The first commandment of selling a house is writ in stone: positive first impressions are of paramount importance.

“Everything has to do with the first impression at walk-in,” says Sarah Lorden of McGrath Balmain. “If a property is disappointing from the start, prospective buyers will begin to wonder what else is wrong. They stay away from what looks run-down.”

Conversely, the seductive charm of an attractively presented house that translates to ongoing interest, multi-party bidding competitions and ultimately extra dollars at the sale, makes almost any effort towards sprucing up a place worth the time and expenditure.

Aside from the known sure strategy of a fresh repaint, in rebooting your house for the sales campaign there are a whole lot of cost-effective tweaks and tricks that can make positive impact.

“Gardens!” says Peter Tsekenis of Ray White Brighton le Sands, He reckons vendors “just don’t realise the importance of a well presented garden”. Lorden’s endorsement is that “gardens don’t take much”. “But I tell you,” she says, “people will buy lovely old gardens even if the house is tired.”

“Garden really are the biggest, most cost-effective thing. So,” says Tsekenis, “for a few hundred bucks get the guys in to cut, weed, mulch and trim the big trees. It makes a huge difference.”

Architect Christopher Polly has a good eye for little niceties that add value: “Changing house numbers and letter boxes; changing external and internal door fronts, handles, knobs and knockers. Changing tap ware, towel rails and toilet roll holders … and – time permitting, refinishing floorboards.”

Sarah Lorden agrees with all of that relatively easy detailing. “New front door paint and a shiny new knocker? Yes!” She advises however, that the days of doing quick renovations to flip properties are long gone, and that it’s not worth considering anything that requires planning permits.

Then what about redoing entire kitchens and bathrooms, under-roof items that don’t need permits? “On a property that is 90 per cent there and is only let down by a dated kitchen, that can be a good thing to do. If the whole place is run-down, don’t bother.”

Peter Tsekenis has a rule of thumb on renovating kitchens and bathrooms, which are are indeed the rooms that can seal the deal on most houses: “If it’s a two-bedroom, dime-a-dozen unit, don’t touch it. Let the buyers do it. If it’s a waterfront property and you can spend $30,000 to make $50,000, then do it.”

Another of his rules is, “Don’t do it yourself. People are looking for professional quality now and the houses that do get a premium have obvious quality to their presentations. So get the professionals in. It’s worth it. Because when buyers see something of tangible quality that they can move right into, they’ll pay the price.”

On the theme of spending the dollars where they will be seen, if you have enough time and money to continue tweaking consider replacing slumping perimeter or front fencing.

Christopher Polly says new curtains and blinds on the front windows can help. He also thinks replacing daggy light fittings with modern styles can be another effective, budget-friendly updating trick. “And it all depends on the budget, of course.”

Ballpark costs for fast, effective changes

Garden: Tidying, pruning and prettying up a townhouse from $1000. For a larger garden (including mulch and waste removal), from $1200 to $2000-plus. Pruning to reveal or frame any good view is vital.

Pressure cleaning: Paving and house exteriors $300 to $400 for a half day.

Fencing: Perimeter fences $55 to $100 each lineal metre. Picket fencing $60 to $180 each lineal metre. Gates $600 to $900.

Paint: Interior $8 to $25 each square metre. Exterior $12 to $60 each square metre.

Floors: Re-sanding and polishing floorboards $75 each square metre. New carpet $35 to $159 each square metre.

New vinyl: $65 to $120 each square metre.

Tiling: $120 each square metre, tiles average $30 each square metre.

Bigger changes: Bathroom or en suite $10,000 to $25,000. Kitchen makeover from $12,000 to $30,000.

(Information: Horticultural Tradesman Services, Glebe; Cost Guide, downloadable as PDF file from, a service of the Australian Institute of Architects). Case study

Auntie Elsie, 92, has left her home at 1 Madrers Avenue, Kogarah, and moved into a nursing home. Her nephew Zacharia Zacharia, one of four relatives with power of attorney over her business, says she’s very happy there.

Her old house, however, the one her late husband surrounded with a botanical garden of plants, “had become so overgrown in the heat and rain”, he says, “that it was hard to get to the front door.”

Elia Economou of Ray White at Brighton Le Sands, the agency the relatives engaged to sell the three-bedroom cottage, had a first inspection recently and saw “a giant weed patch. It looked abandoned”. It was so bad “it obscured the terrific potential of the place”.

So the relatives rolled up their sleeves, did an earnest internal de-cluttering and were about to repaint when they were advised that a thorough washing of the walls would bring it up like new.

To get the garden sorted, they spent, Zacharia reckons, $1600. “Vines were trimmed, fruit trees pruned, pathways cleared and it’s come up as an absolute beauty. It’s a picture. Full of light and life. It’s looking so great we’re optimistic about taking it to market.”

The mooted $800,000-plus price tag should support Auntie Elsie very nicely in her new life.

Posted by Jenny Brown – Domain (Fairfax) on 3rd March, 2015