Deciding what to update on older person's home for sale

jockewingAugust 16, 2010

My grandmother passed a few months ago and left me her home. It is a modest house (about 1800 sqft) in a nice suburban neighborhood. The house is in very good condition (new AC, new carpets, clean as a whistle). However, it was built in 83 so it has the stained trim and older light fixtures and some linoleum floors common from that era. My grandmother was also 90 when she died, so she wasn't exactly "stylish" with decor (although it's really not too bad). Basically, the house is well kept and it really just needs superficial updating, as it has nice sized closets and a good floor plan.

I just don't know how much I need to spend in time and money updating things. I know I am not going to go through all the expense of changing things like countertops and cabinets, but I'm willing to take down some wallpaper and paint, change some light fixtures and other easier things. The realtor (haven't signed with her yet) said if you're not going to change it all, just leave it the way it is, even suggested don't worry about taking down the peach floral wallpaper and leaving up the lace valences. I figure why not at least take care of the easy things. Starting to wonder about this realtor's taste level and sense of what people want. For instance, she said it was OK to leave up the vertical blinds over the sliding glass door.

Are there any rules of thumb for figuring out when something is worth the time and money to update?

By the way, I would like to sell quickly, but I am willing to wait as I refuse to give the house away. I can afford to do so, thankfully.

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There is a market for older homes in good condition. Usually, they are first time homebuyer homes. I would absolutely, take down all the wallpaper and paint all the walls neutral. Everything else, do nothing. If priced properly, the house will sell. Giving it a fresh coat of paint and taking away the "work" (wallpaper) will appeal to young buyers looking for their first home.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 11:58PM
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I agree with Linda. The wallpaper has to go! Other than that, there shouldn't be much reason to modify other things. It sounds like a well-boned, well maintained house, which any first time buyer would be extremely happy to see.

We looked at a house. I liked it a lot, I could even handle the knob and tube wiring. But EVERY WALL and EVERY CEILING was plastered in wallpaper!!!!!!! I couldn't get over it and we crossed it off our list.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 12:53AM
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When we sold an elderly relative's house one of the most important things we did was take out about half the furniture and put in brighter light bulbs. We also took down all the old window treatments. The rooms looked so much bigger with less stuff in them. Also, we freshened up the yard w/ new mulch and colorful annuals.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 8:36AM
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I had to sell my grandparents house a few years ago when it was time to move them into assisted living. They had a great house but was still stuck in the 60's. We just got rid of the wallpaper and painted neutral colors, cleaned and left the rest to the buyers. We sold pretty quickly
(about 3 months) and actually got our offer right after finishing painting.
Funny thing is, ends up we sold it to some flippers, but WOW they did an amazing job updating the rest of the house. We had the opportunity to see it at an open house later and I couldn't be happier with what they did with a place that was so hard to let go of. Best of luck, I know it can be difficult.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 8:40AM
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Here's what I was planning on doing--

Note: would love to have all the trim painted white, but I am NOT going through all that work and I am sure it would be close to $2,000 to do the whole house and I don't think it would be cost effective.

Guest Bathroom: I know that I will definitely change the "peach" bathroom with the 80's small scale floral wallpaper, matching peach shower curtain, peach towels, and peach floor rugs! I was thinking of stripping the wallpaper and painting a very pale blue/gray (the popular spa color) like SW Sea Salt and then using all white plush rug and towels. I thought the spa color would work well with the very dark wood of the vanity and the trim. I would also update the light with a updated style from a big box in the $75 - $100 range.

Kitchen - The kitchen had new wallpaper and flooring put in only a year ago. It is wallpaper, true--but it is a relatively nice pattern in a gold and ochre colorway that I actually picked out for my grandmother (she was a stickler for wallpaper in kitchens and baths!). It isn't a bad wallpaper and it works with the color of the flooring (a new linoleum that mimics a natural stone) and the light maple cabinetry. The western "saloon" style light over the dining table HAS TO GO!! but I think the only other thing I might do in the kitchen is change out the brass pulls and knobs for maybe ORB to match the gold-y tones in the room. Don't know if it's worth all the effort to de-wallpaper here.

Foyer - There is striped wallpaper here and a rose border (hangs head in shame) with a dark wood beadboard below a chair rail. Ugly 80's glass n brass light and ugly linoleum. I was thinking down with the wallpaper and paint, but not sure about the bead board. The default choice would be white, but all the other trim in the house is dark wood, so how would that work? I was thinking again maybe a pale blue-gray or a soft sage just to break up all the white that's in the rest of the house and to accentuate the wood beadboard if I don't paint it white. I will change the light and put up maybe one of those little mini-chandeliers to add a special touch here since it's the first thing you'll see when you walk in. I've seen those at HD/Lowe's for under $150. If I change the floors anywhere in the house, it would be here. The the dining room, living room, and family room that connect to the foyer all have carpeting. I was thinking a decent ceramic here? It is a really ugly linoleum right now and this is the first room, it might be worth the expense.

Dining and Living Room - nothing. They are both painted wihte. Maybe change the chandelier in the dining room, but it's not too bad as is.

Family room - a big room with cathedral ceiling with a big dark brown beams that accentuate the ceiling. Also a brick wall on the fireplace wall with mantel. Don't know if I should paint the ceiling wood pieces. They are mighty dark, but again, there's the matching trim issue. Otherwise, not much to do. Don't know about painting the bricks on the fireplace wall. They are an inoffensive neutral color brick that match the outside brick.

Guest bedrooms - Nothing except maybe change out the ugly glass on the ceiling fan light kits for something that puts out more light. They are the kind that only take one lightbulb. Actually might change one of the fans completely that wobbles a lot.

Master bedroom - Just change light kit on fan for more light.

Master Bath - Like the kitchen, got new wallpaper last year. It is a pretty orchid pattern with an large scale flowers. It is a pretty, more modern pattern that isn't too bad, so I may leave it. Have to change out the light above the mirror.

Finally - don't know if I need to change the floors in the laundry room and bathrooms. They are all dated linoleum, but we are starting to talk about stuff that will get into the multiple hundreds of dollars. Would it be worth it?

Basically, I am trying to strip out as much as I can that dates the house back to the early 80's and trying to make it look as "new" as possible.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 10:46AM
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It sounds like you have a good plan.
On all the things you are considering, but not sure of -
the 2 places with modern wallpaper, the ceiling beams, the laundry room floor, I'd leave those for now.
A super clean "grandma's house" is mcuh desired in my area and especially since you are doing a bit of sprucing. Taking done the majority of the wall paper will definitely matter.
best of luck!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 11:12AM
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Sounds like a good plan with the exception of your proposal for keeping the wallpaper in kitchen and masterbath. People look at wallpaper as work. The pattern may not be bad in your eyes, but paper is sooooo taste specific. As someone who has removed a lot of wallpaper in her life, I can tell you that most of the time it's not fun to remove. You need to take the work out of the equation and remove all the wallpaper. It will appeal to a much broader range of buyers.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 11:34AM
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gardenspice, great response! People do love grandma houses because it says "well taken care of, clean, in good condition".

Your other plans seem good.

I agree with cordovamom though...even if the wallpaper is nice, take it down. It's like one of the worst possible things. It's up to you though, these are just opinions, a fart in a room basically!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 1:10PM
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Remove ALL the wallpaper. DO NOT PAINT the fireplace bricks or any stained woodwork. Some people like stained trim. Once it's painted, it's OVER.

I'd replace the ugly linoleum in foyer and baths. Linoleum is cheap. A buyer MAY tile these areas, but ugly is ugly and some people can't see past that.

When the Realtor said to leave it alone, did she mean the house would sell as a teardown? If not, why *wouldn't* you clean it up with fresh paint and new light fixtures?

How's the curb appeal? The roof? Mechanicals?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 1:35PM
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Get rid of all wallpaper, even and especially if you helped pick it out and you like it. Wallpaper is wallpaper.

Do not paint any trim, beams, fireplace brick.

Don't waste your money on drawer pulls. To me, that's like underwear...everyone wants to choose their own.

In addition to removing the wallpaper, only paint.

When you end up putting the house on the market, make sure you have seasonal plantings near the front door. Keep grass cut.

Remember, not everyone likes Pottery Barn.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 4:10PM
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Yes, totally agree, don't paint trim, and especially not the fireplace! Nothing worse than painted fireplace. And if the buyer doesn't like it, it's ruined, it's almost impossible to get paint off bricks.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 6:24PM
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Please do not paint the brick, nor paint the trim. We had to buy a house quickly, when ours sold, when not on the market, and I really like the house, but someone painted all the trim white. I hate white trim. I have repainted it all once, and touched it up, many times, in the past year since we bought it. If we were a few years younger, all this trim, and doors would be tossed, and it would all get replaced with stained, easy to care for, and nicer to look at trim. If we would have had time, or a place to go while looking, we would have passed on this house, because of the painted woodwork.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 8:39PM
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Thanks for all the advice. Looks like I will be removing wallpaper, painting, and changing the really egregious light fixtures. What is the consensus on changing the linoleum? The rooms are pretty small so I don't think it would be too much.

The curb appeal is very nice. It is a light colored brick house with yellowish-cream trim. Very happy looking with a pretty garden--well tended with lots of flowers and trimmed bushes.

The roof and mechanicals are in great shape.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 8:55PM
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Since you say the lino in the foyer is pretty ugly and possibly dated I think if you put in a moderately priced ceramic or porcelain tile you'll make a better first impression. I don't know how big the foyer is, but unless it's huge you can do this quite inexpensively. The other rooms I'd leave alone. If you get a lot of resistance to the lino in the other rooms you could offer a flooring allowance at a later date.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 11:15PM
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You will be surprised at how much larger the rooms will look without wallpaper and heavy curtains. And remember that you are selling rooms and space, so removing all that will help.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 12:03AM
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Basically, you wanted to invest just enough into it to get the maximum amount of return on your dollars and time. It's sometimes hard to marry the major components of an older home with the style preferences of today's market without making it look like somebody stopped in the middle of a renovation. It becomes stylistically 'confusing' and can be counter productive, so proceed with some caution.

Yes on the foyer, all except painting the beadboard. No to painting any stained or natural woodwork, beams or brick. If a prospective buyer doesn't like the wood, they can see themselves painting it. If they don't like your paint, they may not see themselves stripping it.

If the light fixtures aren't just the ugliest thing you ever saw, then don't mess with them. The exception might be if the kitchen fixtures are old-style fluorescent tubes. A pretty kitchen light is a modest enough investment.

I'm sorry to say that wallpaper not only is perceived as being personal, and a hassle to remove, but rooms with differing patterns all over the house tend to make it lose the visual flow and cut the house up into compartments. You may not be able to offer an open floor plan in an 80's home but you can give it some sense of visual continuity by not jolting the senses from orchids to roses to peach to gold flecks......each of which might be beautiful in and of itself but give a migraine to anyone who walks from one to the next. My husband had papered most every room with a different pattern before I married him and moved into his house. I can't even begin to describe how visually insulting I find it. You NEED to get rid of the foyer paper. But you might start with that first and put the rest on a lower priority and if the house isn't moving because of it, address it later.

Most people do not like their baths done in peach. In fact, most people don't like anything done in peach. LOL.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 2:18AM
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Calliope, I love your posts!!!!!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 12:23PM
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I sold my mom's house in 2007 in less then a week. It had wallpaper in both baths and the kitchen and almost new green carpet. The carpet was over tile, though, and not nailed down.

I cleaned, decluttered, staged, and repainted the dark dining room, the one purple bedroom, and a dark burgundy/green accent wall. The two bathroom wallpapers weren't bad, the kitchen's was not great.

It sold so quickly because it had a great floorplan, well maintained, and was in a very popular area. Having wallpaper didn't hurt at all. So it isn't always necessary to remove wallpaper if everything else is good.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 2:08PM
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If you posted some pictures of your grandmother's place that could be helpful, too.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 2:09PM
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I have taken some pictures. I will try to get them uploaded soon. I just find it such a hassle to copy the pics to a website and then copy the URLs. I wish we could just copy the pics directly to the posts. That would be so much easier. Oh well, I guess I'm just being lazy!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 11:56AM
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Here are some pics of the outside. Just noticed yesterday that the paint on the shutters and columns is fading and needs to be redone. I always thought that the columns should be white and maybe doing the shutters and front door in a rich tomato-red or maybe a deep deep blue-green. The brown looks kind of depressing to me.

Obviously the gardens will be weeded and trimmed and I will probably add some nice plants and pots next to the front door.

Will changing shutter and column colors work with the brown gutters and downspouts?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 12:48PM
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The gutters will just fade into being part of the roof. I'd paint the downspouts whatever you paint the columns.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 2:55PM
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I think it's a cute house, very inviting. Do you have any pictures of the wallpapered rooms?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 2:59PM
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shutters/columns look kind of burgundy to me in the pic. I think it look very nice as it is now. I think a white might be too harsh against the brick.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 3:04PM
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A coworker suggested a medium blue for the shutters and door. I think that would look nice with a creamy white column. Maybe something with a little green in it (I always use a blue with a little green in it to give it some warmth). Maybe SW Moody Blue or Riverway? I think it would look good with the brown gutters and the goldish brick.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 4:49PM
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I think for selling that it would be too taste specific as there is too many that really dislike blue. Honestly right now it looks nice and it looks neutral.

I would look for something similar to what is there with a red/burgundish undertone. I basing that on the color of the car in the garage and how it seems to go very well with the house.

Also painting a similar color over what is there will be easier than trying to cover the dark with a lighter paint.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 4:53PM
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Well if I keep the brown, what about at least doing the front door a different color to give it some life?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 5:05PM
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I really think the paint choices on the exterior are very pleasing as they are and compliment the brick. No way would I put blue anywhere in there or change the columns to white. If I were choosing, I would not make any major changes on it at all. If you do decide to change the door, a I'd stay in the same palette as what you have now and would go a red with some overtones of what is one the columns.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 5:59PM
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I, too, think that it is very pleasing as is, complementing the brick and complemented by the landscaping.

To bring out the door, consider high-gloss paint in the same tone family. If you had the matching paint strip, I would then look for the same intensity on a neighboring strip in the tone series, a deep maroon toward the Chestnut brown side (or the purple-red side, if you prefer).

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 6:56PM
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Totally agree...the exterior colors work for that house.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 8:07PM
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I am gonna try to get some interior pics tomorrow. My realtor (I haven't officially signed with her yet) said she talked to her broker and they are pretty much seeing that people really want move-in ready in this area right now. There is a glut of housing in my price range, and unless you have something nice, people are trying to get really low prices. She said since the structure is in good shape, the landscaping is nice, and the house is so clean, and how well it's been maintained, some moderate updating could really differentiate me. She said I should probably go ahead and do the wallpaper removal, do the light fixture changes, change the bathroom and foyer floors, and now she thinks we should put in granite countertops. With how small of an area the countertops are, I could probably get this done for around a thousand with a basic granite. All of this together (with a lot of my time thrown in!) would probably cost about $3000 or so, maybe $3500. Does it sound worth it to you? (Oh don't forget painting the shutters, columns, and front door!)

Anybody have experience with the return on changing countertops? Currently, it is butcherblock pattern formica.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2010 at 5:03PM
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Post some pictures of the inside. Putting granite countertops might be too much for this type home. Might look out of place. What are the cabinets like? Granite with old cabinets might be a real turn-off.

We have been shopping for a house and I've seen so many old houses with granite, it looks ridiculous. I know I would have to remove the granite to change the cabinets. Would wind up costing me more money.

If the kitchen is in good shape, I would leave the counter-tops. Maybe put tile on top of the formica. Cheaper and easier to live with. I think granite will look out of place in an old kitchen.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 12:06AM
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I'm skimming so I don't know all the details of your market and price range etc. but but I'm going to chime in and say I hate granite. I like formica. Corian is ok too but honestly there are some really nice formica's out there.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 3:54PM
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Pictures would really help. :^)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 4:44PM
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If the paint isn't peeling on the columns, I wouldn't paint them. Their not the type of columns you want to accentuate. the exterior looks great now.

Unless the wallpaper is stained, I wouldn't try to strip it. Some of that older wallpaper is a bear to remove and will take more time than you want to spend.

I'd try to market the house as is. If you don't get a good response, then make changes like stripping wallpaper, etc.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 5:16PM
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" My realtor (I haven't officially signed with her yet) said she talked to her broker and they are pretty much seeing that people really want move-in ready in this area right now."

Oh Geesh, that's about 180 flip from

"The realtor (haven't signed with her yet) said if you're not going to change it all, just leave it the way it is, even suggested don't worry about taking down the peach floral wallpaper and leaving up the lace valences."

So, let's define 'move in ready'. Move in ready means a house is clean, functional, in good working order and devoid of decorating bizarre enough to injure somebody's sensibilities. I don't have anything against granite counter tops, but slapping them in has more to do with the stainless/granite/open trinity than making a home move in ready. It's a LUXURY. Of itself, it will not magically turn any house into what's hot. I don't think it will give you the return on investment that just pulling down the wallpaper or replacing the funky vinyl will.

Now, since you aren't in a great rush to sell, you can keep sinking money into the house in hopes it will compete against the glut of stainless/granite/open homes at their level. Or, you can market it for what it is, and that is a very attractive 80s home someone has maintained well and has been tastefully redecorated for 21st century tastes and sell it accordingly and not buy into marketing gimmicks.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 6:11PM
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I agree with getting rid of wallpaper and any really unsightly or very outdated fixtures. But, I wouldn't replace them with expensive fixtures, just something economical.

I would remove any really outdated carpeting and replace it with something modern. Again, be economical. If the carpeting is clean, keep it, but if it's a really outdated green or unsightly color, get rid of it.

I'd leave the linoleum unless it's in bad condition.

I would use neutral paints.

I like the color scheme on the exterior. The only thing I'd change, and I have to disagree with the prior poster, is the columns. I would paint these the same color as the soffit/facia cream color. Too much of the same thing can be overkill. Is that Grandma's car too? LOL. She's really a fan of burgundy. :) The landcsaping is cute, and the exterior looks well maintained.

And I agree with the blue, I'd be hesitant to buy a home with blue accents, and if I did, the first thing I'd do is paint it. The bricks consist of attractive warm colors, so I'd stay with warm accents on the exterior, the burgundy works well.

What color is the garage door? If it's burgundy and paintable, I'd repaint it the same as the facia trim above it - nice cream color. That way, the shutters and front door become more an accent color / focal point than an overall color scheme for the exterior.

Otherwise, cute home & healthy lawn.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 3:38PM
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That home has really good curb appeal. You might just list it and see what happens. Just so it is very clean I think some serious buyer is not going to have a cow about doing some up dating and actually, with that HGTV show, alot of people like doing least the wife likes to pick out the stuff and have the hubby do it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 2:57PM
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