How Much to Fix Up Before Selling

Ann71September 26, 2013

Sorry so long:
I'm considering selling my 1923 house. I've been here 9 years. The house is nice, but it's got some quirks. It's got 1 bedroom on the main floor. The finished attic has another large space that has been used as a bedroom, but the ceiling height is only about 6'5 (and angles down much lower), so it's not a perfect space. It also has a dining room with doors that could be used as an alternate bedroom or office space, as the kitchen has a nook.

City records show it as 1200 square feet, plus some finished basement, but that also has a low ceiling and wasn't finished very attractively.

So the house isn't especially family friendly.
Only one bath. On a busy bus line but not an arterial. But in the end, these "downsides" were what allowed me to afford it in the first place and I've always known it might slow it down when I sell.

On the up side: It's in a very trendy part of town, walkable to grocery and restaurants and parks, houses sell fast if well priced. It's got fir floors, a new roof, new electrical panel, replaced sewer and water from house to street when I moved in. Installed radon remediation and decommissioned oil talk. Overall it reads "cute."

So finally, my question. How much to fix up before I list it. I've got a list of more than 50 small things- upgrading terrible light fixtures, cleaning carpets, recaulking tub, adding railings to some stairs, etc.
But so many listings I see have new kitchens. My kitchen, while not original, is probably 15-20 years old. It was already dated when I bought it but it's functional. I'm not inclined to update it, one because it will suck to live through that, and two, because the chances that I update it to the new owner's taste seems slim.

Does "not turnkey but not a fixer" seem like a problem?

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I would fix the things that are safety or maintenance related first such as caulking, carpet cleaning (must do), painting, and stair railings

Next I would tackle the horrible light fixtures, unless they are original to the house, and other cosmetics.

Finally take a good look at the kitchen. Are there inexpensive updates you can make such as new handles or pulls? Is painting the cabinets an option?

One good idea in making decisions about what to do is to go to a few open houses in your immediate area or study online photos of nearby homes for sale. That will give you some ideas as to what the area expects.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 4:14PM
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Do anything that involves cleanliness or maintenance. Not doing them will bite you as people infer that a home hasn't been kept up and they fear that worse than they fear the low ceilinged basement.

Fresh paint for everything should be on that list, as it's cheap and easy to DIY.

Post some pics of the kitchen and bathroom, and we could possibly give you some pointers to make it show better without doing a full remodel.

But, in the end, it comes down to effort vs. dollars. Are you willing to spend the effort or lose the dollars?

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 5:11PM
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I sold a 1925 house about 10 years ago. The market was hot, so it didn't last a week. I wanted top dollar, so I did a few things - painted the downstairs a neutral color. I left the upstairs the very personal bedroom paint colors. The oak floors were rescreen and polyurethaned and the first impression was "WOW" because I sold it empty. It was only 1500 sq ft and looked much better empty than full, and those oak floors were THE selling feature.

That kitchen was old. At least 30 years old. I did nothing to it except paint it the neutral color. It didn't deter the house from selling fast.

I would update the lighting as long as your old fixtures are not architecturally important, but if you do update, leave the old ones for the new owners as you never know.

So IMO as long as your market is not a buyer's market, painting neutral and having the house clean and decluttered may well be enough. Just make sure your pictures are great. A professional real estate photographer is always worth the price.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 5:12PM
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I thought I had some decent kitchen photos, but I can't find them. I'm a cluttered person (will seriously declutter before listing), so I'll need to do some prep before taking some photos. Will try to do that this weekend.

I've already replaced the kitchen light, as the old one was a "shop-style" 4 bulb fluorescent, and the ballast was touchy. Unfortunately, the ceiling now needs repainting as a result. But that was expected.

Anyway, appreciate the advice so far, will post pictures when I can.

At this point, I think I prefer "less work less money." The house is paid off and I should make a profit even if I sell low. But of course I won't leave it so the house looks junkie either.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 6:34PM
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Priced good as in on the lower side of the comps, no signs of deferred maintenance and spotless without clutter would most likely sell the house unless your location is horrible.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 10:02PM
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As others said: Fix all the hazards, make sure nothing ;leaks or wobbles, clean it till it sparkles ... and sell it unapologetically.

The un-updated kitchen can be a feature, as long as it's not totally unusable. Sell it as a "immaculate 1990s kitchen, mready for use or update to your taste, not the current owners".

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 4:42PM
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a new roof, new electrical panel, replaced sewer and water from house to street when I moved in. Installed radon remediation and decommissioned oil tank.

Definitely feature these MAJOR improvements in the ad. It's what the buyers of "cute" often overlook until the home inspection comes back with "knob and tube wiring, roof is past due for replacement, buried oil tank is leaking" and they freak out and run.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 11:34AM
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ITA that the updated mechanicals should be huge, especially for any buyer of an old house.

While I don't think that I (or GWers generally) represent a majority of buyers, honestly, I would *so* much rather buy a place with a dated but functional kitchen than be expected to pay a premium for a builder grade 1990s kitchen. (Or a decades-old kitchen with cheap granite, ugh.)

Definitely declutter. I don't have that much stuff and I end up moving things into storage. Especially if you have limited storage/tiny closets, I think this is going to be key.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 12:41PM
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