Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Does it make dollars (and sense) to fix up your house before selling?

As the real estate market gains momentum and people start thinking about selling in the spring, a common question is: "What’s the payoff on fixing things around the house before we put it on the market?" 

The last thing you want to do is undergo extensive repairs that cost you money – and valuable time, only to find you don’t recoup that cost once the house sells.  Then again, leaving obvious fixes left undone can turn buyers off, and drastically reduce the price of any offers that come in.  So what’s the happy medium?  Here is our expert opinion on what fixes will add bang for the buck once you sell – and what to leave off your To Do list. 

The reality is that a declining market in the period between 2007 and 2012 drove all housing prices down.  As a function of increased inventory – including plenty of foreclosures and short sales – people got less money back from remodels and repairs they put into their homes, too.  The good news is that remodeling costs have dropped 10-15% in the last 5 years, too, even as the cost of building materials has risen 17%. 

But there are smart ways to “spit shine” the look of your house, focusing on signature and most-viewed areas that will yield you the most money back when offers come in. 

Try to understand it from a buyer’s eye; when they first walk in, their eye takes it all in as their mind categorizes each detail into positive, neutral, and negative features.  If you have a woefully outdated bathroom, for instance, that may trigger the thought that it needs to be updated – causing them work, and taking money off their offer price.  If they walk in and that same bathroom is newly remodeled with high-end tile, fixtures, and decorations, that would be a positive factor that might put you ahead of the competition, and if it was clean and new but with nothing fancy, a neutral factor.

At the very least, you want to eliminate the negative factors that will ding your asking price.  Those include health and safety items – like a leaky roof, overburdened electrical panel, or bad smoke detectors, which will all be flagged in a home inspection, anyway. 

So what repairs will yield you the best return on investment?

That’s easy -  focus on the kitchen and bathrooms as your remodeling priority.


-Fix any broken doors or tracks on cabinets and drawers.  If they are outdated but functional, consider having them painted.  Lay down new wax paper in the bottoms. 
-Modernizing lighting by installing a cool new fixture over the sink doesn’t cost much.
-Replace old tile or cheap linoleum countertops, possibly with granite (ask your realtor if that surface is recommended.)
-Add a nice new sink faucet and fixtures.
-A hanging pot rack or wine rack is a great signature piece.
-Retile the floor with nice, big, earth tone tiles to get rid of old 6” tiles or linoleum.  Laying them down in a diamond formation – instead of square – looks great, too.
-Paint the walls a neutral color with satin or eggshell paint.


-If the toilet works fine, just put a new seat and lid on it.
-Replace your shower curtain with a nice new one.
-Install a new mirror and medicine cabinet and also replace your sink with a new, modern sink and vanity set.  The sink area is where people look first and spend the most time in the bathroom, and they have great deals on sets that come with a nice faucet and fixtures as well.
-Install new earth tone large tiles on the floor.  This is especially easy since the bathroom floor doesn’t cover a lot of surface area. 
-While you’re at it, take down your towel racks and TP holders and replace them with nice new ones.
-Pop in a cool signature lighting fixture over the sink.
-Paint the walls in a soft, neutral color with satin or semi-gloss, and your bathroom is ready!

Here are a few ideas for other areas of the house that won’t cost much:

-Add new high wattage light bulbs to illuminate the house well, especially dim areas.
-Take down old wallpaper, that’s always a no-no.
-Take down paintings or decorations (except for a mirror or two) and fill the nail holes with spackle, sand to smooth, and paint over them.
-You don’t need to paint the whole inside of the house, but do cover any brightly-colored rooms or high-traffic areas with a new coat of paint in a light, neutral color.
-If the outside doesn’t need new paint, a good power washing is a great way to make it look better.
-Paint your front door with a shiny, traditional color – like red or black – and remove any screen doors over it. 
-The garage door also looks better with a coat of paint, and if it needs it, think about painting the trim only (if you can get away with it) just on the front of the house.
-Clean your windows well, inside and out.  This is a great alternative to replacing them, which can be very expensive.
-Hire a stager if your realtor recommends.  Usually this pays off the best with high-end listings.
-Sprucing up the landscaping is one of the best and cost-efficient ways to improve the curb appeal of your home.  Make sure to weed, prune, lay down some fresh stone or mulch in beds, and plant nice flowers in the front yard, especially on the way to the front door.
-Pools, hot tubs, decks, garage additions, or trying to enclose and winterize patios and sunrooms never pays off when selling a home.
- Get your carpets professionally steam cleaned unless they are really bad and in need to replacement.
-Same thing, you can have someone refinish real hardwood floors, which will make them sparkle.

The repairs that give you the best % payback:

-Exterior siding – adding nice fiber-cement siding to the exterior of a home instead of repainting pays back 78% of the cost.  However, this may differ depending on what part of the country you live in and you never want to stick out in the neighborhood (have siding when everyone else has stucco, etc.)
-Replacing an old or shabby front door pays by 73% of the cost.
-A reasonable kitchen remodel yields a 72.1% return on investment.
-Putting in a new garage door will pay back around 71.9% of the cost. 

We hope the information helps!  Remember to call us if you have any questions about selling your home or what to fix up before it goes on the market.

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