We sold our 3/2 older starter home (- not a fashionable kind of home at that moment) in the middle of the real-estate crash and made a profit, even after agent's commission. I'll share the inexpensive ideas that sold our home successfully, if you also have a starter home that's older. It's all about clean, clean, clean and camouflage. I'll break it into sections so won't be overly long.
TOP IDEA - DO THIS: We also rented the storage unit - an indoor one without concern for mold or mice ruining paperwork or upholstery. Best idea for having house uncluttered.
SECOND BEST IDEA: I looked at Pottery Barn catalogs and copied the basic ideas of the looks and neutral color schemes with "pop" only in accessories. Inexpensive changes in each room. You may or may not like Pottery Barn but their "rooms" always look fresh without being stark or cold: It's buyer-safe. Remove clutter just as catalog rooms have removed it.
Problems: Starter house. We weren't going to get a fortune for it from young buyers, but could profit if we did it right. Already had tan floor, but had white countertops and we needed to underplay them or to make them work somehow for a starter family to like kitchen, even if one day the buyers hoped to replace countertops. So I sort of "inspired" that idea by buying a new little granite-topped island/cart that worked as our trump card. yours might be some other touch that can imply upscale but won't cost you a fortune.
1. We had unfashionable type of wood cabinets in the kitchen. This was not going to work for picky young buyers who watch too much HGTV. We painted cabinets black. (Cost - the paint). The backside of our dishwasher panel was black, so we flipped it over. (no cost - just luck).
TIP FOR ALL : Don't jam a lot of groceries and cookware in the cabinets or in pantry. New dishtowels or bleached old ones - stain-free - are the way to go. No nasty sponges in sink area. Go pioneer for a while with a few pots, pans, coffeemaker and go light on groceries - no stocking up.
2. Changed cabinet hardware from copper to a chrome/silvery style. (Cost - under $30 for us since we found the hardware at the Habitat for Humanity resell store. A friend used spray-paint for metal to change hers for almost nothing.)
2. I purchased that small kitchen island/cart on wheels that had a top of black, tan and white granite. The granite pattern tied in the tan floor, white walls/countertops and black cabinets in kitchen. Why it worked: House lookers walked into our kitchen and saw granite as first impression - seemed new and remodeled when it wasn't. Amazing what that little island did for us. ( A little cart, really, and was $80 several years ago. Buyer wanted it, so it ultimately cost us nothing when added to buyer stipulations at the end.)
3. CHEAPER IDEA: We used leftover paint to paint the legs of a modest wooden kitchen table and to paint three inexpensive kitchen chairs black to match the black cabinets. The black legs and black chairs tied in with granite island, since it was an eat-in kitchen. We used three chairs only. Pulled round table to the wall in front of the window of eat-in kitch to make kitchen seem larger with more walking room. (Cost - zero. profit - $100. The buyers wanted the table and chairs since they matched rest of decor.)
3. Added chair cushions and a table runner in a fabric pattern to tie in the same colors of black, white and tan Walls were white, so weirdly, the room seemed more bright with the black cabinets than it did before. (Cost - kitchen chair cushions are about $12 each, runner was $15. We left them in kitchen to be nice to buyers - a gift.)
3. Over the kitchen table, we hung a wrought-iron light that had a little chrome highlights in the black iron to tie-in with cabinet hardware. (Cost - $60).
At this end-point, it looked as if we had installed a brand-new kitchen for the cost of two gallons of paint, three chair seats, table runner, one light fixture and a granite-topped cart with cost was returned at sale. A friend balked at changing anything and their home stayed on market for months and months, so they lost more by not doing small improvements than by doing the little things.
FLOORS: We had hardwood in most of house, so all was easy there. Small dark water stain was on wood at our front door, but with a runner rug on it, and since we disclosed it, this was no biggie. We chose a neutral woven grass rug to visually imply uninterrupted hardwood floor.
FRIEND'S SUCCESS: She had oak floors refinished with a mahogany/cherry darker finish to minimize the contrast with a few water-stain spots.
BEDROOMS: Get rid of the florals or bold geometrics in bed comforters or bedspreads in the master and guest rooms. Put solid spreads on the bed and use print throw pillows on bed in trendy colors for a cheap color tie-in. Please don't just throw the covers over your pillows and leave bed lumpy - I see this often in real-estate listings and it reminds me of owners having just rolled out of bed with dirty sheets. Make up the bed properly and crisply. Buyers don't want to think of a sweaty you sleeping in that bed or in "their' future room.
Same with family photos - hide 'em in that storage unit or in a suitcase. Female buyers, especially, want to feel they're buying a lifestyle for that budget level and don't want to see your husband's photo holding a beer with his ZZ Top T-shirt, or you showing off your stomach's lizard tattoo while pregnant. It's no longer YOUR home to do as you please, but is a product to sell.
Buyers understand kiddie bedspreads as long as clutter is minimal. But buyers are more shallow and lazy than you think, and will balk if walls are Barbie pink or a favorite sports team color. Get rid of Disney stickers or wallpaper borders, and get Justin Bieber posters out of there.
BATHROOMS: Make sure all plumbing works and nothing looks disgusting. Make it sparkle.
(Best grout cleaner - better than the stuff that burns your skin, and this is "green" and won't kill your lungs or skin: 7 cups water, 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup vinegar - throw in a spray bottle and spray your floor, let it sit for two minutes or so - that part is key or it won't work - then scrub :) Make sure shower doors don't have rust or grunge in the door runners or edges, if you have those, Get a squeegeefor glass doors or mirrors.
Buy cheap, pretty decorative hand towels. Go to dollar store and buy them for two for a dollar. It's not like you're going to use them yourself- just for show to put out before a showing.
General decorating tip: You want three colors tied into a room to avoid being too washed out if no darker accents or too contrast-y if there is no middle color. Darker, middle and lighter shades. Dark can be a shade darker in accessories, background in a rug or just a lamp. Darker shade doesn't have to be black or brown.
Best if walls and floors can be neutral, and any colors are in accents and accessories buyers know they won't have to repaint or strip, like wallpaper. White walls can seem "cold institutional" in a family room, unless home is more of a beachy, New England cottage-like home. Most subdivision-like homes need the middle-tone neutral on walls, lighter trim, or will look like generic apartment rooms if stark white.
Yard - Pots of flowers. near front and back door. No weeds or overgrown shrubs. Lawn mowed more often than you want to do it.
Wash the dog - often - and dog beds too. Grandma babysat our dog during the week. That helped. We put dog in car with us and drove away to a park when lookers arrived on weekends.
Hope that helps.