Falling in love and buying a home have a lot in common, says Sid Davis, a veteran real estate broker and author.
"In both cases, first impressions are huge," Davis says. He contends that most homebuyers are hooked within three minutes of walking through the front door of a house that meets their requirements and shows well.
"People absolutely buy homes on emotion. Then they look for facts or evidence to con themselves and others into thinking it was a rational choice," he says.
Of his wife, Davis recounts, "The moment I first spotted her on my college campus is etched in my memory. ... My first impression was so positive, I fell in love right away," Davis says.
In a similar way, many homeowners recall vividly how they felt when they first walked through the front door of their future home.
"Folks have certain subconscious images of what a home should look like. When they find one that resonates with those images, they'll probably buy it," says Davis, author of "Home Makeovers That Sell."
Here are a few pointers for home sellers - and their listing agents - on how to romance potential buyers:
• Surround your property with good-looking landscaping.
For those wishing to make a strong first impression, nice landscaping is a must, says Mary Biathrow, a real estate broker and former director of the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).
One common mistake of home sellers is to let bushes and trees grow too tall or too close to the front of their home.
"Anything that's overgrown in your front yard will dwarf your house and make it look smaller and darker. You want landscaping to add allure to your house, not hide it," Biathrow says.
You don't need to hire an expensive landscape designer to make your grounds look good. But it may require the removal of trees that obscure your home from the curb.
"Absolutely, you need to take away any plant or tree that blocks the view," Biathrow says.
• Enhance your front door.
Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker who works solely with buyers, says many are turned off by an unkempt front door.
"Buyers' minds hop from A to B. If the front door is shabby, people wonder what the heck else is also wrong inside," says Ottwein, a former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org).
All too often, he says, home sellers overlook the appearance of their front door. This is especially likely if they habitually enter through a garage or back door. Yet homebuyers almost always enter from the front.
"It's not expensive to invest in your front door. Whatever you do to the front door is cheaper and more important than an expensive staging job for your interior," Ottwein says.
• Make sure your front-door locks function easily.
"It's a huge pet peeve of mine that many people have badly functioning locks. This is also an unbelievable negative for buyers. If the locks don't work, people wonder what else is out of order," Ottwein says.
Locks that force you to struggle to enter a home are typically old and should be replaced.
"You're talking peanuts to replace locks - which is really nothing compared with your total investment in your house and how much you have riding on its sale," Ottwein says.
If you have two or more locks on your front door, he recommends you eliminate all but the deadbolt.
Home sellers should also make sure their doorbell works perfectly.
"Having a malfunctioning doorbell is a sign of trouble to buyers. Amazingly, it can be a deal killer in and of itself," Ottwein says.
• Purge any bad smells from your property.
Although Ottwein is a former veterinarian who loves pets, he cautions that animal odors can repel potential buyers faster than many other factors.
"Surprisingly, even people who adore their animals can't bear the smell of other people's pets. So these bad odors could be toxic for your sale," he says.
Would-be sellers with animal odors should get to the heart of the problem rather than try to hide it with air fresheners.
"Air fresheners can be overpowering and yet ineffective at the same time. They're no substitute for a top-to-bottom cleaning of your property," Ottwein says.
Those with pet odors embedded in their carpets have no choice but to have their carpeting professionally cleaned or, preferably, replaced. A home that's pristine, free of pet problems and mold issues should also be free of bad smells - assuming that it's inhabited by nonsmokers.
• Embellish your place with fresh flowers.
Fresh flowers give an elegant feel to weddings and other events. By the same token, they can make a qualitative difference to the look of a property, Ottwein says.
He says potted flowers give a welcoming appeal when placed alongside the front door. And bouquets of cut flowers or greenery can help an otherwise ordinary interior look better.
Some home sellers balk at the expense of keeping their vases filled throughout their showing period. But Ottwein contends the expense is often justified, given the positive impression fresh flowers leave with potential buyers. They're especially important during an open house.
"Don't try to skimp by using fake flowers. Fresh flowers increase the value of your home in the estimation of buyers and could be your secret weapon to get the place sold quickly," he says.
Ellen James Martin, a former real estate editor at The Baltimore Sun, gives advice for anyone buying, selling or financing a home.