Beyond cleaning and decluttering: What improvement expense make the most sense?
Decluttering open spaces, emptying cabinets and drawers and removing knick-knacks might seem like obvious – and free – ways to improve a home’s presentability. Unfortunately, however, not all sellers or agents are willing to do much more than decluttering and cleaning.
Think of the listing as a reflection on yourself. If you didn’t comb your hair, shine your shoes, dress neatly and drive a clean car, people would think you don’t care about yourself. They may wonder, “If he doesn’t care about how he presents himself, how is he going to present my house?” Likewise, not prepare a house for its most beautiful presentation might cast doubt on how the overall marketing will go. And, while not all changes will be immediately noticeable, chances are that what isn’t changed will be noticed.
Ashley Aguilera, REALTOR®, broker and owner of The Aguilera Team in California’s Murrieta Valley and Temecula, says that after every consultation, her team formulates a game-plan. “We want to set their property apart from everything else on the market, but also fall within the comfort zone of the seller’s lifestyle,” she says. Changes may run the gamut from minor repairs and moving furniture for better flow, to adding accent pieces to harmonize the home’s look or create a “wow” factor before professional photography.
Many agents recommend conducting a professional inspection prior to listing; some will even hire the inspector at their own expense. Of course, any necessary repairs found during inspection and not repaired before listing must be formally disclosed. But wouldn’t it be nice to have no surprises during the buyer’s formal inspection?
In general, some improvements are required, others are low-cost and others pay for themselves with lower time on the market, competing offers or higher sale price.
Landscaping & Exterior
First impressions begin outside. Be sure to mow and edge the lawn regularly; prune back overgrown trees and hedges; hire a professional to repair uneven pavement (especially if it’s a hazard); remove or replace dying annuals; and clean or repair porches or railings. Are there dry or dead patches of lawn? An inexpensive repair to the irrigation system might be the solution.
While painting an entire house can be extreme, a wise investment is to paint trim, porches, steps or railings that may look tired or have too many colors; choosing a single, neutral color for trim can create a bright, cohesive look. Finally, check the roof, gutters and windows, looking for spots to caulk, shingles to replace, or debris to remove.
Walls, carpets, ceilings and trim
Next, it’s time for agent and seller to open up to one another about the interior. Janelle Holte, who leads Seller’s Edge Home Team in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, loves walking into a home knowing that her team will be the driving force behind selling it. “I like seeing how owners took care of it and raised their family in it,” she says. “But I won’t sugar-coat anything, so I tell them not to shoot the messenger!” She gives it to them straight, explaining what needs to be done to stage it to present well from a buyer’s perspective.
Those changes often include repainting at least the primarily living areas and replacing carpet, especially worn carpet or carpet that has faded or stained beyond what professional carpet cleaning could remedy. Sometimes, all that’s needed is professional carpet stretching to remove any buckling prior to cleaning.
Paint is extremely important if the home has faded or dirty walls, holes or chips on paint or plaster. If an entire paint job is not feasible, at least consider cleaning repairing the obvious and adding a fresh coat of semi-gloss to baseboards, moldings, windowsills, doors, banisters balustrades and built-ins. Don’t overlook the ceilings! A long-ago leak from a second-floor bathroom may have been completely repaired and moisture abated, but a patched-up ceiling is a red-flag.
Kitchens and baths
Most agents agree that the easiest costs to recoup in home improvements prior to selling are those spent in bathroom and kitchen updates. Complete remodels are unwise; you can’t anticipate the style preferences of their buyer. But refinishing, touching-ug up or painting cabinets can create a great impact, while also forcing the seller to remove unwanted or overstocked items from cabinets and drawers. Don’t forget the cabinet pulls – shiny, new nobs look nice.
Lee Ritchie of Ritchie Realty Group in Columbus, Ohio, gives a reminder to discuss any and all issues up front. “People need to be able rely on the professional who’s presenting, pricing and marketing their home,” she says. An honest and diligent agent will be an open book about the current market conditions, the quality of comparable listings and the potential return-on-investment for improvements.
Some agents, like Debra Dobbs of @properties in Chicago, even roll up their sleeves to help with decluttering and repairs. While not at all required or expected, doing so sure lets sellers see the investment their agent is willing to make for them.