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A few well-chosen improvements go a long way toward appealing to today's buyers, and it doesn't mean spending a fortune. Sellers often overlook small things that matter to buyers — and spend money replacing big things that really don't, says Krista Wolter, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet. Successful staging, according to interior designer and photo stylist Jay Nuhring, of Jay Nuhring House Styling, makes a buyer remember your home and start to invest emotionally. That leads to second showings and, ultimately, offers. Here are Wolter and Nuhring's tips on where to invest time and money for best results:

First impressions

What buyers see as they first approach your home is critical. Trim trees and shrubs, and get rid of anything unnecessary in the front yard. There's usually no need to replace the front door, but do give it a fresh coat of paint in an inviting color.

Painting, flooring and lighting

"You can transform a house with those three," Wolter says. Repaint walls in a neutral hue, in a matte finish rather than eggshell, which shows surface imperfections. If wood floors are heavily scratched, refinish them using a medium dark stain and a satin finish. As for lighting, concentrate on fixtures buyers see first, such as in the foyer and the dining room, and replace the "screaming dated ones," she says.

Clean and declutter

Clean equals cared-for, says Wolter. Remove clutter everywhere, including spots like the utility room. "There shouldn't be anything blocking the furnace, the water heater or other systems," says Nuhring.

Refresh and update

Honey oak woodwork looks past its prime to today's buyers, Wolter notes. But if you have it, don't paint it, as the grain usually shows through. Instead, paint walls with a complementary color and replace dated hardware to give cabinets a fresh look.

Wash windows

"Dirty windows show the age of a house, and a lack of maintenance and care," Nuhring says.

Clear out closets

"If it's full to capacity and overflowing, a buyer perceives the closet as too small," Nuhring says. Remove items until the closet looks "comfortably full," with room for more.

Empty the garage

Store items from a hook or on a shelf. "If it's a three-stall garage, and one stall is full of boxes, the buyer remembers a two-car garage," Nuhring says. Power-wash the floor, then paint it. "You want to make it look like a room, not a shed."

— Kim Palmer