It might seem counterintuitive to invest money in a home you’re selling. Wouldn’t it be better to save that money for improvements on your next home?
Even though the home sale market has improved impressively, buyers still pay more for homes they can move right into without having to do work. This is not to say that buyers won’t buy homes that need updating, but they need to be able to see the potential. And the property needs to be priced right for the market, taking into account work that needs to be done.
For example, recently a home was sold in the desirable Crocker Highlands neighborhood in Oakland, Calif. It was owned by one family for more than 50 years. The property had deferred maintenance and a dated décor.
If the listing had been put on the market before it was partially updated, it would have been harder to sell and would have sold for less than it did with the repairs and tasteful upgrades.
Before the sellers ordered a structural pest control ("termite") inspection, they had some obvious defects corrected. This kept the cost of the remaining repairs down. It also improved the appearance of the house. A back porch that was in poor condition and was easily visible was rebuilt. A pink vinyl bathroom floor was replaced with a neutral vinyl.
The most dramatic change was achieved by removing the heavy dark draperies, dark furnishings and the dark flocked wallpaper in the foyer. The draperies were left off to expose the beautiful wood windows. The house was transformed from a dark, outdated home to a light-filled home with a lot of potential.
After all the personal property was out of the house, the shag carpet was removed to expose the hardwood floors that were then refinished. The interior was completely painted, and the house was professionally staged with furniture, artwork and accessories.
The house showed beautifully, even though the kitchen and bathrooms were old. The listing sold in one week with multiple offers for well over the asking price.
HOUSE HUNTING: Improving curb appeal, i.e., the way a house looks from the street, usually pays off. For some buyers, curb appeal is so important that they won’t even look at a listing that lacks good street presence.
Enhancing curb appeal can often be done inexpensively. Trim overgrown plants to a size that allows buyers to see the architectural detail of the house. If the landscaping has been unkempt for years, remove dead plants and add colorful plants before the house goes on the market. A new lawn adds to the allure of a property.
Kitchens and bathrooms are important to today’s homebuyers. However, it wouldn’t be prudent to do a complete remodel just before you put your home on the market. You usually can’t recoup the investment. Generally, fix-up-for-sale projects should be limited to cost-effective improvements like new paint, replacing outdated light fixtures and replacing worn floor coverings.
In the listing described above, the old bathrooms were given cosmetic upgrades. Toilets and pedestal sinks were replaced inexpensively. The original tub in this 1920s home was reglazed to look like new. Reglazing was also applied to the unattractive brown tile walls and shower in another bathroom. It turned an eyesore into a bathroom that buyers could live with until they remodeled.
You can improve the look of a dated kitchen with new stainless steel appliances, paint, updated light fixtures and a new floor, if necessary.
It’s sad but true that most homes never look as good as when they’re for sale. Resolve to keep your next home in good shape to increase your enjoyment.
THE CLOSING: It will be a lot easier to get ready for sale.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."
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