Home Improvements for Selling


Should I fix my house up before it goes on the market?

Unless your house is nearly new, chances are you'll want to do some work to get it ready to market. The type and amount of work depend largely on the price you're asking, the time you have to sell, and the present condition of the house.

If you're in a hurry to sell, do the "little things" that make your house look better from the outside and show better inside. Read on for several specific ideas for making low-cost improvements.

What is "curb appeal," and how do I create it?

"Curb appeal" is a common real estate term for everything prospective buyers can see from the street that might make them want to turn in and take a look. Improving curb appeal is critical to generating traffic. While it does take time, it needn't be difficult or expensive, provided you keep two key words in mind: neat and neutral.

Neatness sells. New paint, an immaculate lawn, picture-perfect shrubbery, a newly sealed driveway, potted plants at the front door -- put them all together, and drive-by shoppers will probably want to see the rest of the house.

Then, for both the inside and outside of your house, if you're going to repaint, choose neutral colors, and keep clutter and personal knick-knacks, photos, etc. to a minimum. Remember, when a family looks at a house, they're trying to paint a picture of what it would be like as their home. You want to give them as clean a canvas as possible.

What should I do to make the house show better?

First, make your house look as clean and spacious as possible. Remember, people may look behind your doors -- closet and crawlspace doors, as well as those to the bedrooms and bathrooms. So get rid of all the clutter; rent a storage space if you need to, hold a garage sale or call a local charity.

After you've cleaned, try to correct any cosmetic flaws you've noticed. Paint rooms that need it, re-grout tile walls and floors, remove or replace any worn-out carpets. Replace dated faucets, light fixtures, and the handles and knobs on your kitchen drawers and cabinets if needed.

Finally, as with the outside of your house, try to make it easy for prospective buyers to imagine your house as their home. Clear as much from your walls, shelves, and countertops as you can. Give your prospects plenty of room to dream.

Use the ERA "Show & Sell" Checklist to get specific ideas on how to make your house look its best. Additionally, ask your real estate professional for any company brochures or videos on the subject. Such materials are usually free and extremely helpful to most homeowners.

SHOWING TIP

Before you list, give your house a bath -- most equipment rental shops carry power washers.

Should I make any major home improvements?

Certain home improvements that are useful to almost everyone have proven to add value or speed the sale of houses. These include adding central air conditioning to the heating system; building a deck or patio; finishing the basement; doing some kitchen remodeling (updating colors on cabinets, countertops, appliances, panels, etc.); and adding new floor and/or wall coverings, especially in bathrooms. On the other hand, improvements that return less than what they cost are generally ones that appeal to personal tastes that not everyone may share, like adding fireplaces, wet bars and swimming pools, or converting the garage into an extra room.

The challenge that comes with any home improvement designed to help sell your house is recouping your investment. There's always the risk of over-improving your house -- that is, putting more money into it than neighborhood prices will support.

So how much is too much? Professional renovators have found that, no matter how much you improve any given house, you're unlikely to sell it for more than 15 percent above the median price of other houses in the neighborhood, whether you do $1,000 worth of work or $50,000. That's why you might want to ask your sales professional's opinion about the viability of recouping the cost of any major renovation you have in mind before you start the work.

Should I do the work myself?

If you have the time and talent, do-it-yourself improvements are the most cost-effective way to go. Painting, wallpapering, replacing cracked trim and old plumbing fixtures aO" the difference between work done by a competent amateur and a professional is usually time and money. Just make sure you don't tackle something you can't handle -- this is no time for "on-the-job training." If you're not experienced, it may be worth calling in a professional.

Larger jobs involving mechanical systems (heating, electrical, plumbing, etc.), or work that must meet local building codes, are another story. Even if you or the family handyman know exactly what you're doing, it's not a good idea to engage in this type of work unless you're licensed to do so. Your attempts could make you responsible for more than you realize if something you worked on goes wrong after you sell.

Am I liable for repairs after I sell?

Yes. If the buyer's inspection reveals major problems with your house's structure or mechanical systems (heating, electrical, plumbing, etc.), the buyer may wish to negotiate the price downward on the basis of anticipated repair costs. So even though the repairs won't be made until after the sale, practically speaking, you'll be paying for them.

Sometimes, repairs may be required before the transfer of title takes place. This is especially true in sales that involve financing that's insured or guaranteed by the government (FHA/VA loans, for example).

You may also have heard about lawsuits involving sellers who failed to disclose major problems before the sale -- like an addition to the house that wasn't built to code. Most states now maintain very specific disclosure laws that require sellers to disclose any pertinent information related to the condition of the property. For example, most states require sellers to notify buyers about the presence of any lead-based paint. It is important for you to be knowledgeable about your state's disclosure laws.

These are just a few good reasons to retain a lawyer or sales professional who know as much about the condition of your property as you do. It's also a good idea to get the buyer's written acknowledgment of any major problems when you accept their offer.

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