From an Architect: 6 Affordable Ways to Make Your Listings More Attractive

By David Applebaum

In this market, selling a house can be more challenging than ever. As a real estate professional, I’m sure you have used many ideas to help make your property look its most attractive to potential buyers. As an architect for two decades, I have suggestions and tips to maximize your potential in selling the home.

Photo Courtesy David Applebaum

Photo Courtesy David Applebaum

Every house and every property is different, and I recognize that a “walk through” can inspire specific ideas for each property. But here are some universal suggestions that will make any house look more appealing for sale.

1.    Clean everything. Eliminate damaged and soiled items, get rid of half of the furniture and rearrange the other half, and remove any personal items. It is important to give the buyers the ability to see themselves in the property.

2.    Accent lighting. This can help make the home more attractive and accentuate the positives by highlighting the homes attributes and diminish the negatives of any setting. The key is to realize that you are playing with contrasts.

Some other lighting tips:

  • A light along fabulous furnishings, an architectural element, or detail will show that element off.
  • A light behind an object will frame the object in darkness and bathe what is behind it in a wash of light.
  • Use highlight and contrast to make a room feel longer, higher, or warmer.
  • Photo Courtesy of David Applebaum

    Photo Courtesy of David Applebaum

    Keep the elements that you do not want seen in darker settings, and the ones you want highlighted in light.

  • Set the mood with accent lighting and candles to provide warmth and drama that will set your property apart from all others.
  • Accent lighting is the easiest and most effective enhancement.

3.    Paint. This is perhaps the most common enhancement that is done to a property. Because a buyer might have their own ideas about colors, I usually do not recommend a full paint job unless the property needs it. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint is only required in a few areas to refresh a house. I have found that the front door is a good place for new paint, as it is the first part of the house to be touched by a potential buyer.

4.    Don’t go overboard with fancy flooring. There was a time that new berber carpeting and travertine meant that the FOR SALE sign would be installed the next week. None of the buyers that I shopped with planned to keep any of those inexpensive additions. People were buying houses, not because of the new carpet and new stone, but because the market was hot. Many of my clients would have preferred to restore older tile work, choose the color and quality of carpets, and completely renovate the kitchen. None of them liked having to pay for improvements that would be replaced. The floors and surfaces should be clean and attractive, but unless there is damage, I suggest lovely area rugs that your client can take with them.

5.    Replace the hardware in the kitchen and baths. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to refresh your property. If the cabinets are in decent shape, new knobs can update a room easily. These are little details that can make a huge impact on a potential buyer. If the front door knob is in disrepair, it will be hard to get a buyer’s confidence back.

6.    Spruce up the exterior. Follow the same advice as the interior and apply it to the exterior. Make sure that everything is clean and edit the furnishings. New cushions for the outdoor furniture can immediately make the yard look more comfortable. You might need to replace the light fixtures, since the elements are usually not very kind to exterior accessories. Consider a few nice plants in lovely pots and a wind chime to heighten the outside living experience.

I hope that these suggestions will help you provide inexpensive and effective ways to help you present your client’s properties in the best way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Applebaum is an architect in Los Angeles, Calif., who has designed homes for such celebrities as Diane Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Nancy McKeon, Rupert Murdoch, and Cuba Gooding Jr., in addition to numerous home owners throughout Southern California. Visit his Web site:

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Many sellers are limited in what they can or will do to improve a house before they move. You mention paint…truly a miracle worker and by far the best and most economical way to clean up, warm up and update a space. With lighting, the mood in a home can change dramatically. And I always tell my home staging clients in Oregon, that if the house doesn’t appeal from the outside, it’s nearly impossible to get buyers inside.
    Professional Stagers can help sellers (and their Realtors of course!) choose the right paint colors, optimize lighting to add to the warmth and intimacy of a home and create a curbside look that makes buyers want to see what lies beyond that welcoming entry.
    Great tips, David!

  2. In the same way that a fresh coat of neutral but enhancing paint can make a room feel inviting, updated flooring can too.

    No need to spend a bunch of money on expensive flooring but if the carpet is worn and soiled or vinyl just looks old and worn it is worth it to invest in stylish rugs or replace with inexpensive, clean, stylish flooring. Cost depends on the worth of the home. Let’s face it, no one expects to find vinyl in an expensive home.

    Will a new owner come in and change the flooring? Maybe but they may also come in and immediately repaint your new paint job.

    The idea is to create a pleasing, clean, and inviting overall look and that might mean doing something about the flooring.

    Low cost eco options?

    * Inexpensive tile floor in bathrooms

    * Wool or Jute rugs in living room and dining rooms

    * Unfinished oak floors–apply water based sealer or wood oil (new owners can stain and seal)

    Low cost but not very eco?

    * Really inexpensive stick together vinyl that looks like wood floors planks (Even less expensive and easier to install than pergo!)

  3. Some great tips here. I have the hardest time in my area getting people to understand the value of these small tips…. If most people just painted either dirty walls or very personal color choices it would go a long way.

  4. Hi, gr8 post thanks for posting. Information is useful!

  5. Sue Markuson

    Good information to pass along to Clients that just don’t get it when we as REALTORS make these very same recommendations. Often Sellers never dream that their dining room wallpaper, patterned with little pink and blue flowers and matching draperies (“I think we put it up in 1986”) just might not be the choice of the next homeowner. Sellers seem to take personally any comment regarding the elimination of furniture and personal items, when suggested in order to make their house appeal to as many buyers as possible. And then to suggest cutting back the shrubbery that hides the lovely bay window. (“Then people can see in the house”!) Sometimes these recommendations are just too much for some sellers to bear.
    Possibly, when coming from an Architect, reluctant Sellers will heed the advise so as to make their property more appealing. And then if it’s priced well, the result just might be a quick sale!