What do I do NOW?!?

It doesn’t take much to get me talking about real estate. So in my many social venues – I am often queried as to what sort of home improvements give the biggest bang for the buck? And as often – framed within the context of “what do I do now?”. My response will be “well, that depends on when you are considering selling. Selling NOW is very different from selling in two to five years.”

The first and most important thing you can do to prepare your home for sale now, in the near or distant future is get it and keep it clean. Clean, clean, clean is critically important. If your house needs to go to market THIS WEEK, my first bit of advice would be to hire a very good cleaning crew and make it sparkle.

You may not have the time to make changes, repairs or upgrades, but you should have time for professionals to clean your house. I’ve sold very dated homes, or homes with “challenges” (such a nice way of phrasing the less than positive attributes of a home!), but if they are clean, most buyers can see the potential. If a home isn’t clean, it’s very difficult to see past the dirt. A dirty house is the kiss of death. It’s bad energy and agents don’t want to show it. So get it clean and keep it clean.

Some simple things like paint and new carpet can be done quickly and can make a huge difference. Get an old tired house clean, with fresh paint and new carpet and you’ve gone a long way in getting it sold faster and for a higher price. You’ve heard me tout the use of a good color consultant when picking paint colors – please use a professional! I can tell you from personal experience the difference it makes. If you want to hear my nightmare story, just ask. It was a very expensive mess!

When you have that painter in, ask for an estimate of what it would cost to remove wallpaper. Wallpaper is not popular right now (it will likely come back – but it’s gone for now), so unless you are a VERY experienced interior designer who can make this work – get rid of it and paint the walls a neutral color (that your color consultant recommended!). Get an estimate on removing the popcorn ceilings too. Lead paint is the big hoo-ha these days and pop-corn ceilings imply asbestos and lead (though most actually contain neither).

If you are considering a sale in the next year or so, here are some ideas. Hire a landscape stager (I can make a great recommendation). Not a landscape architect – they are expensive and that’s not what you need if you’re selling. You need a stager who can tell you what to plant NOW that will mature in the coming months and draw the eye to the right places in the home. Landscape stagers can take a home with less than stellar “curb appeal” and make buyers look in the right places to show your home in its best light.

Consider things like a new front door or painting old tired cabinets in bathrooms or the kitchen. These are projects you can do in a weekend, don’t cost a fortune, and can make a big difference in how your homes shows.

Any project you take on in the months leading to a sale should be congruent with what you are NOT going to do. Let me explain. So often a home seller will pick something that is their pet project. So they go overboard on that, but leave supporting elements the same. An example would be switching out hinges and door knobs on the interior doors, but not changing the doors themselves.

Beautiful rubbed hardware on cheap old hollow core doors is a waste of money and effort and can even send the wrong message. If they ran out of money here, what else isn’t done? Another example is slapping cheap granite on top of old cabinets. If you have good cabinets that are just old – make sure you do the granite right. This can be done – but it can also be screwed up easily.

If you will be selling in the next three to five years – there are some
things that will pay back, and some that won’t. It is unlikely we will see
any considerable appreciation in home prices in the coming years, so where and how you improve is important to understand. Improvements combined with appreciation was part of what drove our bubble. But now prices are holding (at best) and it’s the condition of the house that can really affect price and how quickly a home sells. (I think that is why we are seeing such a spread in home prices – for example why are some homes in Greenbrook $599,000 and some $999,000? But that’s another topic – maybe next week!).

Here are some average Return on Investment (ROI) numbers for various improvements:

Kitchen Remodel – 90%
Add a Bathroom – 90%
Bathroom Remodel – 80%
Install Central Heat – 90%
Install Central Air – 75%
Add a deck / patio – 70%
Replace Windows – 70%
Add a room – 55%
Build a pool – 45%

So be careful where you spend your dollars on home improvements. A new kitchen and adding a bath are always the big winners.

Two other topics worth addressing are 1) Maintenance and 2) Home Inspections. While we have good intentions of keeping our homes well maintained – it’s a lot of work, and sometimes things just don’t get done. Getting the maintenance done won’t affect your value – it’s maintenance, not improvement. We’re supposed to always be maintaining our homes, our cars and our bodies! But we all know how that can slip on the priority list! A home that is not well maintained will likely have other less obvious issues too. It is always instantly obvious when a home has considerable deferred maintenance.

So hire a home inspector, and possibly a pest inspector too. These are the inspections the buyer will order once your home is in contract – but it is a good idea to know what these inspections call out now so you have a punch list of maintenance items you can work on as you can, rather than in a scramble when your home is in contract and you’re trying to keep the buyer in escrow.

Last thought – if you are considering a sale in the coming years consider getting a Home Warranty back on your house. Homes typically will have a Home Warranty in the first year after the home transfers – but most new buyers allow that warranty to lapse. If you are going to be selling your home in the next couple of years, make sure the big items (AC, furnace, fridge, pool equipment) are covered if they poop out on you right before you go to market.

Finally, if you are considering a sale now, in the near future or three – five years from now – CALL ME!! That’s what I do – sell houses – and I’d be happy to share with you some of the obvious, simple or more complex things you should be doing to get your home ready for sale. I have worked with hundreds of buyers and sellers and experienced the first impression of clients and agents. We have a biased eye when it comes to our own homes – so get an objective, professional opinion. The worst thing to do is the WRONG thing when it comes to getting your home ready!


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