Tips to get top house prices

1. Preparation

Check out your neighbourhood to see what else is on offer. Buyers buy by comparison, so your property needs to be roughly within the price range of others for sale locally.

Christine Neil, of Property Profilers, says: "You don't want to renovate beyond what's around. If your house is in the $300,000 bracket and you spend $50,000 on a kitchen, there's every possibility you won't get a return." Find out from real estate agents what is selling well. Work wtih a potential purchaser in mind. If you live in the area that is popular with young families, installing decking over the lawn or replacing a bedroom with an entertaining area may be a waste of your renovating dollar. Get a LIM and building report to identify problems that could arise when a buyer makes an offer and be used to drive down the purchase price. If small things need to be rectified, it is better to do it before the property goes on the market.

2. Get expert advice

Ask a designer's opinion before you start. Eyles-Bennett from Hotspace Consultants says it is an initial cost, "but you know the rest of your $20,000 is going to be spent doing the right thing." An expert should pay for themselves by planning work that creates more of an increase in value than it costs. Greg Skinner, of Fix It Building services says: "You're spending $10,000 but you want to get $15,000 out. For example, if you're putting in a new kitchen you might as well get it in the right spot." A designer can help plan the renovation so it is done evenly through the house - an expensive new kitchen in an otherwise untouched house could make the rest look shabby. Get a valuation. It helps keep spending in proportion, and valuers can often give some indication of what effect various types of work will have on a property's value.

3. Street appeal

A buyer's first impression is formed when they are in the street, deciding whether to go into a house. But while vendors spend time and money doing up the interior, many forget to check what their house looks like from the road. Eyles-Bennett says a recently painted fence and new letterbox will entice purchasers.

"If you can't see the house from the road, the fence and letterbox has to do the talking for it." Have a letterbox that reflects the value of your property, with large numbering so buyers can easily identify it. The entrance way should be tidy and welcoming - replace the doormat and make sure the doorbell works. Giving the house's trim a fresh coat of paint will give it a lift without the expense of repainting the whole exterior. Fix dripping gutters, overflowing drains, cracked windows or peeling paint. Stand across the street and look at the house - make sure there is nothing to put people off coming in.

4. In the garden

Even in winter, outdoor living spaces are important. Keep the grass mowed and the weeds under control. Paths shoudl be clear and over-hanging trees trimmed. If you are able to use the garden year-round, show buyers, with furniture or patio heaters. Neil suggests supplying umbrellas on rainy days. "Make sure there is access to all parts of the property. Put in stepping stones so people aren't up to their ankles in mud."

Eyles-Bennett recommends low-maintenance gardens. "If people love gardening, they will probably want to create their own. If they don't, they don't want to see a high-maintenance one that will put them off." If you have a garden at the front and back of the house, spruce up the front first. Emphasise any indoor/ outdoor flow.

5. Kitchen and bathroom

The kitchen and bathroom are often selling points but can be where renovators blow out. Eyles-Bennett says most can be renovated for under $3,000. "Rather than pulling out the kitchen, look at what there is that can be reused," She says. Cabinetry can be resurfaced or repainted cheaply, and bench-tops and door handles replaced. New appliances dramatically change a kitchen's appearance.

She recommends making the cabinetry neutral and adding interest with accessories. "Put some wow factor in the splashback, handles and maybe the benchtops. You can make it look fantastic by spending a bit on things like that." Neil agrees small updates can make a big difference to the overall appearance. In the bathroom, a new coat of paint, shower curtain, tiles, taps or a new toilet can make the room seem new. The bathroom and kitchen need to be clean and light. Keep things off the benchtops - add shelves if there is not enough storage.

6. Lighting

Houses should seem light, even in winter. Keep curtains open and turn on lighting in rooms that are a bit dark. Eyles-Bennett says lighting is often under-rated. "You don't have to have a recessed downlights, just things like oyster lights or wallmounted spotlights can be really effective." Stick with levels of light in the middle of the spectrum. Generally, a brighter room feels open and modern and a darker one cosier and romantic. Use accent lighting to add drama and interest, or highlight a feature.

7. Cheap improvements

If the budget is really tight, there are ways to cut corners. Eyles-Bennett considers things like the standard of the paintwork. "I'll see whether we could get away with just one coat of paint." Walls can be replastered then painted relatively cheaply - opt for light, neutral colours. If there is good wood underneath, carpet can be ripped up and the floor sanded. The flooring might not be ideal but once the walls are painted, or the curtains replaced, it might not be noticeable. "If you're working with a tight budget, renovate the thing that Joe Public will not be able to imagine renovated." She recommends looking at the budget, the property as a whole and working out which part has the most impact. "If you just do the exterior, at least you'll get people in there."

8. Space

Buyers will opt for a house that seems to have lots of space. A general rule of thumb is to take one piece of furniture out of every room. But don't leave any empty - put a desk in an unused bedroom, to show it could be an office. To make them seem bigger, clear out half the contents of wardrobes and cupboards, and put it in storage. Keep them tidy. The more storage space the house seems to have, the better. Include the garage in decluttering. Get rid of ornaments or mementoes for the house has clean lines.

9. Senses

Buyers make decisions using their senses. In winter, make the house warm and comfortable. Investigate the government grant for insulation. When buyers are coming through, have the heating on and the fireplace lit. Run a dehumidifier regularly and make sure the house is well ventilated. The property should smell clean. Clean right throughout, including windows and things like extractor fans. Pay a professional if you do not have time. Most cleaning companies offer a one-off service for houses going on the market.

10. Finishing touches

If the house is decorated in neutral tones, a few accessories can lift it. Hang bright artworks in a white bedroom, put flowers on the table, and replace chipped mugs with a matching set on the kitchen shelf. Replace yellowing light switches. Give carpets a clean and buy a rug to cover threadbare patches. Arrange furniture to best show off rooms. Rather than having them flat against a wall, position couches on an angle around a focal point, such as a coffee table or fireplace.