You have only 60 seconds. From the moment a potential buyer pulls into your driveway, the clock starts ticking. If the outside of your home doesn’t make a welcoming first impression, it’s unlikely any buyer will want to see the inside. Whether you’re planning to put your home on the market, or you simply want to increase its potential value, certain key improvements must be made before anyone comes to ring your doorbell.

“You have to make the exterior and landscaping pop!” said Brad McKissack, Team Leader and CEO at Keller Williams McKinney Market Center. “Add color and fresh flowers to the landscaping. Fresh mulch is hugely important. Stick with a dark charcoal or a chocolate brown mulch.”

  • Mow and edge the lawn, trim your trees and shrubs and remove dead plants.
  • Store away toys, tools, hoses and garbage cans. • Seal and repair your driveway and walkways.
  • Consider the condition of your roof. If you see broken or missing shingles, have them replaced.
  • Have all gutters and downspouts straightened and cleaned. • The most crucial investment you can make to the exterior of your home is to paint it.

“Paint the front door,” McKissack said. “We paint all of the homes the company owns with a special shade of red so they really stand out when customers drive up.”

After the door, paint all window frames and shutters. If you can afford to, paint the entire house. It may make all of the difference between a potential buyer ringing your doorbell eager to see what’s inside or quickly driving away.

Minimize the Clutter

Once you’ve perfected the view from the outside, it’s time to pay equal attention to the condition of the inside. “Minimize clutter, de-personalize and make the windows sparkle,” said Kathy Darrow, Office Manager for Ebby Halliday Realtors on Virginia Parkway in McKinney. “Your home needs to look spacious. Too many things in a room make it look too crowded. A buyer may think their own furniture won’t fit.”

Again, Paint

Paint is one of the most instantly effective and affordable investments you can make when trying to make rooms look clean and fresh. If you’ve painted the outside of your front door, make sure that the inside portion is also freshly painted. If you have a room with a particularly “loud” color, tone it down. White or neutral tones are your best choices. Although it’s probably not necessary to repaint every room, consider painting heavily trafficked areas, as those will be among the first a buyer sees.

Tackle that Honey-Do List

Tackle those repairs you’ve been putting off. Make sure doors and floors don’t squeak, faucets don’t leak, and that seals around tubs and basins are in good repair. “Clean your grout,” McKissack suggested. “It makes old tile look almost new.”

The Kitchen and Bath

“Kitchens and bathrooms are key,” Darrow said. In your kitchen, consider replacing your countertops with granite ones and investing in new appliances. If your appliances are already fairly new, they should shine inside and out and smell fresh and clean. Also, reduce clutter by limiting the number of small appliances like toasters and coffee makers.

Staging

“It’s all about staging,” Darrow said. Don’t make potential buyers walk around things in order to get from one room to another. Move furniture around to show every room to its best advantage. “Also, limit the number of family pictures,” she said. “A buyer wants to be able to see themselves in the home. If it’s too personalized, they can’t.”

The same goes for knick-knacks. The clutter of an overabundance of collectibles, or that stack of books by the bed could turn off a potential buyer. Keep them out of sight.

  • Replace gold fixtures with bronze.
  • Replace bathroom carpeting with tile.
  • Add wood flooring throughout your home if possible. If not, update your carpeting.
  • Consider putting some of your furniture in storage to give rooms a more spacious look.

Real estate experts report that they see strong indications that the market is improving, based on the fourth quarter results from 2011 and positive numbers for the beginning of 2012. So it might be time to make those improvements that add value and gain a new level of enjoyment of your home for you and your family.

About the author: Steve Burrell is a freelance writer in McKinney. His home is nowhere near ready to be put on the market.