Although the house market is showing increasing signs of an upturn, purchasers remain fickle. It is known that presentation can be the vital factor in clinching a sale in the new homes market, and owners of other homes may have to adopt the same approach.
"Selling a home is starting to be about marketing and packaging, and it is a trend that will get stronger and stronger in the secondhand market," predicts Miles Shipside, the East Midlands regional executive of Halifax Property Services. "Our volume of business has increased substantially over a year ago, though this has not fed yet into price increases. Properties that are well-presented are selling very well. Those properties less well- presented are struggling."
Good home presentation starts with the front of the house. Replace dowdy and dark paints, but use plain and smart replacements, not something too bright for the purchaser to live with. Make sure that paint on the window sills is not flaking, and tidy up the front garden and entrance area.
"A lot of people will drive around before deciding which houses to visit," points out John Woodward, property services manager for Woolwich Property Services.
"So keep the front garden tidy, have nice paint on the front door, and keep the children's wellies out of the way. People seldom look at the front of their own house, so we ask sellers to cross the road, and think about what would put them off."
Estate agents emphasise that it is important to have both a tidy garden and a clean house. The prospect of prising off layers of old grease from cupboards and ovens is likely to put off the keenest of buyers. Clean homes, with the beds made and dirty clothes and newspapers cleared out of the way, also appear more spacious.
If home owners have not got the time to do the work themselves they should consider employing a cleaner and a gardener for a day or two to improve appearances. It is one of the few instances where spending money on a home might be recovered in the purchase price.
"There are virtually no capital improvements you can make that will get your money back," says Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, the chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents. "But there are [worthwhile] things you can do for minimal expense, like decorate, deal with flaking paint and creaking doors."
The marketing process does not begin and end with the home. Vendors are more likely to make the sale if they are smart and friendly, and not too pushy. Explaining this to a seller has to be raised by an agent with sensitivity, if at all.
"We don't like to insult people's properties or they may take their instruction elsewhere," says Mr Shipside. "If the television is on and the house is untidy, how do you broach it? Our solution is to give people a leaflet, and hope that they read it."
"Try to avoid meal times for viewing, and not while you are cooking the curry or something," suggests Mr Woodward. "The vendor should show people round the house first, and then leave them to themselves - remembering to lock the family silver up first. People can be very boring explaining about the power points they put in, so don't labour on about everything you have done to the house."
Individual agents also have their own special tips to promote sales. Jeff Sutherland-Kay, the head of product marketing at the Alliance & Leicester, says little things help to create the right impression, and can make all the difference.
"On a cold day the house should be warm, because a cold house is unwelcoming. A vase of fresh flowers will help," he says. And he does not believe vendors should be above a bit of what might be termed cheating. "If you put a coffee bean under the grill it will give the house a nice fresh smell," he suggests.