What should a smart home seller do with that fat federal tax rebate check?

Well, it's not THAT fat, but it could come in handy for sellers who use it wisely.

The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 includes, among other provisions, tax rebates, bureaucratically dubbed "economic stimulus payments".

Starting in May, the U.S. Treasury Department will begin sending rebates to taxpayers, who had $3,000 of income, filed a 2007 tax return and have a valid Social Security number. Eligible taxpayers will receive up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples). Parents will receive an additional $300 for each eligible child younger than 17.

If you are a retiree, disabled veteran or low-wage worker who is otherwise exempt from filing a tax return, you must file a tax return this year in order to receive a rebate.

The rebate –– both the basic component and the additional funds for qualifying children –– begins to phase out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) over $75,000 and married couples who file a joint return with AGI over $150,000. The combined payment is reduced by 5 percent of the income above the AGI thresholds.

You can estimate what your tax rebate take might be with the Economic Stimulus Payment Calculator online.

And here are a few things you ought to consider doing with that unexpected windfall, if you are selling your home.

Give it to the buyer. Cash is a great concession to help coax a buyer into escrow. Buyers can find a lot to do with a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more, especially first-time buyers who likely will be strapped when the deal closes. A cash gift could be a deal maker.

Buy a home inspection. Use a home inspection to determine what you need to do to put the home in the best competitive shape for the market, or to price it fairly to sell as-is. The inspection could also turn up building code violations the law mandates you correct before selling. The buyer may also opt to use the inspection as a guide to the condition of the home.

Put some extra zeal in your curb appeal. Curb appeal, the first impression your home conveys to prospective buyers, should create an emotional desire to own the home and enjoy the lifestyle and status it represents. Putting the best face on your home also should give a lasting impression that motivates buyers to cross the threshold and take that first step toward closing the deal. More like a home improvement or exterior staging job than a cosmetic makeover, curb appeal that sings is particularly crucial when buyers are calling the shots. Hire a landscaper, consider painting the exterior of your home, tidy up the grounds.

Clean house. Hire a round of service workers to get all the dirt and grime out of every nook and cranny and make the home look neat and tidy. Include house cleaners, carpet and rug cleaners, fence repairers, handy men and women, window washers, organizers (for the garage too), the works. To get the best help to make your home Spic and Span ready for fussy buyers, consider a $34 two year subscription to Consumer Checkbook, a service that rates service workers, like its affiliate Consumer Reports rates goods.

Set the stage. Hire a staging expert. Staging is to the interior of a home what curb appeal is to the exterior -- nipping and tucking, furnishing and accessorizing, buffing and polishing until the place looks like a model home, without appearing too clinical. The new look will pay for itself in terms of sales speed or a higher sales price.


Written by Broderick Perkins