If you're getting ready to put your house on the market you're probably busy painting some of the dingy walls, shampooing your carpet, and clearing the clutter. But be sure you add something else to your list - strategic lighting.

With the right lighting, the look of a room can turn from mediocre to sensational, making it look bigger, airier and more desirable.

The right lighting can enhance your skin tone, allow you to see what you're doing, draw attention to focal points in your décor, and make a big difference in how you feel about your home. And best of all, it's inexpensive compared to other home decorating or remodeling options.

Lighting experts tell us there are three types of lighting: general, which gives overall light to an area and allows for safe function in your home; accent, which highlights and draws special attention to details; and task, which helps you to perform tasks.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, says there are three other categories of light as well.

Ambient light is a hidden source of light that washes a room with a glow. Aesthetic lighting itself can be a work of art, such as a neon sculpture. Natural light, (sunlight, candlelight and firelight) is light that moves. Quality of natural light, sunlight in particular, depends on many things such as time of day, the weather, and what season it is.

Lighting can also play tricks on the mind and enhance or minimize the physical size of the room. For example, Sadez Friedmann says that if a room is too tall, low luminaries that don't allow light out the top help shorten high ceilings; if a room is too small, visually push one wall open by washing it with light; and if a room is too wide, illuminate the narrow ends of the room. Conversely, if a room is too narrow, illuminate the wide sides of the room.

In his book Improve the Value of Your Home Up to $100,000 (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2003), Robert Irwin says a dark house is a definite turn-off to potential buyers.

"Not only will they keep you from getting a quick sale, but they will also cut down on the amount of money you'll get in offers," says Irwin, who has written more than 50 books on a range of real estate issues. "On the other hand, if you lighten up these dark spots, you can very quickly improve the value of your property."

Chris Casson Madden, the author of 13 interior design-related books and host of HGTV's Interiors by Design, takes a look at how you can improve your lighting and attract buyers, room by room:

  • Any room: Use high-hats or recessed down-lights installed in ceilings with a dimmer control.
  • Bedroom: In addition to above, add a floor lamp or table lamp and bedside lights for reading.
  • Bathroom: Angle recessed lighting to bounce light off the walls and ceiling and help reduce glare and shadow. Use wall-mounted sconces or over-vanity lights beside the mirror. Light your shower's interior with uniform brightness.
  • Kitchen: Task lighting is required here. Group down-lights to focus more light on particular areas.

    Today's decorative lamps and fixtures do more than illuminate. You can choose from decorative sconces, chandeliers, and table and floor lamps in a variety of shapes, styles and finishes that take a room from drab to dramatic with the flick of a switch.

    If you're looking for a quick fix, Irwin suggests replacing all the old fixtures - they typically run about $40 to $50 apiece. Be sure to get a fixture that produces 200 to 300 watts each.

    "Now, no matter which room a prospective buyer walks into, it will be lit brightly," he says. "And the lighting fixture itself will be modern and attractive."

    He also recommends buying six or so halogen lights and placing one in each room.

    "Yes, they use a lot of electricity, but the extra light often makes the difference when a buyer is on the fence and can't decide whether or not to make an offer on the home," he said.

    So once you've added a few strategic lamps and fixtures throughout your house, don't leave potential buyers in the dark. Be sure to turn on all the lights before you leave your house in the morning - you never know when your house may be shown to those potential buyers.

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