Home improvements that make sense on an entry level house?

HappyladiSeptember 15, 2007

We plan on selling our home in about two years when my son is out of high school. It is a standard 3/2/2 that was built in 1983. It is in a starter type neighborhood and is probably only going to sell for about $130 to $140 thousand.

The AC and electric furnace is orginal to the house. The AC is an 8.5 seer. Our bills are not that high compared to most of our neighbors. It still works very well and has been maintained. I am just wondering if it will be a problem to sell with that old a unit, even if it does work just fine. Does it make sense to spend five thousand or more to replace it?

The countertops in both bathrooms are cultured marble and have seen better days. I hate to overspend on them but realize kitchens and bathrooms are important. Whatever we do will have to be custom due to their size and layout.

Should we do cultured marble again or is it worth it to upgrade to granite or Silestone? We have Silestone in the kitchen, but this is not a high end neighborhood and most homes have laminate and cultured marble.

What do you think?

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When I sold an older home in the $90K- $110K range last year. The Realtor came in, told us a few things to do in the basement (!) and told me to STOP any other improvements/cosmetic improvements in the rest of the house. He said it just wasn't worth it. Because of this, the bedrooms never were painted (grey, raspberry and melon). The furnace was 50+ years old, no AC & the garage was a mess.

I knew what was available in the area, knew how much better my house looked even with those detriments and we sold fast. Basically, the house was clean, clean, clean, (empty,) freshly painted downstairs, the floors were refinished, the ceiling fans updated to trendy lighting, the bathroom had been remodeled within the last 10 years and the kitchen slightly updated. The kitchen "update" meant the window had been replaced, the cupboards refinished and the counter replaced 10 years prior. The counter replacement was a grey-pebbled marble with a black accent strip. Since then I've seen a lot of upscale kitchen remodels and I have to say that counter top really stood the test of time. It was unique but not dated, laminate but looked "richer". You won't get your money back on an upscale counter top in an entry level home. If you are doing it for your own personal enjoyment, go for it. If you are doing it for resale, don't.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 3:03PM
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"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," as the adage goes. I consulted a realtor/neighbor when I was thinking about tiling our kitchen and back hall. She wisely said that none of the houses in our area had tile; we replaced the linoleum with same.

We had replaced all the windows and blown in insulation for our own comfort (What a difference!), but she said most buyers of first homes just expect there will be "windows". The low-E windows added nothing to our price.

Picked up, de-cluttered, clean, well maintained -- that's all I would do. You won't reap the benefits of a more "green" HVAC in a couple of years, and if it's all working, I'd leave it alone.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 6:33PM
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I agree with the other posters. We have a starter home neighborhood, but of course in the San Francisco Bay Area that means a 2bd 2ba cottage is more like $550K!

We overimproved our house, but we have been in it for 17 years and expect to be here another 5-10 yr or so. So for us it was worth it because we have: (1) really enjoyed every single improvement we did, and (2) had so much less hassle and maintenance than unremodeled homes (like our neighbors) because all the structural stuff was upgraded and done to code, all at one time with the remodel.

But realistically - our neighbors' house would sell for just as much, and they have only done what was necessary (and keeping within the style/cost level of the home) whenever something broke down completely. They haven't enjoyed themselves as much in their home and garden as we have, but cash-wise it hasn't hurt them.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 7:06PM
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You don't have to apologise for a $140K home. I suppose it would depend on where you live whether that's considered a low price, but it's plenty high enough for a starter home..except most people would rather start at the top and that's half the problem with real estate these days.

Clean. That's the top issue. I mean clean! The house I have up for sale has literally had every square inch of it scrubbed. Painted. Paint is CHEAP. It can do miracles.

I'd address anything really showing wear. IOW the counter and sinks. I'd do a box store special on them. Shiny new modest in a starter home is fine! If you want to add a little pizzaz, go for really attractive fixtures for them. An upgrade on faucets are a small cost in the overall picture.

I'd be hesitant about buying a home with a twenty five year old furnace, but I've been around the block a few times.......people who purchase starter homes usually haven't. The least you can do, if you really don't want to replace a furnace is before you put it on the market, have it safety inspected, and have all the runs clean. I always look in the furnace runs when I am viewing anything other than a brand new home. My God, you wouldn't believe the things I've found. Good luck.

The last issue I really get hung up on is the flooring. If you have carpet, it's an issue. If it doesn't steam up new and fresh smelling, it's an even bigger issue. Also an expense to replace. But stained or dingy carpet is a real turn off because you wonder what is imbedded in it.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 7:20PM
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Great advice, but how do you inspect furnace runs? Now I'm worried what might be in mine, but I don't even know where they are!!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 7:30PM
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We have updated this house over the years. We had a leak in a bathtub drain that ruined our 12 year old carpet this past spring. Carpet is the norm at this price point and I actually like it, so we replaced the carpet in the whole house with very good quality neutral carpet. Since the bathrooms had carpet in the sink areas and white tile in the rest, we redid both bathrooms with faux travertine porcelain tile over all areas. We also did the entry in this. My husband installed a heating system under the tile for cold weather. I really wanted this if we didn't have carpet in the sink areas.

We have also did a modest update on the kitchen with Silestone counters, Amtico floors, new backsplash, sink, faucet, and handles about 5 years ago. We have also stripped wallpapers and painted most of the inside of the house.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 7:35PM
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happyladi, the AC and Furnace will be an issue no matter how pretty you make the interior. They are 27 years old and so is the roof and windows etc..

If I were you, I would put a nice fresh coat of paint up and hope for an exicted buyer who doesn't get a home inspection.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 8:27PM
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That is what I am wondering, also, Gammyt. Actually the roof was replaced in 1995 but it is fine. The windows except for one are orginal, but are double paned and not fogged.

I think the electric furnace and AC would pass inspection, but people might be concerned about how much longer it would last. I am wondering if we should just replace it now and enjoy it for a couple years ourselves. I don't want the furnace to hurt the home sale.

The outside is brick and premuim vinyl siding (which is considered a plus in this neighborhood)and the inside paint has been redone recently and looks good.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2007 at 8:38PM
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We sold a started home 2 and 1/2 years ago, built in 1973 - a raised ranch. Granted, Northern Fairfield County in Connecticut means a price of $375K to $425K. Each area of the country is different.

Since we had been in the house for 23 years, we had already done several upgrades - like a total kitchen upgrade and bathroom upgrades.

We did de-clutter and paint the entire house. Our heating and hot water system was 32 years old so we did have it replaced with a new system. Our realtor felt that was the right move. We were going to do it anyway to get better efficiency. We also had the kitchen floor tiled and the bathroom tub surround tiled. These two improvements were also planned for before we decided to sell. The house sold in 8 hours! But it was a seller's market back then.

I would replace the heating and A/C systems and just freshen up, paint if needed and de-clutter.

Enjoy the journey.

eal51 in western CT

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 6:31AM
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I'm of the opinion that 'buyer expectations' depend on the area the home is in. A home in a small town versus a home in a large city doesn't seem to need a major face lift. IMO, people in small towns are just happy to be able to afford a home, new OR used, and a little fixing up might be expected.

New paint/carpeting add sooooo much! Make colors neutral. Ultra clean and clutter-free is a major factor, too. Adding new faux wood blinds is a plus~curtains/drapes are too personal.

Give the home more curb appeal than any other house on the block! Change/paint the front door if it's looking shabby. If hardware is looking dull, change that too. Garage door, also. Keep the yard free of leaves and add a few Mums since they're fall bloomers and long lasting.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 1:59PM
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.......... IMO, people in small towns are just happy to be able to afford a home, new OR used, and a little fixing up might be expected."...........

That's more than a little stereotypical. Although many people who live in small towns don't make nearly as much as their urban equivalents, the housing costs tend to also be more modest, at least on existing homes as opposed to new builds. A lot of it is cultural or societal I suspect, because many of us have left a life in an urban environment, or chose not to commute to one because of what we feel are the benefits of small town life compared to urban living. Those who are motivated to the small town way of life are likely more conservative in their views of what they absolutely must have in the way of housing and would often rather see their housing dollars spent on more privacy, land, or preserving the architecture or ambiance of small town life, and that often doesn't include things like home theaters, granite or en suite bedrooms. Given jobs are harder to find, keep, and pay less we also don't always have the prerogative of not worrying about finding work if the ones we have don't pan out. We aren't willing to play with housing dollars lightly.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 2:40PM
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can cultured marble be refinished or refreshed somehow? I so, I'd do that.

And some old furnaces are pretty tough--you might have somebody you trust look at it.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2007 at 6:38PM
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It would be wonderful if we could all inspect all of the homes in our neighborhood so we could make ours, "Just a tiny bit better". I think that is the answer to the how much should I improve question!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 10:37AM
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I wanted to do an update. We were wondering if we should do some updates on our home even if we planned to move in a couple of years. We decided to go ahead and make our home more comfortable and pleasant for use to live in. I realize we might not get the money back, but in the mean time we are enjoying our house a lot more.

We got a new heatpump and AC a year ago, it cost $4,100. I noticed our electric bills have been lower and the system works very well.

We also got the kitchen cabinets refaced, and all new full extention drawers and knobs. That cost about $4,500. We updated our old range and OTR microwave for about $1,000. We had done the countertops, backsplash, sink, faucet, and floor about 5 years ago.

In the bathrooms we got granite countertops, undermount sinks, and new faucets, and put frames around both mirrors. That cost $2,000. My husband raised the height of the countertop in the masterbath and built a large drawer with an electric stip in it for my hair dryer and flat iron. I stained the cabinets a deeper color to finish updating the look. We had replaced the floors with heated floor tiles in a travertine looking tile earlier.

Lastly, we replaced all the windows (I decovered several of them were mildly fogged). That cost $4,800. We also replaced a couple of ceiling fans.

We paid cash for everything and I think we got good value for what we did. I am much happier with my home now.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 1:17PM
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I am much happier with my home now

And that is what really matters. :-)

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 2:24PM
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happiladi - I think you did the right thing for the right reason. Make changes so that you're happier and more comfortable with your home.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 2:27PM
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Thanks for coming back and updating. Now if you do decide to sell your home it would be even better for you to come back and let us learn from how it all played out.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 6:27AM
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Thanks for the update!

Your update makes the best argument for updating. It's apparently not to help the house sell but to be happier and more comfortable to live in the house.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 9:45AM
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