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Andy and Christine Brown were enticed by the online photos of a suburban home’s four bedrooms, finished basement and big yard that faced wetlands.

But it wasn’t until Christine stepped inside and saw the grand staircase that she knew the Prior Lake, Minn., house was “the one.”

“I thought of Finley (their 4-year-old daughter) walking down the stairs in her prom dress,” she says.

Andy got excited about the house when they pulled up and saw hordes of kids riding bikes and playing in the cul-de-sac on a spring day. “Since we had two kids, we were thrilled about the neighborhood,” he says.

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After looking at more than 20 houses, the Browns had finally found one that triggered an emotional connection, as well as fulfilling almost every item on their wish list.

Buyers have a multitude of reasons for making an offer, but “it’s pretty obvious when people like a house,” says real-estate agent Fritz Kroll of Edina Realty in Minnesota. “They get excited, and the tenor shifts from what’s wrong with the property to everything that’s right about it.”

Bruce Erickson, a Coldwell Banker Burnet agent in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, can tell when a client loves a house because “their face just lights up,” he says.

Major attractions

Buyers are attracted to certain properties for a wide range of reasons, but agents say there are some common characteristics that appeal to the vast majority of today’s house hunters.

People want open floor plans, stone countertops, maple rather than oak cabinets, updated kitchens, newly refinished hardwood floors and fresh paint on the walls. Flex rooms that can be used as a playroom, office or dining room are an added value.

“People want rooms that serve a multitude of purposes,” says Sara Huebener, an agent for Edina Realty.

For Megan Sigelman, it was the “good vibe” of her late 1800s home that sealed the deal. She bought it despite some of its quirks, including a small, outdated kitchen cut off from the rest of the house and no backyard.

“It was in good condition and had been loved,” she says.

Exceptional curb appeal persuaded Angie Carrigan to take a look inside the suburban home her family recently bought.

“The yard was beautiful, with gardens and nice large trees. You could tell it was a well-kept house,” she says. “And my daughter was sold on the swimming pool.”

Views of city skylines motivate many buyers who want to live in a downtown area, says Kroll, who specializes in selling condos and lofts.

Ivan and Sharon Fong were mesmerized by the panoramic vistas of the Mississippi River, Gold Medal Park and Minneapolis skyscrapers from the 10th floor of their recently purchased condo in Stonebridge Lofts.

An added bonus: The Fongs could tweak the floor plan and choose all of the finishes and materials, since the unit was in a newly constructed building.

“We knew we made the right decision,” Sharon says. “It was just perfect.”

Total turnoffs

Everything from grimy light switches to a musty-smelling basement can prompt buyers to turn around and head out the door.

“I’ve seen some crazy things in houses over the years, even mice running across the floor,” Erickson says.

A big no-no is leaving the toilet seat up, he says. “As soon as people focus on those details, they lose sight of the positive features in the house.”

Odors — ranging from cat-litter boxes to cigarette smoke — are a universal turnoff. “When I see clients’ noses crinkle, I know the house stinks,” Huebener says.

Another turnoff is sellers’ personal collections and decorating style. When the Browns were house hunting, they couldn’t envision living in spaces that had Romanesque pillars, sponge-painted walls and “cherubs in every corner,” Christine says.

Jampacked closets and cabinets not only create clutter but also make buyers believe the house doesn’t have enough storage, Kroll says.

Tammy Chevalier, a Keller Williams agent, recently showed a property with a vibrant orange kitchen.

“It was too loud for the buyers, and it just became another project they would have to do,” she says. “Paint is cheap, easy and helps you sell faster.”

The real-estate market is in full seasonal swing, and with low interest rates, it’s a good time to take the leap into homeownership, Erickson says. However, the pool of properties for sale is also down, which makes it a seller’s market and results in multiple bids for the most desirable homes.

Nonetheless, sellers still are advised to showcase their homes in top-notch condition to make them stand out among the competition, according to real estate agents.

“Even though inventory is low, buyers still have high expectations,” Erickson says. “They want the red carpet rolled out and move-in-ready perfection.”

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