The couple’s children have left the nest and are now spread all over the map.

Howard and Laura Leavitt, both 60, had just returned home to Seattle from a Thanksgiving trip to visit their daughter – and first grandchild – in Santa Monica, Calif. In a few short weeks, they would pack up and spend Christmas with their son and his family in Boulder, Colo.

“And that’s just two of the four kids,” Laura said. “I think this last trip showed us that we’d like to live closer to at least one of them. Howard still travels so much that he could really live anywhere and I could do all of my editing work with a laptop.

“To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t mind if the house sold when we were gone. But I just don’t have the time and energy to do make the necessary changes for us to put it on the market.”

When you are buying a home, think location, location, location. When you are selling a home, think return, return, return.

The sale of your residence may be the best chance you’ll ever have to make a return on your investment. Don’t blow it by making the costly mistake of over-improving your nest egg. Ninety percent of all remodeling projects take more than one year of appreciation to recover the costs of the improvement. And, some projects never even get close to becoming a financial wash. Don’t get carried away with a pet project that may draw the eye of a certain set of home buyers – especially during the busy holiday season.

The solution? Paint, paint and simply paint some more. Paint is the least expensive and the most profitable improvement you can make. Be certain your entry hall is especially crisp and bright. Take advantage of that first chance to make a positive first impression.

Thinking about a color for the kids’ old bedrooms? Most prospective buyers won’t see the magic of magenta or the charisma of chartreuse. Stay boring and attractive with a light beige, and don’t wander very far from off-white.

The way we live and work has changed dramatically in the past decade and our expectations of our homes have changed, too. If you are getting ready to list your home for sale, don’t gamble that your taste in a new kitchen, den or master suite will match the desires of the potential home buyers that come through your door. Don’t waste your time – or jeopardize your money – by undertaking remodeling projects in an attempt to draw potential home buyers to an open house. It takes too long and you could easily guess wrong.

If you want to be bold, be sure you know the type of buyer who will be looking at your home before you bring out your version “wow” yellow in the den or “cool” gray in the bedroom. Remember, most buyers want to purchase a residence in model-home condition, so all they have to do is turn the key in the front door and move in. Your challenge is to bring this feeling with the least possible amount of stress, cash and time.

In addition to fresh paint, clean-looking landscaping, new carpeting and bright light fixtures usually add more market value than they cost. Take a day to correct obvious problems, such as dripping faucets, smelly pets or “clutter,” to distract from a terrific home atmosphere.

It’s a great time to have an end-of-year garage sale to get rid of unnecessary furniture that makes your home look small. It will also provide you with more room for the holidays.

And, speaking of the holidays, keep your home simple this year – especially if you have a move in mind. For example, display extra pictures instead of ornaments. That way, you won’t have to decorate before leaving for that Christmas trip or take down a ton of trimmings when you return.

Lindsay Steenblock, owner-operator of Laguna Beach, Calif.-based County Clare Interiors, is a big believer in displaying family pictures in holiday frames during this special time of year.

“All parents enjoy and appreciate pictures of special moments,” Steenblock said. “It will help your home look and feel like a nice place to be.”

Remember, if you are relocating, you’ll be crunched for time and will not want to deal with any major additions or construction projects. The choice is clear: When in doubt, merely paint it – and move on.

Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk show host. Tom can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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