Got wallpaper?

Lori Garon has news for you: Get rid of it, or you’re not going to be able to sell your house this spring.

Sure, all the home decorating magazines say wallpaper is making a big comeback, and there are more stunning designs out there to choose from than ever before.

But when a potential buyer walks through the house and sees all of the walls covered in your favorite Victorian designs, no matter how pretty it is, all he’s thinking is “Ugh. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to take all of that down.”

“If somebody has to go in and look at a house that has to have wallpaper removed out of every single room, it’s a real turn-off,” said Garon, a Realtor at the Garon Group at Re/Max by the Bay. “It’s almost as big a turn-off as cigarette smoke, which is probably the biggest turn-off there is.”

Spring arrived Tuesday, and with it the spring real estate season. It’s definitely still a buyer’s market out there, and it’s likely to remain so for the rest of the year.

Economist Charles Cogan, a professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, is still working on his next forecast for Maine’s residential real estate market. But so far, he said, he doesn’t see much change from what he told a January conference of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association.

In that forecast, Colgan predicted the market probably will not improve significantly until 2013, and new construction will remain below historic levels.

If you have no choice but to put your house on the market this spring, Realtors say there are some things you can do to increase the odds of your place becoming one of the houses sold.

Some updates and chores are worth the investment of time and money, and provide a great bang for the buck. Others may not bring a big enough return to be worth it.

“If the house is in need of a lot of cosmetic improvements or just sprucing up, often a small initial investment can easily be returned either with fewer marketing days or a higher sales price,” Garon said. “It is often in the seller’s best interest to make an investment in selling their home in a marketplace like we’re in. Right now, we have more homes on the market than there are buyers, so you have to position your house so it is one of the houses that will get sold with the limited buyer pool that we have.”

But today’s buyers seem to want any house they consider purchasing to be in move-in condition, with shiny new stainless-steel appliances, updated bathrooms and roofs that were put on just yesterday.

The old adage that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses is still true, but in this economy, not everyone can afford a complete overhaul.

“You can’t expect people in this market to invest,” said Nancy Field, an agent with Keller Williams Realty. “Some people just don’t have a lot of money to redo a kitchen.”

Changing out cabinet hardware and repainting cabinets can also freshen up the look of a kitchen or bathroom. Consider taking the doors and hinges off boxed frame cabinetry and open up those shelves. Place some nice pottery, dishware and glassware on display.

“Then some updated appliances to complement that might turn a really old kitchen into something that a first-time homebuyer might say, ‘We could live with this for a couple of years until we know what we want to do,’ ” said Jane Smith of Coldwell Banker.

GRANITE IS KING, BUT SO IS CLEAN

If you’re just going to change a countertop or add new appliances in the kitchen, granite and stainless steel are still the way to go. Decor preferences change over time, and surfaces like slate and cement are becoming more popular, but granite is still No. 1.

Buy new bathroom towels, replace your patterned shower curtain with a simpler new one, and consider replacing an old floor with tile or new clean linoleum.

“An old medicine cabinet can be an item that can cause a bathroom to look very old and dated,” Smith said. “Maybe remove that old medicine cabinet and having a new light fixture and a framed mirror put in its place. A larger mirror will expand the room.”

The No. 1 thing that sellers can do to move their homes is actually very simple, real estate agents say, but it’s a chore a lot of people resist: Clear the clutter and clean everything. Agents even recommend hiring a professional cleaner to make sure every nook and cranny is spotless before the first showing.

“It doesn’t matter if the house is $150,000 or $500,000, there’s a process that you go through, and neat and clean wins the race,” Field said.

Garon points out that sellers will have to pack everything up anyway when they move, so just start now. Some people rent storage facilities to keep their clutter in until it’s time to move for good.

Garon also recommends removing old carpeting if there are wood floors underneath. And if you can afford it, get them refinished.

“That’s not a lot of money, but it could amount to a couple of thousand dollars,” she said. “Are you willing to invest that much money if you can to get the house sold in a shorter period of time or for more money?”

Field says refinishing floors isn’t always practical, especially for a family with small children, so she also recommends trying products like Rejuvenate. “You’d be amazed at how it brings floors back,” she said.

If you’re going to paint before you sell, consider adding color to a couple of rooms to give them a little pizzazz.

“There was a time when neutral, neutral, neutral was the incantation of the buyer world,” Garon said. “But you know, color is popular now. Again, I would bring in a professional to choose the colors. You can go in and have a horrendous choice of colors that would be worse than having everything be neutral.”

Smith agrees with the ban on wallpaper.

“I think as much as the decorating industry is bringing wallpaper back, I still think the old wallpaper that’s been on the walls for quite a few years should be removed,” she said. “And that’s really a sweat equity job. It can be done very inexpensively, and then put a very soft color palette on the wall. Try to stay with your soft color tones.”

Very light yellows, greens and blues appear to be working well, Smith noted.

An older roof could cause problems with financing that could severely limit the buyer pool, so sellers who can’t afford to replace it should at least go out and get three competitive quotes from roofers to share with buyers, Smith said.

“But buyers will drive by, and if that roof is curled, first impressions, you may not even get them in the front door,” Smith added. “If the roof is shot, what does the inside look like?”

And don’t forget the outside of the house. Smith recommends sprucing up the approach to the house to add curb appeal. Repaint the front door.

“Hardy pansies this time of year in a pretty pot and a clean, freshly painted front door is a great entrance,” she said. 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad