Home & Garden

Set the stage for a sale

Staging a home for sale can set it apart from the competition. Kiplinger's Personal Finance has these suggestions for staging your home for less than $1,000:

- Stage it virtually. This option is aimed at empty homes, because photos of bare walls and floors can make online shoppers lose interest. You just snap photos of the empty rooms and send them to a virtual stager, who uses computer imagery to "furnish" them. The photos can be posted online or used in marketing materials.

Kiplinger's says prices range from around $200 for three rooms to $325 for five rooms, although rates vary by city. Type "virtual staging" into an online search engine to find companies.

- Pay for a plan, but provide the muscle. Many stagers will work as consultants, touring your house and offering suggestions on presenting it. Barb Schwarz, founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, says the average fee for a consultation is $350.

Then it's up to you to do the cleaning, decluttering and rearranging. Kiplinger's suggests renting a portable storage unit if you have a lot of stuff to store.

- Add some pizzazz. Sometimes a few decorative extras can update or neutralize a home's decor. You may be able to negotiate with a staging company for decor items such as wall art, area rugs, lamps or other accessories. One company Kiplinger's checked charges roughly $250 per month, with a three-month minimum, plus one month's fee for setup and breakdown.

- Focus on a few rooms. Hire a stager to redo just the entryway, main living area, kitchen and master bedroom. Stagers usually charge $75 to $125 an hour. Ignore secondary rooms or do them yourself once you've seen how the pro works.

Dust busters

How dirty do heating ducts get in a year? Is it necessary to clean them yearly?

They don't get very dirty year to year in most homes. Regular duct cleaning isn't necessary. However, don't confuse duct cleaning with furnace check and tune up. That should be done regularly, preferably every year.

Most of the time, yearly duct maintenance is a do-it-yourself job. Vacuum clean the registers and grilles. Remove them and clean inside as far as you can reach.

But consider having the ducts cleaned if you have:

- A newly constructed home

- An existing house that has been remodeled or was under construction

- Purchased a home and don't know if the ducts have ever been cleaned

- Lived in your home for more than 10 years and have never had the ducts cleaned

If you are trying to control dust by duct cleaning, it's better to consider:

- Carpet: Carpeting sheds fiber and collects dust particles. Every time you walk on it, you knock particles into the air that circulate throughout the house. Synthetic carpets and pads deteriorate over time, becoming brittle and breaking into fine particles, which contributes considerably to dust. Replace old carpet and pads, or, when possible, remove them and use hard-surface flooring and area rugs.

- Pets: Furry pets shed hair and dander. Launder their sleeping areas frequently and bathe and groom animals regularly.

- Vacuum cleaners: Cleaning with a vacuum can help control dust, but if you don't use one with a HEPA filter, you'll simply spread around the dust. A central vacuum that discharges outdoors also works well.

- Furnace filters: The standard filter on a forced-air furnace doesn't do much to capture household dust. Replace it with a higher-efficiency pleated filter.