Reader and regular contributor Joel McDonald - a real estate professional who frequently writes on issues important to those considering buying, remodeling or restoring an older home - submits the following:
Most people, faced with the prospect of having to spruce up their home before selling it, have to face down the nagging thought of "Why didn't we do this for ourselves?" It's with a bit of regret that a homeowner will realize that work is needed, but you can't go back and change the past. Starting from where you are, the question becomes, "How can we get the most return from the investment of repairs and remodeling?" There isn't an exact formula, of course, but you'll be spending money trying to make prospective buyers, rather than yourself, happy – at least happy enough that they will want to pay you more than you have to spend on the work. The satisfaction that you will get from turning over a home in top condition counts for a good part of the bargain as well.
Be Careful in Deciding What Needs to Be Done
Just because you never liked that mirror over the guest bathroom sink, it doesn't mean that now is the time to replace it. It may be the someone else's favorite kind. We're talking here about the kinds of things you have gotten used to over the years, and might not even see any more -- broken shingles, worn carpet, the window that sticks, cabinets that need refacing. Some of these are things that, like seeing a child grow, change so slowly we don't realize it day-to-day. In other cases something breaks and "I'll get it fixed later" never happens and you adapt, work around it, and forget about it. In order to present an inviting and pleasant appearance you have to look at your home with studied, focused attention. Make a list.
Get the Best Prices on Things You Have to Buy for the Project
This one's a no-brainer, but it's so obvious that many people overlook it. Don't just enter into a fog of "It's a big project and it will cost a lot." To maximize your return, do some careful shopping for the the best prices you can find. If you are able, even in a stretch, to do some of the work yourself, do it. Depending on what needs to be done, if you take your time and shop carefully you can take advantage of good sales and discounts at home improvement stores and local suppliers. Look for discontinued and going-out-of-season items to find deals on things that will have appeal from a buyer's perspective and still be inexpensive.
If you have old, worn carpeting, that gives a bad impression. New carpets can add significant appeal and value to your home. We're not talking here about the possibility of finding beautiful wood flooring hidden under the carpet – that can happen, and it's a different set of choices with a different set of economic payback possibilities. Just on the subject of what to do about old carpet, though, it can be more than just a shopping chore, and more rewarding with a little effort. To really go on the low-cost end of doing the upgrade, you can get remnants and end pieces from an outlet store, and piece them together at installation. If you can do a proper installation yourself, that's all to the good, but it takes skill and experience to do a good job. If you get a professional carpet installer to install it, you can expect the seams to be invisible and the result will look as good as any other new carpet.
When it comes to getting the biggest return for your remodeling investment dollar, paint is in the superstar category. Shop discount stores for reasonably-priced paint. As for your color choices, keep it clean and simple. White, the old standby, is often the best choice because it represents a good "default" selection for many buyers. For buyers who have a clear sense of their own color preferences, the white background is no impediment to them and they will be able to "see" the room in their favorite colors. One thing you can be sure of: if you decide to use distinctively different colors to appeal to your own artful sensibilities, then the buyer's preferences will be wildly different. It's a rule of nature.
Replace or Upgrade Appliances
If you have to replace appliances such as the refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher and so on, look for scratch and dent bargains. There are always lots of appliances with minor scratches, and you can select the ones that have the damage on a side facing a wall or next to another appliance, where it won't be a problem. The price reduction can be dramatic, and in many cases you can get it for even less that the tagged price, if you ask. These are things that store managers want off their property and out of sight.
Another consideration on appliances is that if they are in working order they might not have to be replaced at all. Even if they are a little outdated, as long as they work, you don't have to replace them just to sell the house. Houses are often sold without appliances, after all: replacing or updating appliances is an upgrade that should pay you back right away in the price of the house, so you have to do it at a pretty low cost or you can skip it. In the in-between, hard-to-decide zone of whether it's worth it or not, you may consider finding appliances at secondhand stores.
Remodeling Makes a Difference
In getting a home ready for sale, what you want to achieve is an inviting and pleasant appearance, where buyers can imagine themselves living with everything in perfect order. Distractions, entering from the realm of broken, dirty or worn things in the home, impinge on this dream-home experience. That can cost you the sale. You want to create this experience for the buyer, though, without spending too much. The prices you pay won't impress anyone, so spending more than you need to can be a particularly bad choice when the main reason for doing it is return on investment. Keep it simple, shop carefully and don't overdo it. The money you make will be the result of not only careful choices in what needs to be done, but also of finding smart ways to do it.
Article provided by Colorado's Automated Homefinder – a Louisville real estate company.
Creative Commons-licensed image by Tall Chris