Many buyers have trouble envisioning home that needs work

Sellers who anticipate losing money if they sell their home may wonder why they should spend a dime fixing the place up for sale. Isn’t this throwing good money after bad? Even sellers with plenty of equity in their homes often figure the way to get the most out of the sale is to cut sale costs to a minimum.

This attitude is directly contrary to the notion that the way to make the most money on the sale of a home is by pricing the property appropriately for the market, and by making cost-effective improvements that will result in a higher sale price in a shorter time.

Job applicants don’t show up for an important interview in tattered old clothes if they want to make a good impression, particularly if there were plenty of other qualified applicants. Likewise, if you wanted to get top dollar from the sale of a car you would have the car detailed so that it looked its best. The same principal applies to selling single-family homes.

Today, many housing markets have plenty of homes for sale and far too few buyers. For years, buyers competed with one another in order to buy a house. Now, in general, sellers are being forced to compete with other sellers in order to get their home sold.

Consider the competitive nature of the market when deciding if you’re going to improve your home before selling it, and how much you’ll invest. Keep in mind that the point of fixing up a home to sell is to maximize your return from the sale. Don’t waste money on improvements that have little or no value to buyers.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Ask your real estate agent or a staging decorator to walk through your home with you for the purpose of determining what fix-up projects you should ideally complete before marketing the property. For example, you might be inclined to replace worn-out carpet. Your agent, however, might advise otherwise.

An agent who specializes in the sale of older homes in the area might recommend refinishing the hardwood floor that is hidden underneath the carpet instead. Buyers looking for charming older homes usually prefer hardwood floors over carpet.

A common opinion expressed by sellers is that it’s pointless to fix up a place for someone else whose decorating preferences might be quite different. For example, why not just offer a credit to the buyers so that they can either change the carpet or refinish the hardwood floors — whichever they prefer?

The problem with this approach is that most buyers have a difficult time imagining how a home will look fixed up. They remember what they see, not what the house could look like with this or that improvement.

Imagine there are five homes listed for sale in an area, all similarly priced, but not all in the same condition. Three houses have old, worn carpet covering most of the floors; one has linoleum over the floor; and the fifth has pristine, recently refinished hardwood floors. Most buyers will gravitate to the home with the beautiful hardwood floors.

The best houses in the best condition and offered for the best price usually sell quickly. A fast sale is important to some sellers in this market. The sooner your home is sold, the sooner you stop paying mortgage payments, property taxes and various maintenance costs.

THE CLOSING: In areas where prices are declining, a quick sale can result in a higher price than might be attainable in a few months.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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