Consider this psychological ploy next time you've got potential buyers coming to look at your home: Put an open can of varnish in the kitchen cupboards.

Not only will it make the house smell new and fresh, it will plant a seed of appreciation in the would-be buyer's mind: "Aha, varnish. This house must have been well-cared for."It's a simple enough thing, and a can of varnish costs only $8 at your neighborhood hardware store. But it illustrates the principle that getting your house ready to sell doesn't necessarily demand major financial outlays, says Linda Morrell, an interior designer.

Morrell and real estate agent Judi Richtel, who live in Boulder, Colo., have produced a new 24-minute video, "The Competitive Edge: The Smart Approach When Preparing a House for Sale," filled with all sorts of tips for sprucing up a house to make it more appealing.

"There's always the temptation to do too much," says Morrell. "You need to get objective feedback. If the house has one bathroom, for instance, and every other house in the neighborhood has two or three bathrooms, then maybe you should put in another bathroom. But things like hot tubs and swimming pools aren't money paybacks. Finishing off a basement can be borderline."

Morrell suggests you look around your house as if you were seeing it for the first time. What jumps out at you as especially positive or negative?

"If you're trying to sell your home, maximize the first impression so the people think it's wonderful," she said. "Play up the positive points. If there are weak points, don't try to cover them up. Admit them. When there's a positive first impression, people are more willing to overlook some of the things that aren't perfect."

Here are some simple things you can do that will enhance those first impressions:

- Add a fresh coat of paint or some new wallpaper.

- Give the home a light, airy ambience. If your home is lacking in lots of light, install high wattage light bulbs. Halogen bulbs also give a brighter, whiter light. If you're battling dark spaces in some corners, consider inexpensive track lighting, which not only increases the lighting but also provides some visual interest.

- New cabinet pulls and door handles are a quick and easy addition.


- Give the moldings and railings a coat of fresh varnish.

- Jazz up boring areas with area rugs. They're inexpensive, and you can take them with you when you move.

- Mirrors are an excellent way to give the appearance of light and space.

- Consider how the house smells. Visitors will pick up pet odors long before they see a dog or a cat. Avoid cooking greasy foods before the buyers arrive . . . but by all means, bake bread or cookies or apple pie. It will give the house a comfy and comforting smell.

- Put out fresh flowers and set the table.

- If anything is broken, fix it. A cracked window pane suggests to a potential buyer that the home hasn't been cared for properly.

- Tour other homes in your area to get an idea of what's available and what you'll have to do to compete favorably.