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Editorial: Improve home to sell, for health

More and more "for sale" signs are going up in front of homes now that the housing market has finally begun to stabilize and interest rates remain at historically low levels.

Anyone planning to sell a home needs to understand the tax implications of that process as well as be aware of structural and cosmetic flaws in the home and neighborhood that could undermine the asking price or keep the property languishing on the market for months, according to Jason Alderman of Visa's financial education programs.

On the tax issue, here are some tips:

--In general, if money's made on the sale, the gain can be excluded from taxable income if the home has been owned and used as a residence for two out of the past five years.

--The seller may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from income ($500,000 on most joint returns).

--If all of the gain can be excluded, the sale doesn't need to be reported on a tax return.

--Gains that can't be excluded are taxable. Report them on Form 1040, Schedule D.

--A loss from the sale of a main home can't be deducted.

--For more information, see IRS Publication 523, "Selling Your Home" (at

Sometimes, there's not much to be done in dealing with factors negatively impacting the ability to attract buyers and ultimately get the wanted price:

--If located on a busy street or the local school district is subpar, the house probably won't bring as much as a similar one in a better neighborhood.

--If the house is the only contemporary model in a sea of colonials or the remodeled McMansion is surrounded by two-bedroom/one-bedroom cottages, many buyers might be turned off. Not everyone wants to stand out from the crowd.

--If remodeling was begun, but not completed, many people won't want to take that on, even with a significant reduction in price.

However, relatively minor changes may boost a home's marketability:

--If interior or exterior walls are painted with bold colors or textures, it might be worth toning it down with a more neutral palette.

--If it can be afforded, have the home professionally staged because they know how to maximize space and show off a home's strong points (while hiding its defects). But if using own furnishings, thin them out.

--Mismatched appliances, cabinetry and plumbing fixtures stand out like sore thumbs. The same goes for worn floors or carpeting. Discuss with a realtor which improvements might be worth the investment.

--Make sure the yard is well-tended and has at least basic landscaping.

Overgrown weeds and abandoned junk don't help curb appeal. The same principle applies for common areas if living in a condominium.

If there are foreclosed homes in the neighborhood, chances are they aren't being well-maintained. Make contacts with the lenders taking over these properties so problems such as vandalism, trash or overgrown yards can be reported. If they're unresponsive, ask the municipality's building department whether they can charge fines or penalties.

Mold in a home needs to be addressed whether it's up for sale or not. Mold is now being viewed in a new and complex light, sometimes portrayed as a serious threat to people's health, according to information from American Family Insurance.

Research indicates exposure to mold can cause hay fever-like allergic symptoms in some people. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, says a causal link between the presence of mold and serious illness hasn't been proven.

Nonetheless, mold can be easily prevented and controlled. Mold growth depends on excessive moisture. If the owner of a home or building can prevent excessive moisture and take quick steps to rectify the problem when it does occur, the risk of mold developing will be minimized.

The following are recommendations from the CDC to prevent mold growth:

--Keep the humidity level in the home or building below 40 percent.

--Be sure the structure has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms.

--Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months.

--Add mold inhibitors to paints used in the home.

--Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.

--Don't carpet bathrooms.

--Remove and replace flooded carpets.

It's important to remember the best defense for mold is an aggressive offense. Make sure the home has adequate ventilation, take care of leaky pipes and work with an insurance company to address sudden and accidental water damage. These simple steps can go a long way toward preventing a complicated situation.