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In years past, when home sellers held all the cards and bidding wars were waged daily, getting your home ready for prime time—for showing to prospective buyers, that is—was a simple matter of dusting and putting away the laundry.

“Back in the day when the market was busy, there was a sense of urgency among buyers, so condition was not as important as, say, price or location,” says  Cheshire real estate agent Ruth Ratner of CT Properties at Keller Williams. “Clients were in a rush, they didn’t think they had time to even come back for a second look, so they overlooked a lot of things.”

In today’s market—and this has been true for close to a decade now—the way a house shows makes all the difference between whether it closes quickly or withers on the MLS vine. If at first blush your property doesn’t shine from curb to the corner of every closet, savvy buyers with a sense of entitlement will walk out the door. And that, as industry insiders like to put it, is even if the house is “priced right.”

“Even an outstanding home needs to be properly prepared for showing,” according to Ratner. “I like to say that everyone wants the crisp, new dollar, not the old, dirty one. So every home has to look new and fresh.”

A case in point: “My clients had a house in Wallingford that would have been worth around $500,000 in a good market. But in the condition it was in, I figured they’d get only about $420,000 or $430,000, tops,” says Ratner. “It was a nice house, but it had clearly been lived in. They’d never painted it or refinished the floors.” Ratner knew it needed more than just tweaking—and luckily, when she discussed her concerns with the homeowners, they agreed. “They immediately got it that the house was a commodity, a product,” she says, “And that it had to look its best.”

The owners were persuaded to make some wholesale changes—they installed new granite countertops, painted the entire house, even rented furniture to make the living room look more “livable.” Says Ratner: “All told, they made about $20,000 in improvements. The house went on the market for $489,900, and we got three offers in the first week. There was some negotiation, and after a few small concessions by the homeowners, it sold for the asking price.”

For that, Ratner says she has Patti Stern to thank.

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