Spring cleaning also can pave way for home sale

Ah, spring: the season when metro Atlantans’ fancy turns to sprucing up, cleaning out and maybe even moving on.

The onset of warmer weather is a wonderful time to take stock of what winter may have left behind. Outside, the sun may be shining on mold that’s built up on the driveway or water oozing from leaky, loose gutters. Inside, dust has been accumulating on ceiling fans and clogging up the furnace filters.

Spring is not only a time to get a house back in shape before the intense heat of a Southern summer sets in; it’s also a good time to think about what has to be done before a house hits the hottest selling time of the year.

The metro Atlanta housing market is rebounding, but that doesn’t mean buyers have stopped being picky.

“Whether you’re thinking of listing your current house or buying a new house, you’ve got to think ‘wow,’ ” said Brenda Lee, vice president of sales for the Providence Group, developers of 18 townhome and single-family communities around the metro area. “You want to wow buyers so they can say, ‘I can see myself living here.’ ”

So grab a notepad and a pen and start on the outside by making a list of anything in need of a thorough spring cleaning.

Exteriors

Stand at the curb and look at the house and yard through the lens of a prospective buyer, suggested Bradford Smith, a 10-year Coldwell Banker agent based in the firm’s Virginia-Highland office.

“If you were getting out of the car, what would you say about this property?” he asked. “Look at the deferred maintenance. There’s a lot of that because people have had deferred money for some time.”

Take note of any elements that look worn out after a long winter. Gutters should be carefully inspected to make sure they are clear and firmly attached. “Water is the No. 1 enemy of a house,” Smith said. “If it doesn’t go down, it’s got to go somewhere. It may be rotting the wood under the gutter.”

Clean the cobwebs off the shutters or replace them, if needed. Wash windows and repaint trim to make a house immediately brighter.

“The trim needs to be painted at least every seven years,” Smith said. “In older homes, it also creates a seal that helps with energy efficiency.”

At Jim Chapman Communities’ Brookhaven at Johns Creek, sales agent Sandy Epstein said spring is the season to pressure-wash driveways and exteriors, if needed.

“We also put out new potted plants for color and spruce things up with a new wreath on the door, retouched paint and new caulking,” Epstein said. “Everything is tightened up as best we can.”

As summer approaches, it’s also time to prep those popular outdoor living spaces. Clean out the fire pit and patio fireplace, dust off the outdoor furniture, and scrub down the grill or outdoor kitchen.

The yard also needs a spring refresher. Reseed or sod bald spots, plant colorful annuals and toss fresh pine straw or mulch around beds and the bases of trees and shrubs.

“Some of the things that need to be done outside are often the most overlooked, but are also the least expensive,” said Andrew Malone, a sales associate with Re/Max Around Atlanta. “Something as simple as fresh ground cover or flowers makes a difference. A new coat of paint is relatively inexpensive compared to the return of making the house look fresh.”

Other outdoor projects might include repairing cracked or broken window panes, loosening up doors that have swollen shut and making sure the home’s termite bond is up to date.

Interiors

Whether you’re getting a house ready to sell or just finishing a spring cleaning list, nothing makes a more immediate impact than clearing out clutter.

“Realtors call it ‘stuff,’ and as a society, we have too much stuff,” Smith said. “We think if one is good, five are better. You don’t even realize how much stuff is in a room until you take half of it out. I tell clients to remove half the stuff, then at the end of the day, ask, ‘Why do I have this; do I even want it?’ Don’t be afraid to donate it. Organizations like the Atlanta Furniture Bank and the Kidney Foundation will come and pick it up and give it to someone who needs it.”

Another clutter collector is just about any bedroom closet. Two sure signs that they’re crammed: The door won’t shut, and you haven’t seen the floor in years.

“I need to see the closet floor — not even a pair of shoes,” Smith said. “When your closet is packed and the floors are jammed, the buyer’s perception is that there isn’t enough storage. Ask again, ‘Why do I have this if I haven’t worn it?’ Then donate it.”

Clutter also can spread to bookshelves, countertops and nightstands, Malone said.

“When you watch all the HGTV home shows, they do a lot of decluttering,” he said. “If every shelf is full, if every kitchen appliance known to man is on the counter, put it away. You want to see the space, not the stuff.”

Focusing on the space may mean a living room has two love seats and an ottoman that doubles as a coffee table instead of a large collection of furniture, the Providence Group’s Lee said.

“A plant stand can be an end table,” she said. “Recessed lighting cans in the ceiling mean fewer lamps and a sleeker feel to a room.”

Sleek and smooth are the buzzwords for today’s interiors. Buyers want clean, crisp details with a contemporary edge — an idea to keep in mind when repainting or remodeling.

“We don’t see as many ornate details, even in furnishings,” Lee said. “In our models, we’re decorating with simple lines that are comfortable. It’s so simple that white cabinets are coming back, even though just a couple of years ago you couldn’t give them away. Now they’re in some of our models.”

If a kitchen makeover is in the spring budget, think of including popular buyer options such as pots and pans drawers, below-counter microwave, pull-out trash bins, marble backsplashes and subway tiles. Adding wainscoting to a breakfast nook or dining room can create a cozy feel.

But other spring projects can be as small as replacing the burned-out light bulbs throughout the house, putting new batteries in the smoke alarms and cleaning in those forgotten nooks and crannies.

“I tell my sellers to start in one corner of a room and work their way across,” Smith said. “It’s amazing how many people haven’t dusted behind the chairs in years. Dust the fans, change the air filters to cut down on dust and wipe down the baseboards.”

While there aren’t many owners who look forward to the chores of home maintenance, keeping up with the demands on a seasonal basis is a good way to avoid major headaches later.

“Not doing it is going to cost you more in the long run,” Smith said, “and if you do it and your house doesn’t sell, at least you’ll have gotten it cleaned up.”

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