In a neighborhood where some houses are taking months to sell, Arlene sold her home at her first open house.

“Some people came to the open house and fell in love with it,” recalled her daughter, Leonora. “They had already made a bid on another house, but backed out of that one so they could buy my mother’s house.”

And if this couple didn’t buy her mother’s house, Leonora is sure that one of the other couples that came to the open house would have made an offer.

What’s so special about Arlene’s house? It’s not a new house, although she renovated the kitchen and bathrooms during the nearly 13 years she’s lived there.

But walking into the home, you felt that it was as close to a “show” house as possible. Everything was in its place, or where you’d expect to see it. It was immaculate, and appeared to be incredibly well-maintained.

And while some sellers are paying people to “stage” their properties, Leonora and Arlene did it all themselves.

When you hear someone talk about getting your house into “blue ribbon” shape, what they’re telling you is you have to make your house look as though it is in perfect condition.

Let’s be honest. Getting your house into that kind of condition takes a lot of work. Most homeowners don’t live like home sellers. Homeowners have piles of papers here and there and unopened mail on the dining room table. Homeowners have lawns that are slightly unkempt. Homeowners have interior walls with children’s handprints on them, and scrapes and dings on the floor.

Home sellers, on the other hand, have homes that look like they could be in a magazine — clean counters with just a small bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, polished floors, newly-painted walls, clean windows.

Leonora put in days and days of sorting through her mother’s possessions, boxing them up and clearing them out of the house months before the house was listed.

Once her possessions had been pared down, Arlene hired a painter to touch up the whole house. She had spent years, and a fairly large sum of money, creating a beautiful garden. She waited to list the house until the spring colors in her garden started to come in. She moved around her furniture, artwork, knick-knacks and other items so that each room had a focal point, but was open and airy.

“I made her get rid of half of her clothes in the master bedroom closet so that it looked like it was big enough for two people’s wardrobes,” Leonora said.

With everything touched up, freshly arranged, and cleaned, the house showed beautifully. Arlene put a “for sale by owner” sign in the front yard, placed an “open house” ad in the local paper, and waited to see what happened.

In addition to selling by herself in one day, Arlene set a listing price about $25,000 more than what any of the agents she talked to had recommended. If you add that to the commission she didn’t pay, she probably cleared an extra $50,000.

But none of it would’ve happened, if Arlene had tried to sell her house looking the way it did for the years she lived in it. While still a great property, it’s the extra effort she and her children put in that reaped the outsized reward.