Updating Home to Sell - How Not to Overimprove?? (Long - sorry)

gilmoregalOctober 6, 2010

We will probably put our home on the market within the next 2 years. DH has already relocated to another city in our same state, and we have purchased a home there. We are keeping this home for the short term - it is paid for, and it is close to my aging mother. Now that our youngest is off to college, I will be dividing my time between homes.

Here is our dilemma. The house is approx. 45 years old, and we have lived here for 25 years. It is a 3 BR/1.75 BA, 1800 sq ft brick home on a nice lot in a middle class neighborhood. It has good "bones" but is BADLY in need of updating - especially the kitchen and bathrooms. And the woodwork (trim, baseboards, etc.) throughout the house is in pretty bad shape - dinged up, chipped, etc. We are trying to figure out the minimum that we need to do to prepare it for sale without spending money that we will not recoup.

If we planned to keep the house for 5+ years, we would definitely tear out and replace all of the kitchen/laundry room cabinetry and bathroom vanities. They are sturdy, but because of the condition of the wood, at a minimum we need to replace all of the cabinet doors/drawer fronts, paint them, and put on new hardware. And I would love to put in granite countertops, undermount sinks, etc. But realistically, buyers looking in this neighborhood are probably not expecting that, and I don't know if they would pay more to get it. Would it be better to put in a pretty laminate in the kitchen, faux marble in the bathrooms and let the buyer upgrade later to their own taste?

In each bathroom, the floor, vanity top, and tub/shower surround are done in matching beige-flecked 4x4 tiles. Very outdated with some chipped/broken tiles which can no longer be matched, bad grouting/caulking, etc. We know we will have to update the vanities/tops but what about the floors and the tub/shower surrounds? Would just cleaning and regrouting/recaulking be enough?

Because the woodwork is in such bad shape, we are resigned to having it painted throughout the house, knowing that it will be expensive. Should we go the extra step and have all the baseboards torn out and replaced before painting? I can't imagine that dinged up baseboards will look great even if they have a fresh coat of paint. And we do plan to paint all walls and ceilings and replace worn carpet.

It is just hard to know how to separate needs from wants. And one thing seems to lead to another, so how do you know when to draw the line? I'm sorry for the long post, but I would love to get any input that might help us decide. I know I should probably get a realtor's advice, but I really hate to take up someone's time when we won't be listing the house right away.

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Hi, I wouldn't tear out baseboards, etc. because a) someone might want them, whether or not they choose to repair or repaint, and b) it's one step too far. I would clean everything possible, repair what actually repairing vs replacing (or replace only if relatively inexpensive and if it repairing is not really gonna work). To me repairing means fixing what's broken vs dingy. I would take down wallpaper borders and any other WP that you can because it represents lots of work to others, and I'd paint (light neutrals) all over. As far as things like bathroom tiles go, especially if they're really dated, I'd make very sure my agent told everyone out loud that your low price (and make it low) reflects your willingness to let them get the work done to their taste, including even laminate in the kitchen (never mind granite!).

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 4:03PM
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Go look at other homes in the area in the price range you think you will sell in.

They are the competition.

Note their condition in comparison to yours.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 4:07PM
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I agree with brickeye. Also, talk to three local realtors who have sold homes in the last three months.

Figure out what you MUST get for the house and see how that stacks up with what the realtors tell you. Too many sellers make the mistake of losing that first, best week on the market by overpricing, then gradually dropping the price. Often your first offer is the best one you'll get.

Do not over-do the improvements. Give the house a divorce! (No granite!) Clean, no clutter, no wallpaper, *liveable* as is should be enough. I'd keep 'rental' in the back of my mind, if that's a possibility. It could take some years for the RE market to improve. (Don't know about your market; ours is pretty bleak.)

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 5:28PM
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You've got two years to prep the house for sale. Do nothing major. Clean and then clean some more.
Go look at other homes in the area that are for sale in your price range. See how they compare.
A 45 yr old house is very likely to have hardwood floors. If it does don't go thru the expense of replacing carpeting. It will be more attractive to have those hardwoods sanded and showing.
Worry more about things you can fix easily like a too cluttered landscape and over grown trees that add up quickly in a buyer's mind in both time and money.
As someone else said make the selling price reflect the fact that upgrades need to be made but don't put yourself thru the work, it's just not worth it in this market.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 5:56PM
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I appreciate the feedback. Although I was kind of hoping to enjoy some kitchen and bath updates for the remainder of time that I am here...! ;) I have spent a lot of time planning and imagining how much nicer the house would look with a few updates. The logical part of me understands that it would be far easier to cut the price and let the next owner deal with the headaches, but the emotional part of me wants to see it come to fruition.

So to clarify what all of you have said: See some open houses and talk to some realtors to get their opinions. At a minimum, remove wallpaper, paint walls/ceilings in neutral tones, clean well, repair what can be repaired, declutter, and focus on curb appeal. I assume that means not repainting cabinets or woodwork unless recommended by realtors?

The house did not have hardwood floors, but we did put in engineered wood in the family and living rooms last year. Kitchen and entry have original brick floors. Only the hallway and bedrooms are carpeted now, and that carpet absolutely needs to be replaced.

Fortunately, our area has weathered the economic conditions much better than other parts of the country. Homes are selling here, and those in our neighborhood usually don't sit on the market too long unless they are in really bad condition or have weird floor plans, etc. But many are smaller than ours with one car garages, small lots, etc. so are priced lower than ours would (hopefully) be. We live on one of the more desirable blocks with a little larger homes/lots, and the surrounding homes are well maintained. So even pricing it low to allow for updates, I think the asking price would still be higher than many of the others that have sold. I don't know if that higher price would deter buyers looking for a less expensive home or if the need for updating would deter those who are looking for something at a slightly higher price point.... Guess that is a question for the realtors.

Other feedback is still very much appreciated.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 8:20PM
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I would not want to pay an otherwise all-things-being-equal-to-comps price on something with obviously new counters that did not suit my style. Much rather have things just left alone and a price reflecting the need for some work.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 10:45PM
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Excellent advice here.
Place yourself in the shoes of a buyer.
Be absolutely honest about everything, the prospect will see most of the "weaknesses", but not all - so point these out as well. The problem is not knowing the costs of renovations....and avoiding the fly-by-nights.
There are people out there who make a living just doing renovations, but some are fly-by-niters..You could secure work estimates and qualified contractors for the prospect.. I think that this would be most helpful..
Many prospects are , like me, DIY..
Also, DIY in selling, we need a lot more of this..

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 10:07AM
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Dents and dings in wood can be repaired with wood filler and sanding and then painted.

Do you have the capability to do this yourself? It wouldn't cost you much at all except your time. Painting trim is actually cheap except for the labor if you pay somebody to paint it for you. Often 1 gallon of paint is enough to cover a whole house.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 1:29PM
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earthworm - You advise to put myself in the shoes of the buyer, and that is exactly why I struggle with whether to make the updates before selling. If I were a buyer, I would not even consider buying my house because of the condition of the woodwork and lack of updates - at least cosmetic ones. But I am someone who wants a house that is in nice enough condition to move right in and defer any improvements until a little later.

lyfia - I don't feel capable of doing the work myself - except for possibly the wallpaper removal. DH is here most weekends but is not interested in spending that time on improvement projects. So we would have to hire it done.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 2:23PM
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Great input already. I'd add that fixing the trim and keeping everything repaired is really important. I am not a DIY and if I see trim, floors and paint in disarray, I assume the home has not been well taken care of and what's unseen will be even worse.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 5:08PM
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gilmoregal is it a physical thing about not being able to do it yourself or are you just unsure on how to do it. It is really very simple and if you are somewhat detail oriented you can get a great paint job done by yourself and just do it one room at a time. It really isn't complicated at all and doesn't require much. I'd be happy to go over the steps with you as I'm sure many others would as well on the Home Decor forum or the paint forum.

You could always try it in a small area and go from there.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 10:29PM
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SPOTLESSLY clean and tidy sells houses.

Concentrate on getting rid of the "negatives" instead of adding "WOW", and sell it as-is with a price that is a bit below the ones that have been heavily upgraded.

Don't over-improve. It's going to be harder to sell something with YOUR choice of granite, because if a buyer doesn't like it they will be thinking "I'm paying for stuff I don't like and tearing out" versus thinking "the kitchen is blah and 40 years old, but I can live with it until I can afford to re-do it and this house is a bargain for the neighborhood".

Make sure all plumbing is in good repair, get rid of popcorn ceilings, make all locks and doors function smoothly, check under sinks to make sure the cabinet base isn't water damaged. Do a conservative, neutral paint scheme, including the trim.

One ingenious way to deal with chipped and unmatchable tile is to remove the damaged ones and replace them with accent tiles that are used elsewhere in the bath - removing some good ones if you have to, to make it look planned. Or, carefully remove the tiles from one area, re-tile that area, and used the ones you removed to repair other places. You can usually scavenge enough from a vanity to patch a couple of showers.

That is provided the substrates are solid and not leaking, with no chronic mold problems.

If they need repair, a mid-grade tub and tile (think Lowes or Home Depot, not Anne Sacks!) in a classic neutral will get you more bang for the buck than a fancy glass mosaic job.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 11:08AM
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Today's market? Unless you find a buyer that likes a challenge of remodeling or your price..it might sit on the market for long time. Certainly get all the rooms painted, scrap the popcorn, new carpet, fix up the outside, and give it a shot.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 5:58PM
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