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Living Longer, Living Better | Real Estate

Artfully downsizing

Preparing your house for sale begins with clearing clutter, personal touches

Emaline and Rock Perdoni, preparing to sell their Sherborn home, have painted walls, recovered upholstery, and installed wood floors to make the house more appealing to potential buyers. Their living room, for instance, has dramatically changed from before (left) to after. Emaline and Rock Perdoni, preparing to sell their Sherborn home, have painted walls, recovered upholstery, and installed wood floors to make the house more appealing to potential buyers. Their living room, for instance, has dramatically changed from before (left) to after. (Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe)
By Jenifer McKim
Globe Staff / February 27, 2011

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When Emaline and Rock Perdoni decided to sell their Sherborn home of 30 years, they knew they had a lot of work ahead. The home was no longer the beloved place where they raised four children but rather a product that needed to be readied for market.

The spacious colonial was cluttered: Family photos, packed bookshelves, and cluttered closets. The kitchen had not been updated in more than 20 years. The paint on the walls looked tired and aged. Soon the couple, both in their 60s, were attacking closets, emptying drawers, buying new carpet, and installing wood floors.

“It was cleansing,’’ said Emaline Perdoni, 60, a flight attendant looking forward to a new home near Atlanta. “I see this is as another family’s home.’’

The Perdonis are among a growing number of baby boomers and empty nesters attempting to sell homes as they look to downsize, retire, relocate out of state — or all of the above. But attracting buyers is no easy task in the sluggish housing market. Competition among sellers remains fierce, and the appearance of the home can make the difference between closing and losing a sale, real estate agents say.

As the Perdonis have discovered, improving home appeal after living in a place for decades can be daunting. Sometimes only cosmetic improvements are needed: a fresh coat of paint or new kitchen counters. In other cases, it might mean updating appliances and taking on more extensive renovations to replace leaky roofs or aging septic tanks.

The first step, real estate agents say, can be the hardest: Letting go of emotional attachments to the longtime family home.

“It’s really difficult for people to go through, facing all the stuff they collected,’’ said Barbra Weisman, a Concord real estate agent. “You can be walking through an emotional minefield with couples.’’

Homeowners should give themselves at least a few weeks if not several months to prepare their homes for sale, said Laurie Cadigan, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. Clearing out clutter and eliminating personal touches, which make it harder for prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the home, are the two most important things to do.

In some cases, homeowners might seek the help of professional stagers, who dress up a home to make it more appealing to buyers, real estate agents said. Staging can be particularly helpful to homeowners who have lived at their properties a long time and may have lost touch with current tastes.

“They are selling to a different demographic,’’ said Julie Chrissis, a professional stager who helped the Perdonis. “Make sure it doesn’t look like you are going to Grandma’s.’’

Olly Naidich, a former Carlisle resident, said she knew she needed to make improvements when she decided to sell her home of 29 years. The widowed mother of three was less convinced, however, that she had to change rugs and remove her artwork.

But Naidich took the advice of her real estate agent, Barbra Weisman. She began getting the home ready for sale in 2009, replacing dark red Oriental rugs with neutral tan hemp coverings, and her artwork with mirrors and color-coordinated wall hangings. She stored old furniture in the basement, replaced light fixtures and kitchen hardware, and purchased a stainless steel refrigerator.

Naidich, in her 70s, also had the house’s dark wood painted white, thinking often that the changes would have horrified her late husband.

“It went from looking like an older person’s home to a more Pottery Barn creation,’’ said Naidich, who sold her house last summer and now lives in New York. “It was worth it.’’

With their children gone, the Perdonis decided to sell their home to move closer to old friends and family in Georgia. Over the last year, they have painted woodwork and walls, replaced carpeting, and installed granite countertops and hardwood floors.

They put the home on the market in the fall at $1.3 million. After dropping the price last month to $1.25 million, they decided their property needed an extra push, and hired Chrissis to stage it.

Chrissis, who is based in New Hampshire but works largely in the Boston area, recommended minor upgrades like changing cabinet hardware and repainting the dark red living room beige. They covered dark furniture with slip covers and removed tables and rugs.

Whether a home sells for $300,000 or more than $1 million, Chrissis said, staging can help. “It’s a beauty contest within your price point and within your town,’’ she said.

The Perdonis hope new upgrades and an active spring housing market will bring them good news. Emaline Perdoni is already dreaming of a new life in Georgia. “We know it is time to go on,’’ she said.

Jenifer McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.