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Originally published Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Update your house to sell in slow market

If you're planning on selling, it's become more important to make sure your house is appealing, especially with a deep supply of homes on the market and a slowdown in sales across the area.

Special to The Seattle Times

What helps to sell a home

Interior finishes

Hardwood floors, updated counter tops.

Wide floor plans

Large spaces, specifically in living areas

Being green

Energy-efficient appliances.

What doesn't

Astroturf lawns

Get real, get dirt.

Dated decorations

Buyers can see through the illusion of wall-sized mirrors.

Cramped kitchens

It should be a place for cooking and socializing.

— Kirsten Grind

When the Hamacks' rambler in the Seattle area was built in 1987, it was featured in a local newspaper as a distinguished "Home of the Week."

But less than 20 years later, many of the home's features had become as outdated as mullet haircuts and "Charles in Charge."

So when Cheryl and Andy Hamack bought the property in 2005, they embarked on a $45,000, yearlong renovation to push the house into the 21st century.

Among their projects: Yanking out the carpet and putting down hardwood floors and remodeling the bathrooms, which included installing granite countertops, tub enclosures and new flooring.

"We knew whatever money we put in the house will grow," said Cheryl Hamack.

Housing styles may come and go, but just because you don't own a Craftsman doesn't mean your house has to be a relic.

Updating can be as easy as adding one or two features to a home and even giving it new paint, according to Seattle-area real-estate agents.

If you're planning on selling, it's become more important to make sure your house is appealing, especially with a deep supply of homes on the market and a slowdown in sales across the area.

"I've had buyers recently drive up to a place and not even want to get out," said Marlow Harris, a Seattle real-estate agent and owner of SeattleDreamHomes.com.

The good

With that in mind, here are some features that King County homebuyers have been drawn to, according to Sarah Hamack, a real-estate agent with Solaris Real Estate Group and the daughter of Cheryl and Andy Hamack.

The features include such interior finishes as hardwood floors, updated countertops and state-of-the-art appliances. Buyers also are looking for plenty of space in their living areas and kitchens.

"A lot of people are attached to their kitchens," said Sarah Hamack. "Open it up and make it larger — that's going to make a world of difference."

And of course, it helps to be green in the Seattle area, where buyers are looking for energy efficiency.

That could include everything from solar heating to energy-efficient appliances to insulated windows.

"We really pay attention here to what's not being wasteful," she said.

The bad

Real-estate agents say that major turnoffs for homebuyers include dated decorations, such as wall-sized mirrors, and cramped kitchens because many buyers want room for cooking and socializing.

Those low-maintenance, always-green Astroturf lawns also don't help sell a home, they said.

"Do not replace your grassy yard with artificial turf, no matter how convincing the sales brochure," said Harris.

Even with updates, it's important to stay true to the style of the home, said Harris. A rambler will never look like a Craftsman unless it's completely rebuilt.

Staying true

The Hamacks bought their house because they wanted a rambler — they had lived in one in the 1980s and had always admired the sprawling floor plan.

The three-bedroom, 2,230-square-foot house they purchased almost three years ago was perfect for the couple.

"We knew that we could put some money into it and get exactly what we wanted," said Andy Hamack.

The couple doesn't have plans to sell in the near future, but they know they will eventually. And they're hoping the updates will make the house more attractive when they do. They praised their contractor, Jim Leinhard, for the work he did on it.

"I'm so glad we did this, because we have what for us is our dream home and we're really happy with it," said Andy Hamack.

A new look

Instead of updating their 22-year-old house in Seattle's Madison Valley, Stuart Wilber and his partner John Dreitweiser changed its appearance.

The three-bedroom, 1,290-square-foot house that they bought 12 years ago looked exactly like its neighbor — so much so that people often thought the two were town homes.

"It was to our advantage to have our houses look different," said Wilber.

By adding glass awnings and cornice finial details, as well as a new coat of paint, the house's exterior was transformed into what's often described as Thai-style.

Like the Hamacks, Wilber and Dreitweiser don't have plans to sell, but that doesn't mean they're not thinking toward the future.

"We will retire, and we won't require anything quite this big," Wilber said.

Waiting it out

Even sellers of the most trendy houses are facing challenges in this climate.

Suzanne Buchanan, president of Seattle-based SK Builders, recently built two Craftsman-style homes in the Rainier Beach area.

The four-bedroom homes — one 2,400 square feet and the other 3,400 square feet — have been on the market for about seven months. Both appraised for $840,000 and $860,000 respectively, but their listing prices since dropped to $739,000 and $759,000.

While Buchanan has had several serious buyers, the offers fell through when their own homes couldn't sell.

"We're just going to keep them on the market and see what happens," said Buchanan.

Harris, who is Buchanan's real-estate agent, said there's not a specific style of home that's dominating the market right now.

Even though Craftsman homes often get the most press, "extremely modern homes and postmodern new construction is also popular and selling," said Harris.

"In Seattle, it's all over the map," she said. "The best thing to do is to get your home, no matter what style, clean and in perfect shape."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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