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After more than 15 years as a real estate writer, I've learned a thing or two from Realtors about what it takes to sell a home. Although they may differ on selling strategies, virtually every real estate agent agrees on one thing. Some of the most effective home-staging techniques don't cost a dime — or are really cheap.

Agents also will tell you that many home sellers neglect these time-tested ways to help sell your home. So, here is a list of do's and don'ts to help you get the most out of your property:

Get rid of the clutter • Remove from sight 10 percent to 30 percent of the "stuff" in your home. Pack up the knick-knacks and teacup collections. Clear your kitchen counter top and take all of the items off the front your refrigerator. If you have a heavy decorating theme, tone it down a bit (or a lot.) Children's rooms can be the biggest challenge. Need some inspiration? Stop by a model home. In terms of stuff, your home needs to look like that — inviting but fairly sparse on the personal effects. Once, I toured several million-dollar homes for sale along the Wasatch Front and was amazed at the clutter. The ones that looked like a model home really stood out.

De-personalize • You want sellers to be able to picture themselves in your home. That means you need to take down most family photos. Remove children's artwork that is plastered everywhere and store any home decor that's uniquely you. Have a farm decor in your kitchen? Thin out the chicken prints, pig plates and so on. And don't make your Realtor tell you take down the mounted animal heads or the antique gun hanging on the wall. Just do it.

Remember, buyers have biases. That means you may want to consider down-playing a highly visible liquor cabinet, as well as religious icons.

Think neutral • You may like bright blue paint in your kitchen, a colorful wall mural in your children's room, turquoise in your bathroom and pink paint on the walls in the nursery. Potential buyers, however, may be put off by all the painting they are going to have to do. Talk it over with your listing agent and decide whether the interiors of your home may benefit from a fresh coat of white paint.

Clean it up • Even buyers who don't keep their own homes clean want to buy something that's spic and span. So, scrub your bathrooms. Wipe down your kitchen. Clean your refrigerator and pantry — yes, potential buyers may take a peek. Buyers also look in closets, so do your best to clean and organize there, too. One distinct memory of touring high-end homes in Park City was finding dirty bathrooms.

Downplay the pets • There's nothing quite as unappealing as a bad smell from pets or the sight (and odor) of a litter box. If you can't relocate your indoor pets temporarily, have someone who doesn't live in your home do frequent smell-checks for you. And keep the litter box and food bowls tucked away when people come to look at your home. Many Realtors swear by OdoBan, a cleaner that's sold at Home Depot and helps reduce odors.

Don't forget the yard • Each time I visit homes for real estate stories, I'm amazed that some sellers neglect to tidy up their yards. Pull weeds. Mow your lawn. Get rid of the clutter. Invest in a bag or two of mulch for your flower beds.

Bake a batch of cookies • Smells are important, and the scent of fresh-baked cookies beats a store-bought air freshener any day. (If you don't have a lot of time, you can always buy refrigerated cookie dough at the grocery store.)

Get out of the house • Unless you're selling your home on your own, you may want to not be present during showings. Many Realtors have remarked over the years that they can have a difficult time getting the homeowner to leave while the home is being shown. Home buyers don't like the owner lurking in the background while they are trying to look around.

None of these actions, of course, are going to guarantee that you'll sell your house, or get more money for it. But many of them can help you avoid turning off potential buyers. And even in an improving real estate climate, that's something worth doing.

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