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  Neatness Gets Top Dollar - Back
Neatness, the elimination of clutter, and the elimination of offensive odors is important to the sale of a house.

"You really need to take the excess stuff out of the house and pack it away," said Marilou Buffum, a Philadelphia real estate agent. "Many buyers subliminally equate a messy house with a house with problems."

And prospects who see "problems" with a home are unlikely to bid vigorously for the property, much less buy.

Clutter is primarily created by busy lives.

"They work long hours, and then they come home and don't really want to clean the closets and cabinets," said Leslie Robison, a professional cluttersmith. "They just dump stuff they carry in the house on available flat surfaces. That's why no one is eating at a lot of dining room tables."

Computers have doubled the problem with paper because only one side is being used.

"And too many people are not reading e-mail on the screen but print it out and then read it," she said.

By the time most people have reached their 40s and 50s, they have been collecting stuff without pause for more than 20 years. Garages hold a collection of bikes and lawn equipment instead of cars. Closets have clothes that their owners could wear again if only they could lose 10 pounds.

And then the children grow up, and the parents have to downsize.

One thing Robison does is help her clients decide what's important and what's not.

"They seem attached to a lot of things, but when you talk it out with them, they can't give you a reason," she said. "And that's when they throw things away."

Not only can clutter be a turn off. Odors that a lot of longtime homeowners have gotten used to can torpedo a sale.

A colleague recently attended an open house in her neighborhood. The first thing she noticed when she walked in the front door was an overwhelming odor of tobacco smoke.

"It can really turn a buyer off," said another Philadelphia agent, Bari Shor. "They will walk in the door and smell something, and even if they can't identify what it is, they will definitely mention it."

Dogs and cats, but especially cats, are a big problem.

"Some buyers are allergic to cats, and often have to leave the house before they've checked it out because they are sneezing too hard," Shor said.

And the smell of cat urine in carpeting is tough to remove, no matter how well or how often the carpet is cleaned.

One of Shor's sellers tried having the carpet professionally cleaned to remove the urine odor, but when it came back, it still smelled.

She persuaded the seller to throw the carpet out, "which was great, because the hardwood floors underneath were much nicer," Shor said.

And then there was the seller who didn't detect the odor of gas in her house.

"It's the ultimate example of being so used to the way your house smells that you overlook danger," Shor said. "A buyer I was representing and I noticed the smell of gas at a house we were looking at, so we called the cooperating agent, who then called the gas company."

The stove had a leak, Shor said.

Sellers are often torn between wanting to make a good impression and trying to meet every other obligation in their busy lives.

If you get a call from your agent saying that a prospect will be coming in an hour and the house is a mess, what are you going to do.

The best tact is hire someone to clean regularly while the house is on the market. Your agent probably has names of such firms.

Then, you can clean regularly so that the mess doesn't become overwhelming.

Don Aslett, with the CleanReport.com, favors a daily cleaning routine, Especially the bathroom, which he said only takes 3.5 minutes a day to clean if you do it daily.

The problem is, of course, that it takes much longer than 3.5 minutes to get the bathroom to the point where it takes only 3.5 minutes a day to clean it. And for homes with several bathrooms, the need for commitment is even greater.

The operative word in Aslett's philosophy is now. Spend some time each day tidying, cleaning the toilet, doing the dishes, making the guests clean up after themselves.

Then again, you can tell the guests to postpone their visit until after the house is sold

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