Property: Home truths

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Selling points

I am about to put my house on the market, but where I live there are several similar houses at about the same price. How can I make my house stand out? I'd like a quick sale!

Helen Nicolls, Leicester

Most househunters visit a number of similar properties in the same price bracket. Most important, don't be tempted into major redecorating unless it is essential: people will think you are trying to hide something. To make the house smell inviting, try the old trick of putting a vanilla pod or coffee bean under the grill to create an attractive aroma.

Tidy up the garden. Good first impressions are important, and a garden that looks as though it hasn't been looked after won't do you any good.

When people arrive, make sure you have the room details ready and walk them round room by room. You should also let them look around on their own, as they will want to discuss what they see and will feel more relaxed if they can look round at their own pace. Clarify what is included in the sale: curtains, carpets and appliances.

If your property is on the market in the summer, open the windows to cool the house. In winter put the heating on to make it warm and welcoming.

Research carried out last year identified the most attractive features to housebuyers. The top five were: quiet street, gas central heating, nice garden, large kitchen and double glazing.

Can I light my fire?

We have moved to a new home and want to tackle the back garden, which looks like a jungle. We need to burn a lot of the weeds, cuttings and general rubbish. Are there any laws on garden bonfires?

T Williams, Northampton

I am not aware of any national laws on domestic bonfires, but your local council will be able to advise you of local by-laws.

Tell your neighbours what you are planning to do to make sure you don't antagonise them. They will need to make sure they don't have any washing on the line and have their windows closed.

Light the bonfire well away from the house and make sure there is nothing nearby that could catch fire if the wind changed or sparks spread.

Morbid thoughts

I am selling my house and a morbid thought occurred to me. What happens if I die before the sale is completed?

Bill Walton, Woking

If contracts have been exchanged, the death of one of the parties does not affect their validity. Your wife or next of kin is legally bound to complete the sale.

The closer you are to completion, the greater the problems are likely to be. If you are in a "chain", the other members may be sympathetic and delay completion. Sometimes the executors of your estate will be able to allow the buyer to move in under a licence agreement, but delays are almost inevitable.

If you have not exchanged contracts there is no transaction and your next of kin could take the property off the market.

q George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

q Send your queries on practical property issues to: Home Truths, `Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2043; e- mail sundayproperty@independent.co.uk.

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