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Simple tips to get a better price for your home

There are some easy and inexpensive things you can do to your house to give it “curb” appeal. Jean Chatzky has helpful hints.

Q: We are thinking about selling our house. Quite honestly, it’s a bit shabby, but we’re wondering whether any fixing up we do will be worth the investment. Any thoughts?

A: You’re right — it is worth thinking hard about what should be fixed up and what should not.

Basically, you should not invest in large-ticket items like kitchens and bathrooms. What you should do is a few simple things to achieve what is known in the real-estate trade as “curb appeal” — something clean and reasonably generic that potential buyers can see themselves living in and making into their own style.

When I was house-hunting, there were times we drove up to a house and refused to go in — those homes didn't have it. They either made too much of a statement about another family’s taste (or lack thereof) or were just plain grungy.

What to do? Remove clutter from your home. A house will show better if it's bright (usually white paint), has lights on, and the drapes are wide open. Repaint if your house needs it (especially if you have a dark or particularly unusual color scheme), trim the hedges, repair broken railings. If there's a musty smell in the basement (or elsewhere), take care of it. If you suspect there are issues with radon, termites or energy efficiency, then get your house inspected and the problems solved before you put it up for sale. Making these home improvements can help you secure a much better sale.

An extra tip. If you plan on listing your house in the winter, photograph your property and flower beds now, so you'll be able to show off your home's best side.

Jean Chatzky’s Bottom Line
This week: How much house can you afford?

One of the first steps in buying a home is nailing down your budget. Sounds simple, but calculating the figures may not be as easy as you'd think, since the budget hinges on more than just your cash flow. You also need to consider additional factors, like your tax bracket and mortgage rates.

One good way to establish your home-buying budget — and make yourself attractive to sellers at the same time — is to get pre-approved for a mortgage. But be aware that being prequalified and preapproved are not the same thing. The difference?

Prequalified: Being prequalified is based on your word about your finances. It's also free.

Preapproved: Getting preapproved requires a detailed investigation into your financial history. It involves a commitment to loan you a certain amount of money subject to a sales contract and an appraisal.

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for “Today,” editor-at-large at Money magazine and the author of “Talking Money: Everything You Need to Know About Your Finances and Your Future.” Her latest book, "Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day," is now in bookstores. Copyright ©2005. For more information, go to her Web site, .