The smell of a hot cup of Java or a newly baked loaf of bread are no longer enough to get your house selling. By Fiona Brandhorst
HOW MUCH work do you need to do to your house before you sell it? Does it really make any difference to its asking price or to the speed of its sale?

Having had a good valuation it is tempting just to put your house on the market as seen - if the estate agent is impressed then surely a potential buyer will be. The jury is still out on whether presentation, or lack of it, can deter someone from buying a property. But if location is considered the most important factor in selling your home then presentation must come a close second.

Most estate agents now produce a sales pack where you'll find a section called something like "home enhancement". Its advice may seem like common sense: freshly swept paths, weeded flower beds and pretty window boxes - and that's just the exterior - but when we have decided to move on, apathy can set in. Suddenly it's not worth spending money or time on something we are going to leave behind. Or is it?

Stephen Smith from Bushells estate agents in south London suggests "practical and inexpensive" measures when marketing your house. "Obviously it's not cost effective to replace your kitchen and bathroom when selling your house, but they are important areas and should look their best." He suggests cleaning windows and removing clutter to start with.

"People get rid of their window cleaner for incompetence and then never clean the windows themselves," he adds. "It is vital to let as much light as possible into a property."

But Mr Smith warns against hiding problems. "Don't start decorating if the general appearance is OK, but it is a good idea to tackle things like peeling paint."

Houses tend to fall into one of two categories: always clean and tidy or hopelessly untidy. I guess most of us would like to be judged somewhere between the two - but remember that few estate agents are going to risk telling you to get vacuuming, as that is likely to put their instruction in jeopardy.

So impartial, constructive advice would be welcomed by most vendors. Which is probably why Channel 5 found itself with a hit on its hands when the first series of House Doctor was shown last year. Selected houses that remained unsold after around three months had a visit from an American styling guru, Ann Maurice, who offered practical tips on how to improve saleability from repainting rooms to removing redundant furniture. Sales were subsequently achieved for most of the homes featured.

Ed Stobart is producing the second series (to be shown in May). Had his team come across any really disgusting homes in their research? He is diplomatic in his response. "It is always a little painful seeing yourself as other people see you, but we don't humiliate people. That is not what the programme's about."

A Feng Shui consultant, Mary Lambert, stresses the need for energy flowing harmoniously through the house. "Less clutter and more storage is very important. If there's a lot of clutter, energy can't move through the property. I would also suggest repairing loose guttering or replacing cracked windows. These create negative energy and would not make the vendor feel good. A consultant could look at the property and highlight any other factors that might affect the sale."

According to Hilary Dalke from the Colour Design Research Centre at Southbank University, first impressions really do count. "No matter how good your home looks inside, if the exterior is unappealing, prospective purchasers may just drive by."

And the front door should look inviting. A survey by the Alliance and Leicester Building Society revealed blue front doors to be the most popular, followed by green and red.

Once inside, Mr Smith from Bushells advises against too much cleaning up, but he does advise that dogs should be banished to your car or taken on a long walk when someone comes to view. Growling mutts are a definite turn off, as are demanding children. Families may prefer to drop off the keys at the estate agents and go out for the day.

Indirectly, photographer Gordon Atkins could be responsible for getting people through your door, as he is employed by a growing number of estate agents who have realised the benefits of professional photography.

Is it difficult to make the most of some properties? "Not really. Most people spend quite a bit of money on their houses, so I concentrate on the best features. The hardest job I've had is photographing a house in north London to show it was worth pounds 25m."

Mr Atkins also believes first impressions can be deceptive. "I've looked at a house from the outside and thought: `No way,' but inside it's been: `Wow'."

By viewing a couple of properties yourself you will know what works for you and what to look out for when you get home. Well-lit rooms with open doors, fresh flowers and an even temperature are good pointers. It seems the sound of Vivaldi, and the smells of fresh coffee and baking bread have thankfully been laid to rest.

Mary Lambert 0181-947 4145; Gordon Atkins Photography, 0973 728065


l Clean windows

l Repaint front door, if chipped, and polish door furniture

l Cut back, weed and sweep gardens

l Remove clutter everywhere

l Keep the kitchen and bathrooms clean and tidy

l Use lighting in dark rooms

l Display quality fresh flowers

l Plan children-free and dog-free viewing

l Avoid strong aromas

l Instruct your solicitor as soon as possible