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It's a seller's market along the Wasatch Front. That's welcome news for homeowners looking to move — at least until the tables turn and they become homebuyers.

"A roaring economy and high net in-migration are making the homebuying process a bit like going into battle," Salt Lake Board of Realtors President Troy Peterson explained at the end of the year's first quarter.

His figures had sales of single-family homes in five central Wasatch counties falling 5 percent and listings down 6 percent.

Prices, on the other hand, soared — up at least 10 percent on average in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Tooele counties, and about 8 percent in Utah County. In fact, only 13 of the five-county region's 85 ZIP codes had lower home prices than a year before, and those drops were smaller than the jumps in rising-price zones.

The result: The median price of a single-family home along the Wasatch Front reached $280,000, up from $255,000 a year ago.

From her vantage point at Windermere Utah Real Estate's new office in Salt Lake City's trendy 9th and 9th District, co-owner Cherie Major sees it like this: "For everything under $500,000, there's a feeding frenzy."

To take advantage of this atypical environment— with an inventory of available houses that is about half of normal while home prices have risen faster than wages since the Great Recession ended — homeowners looking to sell can improve their prospects of getting top dollar with some relatively inexpensive touch-ups, according to Major and her business partner, Peter Clark.

They've watched this trend unfold in the neighborhood around their still-under-construction offices on 900 South, in walking distance of a fashionable commercial center and tree-canopied residential streets boasting quaint older homes worth $350,000 to $1 million.

"It's one of the tightest neighborhoods in town. Hipsters and doctors love this area," Clark said. "There are multiple offers on all homes."

That's great for a seller, provided the seller has somewhere to go. Major knows of people who had hoped to move up a notch in home value — climbing from, say, a $450,000 home to one worth $600,000 — only to find their $600,000 just buys them something comparable to the $450,000 house they're already in.

"They become discouraged, less motivated to sell and pull back," she said, contributing to the housing shortage.

For those who do opt to sell, Major said, "it's so important to prepare a home for listing."

She usually spends two to three weeks making a number of cosmetic changes that eliminate obvious flaws or — in the case of new light fixtures or a couple of coats of paint — shed a brighter light on things.

And she gets a good photographer to illustrate the whole scene, which is particularly important for attracting the attention of out-of-town buyers with limited opportunities for extensive house-hunting forays in an unfamiliar city.

"Buyers want to see a home ready to move into," she said, characterizing prospective 9th and 9th area buyers generally as working people who would rather spend their free time doing fun things than completing house projects.

That's why Major brought in handyman C.J. Osborne and his crew to do some fix-up jobs on the 1300 South home of Serah Imperiale and her husband, Jason Franklin.

Imperiale loves her home, a Craftsman-style dwelling with a Friendship porch built in 1912. She really doesn't want to sell. But the couple decided to downsize so they could put more money toward their other goals in life. So it's important for them to get the maximum out of their house.

"We'll take care of all the things a buyer might see that might concern them," said Osborne, citing little projects like putting in new grout around a kitchen countertop, sealing a hole around an electric outlet and installing a handrail along the front steps.

For as little as $3,000 to $5,000 in this case, Major said, improvements have been made that are likely to attract multiple offers and a higher sales price.

Even though she's still sad, Imperiale said the process "has all run seamlessly and quickly. It freaked me out, but sometimes that's helpful."

A few blocks away, on a winding street heading south from East High School, is another house bearing a "For Sale" sign with Major's contact numbers on it.

She persuaded the homeowner to spend about $15,000 to get this house ready for market, targeting a sales price of $600,000. New kitchen lights and fixtures, a good paint job, relaminated cabinets, an upgraded bathroom, new cabinets and flooring — all investments that Major is confident will attract the kind of offers the owner wants before moving out of state.

"One of the most important things," she said, "is having a homeowner who's willing to have work done on the home."

In that respect, Clark found the ideal client in Kurt Whitaker, a physician who spent the past 11 years developing his place above the Capitol into his dream home.

But now Whitaker and his family are moving to Colorado and quickly sold the home — with its spectacular views of the valley — and a separate guest house for $1.2 million to a couple from Manhattan seeking a lifestyle change.

"If I could bring the house with me, I would. We spent 11 years dialing this in and making it what we wanted," Whitaker said. Since he can't, he enlisted Clark to help him get the best price possible without having the house on the market for who knows how long.

"Peter came in and did a market analysis and came up with a range of prices we could get," Whitaker recalled. "I said let's go for a more rapid sale, so instead of six months, let's price it to sell in two. And we had it under contract in two days."

Success stories like that happen, Clark said, when homeowners and their real estate agents work closely to get a property ready for market.

"Kurt was the dream seller. He understood what it took to go well and was willing to make it work."

If you're buying …

Salt Lake Board of Realtors President Troy Peterson suggests five ways buyers have a better chance of getting the homes they want:

• Make a full-price offer with a larger earnest-money deposit.

• Ask the seller what his/her needs are.

• Pay your own closing costs.

• Get preapproved by your lender.

• Limit contingencies, like asking a seller to buy a home warranty. —

Windermere Real Estate

Peter Clark and Cherie Major are co-owners of a Windermere Utah Real Estate office that will open this summer at 1059 E. 900 South.

Major also will be branch manager, overseeing 15 agents. The office is the sixth in Utah for Windermere, a Seattle-based real estate company with more than 300 offices and 6,000 agents in Utah, nine other Western states and Mexico.

Its other Utah offices are in Sugar House, Cottonwood Heights, Layton, Park City and Coalville.