Five features today's buyers want in a home

Homeowners who are thinking about selling this year should be aware of what today's buyers are looking for in a home. It will affect what you should do to get your home ready for sale and how you should price it.

A survey by the National Association of Realtors in 2011 found that buyers favor walkable neighborhoods that are close to shops, restaurants and local businesses over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation.

According to the survey, 77 percent of the respondents said they would look for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Improvement in public transportation was favored over building new roads.

Most buyers (80 percent) still prefer to live in a single-family, detached home as long as it doesn't require a longer commute. Although space is important to most buyers, 59 percent said they would accept a smaller home if it cut 20 minutes off the commute time.

Does this mean your chances of selling are slim if you don't have a high walk score? No, but proximity to a popular commercial area usually brings a higher price.

In Oakland, Calif., this is evident if you compare the Rockridge area with the Oakland Hills. The housing recession has hit the entire area, but Rockridge prices have dropped less than home prices in the Oakland Hills.

One Rockridge home recently sold for $20,000 more than it did in 2005, and the house had not been substantially changed. From this location you can walk to trendy shops and cafes as well as to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. By rail, it's a mere 20 minutes to the financial district in San Francisco.

House Hunting Tip: Proper pricing is the key factor affecting the salability of your home in today's market. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples when you evaluate the probable selling price of your home.

The home-sale business is all about location. If you live in a neighborhood where you have to drive to get to work, school or recreation, you can't expect to sell for the same price as a comparable home that's in a desirable, walkable location.

You can't change the location of your home, but you can appeal to today's buyers who are typically looking for home that is in good condition that they can move right into without doing any major work.

A common refrain heard from sellers is that there's no point in painting or changing worn carpet; buyers will surely want to do something different. This may be so, but most buyers don't have extra cash to pay for home improvements. They may ultimately change the color scheme, but at least they don't have to worry about making the house livable when they buy.

It's a good idea to consult with your real estate agent before you make improvements. Review your projects and get your agent's feedback before starting any work. Sometimes, sellers think projects need to be done that don't need to be done for marketing purposes. For instance, your yard may be in poor condition, but this doesn't mean that you should have it relandscaped. This is the kind of improvement you'd do for yourself if you were planning to stay in the house for years. A cosmetic redo will usually suffice.

Get your agent's or stager's input on colors, light fixtures, carpet, etc., so that you can ensure a positive response to your efforts. Watch your costs. You don't need to do a top-of-the-line paint job or use the most expensive granite for countertops to sell your house. In fact, it will eat into your proceeds from the sale.

The Closing: Stick to cost-effective, tasteful improvements for maximum appeal at a reasonable cost.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."