The unusually warm weather this winter has eliminated my normal excuses for not undertaking household projects that need to be done around our house. During past winters when it was cold or stormy, I had good reason to stay inside by the fire and watch a football game or read a Tom Clancy novel but with the warm sunny days, there is no justification for not taking care of those outside weekend projects. Pray for rain!
This mild winter is an ideal time for homeowners who are thinking about selling their home to begin preparing it for sale. The spring surge of new inventory is likely to come early this year. Typically, May and June are the big months for new listings but I’m thinking March and April this year. Sellers will be smart to get an early start this spring while interest rates are still low for buyers applying for a loan and the selection of homes for sale is less than what it will be in June and July.
Before embarking on any major remodeling or repairs in preparation for selling their home, sellers should call their real estate agent first. Experienced agents know what home improvements will be attractive to buyers and which ones are a waste of time and money. They should also be able to give some helpful advice on how to make the home more saleable without spending lots of money. Homeowners should know which improvements will increase the home’s value. Some do, some don’t and some actually distract from a home’s existing value. The goal for a seller should be to recapture any expenditure with an increase in the selling price.
Generally, repairs and remodeling should be kept simple. Don’t replace an entire deck when all that’s required is replacing a few boards and applying a coat of stain or wood preservative. If only the wood trim around the house needs to be replaced or repainted, don’t re-paint the entire house. Replace the broken tile not the tile floor. Carpets can be cleaned rather than replaced, a section of the roof can be replaced rather than the entire roof and kitchen cabinets can be refinished. Every situation is different which is why before addressing some of these decisions homeowners will want to consult an experienced agent.
With the 30 percent increase in the median selling price over last year, home shoppers today are more cautious and price sensitive. They will not pay significantly more for a home that has unnecessary frills and upgrades. Sellers should be conscientious about making expensive upgrades that increases their listing price above others of similar size and location. Over-improving their home with new custom window coverings, signature appliances and other luxury upgrades rarely return their investment.
First impressions are most important. Most potential buyers will drive-by a home first before making an appointment to preview the inside. Sellers should focus first on the street view and front entrance. Trim shrubs and trees. Rake leaves and pull the weeds. Clean or paint the entry and garage door, clean the sidewalk and remove that extra vehicle that’s been permanently parked in the driveway or adjacent RV parking.
A reasonable amount of landscaping is desirable. Plants and flowers are a cost-effective addition. However, over the top, lush tropical plants requiring lots of water may be a distraction and not seen as a value feature if the drought continues. Too much green grass may turn off a prospective buyer who only sees costly maintenance.
Avoid room additions. They seldom return their cost. A loyal reader recently sent me an e-mail complaining their $22,000 bathroom addition only increased their home’s value by $12,000. Increasing the size of the home does increase its value but not sufficiently to justify the expenditure if you’re going to sell the home within a year.
Money can be a limiting factor for homeowners preparing their house for sale. Some homes require so much in repairs that the seller would be smarter to simply discount the price and market the property as a “fixer.” However, there are creative alternatives to discounting the price. Often, agents will work with contractors who will complete the required repairs prior to the house going on the market and wait to get paid from the seller’s proceeds when the house sells. Secured short-term loans from friends and relatives may be another alternative. There are times when discounting the price of the home rather than performing the repairs is advisable but it should be the last resort not the first option.
Don’t forget the little things. It’s a waste of money for new paint and carpet if buyers can’t see it. Often focusing on simple staging techniques will have a greater impression on buyers than costly remodeling. Sellers should remove excess furniture to make the rooms appear larger, de-clutter and clean, make sure that every room has as much light as possible, keep the counters clear of stuff and empty the closets of clothes not in season. Staging and cleaning provides the most return on the investment.
Sellers are going to have more competition this year than last. In order to sell their home quickly for the highest amount, they will need to spend a little more time and money preparing their home for sale. This winter is a good time to start. So get started. No excuses.
Ken Calhoon is a local real estate broker. He can be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.