Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking of improving your home before selling?

There are improvements you can make to your home that will indeed make the house more desirable to potential buyers and will help you sell your house faster and for more money.  But the key to home improvements is knowing which ones to do and which ones to skip.

If you're improving your home for your own benefit, go all out.  But if you are doing the improvements with the thoughts of putting your home on the market, maybe you should reconsider.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am an avid DIY & HGTV watcher!  However, some of the home improvement and selling your house shows appear to be so out of touch with reality that it boggles my mind.  Maybe because most of them are shot in California and Canada? All I know is whatever planet they are on - it's nowhere near Alabama.  I watched a show the other night on HGTV where the folks put $35,000 into their existing home and received an increase of $80,000 in the value of their home.  All they did was finish a basement and update an existing bathroom!  $80,000 - really??

Then there are the flipper shows.  These shows (again mostly in California or Canada) feature folks who buy a house for say $100,000.  They spend about $30,000 on it and then turn around in under a month and sell it for $300,000.  While these shows are very entertaining and even educational, they are grossly out of touch with the reality that most of us have to live with.  I also think these shows give local realtors nightmares. When a realtor gets a first time seller who watches these shows and then goes wild and updates the kitchen, bath and adds a deck and then is unrealistically determined to get double the price they paid for the house 3 years's a nightmare for the realtor.

Suffice it to say, this post will have zero to do with the markets of Canada or California.

Of course, no matter where you live there are improvements you can do to your home that will raise the value and attractiveness of your home.  But sometimes all it will do is improve the attractiveness but not the value.  If you want a quick sell, then improving the attractiveness is a good thing.  Just don't expect to recoup the cost of the improvements in the final price. Below are a few improvements that will likely cost you money in the long run.


Curb appeal is essential to selling your home.  If you can't get them interested in the exterior - they're not going to be interested in seeing the interior.  At the same time, always remember that landscaping is akin to paint colors in that it always boils down to personal taste.  While you may think your water features, statues and expanse of neatly manicured boxwoods scream beautiful - a potential buyer may think it instead screams maintenance and others will think it simply screams ugly.  It's all in the individuals personal taste.   Below is a picture of a home with tons of boxwoods in a formal garden setting.  While this is lovely to look at........imagine how many hours are needed during the growing season to maintain this look. Most house hunters are looking for low maintenance lawns.  They won't mind mowing but spending every weekend trimming shrubs, mulching extensive flower beds or getting algae out of the fountain, is just not their idea of a fun weekend.

Along with fountains, pools are another potential money drain.  The only exception to this rule is when you are the only house in the neighborhood without a pool.  If people are coming to view your home, chances are they are familiar to some degree with your neighborhood already.  They might have driven around it.  They might know someone who lives nearby. Either way, they are going to be aware that every house in the neighborhood boasts a pool - but yours.  That can be a deterrent.  However, if this isn't the case and you add a pool you have just lost 50% of potential buyers because half of the house shoppers won't want a pool due to the cost of maintaining it and the liability issues.  Especially if they have small children or are planning to have them in the near future.  Putting in a pool in this situation will cost you both time and money when  you try to sell your house.


No one wants to buy a house with bad flooring.  At the same time, no one wants to buy a house with wall to wall carpeting or unusual tiling either.  While you as a homeowner may think ripping up carpeting is not that big of a chore, potential home buyers don't want to shell out their life savings to buy a house at full price and then spend even  more money, time and effort to rip out carpeting just to be forced to spend even more money, time and effort to either repair the hardwoods beneath or install new hardwoods.

Same is true of unusual tiling.  You may absolutely love the intricate tile work in your kitchen, bath or sunroom.  But you may just be the only person who does.  I can't imagine it, but apparently someone thought the tile work below was a good wasn't.

If you need to address the flooring in your home before putting it on the market, do a little research and find out what the current trend is in flooring in your particular area.  If it's Berber carpeting then go that route.  But if it's hardwoods - don't install Berber.  If you do - asking price is history.

High End (here and there)

I have viewed tons of houses in my lifetime.  The thing that always blows my mind is when I look at a house and hate everything about it BUT the kitchen.  Or I hate everything BUT the bathroom, etc.  I'm not going to buy a house to get a kitchen.  Not many people will.

People seem to think that as long as they put high end finishes in their kitchen and/or bathroom that potential buyers will overlook anything else.  That's not the case.  If your house isn't consistent in the quality of the finishes, it will just make the areas that aren't high end stand out like a sore thumb.  You want the entire property inside and out to be consistent.  Otherwise you will lose money in the sale of your home.

Better to go with a mid range finish and appliances in your kitchen/bath and then spend the extra money elsewhere maybe in refinishing the hardwoods and adding an outside gathering area to the back yard.  

Warning:  What you consider high end might be what someone else considers trashy.  While the following picture shows a kitchen overflowing with expensive finishes and detailing.....I personally find it gaudy and WAY over done.  However, someone apparently loved it enough to pay for it.

Below are pictures of kitchens taken by Realtors.  While you don't want to over improve....anything would be an improvement to these kitchens.

The photo below shows an over improved kitchen in an under improved house.  I call it over improved only because it doesn't come close to matching the rest of the house.  Not that anyone would want it to match...but you get my point.  Notice how new, modern, neat and clean the kitchen looks?  Now compare it to the living room of the same house......oh dear!  It's as if someone stole the kitchen from another house and plopped it into this one.  I think they should have stolen a living room while they were at it.

Mystery Improvements

Mystery improvements involve money spent in areas that improve the home while not doing so esthetically.  Updating or upgrading the electrical or plumbing systems would be one example of a mystery improvement.  Perhaps the basement leaks and you spend money having that taken care of.   Getting a new HVAC system or tankless water heater are other examples.

While all of the above improves the property, it doesn't necessarily improve the property's value to a buyer.  When a buyer views your property, he or she feels they have a right to expect everything to be in good working order to begin with.  Hearing that the electrical has been newly updated is always great news.  But it's not something that a buyer will be willing to compensate you for.  In a buyer's mind, all the above items are simply a part of normal wear and tear on a property.  It's normal maintenance that any homeowner should do whether they are thinking of selling their home or not.

On the flip side, if you don't do the mystery improvements and you get an offer on your house, the chances are great that their inspector will discover these deficiencies and you will either be asked to pay to have them done anyway or the buyer will want a reduction in price.

So with all of the above in mind, what exactly should you do before listing your house for sale??  My recommendation would be to first attend to any outstanding maintenance issues that an inspector might discover and that would give the buyers leverage in lowering your price (or walking away from the deal altogether).  Then I would worry about the esthetics of your property.

Rather than putting in that new kitchen and bath, I'd work with what I already have and simply upgrade simple things such as the faucet, backsplash, counter tops and perhaps reface the cabinets.  Then I'd make sure the entire property (outside too) is spotless.  Slap a coat of neutral paint on every wall and ceiling and call it a day.  

Before I go please let me stress that if you decide to pretty up the kitchen, back splashes, counter tops and cabinets all go together as one update.  Why people think that they can update the counter tops but leave the old dated cabinets as they are is a mystery to me.  I've seen folks buy new counter tops but leave the old pine cabinets untouched and the torn vinyl flooring just as they found it.  Huh???  If you don't have the money to do all of it - don't do any of it.  For around $250 you can get a kit from Rustoleum that will refinish the cabinets without sanding and for the same price (again from Rustoleum) a product that will refinish your tired laminate counter tops.  So for what these folks paid just to replace their counter tops you can redo both. When people look at this picture they don't see it as "well, at least we can save on buying new counter tops" they see it as "We'll have to toss out the counter tops anyway when we have to replace the cabinets and the flooring".

Hope this was helpful.

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