A small house in a walkable, popular urban neighborhood: that’s the kind of property that appreciates most quickly, according to an analysis by consumer finance website NerdWallet.

The finding makes sense: starter homes are most in demand, and are also the most affordable, because they also, usually, sit on smaller lots and have smaller property tax and utility bills.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trick is to not over-improve away the potential gain of a small house. Here are some tips for polishing a house with 1,500 or fewer square feet so that it attracts top dollar when it’s time to sell.

  • Think retro, not retrofit. Did you buy or inherit  a house that’s a time capsule, largely preserving its 50’s, 60s or 70’s look? Think before you rip down the op-art wallpaper: is there a way to keep some of the retro vibe while updating for safety and to meet current housing codes? For instance, you might want to upgrade the electrical service to acccomdate today’s electronics but keep the speckled-formica counters in the little-used powder room. Instead of painting everything white, see how you can lighten the period colors while keeping the nostalgic aura. A retro look is marketing gold, and it will converts the original footprint from odd to charming.
  • Consider how one room could be recast as ‘multipurpose’ to show flexible uses of the space. Many people like the concept of an open kitchen and living area, but small houses also are often older houses that devote precious space to a formal dining room. Instead of knocking out a wall completely – which often involves expensive structural work – consider widening an existing opening to enhance openness while preserving corners that could be devoted to, say, an office or hobby space.
  • Enhance outdoor living space. If the inside is small, can life be lived on the porch or deck? It’s much less expensive to add to adajacent outdoor living space than it is to expand the house. This strategy works best, of course, during the warm months when you can stage the outdoor living area with inviting seating and cushions.

Add value by putting the house context. Close to public transit? Within easy walking distance of a popular school? First-time buyers need to consider all their monthly costs as they stretch to take on a mortgage. Emphasize the monetary value of the location of the house and you’ll create a strong argument for a higher price.