Friday, April 1, 2016

Forget about taking it to the studs!

I think we've all seen them.  The for sale houses that were poorly maintained and very poorly decorated.

They're the houses that we initially view because of their low prices but once we're inside them, they're also the houses that we view quickly because they are so ugly and dirty.

If an investor (or potential homeowner) is willing to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty, these houses could be sources of profit or pleasant places to live.  Let's look at some before and afters that required very little money but could potentially result in a very nice profit for the investor or make a great place for the first time homebuyer.

First, we'll take a peek at a kitchen.  Kitchens and bathrooms are the two rooms that frighten a lot of folks.  We all know how expensive custom cabinets, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances are.  We also know that once we rip up the floor covering and tear out the cabinets, there could be (and usually are) scary surprises just waiting for us to find them.

My rule of thumb is never to rip out the old if there is anyway around it.  I have said it before and I'll say it again.  Work with what you have.  A few coats of paint and a lot of elbow grease can cure just about any ailment a house might have.

The kitchen below was not gutted to the studs and rebuilt.  The cabinets were sanded, primed and painted.  New hardware was added.  The biggest expense to this redo is the countertops.  However, with a little time and gas, you can find high end countertops for a steal.  Almost every stone/tile company out there has an area where they store counter tops that were cut for a certain job and maybe the cut was off, an edge was broken during transport/installation or the person who ordered them, didn't pay for them.  They can no longer sell the stone as new, so they stick it in a corner somewhere.  They will sell that "mistake" to you at a reduced price.  The only downside about buying this type of material, is the fact that you will have to pay for them to make cuts to the slab so it will fit into your particular kitchen. This will mean a few seams but if the installation is good, those seams can be blended in so that they are barely there.

If you can't find a large enough slab on sale, then go with large tiles.  You will have seams, but you will also have a high end countertop for the kitchen.  Most people will forgive a few seams to get granite or sandstone on their countertops.

If the existing counter top is in good shape, meaning no obvious tears, but maybe it's a laminate top in a really ugly color or perhaps it has a permanent stain that is too large to overlook, you can purchase a product that will allow you to refinish the laminate to appear to be granite or marble or even concrete.  It is a 6 step process but if you follow their instructions, anyone can use these products and you will have a finished product that will look amazing for up to 5 years.  Plenty of time for you to save up for the real thing.  
There are products on the market now that will allow you to paint your cabinets AND your countertops without having to do a lot of the usual time consuming prep work of sanding and priming which makes the job so much easier and faster.  

Notice in the before and after shots below that the layout was not altered, the appliances are the same, the floor tile stayed and even the large rather ugly ceiling fixture looks better.  All they did was replace the countertops, paint the cabinets, replace the hardware and add a backsplash.  Kitchen done!  

Now let's move to the bathroom.  Personally, I hate working in a bathroom more than any other area of the house (inside or out).  They are small, dirty, smelly and surprisingly expensive.

The after shot of the bathroom below is so nice!  All they did was paint the cabinets, add hardware, change out the mirror and the light fixture.....and clean.  They left the countertops as they were which I think was a good call as they appear to be in good condition and they are a very neutral color.  The difference is night and day!

Mirrors can be really expensive.  My recommendation would be to buy molding and liquid nails.  I would simply frame out the existing mirror painting the molding to match the cabinetry and call it a day.  If the mirror in good shape, why not leave it where it is and work with it?  Another reason (other than money) that I'd leave the large mirror in place, is the fact that when you remove this large mirror, there will inevitably be wall repair necessary to get to get a smooth finish where the mirror was.  I hate doing wall repairs.  Remember...whenever possible, work with what you have.  It saves money but it also saves a huge amount of time.

I've noticed that a lot of the time, rehabbers will go into a house, do the living room, kitchen and bath but leave the bedrooms untouched.  They will also leave the ceilings untouched.  Maybe clean them up but otherwise leave them as they found them.  Personally, I think this is a huge mistake on their part.

The entire house should be uniform before you put it on the market.  In other words, do it all - or don't do any of it.

When I view a house that has been partially done, I don't think "Wow!  At least it's almost all done!"  Rather I think "Wow!  There's still a lot to be done on this house".  I don't consider myself lucky that most of the work has been done.  I don't even really remember how great the done rooms looked.  My memory focuses on the parts of the house that weren't done and will still require work and money to complete.  It really doesn't take that much time or that much money to rip out carpets and slap a coat of paint and the difference in the price is more than worth the effort.  Even if you don't replace the carpet you ripped out and all you do it remove it and sweep, it will still get rid of any odors, will give the room a clean feeling and give you a clean slate to start with. 

There are neighborhoods that require boards on the windows of a vacant house in order to keep vandals out.  There are insurance companies and mortgage companies that require you to secure the property while it's vacant.  I get that.  But if there is anyway to leave the windows unobstructed - that's the way you should go.  If you cannot - make it a point to tell every person that views the property that you are required to board the windows.  Once you've made the room pretty and clean, they won't mind as much.

Look at the difference!  

Another thing that can kill your profit are bars on the windows.  You can reassure a potential buyer that your mortgage company or insurance company has required you to board the windows while the property is vacant, but there is no mortgage company or insurance company in the country that requires you to put security bars on the windows.  So what this tells the viewer is that the last people who lived here were so afraid of the area that they invested in bars for their windows......not a good thing.  Also when dealing with barred windows, it should be noted that many fire codes throughout the country have  banned the old bars that cannot be unlocked and opened from the inside incase of fire.  If a house already has them, they will grandfather those in but once the house is sold...those bars have to come off.  The reason for this move was the huge numbers of people who died in house fires simply because they couldn't exit through the barred windows.

If you want, you can store the bars in the garage or basement or even the laundry room.  Once the property is sold, if the owners feel a need, they can reinstall them but in the meantime the room looks light, bright and less like a prison cell.

Here is our last bedroom before and after shot.  This room is small.  It is also very very blue.  This is just ugly and if I were viewing it, I would immediately begin counting how many coats of primer it is going to take (and how much that is going to cost) to cover this vibrant blue.

Now we see it with a neutral color, new ceiling fan and new carpet.  While it's still a small bedroom, it's now a light, clean and bright bedroom in a neutral tone.  Nice.

Everyone knows how important curb appeal is to a property.  I consider the living room to be the curb appeal of the interior.  If the exterior of the house is unappealing, no one wants to go inside.  Likewise, if the first room you enter is unappealing, no one wants to see the rest of the house. 

For every person in this world who loves red walls, there is another person who hates red walls.  Maybe this wall color choice looked great when the previous owners had all their furnishings and decor in this room.  But their stuff is now gone so what you are left with are blood red walls and the look just doesn't add value - at all.

Any color saturated paint will, over time, dull and become dingy.  It also accentuates any imperfection in the walls making them glaringly obvious.  

Personally, I love color and loathe white or beige walls and/or ceilings.  But I'm not going to live in that house - someone else will.  That is the single most common mistake investors make when they redo a property.  They design and color it according to their taste and wants forgetting that they aren't the ones who will ultimately live in the space.  Neutral yet interesting is the always the way to go.  

Let's see what this particular investor did to liven up this space.

Taking their cue from the stone around the fireplace, they went with brown tones which I think was a great idea.    Before, the red on the walls made the stone appear dirty.  Adding a brown toned neutral to the walls and then a richer brown to the fireplace, made the tiles appear to be there on purpose - not as an afterthought.  I applaud them getting rid of the carpeting because to me it looked as if it was dirty and smelly.  They chose a laminate tile which looks clean.  I think this area looks twice the size it did when it had the dirty carpeting and the red walls.

What about the living room in the picture below would ever make you want to move your couch in there and stay?

Now look at it below!  It looks larger and so clean.  I love it!

You will notice the dining room off the living room in both the above pictures.  Let's get a closer look at that to see how they've transformed that room.

Someone put in a lot of time and effort in stenciling that wall.  I'm sure it looked nice when the previous owners lived here.  However, since the room is now empty, the floor tiles look dirty and the nice french doors are boarded's not a good look.

Much nicer!!  Personally, I would have cleaned up the tiles and not laid carpet in this room but that's my personal preference.  I abhor carpeting in the dining room, kitchen or bathrooms. Absolutely abhor it.  However, the room looks really nice and inviting now.

I love all the DIY shows on TV.  I spend the majority of my TV watching on these shows.  But they can be extremely deceiving.  They always show folks ripping everything to the studs and tossing out everything that was in the house and just starting with a clean slate.  They give the impression that's the only way to properly rehab a house.

I think that is beyond misleading.  If your kitchen or bathroom cabinets are in good shape, prime and paint them (including the interior) and add new hardware.  You have just saved yourself thousands of dollars right there while achieving the same look.  Don't have money in the budget to fix and/or refinish the hardwoods?  Carpet is a great way to go.  There are still a ton of folks out there who actually like carpet - or at least don't hate it.  There are always remnant sales at every carpet store.  If you dig, you can most assuredly find a remnant that will entirely cover a small bedroom for a fraction of the original price.

Again, work with what you have.  You will never ever take a $20,000 house and make it look like a $200,000 house.  Never.  But, you can make a $20,000 house look like a $60,000 with just a lot of elbow grease, paint, light fixtures, hardware and carpet.  You really can.