, people typically fly through the house in less than 10 minutes to see whether the house is one they will seriously consider. Stick with plain, neutral and classic bedding that serves as an accent to the room.

Q: Does everyone only want stainless appliances? Isn’t it ubiquitous?

A: I’m with you. But you can’t fight what works, and for now, stainless does. Stainless has been the go-to finish for appliances for many years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Stick with what we know today’s buyers expect in a kitchen.

Q: How do you quickly get rid of furniture?

A: Remember that one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Once you’ve decided what you will sell or give away, contact family, friends and neighbors to see whether they’d like anything. You can also schedule a pickup with local organizations that will value your gently used furniture and household goods. Don’t forget to get a tax donation receipt, which you’ll have to fill out. To save time, take photos of the donations to compile a list at a later date.

Q: How should I decide what to put into storage during my move? I know once you get a unit, it’s hard to get rid of it. But is it OK to get one for a few months, until I know what I’ll have room for?

A: Be brutal when you’re culling a space. Focus on what you must have and what you would like to have. The only comment I have consistently heard after more than 2,000 projects is: “I wish I got rid of more.” Don’t forget that you’ll be paying for the privilege of storing each piece of furniture or box. The easiest time to cull is before you get a storage unit, not after. That said, there may be items you won’t be able to decide on keeping or donating until you know what your next home will look like and how much room you’ll have. In that case, give yourself a certain time frame to delay the decision.

Q: Why do people stage a home for sale with no television in the main living area and no obvious place to put one? It makes the house look not useful for realistic family life.

A: I hear you, and I agree. I would say it depends on the house. Is there a separate living room and family room? The television is usually in the family room. I would always make sure there’s room for a television and ensure the placement makes sense in the room. Sellers always need to pay attention to cord containment. That mess is too real for buyers.

Q: What are some inexpensive places to buy nice pillows to freshen up a living room or bedroom?

A: I faithfully go to HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls for the best selection of pillows and other items needed to refresh the look of a “tired” room. If you’re not a shopper, curl up with a cup of tea and your computer, because everything you could possibly need or want is online. Take photos of the room or other items you want to color-match or complement, so you can remind yourself of the colors.

Q: Do people realize how important it is to have cash tips for movers? I appreciate how you suggest communicating with the team leader before the end of the day, so they know you’ll tip the crew.

A: The team leader (the one with the clipboard) is key to the smooth progression of your moving day. They’re paid hourly, but these people really appreciate a cash tip for a job well done. Ask the team leader how many people are in the crew and for their names. Let that person know you’ll be providing lunch and water, as well as tipping at the end of the move. A gentle suggestion for tips per day: team leader, $100, each mover, $50. If you follow these “rules,” your move will go without a hitch, and the crew will not leave until you’re happy. It’s money well spent.

Q: Do I really have to paint my cherry cabinets white?

A: No. It truly depends on your kitchen’s age and the style and quality of the cabinets. Are there cherry accents throughout the house? The key is to present a kitchen that today’s buyers will consider updated. You may want to change the knobs and pulls on the cabinet doors and drawers to give them a beauty boost. Head to your nearest hardware store to check out builder packs (sets of 10 or 12) of knobs and pulls in iron or brushed nickel. There are many sizes, styles and finishes, and they’re inexpensive and easy to install.

Q: I have wall-to-wall carpet in several bedrooms, and underneath is well-worn wood flooring that’s about 80 years old. Is it worth it to tear up the carpet and refinish the wood?

A: Hardwood always presents as valuable when selling a house. Head to the corner of a room or near a closet and peel back the rug, because you don’t know what’s underneath and what shape it’s in. It may take a specific tool to pull back the carpet. Once done, you can see a small section to see whether it’s been refinished. If so, pull it all out. Only then will you see whether it needs work. Sometimes, you have beautiful, well-preserved hardwood underneath. Even if you have to refinish, it will make a huge difference in the ultimate sales price.

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