What to fix to sell house

cimmarynNovember 29, 2008

I am trying to sell a house that my ex and I own -- I am going to refinance and take him off the mortgage within the month. I am getting a 35 month, interest only, investment property loan (I live in another house that I own).

This house was in crappy condition (due to a wrap-around buyer who bugged out). I am in the process of getting things fixed up.

So far, I am in the process of getting the exterior of the house (including gutters) painted. I am painting the interior as well. I have a heat/air guy coming on Monday to check those systems.

I am purchasing new light fixtures (the ones in the home are 17 years old -- all shiny brass). I am also getting matching oil-rubbed bronze light switch plates. Oh, and I decided to change all the door knobs to oil-rubbed bronze -- the old ones are...well...old and brass.

The kitchen needs major help -- I have ordered new appliances. I will be painting the cabinets an ivory/off white. I bought new knobs, which are oil-rubbed bronze. I will be replacing a leaking sink with either a black or off white one. I plan on having the countertops replaced (they are old and burgandy laminate). I am replacing it with a granite-looking laminate.

The kitchen lighting is a fluorescent fixture -- but the ceiling will not accommodate a hanging fixture, so I have bought a new fluorescent light cover that has oil-brushed bronze accents.

I am having the screened in porch re-screened. I am going to call a landscaper to work on the yard (definitely need trees trimmed/removed, etc.). I will replace the bathroom countertops (very dated) and lighting. I am replacing the ugly vinyl with some neutral vinyl tiles that will go with the cabinets (which I am repainting). I am replacing the bathroom and kitchen faucets.

What else do I need to do? I considered re-doing the floors (mostly carpet at this point), but I think that will be beyond my budget. Should I replace the toilets (they are working). Should I replace the shower fixtures (they are basically builder grade)? There are several door which are poorly hung (they were this way when we bought it) -- do I have them replaced or leave them be? Do I need to supply a refrigerator (not common in my area)?

The biggest problem with the house is the retaining wall (two, actually) in the back yard. The two tiers probably go up 15-18 feet. The second (highest) tier is fine -- the first tier is leaning towards the house. The first tier has been leaning since before we bought it (dumb, I know) -- it does have railroad ties installed vertically in front of the wall, to keep it from collapsing. However, it is 17 years old. The ties are rotting, falling apart, and some are just gone. This retaining wall basically goes all the way along the back of the house, the right side about 2/3 of the house, and the left side about 1/4 of the house. The house was built into a hill, basically. It would cost sooo much to repair it completely.

Oh, the retaining wall and poorly draining back yard equal disaster (standing water in the back and side yards, at best -- if we get too much rain, like a hurricane, the crawl space has been known to flood). I am getting the back yard graded so that the water will move out of the yard (and not into the crawl space). The crawl space has flooded about 4-5 times in 8 years.

So, how big of a detriment will the retaining wall be in selling the house? Should I invest in having it repaired?

I figure it will cost between 10K-20K, minimum, to fix (I am going to get quotes next week). The mortgage is currently 139K. I think the house will appraise for $185K. I am going to pull as much out in the refinance as I can, and use that money to put back into the house. Is it worth putting so much into the retaining wall? With the wall as is, I was figuring I would ask 160-165K for the house. I would take $155K, maybe even $150K (I just want to get back what I have put into it recently).

What do buyers want? I'm trying to hit all the 'visuals'. I'm replacing the outside lighting, the mailbox, and sprucing up the yard for visual appeal. There is a lot for sale here (probably everywhere). Our market is down, but not as bad as most areas (the house is in North Georgia). I hate selling stuff, and I hate having to pay two mortgages! I want to sell as quickly as possible, with as little investment as I can put in. On the other hand, I don't want to be having to refinance AGAIN in 3 years, because I could not sell the house!

I know this is a lot of information. Sorry! I'm kind of floundering (and in a daze of spending -- man, things are expensive!). Any advice on what else will impress buyers would be great. If you have experience with nightmarish retaining walls, that would be great to hear, too!

If you know what, if any, regulations there are regarding the depth of retaining walls (vs. height), that would be great. If I have to fix it, I was hoping to push it back a few feet (right now, there is about 2 feet between the wall and the screened in porch).

Thanks for any suggestions. :)


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First, find out if you can legally refinance the loan. Do you have enough income? It is my understanding you cannot just take a person's name off the deed etc. Do you have his permission?
It sound like you are putting alot of money into the house that you will not get back. Just looking at what you have spent and plan to spend could be way over your estimate. I would have an agent look at it, get some professional estimates of selling prices, and sell the house as is. Are you in a area that requires permits? Grading permits?
You are not trying to impress the buyers, just selling a house. Sell it as a fixer upper etc. No matter what you do, the buyer has their own way of improving/changing the house. Hope others have ideas too.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:04AM
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My ex and I have agreed that I will refinance the house. Yes, I will qualify (just barely). I have really good credit.

I spent about $900 on appliance, $900 on lighting, $200 on knobs, $150 on light switches...another $2400 on the exterior painting. I will paint the cabinets, install the plates and lighting myself.

I do have an appraiser coming next week (for the loan), and I will definitely pick their brain. Regarding the grading -- I would be using a contractor. I don't think there are any permits involved, but I'll ask!

I guess I am concerned that without putting some money into the house, no one will be interested! All in all, it's not a bad house. It has a lot of curb appeal (when the yard is cleaned up). Maybe I should leave the retaining wall alone, finish what I have planned, and work on selling it.

Thanks for the input!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 1:56AM
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And don't touch the floors/carpets because that is definitely an issue of personal choice. The bad news is that even though you may be in an 'ok' area re sales now, things are only going to get worse, and many people with much newer homes in really good shape (and looks) are having a lot of trouble. Don't want to discourage you, but stop spending (except for an inspector to check out major systems that WILL make a difference when a potential buyer brings in their own inspector). You need to know about that stuff before worrying about cabinet knobs.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 5:57AM
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I think you are going in the wrong direction on this, but then again, I haven't seen the house. $150 to replace light switches, new door knobs? No way. I would get the structural issues in order (including the retaining wall), do a paint job, rip out offensive carpeting, and then stop.

Too late now, but you could have spray painted the brass fixtures and nobs with ORB colored spray paint.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 8:02AM
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So, it seems like some of you are saying not to do anything except fix 'major' issues?

Graywings -- you think it is worth putting the money into the retaining wall, then? I am replacing the lighting because not only is it shiny brass but the styles are really, really outdated. I'm guessing they were on the cheap even back in '91 (when the house was built). Same with the door knobs -- they are really flimsy, poor quality, and in poor condition. That is the only reason I did not decide to repaint them.

Should I not have gotten new appliances? There is no stove or microwave currently, and the dishwasher is not functional. I do have my mom's used appliances - but they are 12 years old or so?

I could re-laminate the kitchen countertops, rather than replace them (which would be cheaper and do-it-myself).

I guess I have just been running off of articles/shows that seem to indicate that visual appeal is important to buyers? Of course, if I was following that religiously, I would fix the retaining wall! It's just that the retaining wall is such a HUGE expense, compared to all the others. :(


    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 9:01AM
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FWIW, I *hate* oil rubbed bronze and if I bought a house with ORB knobs and switch covers, I would have to replace all of them. I'm a brushed nickel kind of girl, but even standard brass knobs would be more appealing to me. Nothing wrong with white switchplates and less expensive knobs on the cabinets.

I also think the granite look laminate is a mistake, and would go with a very neutral off white or beige. Buyers will at least be able to envision their stuff in the kitchen, especially if they have some type of color scheme in their current home. Many buyers are sick to death of granite/granite look counters. And please, nooooooooooo black sink! They are absolutely MISERABLE to keep clean! (the shiny kind).

As a buyer who purchased a house with some issues, I can tell you that I would absolutely not buy yours unless the retaining wall was fixed. You have to list water issues on the disclosure, and saying they have not been fixed is usually death to a sale, or a very steep discount.

I would add up everything you plan on spending and decide if it is worth it to do all the work and hope you get your bottom line price, or just paint as planned, fix the retaining wall, spruce up the kitchen, and put it on the market at a wonderfully affordable price. People are afraid to spend money these days, with no upturn in the economy in sight. This way you might find buyers who see how affordable the mortgage would be, and are willing to fix things up to their liking as time goes on.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 10:36AM
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ORB is definitely popular in my area (and I love it!). OTOH, I hate brass. LOL Most of the new homes in our area have either the brushed nickel or ORB in them, along with the granite-look laminate. That is where my thought came from - and I have a shiny black sink. I love the look -- it beats the heck out of stainless! I know those are my preferences, but I also think it makes a house look a bit more 'upscale' than the builder grade stainless. I guess it's just that all the info I have read suggests things like lighting and knobs are easy 'upgrades' that bring more bang for the buck.

The retaining wall is a killer issue, to be sure. I have one guy coming out to give me an estimate tomorrow. Maybe it won't be as bad as I think.

What if I tried to sell the house at a really reduced rate -- like $145 ($40K below expected appraisal), and not finish the wall? Would that tempt a buyer like you? Or is it better to try to sell at $165 or $170 and fix the wall?

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 11:51AM
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Of all the things you're doing I would not replace the switch covers with ORB. I'd go for the regular white that is used in most homes. You don't want to those to stick out to a buyers mind. Also it sounds like a lot of ORB overkill. I think too much of any finish is a bad thing in general. Try to see what you can do with what you already have.

My take is you need to fix any structural issues and anything related to flooding/grading first. The other stuff is cosmetics and I would pare it down to simpler and more inexpensive things when you get around to it. You want the house to look fresh/clean/welcoming and feel like a home, but I think it can be accomplished without a lot of the expenses you're going through.

The only question to me on the flooring would be how bad does it look? Is the carpet beyond cleaning and looking aweful if so then I would replace it. You don't want somebody walking in and getting a dirty feeling of the house in their mind.

Obviously you need appliances, but maybe look for good deals on craigslist on lightly used ones. Keep them all the same color, but no need to match the brands.

The things that you need to put on the disclosure are the things I would fix as they would be major red flags to me as a buyer. Flooding crawlspace - no way I'd even consider buying it, unless at a very deep discount compared to other similar homes.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:03PM
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I have to agree with weed30 - stay away from the black shiny sink. I don't think it will be a positive to the majority of the people looking.

You need to start setting aside what you like and think what most people like and go with that. Ie use the norm. If stainless is common in your area for a sink then stick with that etc.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:16PM
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Okay -- I'll go with the stainless sink (cheaper anyway). I've cancelled my ORB door knobs and switch plates. I also cancelled my ORB ceiling fans. I may replace the blade/lights on the ones I have. I kept the new lighting (it ran about $300 for 4 bathroom vanity lights, 3 foyer lights, a bedroom light, two chandeliers for dining/breakfast area, and 6 outside light fixtures). I figure that is worth it.

Should I just relaminate the countertops in the kitchen? Or is it worth it to replace them? Or not worry about it until I fix the retaining wall?

Thanks for the input -- keep it coming! :)

Oh -- the carpet is a really high-quality carpet and looks pretty good. I will probably have it professionally steam-cleaned before I put it up for sale.

Oh -- there is wallpaper in the laundry room -- should I remove/paint over that?


    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 12:31PM
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Are you going to try to sell this house yourself or hire a Realtor? Really, in either case, I'd contact three local Realtors and ask *them* these questions. They know what sells in your area. This would be Step #1 for me.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 1:00PM
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If the retaining wall looks dangerous to the average person, then you might scare off buyers. Or they will see the need for it to be repaired and put a price tag on the job that is greater than the reality.

Remove the wallpaper, then paint.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 1:07PM
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What if I tried to sell the house at a really reduced rate -- like $145 ($40K below expected appraisal), and not finish the wall? Would that tempt a buyer like you? Or is it better to try to sell at $165 or $170 and fix the wall?

It would not tempt me, because I got burned on the house I own now by a seller who did not disclose water problems. (one of my rooms floods if it rains heavily.) So I am personally very water phobic. However, why not try listing it at the reduced rate and see what happens? You can disclose the needed work and let potential buyers decide. You've got nothing to lose -- you can always fix it and relist if nobody bites. I would still spend a little money sprucing up the interior though.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 2:32PM
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I think you can probably paint the blades or use Woodsheen to darken update the color some on the ceiling fan blades. The motor units if in good working condition you could either use rub'n buff from a craft store or buy some spray paint to update.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 3:06PM
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Remeber....once a buyer has put whatever money they have into their downpayment, THERE IS NO MORE MONEY for them to do any repairs....decorative stuff, yes, but I don't think most people buying into entry level homes will want a house needing some major bucks to get it in shape. I'd fix what you can and NOT lower the price to accommodate them doing it. Just a thought....

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 6:11PM
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But if the buyer puts down money and has no money to do repairs they should not buy to begin with, especially a fixer upper when they know what they have to do. That is one of the reasons our RE market is the way it is. Yes, after getting some opinions from your RE agents/professional people fix up what you really need to do, then nothing else. That is why you sell it as a fixer upper.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 6:49PM
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I just got this heavy feeling when I read your thread. My first impulse before I did anything would have been to call a house appraiser. Often they are realtors, but they know up front that what you need is a totally unbiased opinion, and you are willing to pay for that, and that alone. IOW, no vested interest in what they tell you. You need first of all to know what kind of house is selling in your area NOW. I ran into an old friend last week, who is a realtor of many decades. Since I wasn't in the market to buy or sell, we just cut to the chase regarding the housing market. In so many words, it was the nasty little cheapies, they normally take on with their teeth skinned, keeping their salary coming at the moment.

Look at what you have to start with. It's basically a decent house, with one major issue (the retaining wall), cosmetic and updating issues. The next thing would be to get a realistic estimate of what you are going to spend your 'finite' repair budget on. So, then you have some honest idea of how far it's going to go, and where you want to spend it.

Regardless of all the HGTV shows in the world, houses can and do sell if they aren't completely renovated to pristine, modern standards. Your choices should be made considering of the law of diminishing returns. You want to hit that point where you get the most back, for the amount you put in. There is a point where each dollar you spend will return less on your investment. When you reach that number, you stop renovating.

My priorities are dealing with the deal-breakers first. In your case, I would say it would be the retaining wall. I would take one look at it, and run. It sounds like a potential nightmare situation. The code officers in the nearby city, in which I own some property, would be on you like flies on goo. Drainage issues are next. Heavy equipment operators don't come cheap. Neither do contractors who do this kind of work. Sometimes you fix your issues and cause issues to houses around you. I don't think I'd even buy into that situation with an escrow to fix it. It is a MAJOR flaw, paint and screens, and knobs aren't.

Your initial description of what you are planning to do is a full fledged flip. Have you ever done that before? If you haven't, you may as well just double what you think you will be putting into it as far as money. I'd fix the house in stages, pushing a sale all the way. First the cheaper stuff, like cleaning and interior paint, exterior if it's in totally crappy condition. If it doesn't pull any buyer interest, then proceed with the investments until it does.

Keep an immaculate running log of your expenses, so that you can keep your selling price reflective of at least breaking even. That means, your house price could actually be rising as each stage is done. Basically I'm for selling a cleaned up house with as little expense involved but major flaws corrected, to see if it flies and at a totally honest, no frills price. People are looking for bargains, but I don't think the economic environment in most places are really good for the flip and profit scene. It all boils down to whether you think of it as an investment with potential or a potential drain you need to get out from under as quickly as possible before it becomes a mill stone.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 11:10PM
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Lots of good information! I have 3 landscaping contractors coming today and one tomorrow to give me estimates and advice on how to proceed with the retaining wall. I also have a house appraiser coming on Wednesday. :)

I did not intentionally get this house to 'flip' it -- my ex and I bought it and lived in it until we divorced. Then, we found a buyer who wanted to do a wrap-around mortgage, but never refinanced and finally skipped out on us (leaving the house a disaster zone). My ex and I do not work together well (hence, the divorce) and he just wants to be free of the house, so I am refinancing it to put it in my name only. Basically, I've kind of gotten stuck with it. :)

I have started a log of my expenses and a list of things that need to be/could be fixed. My impression from everyone here is that the retaining wall is a must, so I will address that first and see where that takes me. I just hope it will be cheaper than I fear to fix it! Frankly, we should never have bought the house with this retaining wall (though it seemed in better condition at the time) -- but we were desperate to have a house and it was our first home. Learned some lessons! My next house (which I purchased after the divorce) was new! :)

Question -- I know someone who is a 'handyman' who is looking for a place to live and is willing to do repairs and such. Has anyone ever done this? I would like someone responsible to live in the place, for security and to keep my insurance rates reasonable.

Once the appraiser comes by, I am going to put the house on the market by owner. I am currently working on getting a webpage set up for pictures/descriptions, etc. For the moment, I am putting up the house as my ex-buyer left it (the appraiser wanted to see the pictures). It should be up and running later today. I put the link below, if you are curious. I will put up more pictures this evening.


Here is a link that might be useful: The house...

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 11:52AM
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cimmaryn ~

I clicked on the site to see your home and this is what it said:


Thank you for purchasing

This temporary landing page will be replaced when you publish your site.

Let us know when we can access it. I hope you have good success with those coming to give you and estimate about the retaining wall. 

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 12:45PM
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Just one issue that I know has come up on this board in the past. When you take your ex off the mortgage make sure he is off the deed as well!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 1:20PM
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The ex will definitely sign a quit claim.

If you want to try my link below, I have pictures up. I'll get better ones of the retaining wall tomorrow (it was getting dark when I finally had the chance to take pictures.

My three landscape contractors took a look at things and I should get quotes soon. The heat/air guy came, too, and I am going to have to replace the air handler. I am going to install the new handler in the attic (rather than the crawl space, where it is now). It would be impossible to get it into the crawl space, plus it makes more sense to have it in the attic. Anyone have any idea what the handler and ducting will cost?

Money money money!

Let me know what you think about the house (there are two pages, one showing before and after, one more for interested buyers).

Here is a link that might be useful: The house...

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 10:35PM
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Very cute house. I can see why you are 'dressing' it up. I agree you should try to fix the retaining wall but I would be interested in what the appraiser thinks it could sell for.

Pretty house and looks like a nice neighborhood.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 12:50AM
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Hi, one thing stuck out glaringly for me, and that's where you said "Lots" of repairs need doing. That would make me instantly look at something else and not finish reading. Why not change it to say 'Some" repairs, or even just that 'work' needs to be done, but in fact, unless your house is a dump (and it isn't!) the word Lots is a huge red flag and the last thing you want in your listing at this time. Honesty is one thing, but a little self-esteem (about the house, of course :0) is another. People who are trying to sell dumps are advertising like they live in palaces, and I'm sure there's a happy medium somewhere for you.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 6:14AM
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Good point about the house self-esteem. LOL I'm glad someone thinks the house is cute! I am biased (against) because of the bad karma the house holds for me. :) I'm glad you guys don't think it's a dump! It has potential, especially if you don't look too close. LOL

If it were not for that darn retaining wall, I could probably sell it as is!


    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 8:25AM
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Oh -- if you check out the link, it may ask for a password to see the 'before and after' pictures. The password is 'house'.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 10:02AM
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Wow, it's a lot nicer than what your initial thread suggested. It's really a very cute house, and aside from the retaining wall issues, is one I wouldn't hesitate to take on for investment purposes.

Agree with the suggestion to have more house self-esteem. LOL. Good phrase. I'd be more prone to say it could use some cosmetic updating, and then lay on a list of its positives, like central air, and a fireplace. Are those hardwood floors peeking out from under the ruined carpet? If so, that's another real plus to mention.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 11:10AM
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I don't think you need to show the "before" pictures. It just makes the house look like it really got beat up and is not a good first impression. Interesting for a TV show but not when selling a house, I would think.

If you have time, I'd get rid of any wallpaper. A real turn-off for a lot of people (because of the work involved in removing it).

I'd fix any water issues, whatever that entails.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 1:29PM
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If possible, take pictures during the day in better light, preferably on a sunny day. The current pictures make the house look really dark. Did you take them in the evening?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 1:32PM
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I'd also take away the 'Before' pictures. To a potential buyer, it says "this place used to be a dump" - not the message to send.

Focus on the structural issues first because those will scare away the most buyers. The only other issue I'd address right away in the house is the poorly hung doors. If they are useable, fine; if any don't open all the way or fall off in your hand, get them fixed.

I'm sure you will be modifying the text that's on the site now, because you won't want to start out with an apology about how bad the pictures are! I like the idea of coming up with a summary of the house, such as "three bedroom, two bath with attached two-car garage in X area" because that's what people want first, how many bedrooms and baths. Bullet-point the rooms and any sellable features (Kitchen with breakfast bar and pantry) but don't get into details like "doors from dining room lead to kitchen and living room" - it's hard to picture and unnecessary.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 2:17PM
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I think it's really cute, too. It looks like it's in a nice neighborhood which is very important.

I think you mentioned painting the kitchen cabinets. I don't think you should do that. They look very nice as they are. You might see how much an inexpensive laminate countertop would be, maybe a faux granite look in a medium tone neutral color. With a new countertop and some staging I think the kitchen would look great.

Is the house for sale now or are you fixing it up to sell? I would rake up all the leaves and put some more shrubs in the front of the house. Put out a nice doormat.

I don't think the pictures of the house are right for selling but they are great to show us and to get ideas.

Don't replace the carpet, you said it was in good condition. Have it cleaned if it needs it, but there is no need to replace it.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 3:30PM
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If she is marketing the house 'as is' hoping to sell it at any point along the way from now, until it gets totally renovated, adjusting the price upward as she's going along, I don't know how she can take the 'before' pictures off. That IS the house at this point. The only alternative is to wait until she sinks a fortune in it to post 'after' pictures, and defer putting it on the market as she does speculative renovations. I agree, however, that once a room is fixed up, the before pics are redundant and could be a detriment.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 3:31PM
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When you put your house up for sale don't include any of the before pictures. You will need to take different after pictures.

The blue ceiling in the one bedroom looks odd, I would suggest repainting it. I would do something about the wallpaper and border in the eating area. The striped paper in the masterbath could go, but it isn't bad. With some nice towels and staging it would look okay.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 3:36PM
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Thanks for all the input and suggestions! The website (which I just created) will be used when I put the house up for sale, but it is not for sale quite yet. :) I was thinking about having some pictures taken by a semi-professional (at least someone with a wide angle lens). I know my pictures are not great - and, yes, I did take them at night! I will definitely not include the 'before' pictures once things are fixed up -- I was just showing the condition I found the house in (my appraiser wanted to see those, because the person who bugged out tried to sell the house for $155 (started at $169) -- in order to get a high enough appraisal and get the refinancing, I needed to show that we have made significant improvements. Hopefully it will appraise for $185K (it appraised for $175K in 2003).

I am going to strip the wallpaper in the kitchen and laundry. I may take down what is in the master bathroom, if it will come down easily. :)

The HVAC guy make an interesting point -- he said that by moving the ductwork and air handler to the attic, the vents in the floor/walls will no longer be of any use. The only way to remove them would be to replace the carpet. I'm thinking at this point I will just close them off and leave the flooring alone. At least for now!

I was worried about the kitchen cabinets because they are really dirty and the pickled/white wash look is not all that popular anymore. I was thinking of painting them white or ivory, to better match the floor and new countertops (which would be a granite look laminate with warm tones). But, if a lot of people think they are okay as they are, I don't mind skipping the work! :)

The doors are hung poorly (nearly all of them -- I think it is actually a problem with the frames), but they all open and close just fine. Should I leave them be? The master bedroom door has a broken frame that needs to be replaced (courtesy of my ex's temper).

I will definitely change the wording once I actually put the house up for sale! :) I will peruse the local real estate sites to see what wording seems suitable.

I'm glad that you all don't think it is such a trash heap. I will admit I do not like the house (mainly due to bad marital karma and all the problems!). Every time I look in the house, I see something else that needs to be fixed. It helps to have other people's opinions, because what I think it should look like is probably unrealistic (it is an older house, after all).

I will hopefully find out the cost for the retaining wall tomorrow. That should be...frightening! LOL



    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 6:13PM
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It is a really nice house cimmaryn.

Before going any further I would get the loan appraiser over. You have in your mind what the home is worth, but with this economy banks have a completely different idea.

Also, you have that retaining wall issue. If I were a bank, I would hesitate to finance a house that the hillside might swallow up. From Picture 8, my guess is if the bottom wall fails, the dirt behind it would slide and there goes the support of the top wall. You really have to take care of that.

You are fixing up a house that you hope will be worth $185. Save your money and take care of that wall along with the grading. Without that a potential buyer would have a hard time getting a loan or insurance.

Again, From your photos alone, a giant red flag to me. How does that air conditioner breath? To me it says if they didn't take care of this simple once a year maintenance item of hosing it off, in years judging buy the clogs, what else didn't they take care of? If you are not going to replace the A/C, it and probably the furnace need a major cleaning before anyone, including the banker, sees the house.

Once those two are taken care of, spend the $300-$500 to hire a home inspector. Make sure he goes into the crawl space and checks for water damage along with everything else. It would cost you less to repair now, or at least know about potential repair costs, before the buyers inspector nit picks, and he will.

For the inside.

Paint the walls but not the cabinets. They are nice cabinets. I would rather have them than the nightmare of cleaning painted cabinets daily. Also the knobs on the kitchen cabinet are nice. They look like they match the sink so they work. If I am seeing them wrong, change them to silver. The only issue I see with the knobs/cabinets are the ones above the microwave are really crooked. lol Let the buyer deal with that.

From the photos it is hard to tell the condition of the kitchen floor but it looks like a nice vinyl. If it isn't dirty beyond scrubbing and isn't damaged, leave it.

The only thing I would do in there is replace the counter tops with a laminate in a neutral color. ONLY because in the photo with the stove I can see it is chipped and missing the edge on the right of the stove and part of the back splash is missing at the bar end. You keep saying re-laminate. It would be more cost effective to just replace it. Go with a mid grade laminant that looks good and be done with it.

The only lights I would change are the ones in the bathrooms.

The bathroom with the white sink, the dark light sticks out like a sore thumb. Change that and the gold cabinet knobs. An inexpensive silver/chrome for both would look great. Then clean really good, put new caulk around the sink, paint and call it done.

The bathroom with the dark sink, the same thing only here remove the wallpaper and also change the cheap builder grade gold towel bars to the same cheap builder grade but in silver. Finishes go in and out of style but chrome has stayed in style since indoor plumbing was perfected.

Ignore TV, Our home was built new and we moved in September 2003. Six months later I saw a show on HGTV and the decorator yanked down the same lights we have saying they are outdated. Six months old and outdated? LOL Notice the credits on every show, checks are being passed for those credits and pushing products happens.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 6:24PM
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"The HVAC guy make an interesting point -- he said that by moving the ductwork and air handler to the attic, the vents in the floor/walls will no longer be of any use. The only way to remove them would be to replace the carpet. I'm thinking at this point I will just close them off and leave the flooring alone. At least for now! "

Did you tell this guy you are selling? If so it sounds to me like this guy is trying to take you. Just fix, or if need be, replace what you have, but dont move them.

To move the furnace to the attic you would have to hire a structural engineer to make sure the joists can handle the weight and vibrations, permits etc.

You said the current mortgage is $139, you THINK the house will appraise at $185. IF you are correct that gives you $45 thousand and you have no idea yet what the retaining walls will cost.

Retaining wallS, plural. The top one is also railroad ties and just as rotten as the lower one.

STOP EVERYTHING, get that price, and add a lot more. You figure it will be 10-20 thousand, I wouldn't be surprised if it is 20-40 thousand. It is all hand digging and hauling.

My guess is once you fix the retaining walls and the HVAC, you will be lucky if you can break even on a sale for a number of years.

You and your ex should see what you can get for it now, AS IS. The break even point is $139, what you owe, if you can get that and a buyer signs off not wanting a warranty, take it and RUN.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 7:21PM
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Great points above, again!

I agree the retaining wall is the most important thing right now. :) Regarding the second wall -- there is actually no dirt behind it except for the left corner. All my contractors say that it could be taken down and a small wall built just in the corner. I am getting prices for actually removing the lower terrace and putting in a taller single wall (either in timber or keystone). This would make the backyard about 20-22 feet wide, instead of the 12 feet it is now (it's what I would have done if I had been the one to build the house!). It may be cost prohibitive to do it, but if it is close to just fixing the first, I'll do it.

Regarding the HVAC -- there is no way to get a new air handler into the crawl space (they must have installed it during the build). Plus, the crawl space is nasty, dirty, and has flooded several times. The handler down there is "a fire hazard" -- it has burned out wiring and was rewired back directly into the circuit, without an emergency switch (I think that's what he said). It is at the least a code violation. The handler is at least 17 years old.

This crawl space is aptly named -- in some parts, you almost have to crawl on your belly to get around. Parts of it are comfortable 'knee crawling' height, but a lot of it is not. It was my suggestion (when I heard the unit was dangerous and needed to be replaced) that the new one be installed in the attic.

I am hoping the appraisal comes out as I mentioned, but if it does not then I will rethink things. The general opinion seems to be that I will not be able to sell the house the way it is (although I might be able to sell it at a significant loss -- say for $120 -- might be cheaper in the end!). I am going to try to sell it for a period of time before doing the retaining wall. It cannot hurt.

I agree about replacing the countertops in the kitchen. Everyone seems to think the cabinets are fine -- what color countertop should I look for? I hate the pickled/whitewashed color -- do I go for a warm, darker countertop? White? I really wanted to warm the kitchen/bathrooms up.

Should I replace the countertops in the bathroom also? I have already ordered the lighting for the bathroom (ORB) -- my ex put up the black one, which I thought was too dark (the orb is warmer, with a warmer shade) and too small for the space.

In the master bath, there is a 'box' between the tub and the wall (I'm assuming it is just a space filler, since it is not a jetted tub). Do I tear it out? There is the same laminate as the countertop on it, but the glue has loosened and it is falling off.

I guess if I am not repainting the cabinets, I will leave the knobs as they are (silver). I'll pick up the cheap silver towel holder, etc., and another cheap silver faucet for the sink. :) Hey, this fix-up is getting cheaper and cheaper! LOL


    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 10:39PM
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I love your house. It's really cute.

A couple of comments:

In a second home / lakehouse we are renovating we have been trying to contain expenses too. It's hard, but the deals are out there.

We put a solid gray laminate in the kitchen with some white painted cabinets & a greystone tile (4 apiece on closeout at Lowes) backsplash.

We live in a major market with a very active craigslist. We got our kitchen cabinets for $250 (took some work to make them fit & some elbow grease sanding & painting), our stackable w/d for $300 and an almost new side by side fridge & dishwasher for $300/both - the people had just bought the house & wanted stainless!

The retaining wall. That's a biggie, but having said that, the house we bought also has one with some problems. Been in place since the early 60's & has a definite lean. Would be interested in updates as you find out the remedy & cost. We'll be starting to think about that in the Spring.

Good luck with your project - you're doing great!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 11:04AM
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guvnah ~

I just clicked on the link you provided and I am really impressed! The "before" picture at the top was nice but the "after" picture was so great!

I am impressed with the finds you got and implemented them so well. Really, the amount of kitchen cabinets you got was amazing. Painting them white was just the thing and I like how you rearranged the flow of the kitchen appliances.

Good work!


    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 1:34PM
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I've been watching craigslist, too! :) They have some great deals on there -- makes me itch to spend money (for both houses).

I posted some better pictures of the retaining wall on my site, if anyone is interested.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 9:28PM
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Kimberly ~

Just checked out the extra pictures and used the password you provided to enter. All I can say is bless you for painting over the neon colors as they remind me of a psycadellic nightmare. To be honest with you most folks can't get past that color choice nor the state of the home. You were wise to redo it. BTW, did you replace the window sill that looks like a giant dog kept biting at it?

The neighborhood looks great and very peaceful and I wouldn't mind living in a place like that. What are the lot dimensions? I think the cheery yellow outside is welcoming and I like that it is set up on a small hill.

Congrats to you as you have done so much already!


    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 3:15AM
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Cimmaryn - you're doing it again :-), fussing over things way too deeply (all the bathroom details). These are things that if I were selling, I'd put in a clause (and make sure your agent mentions it in the ad) to the effect that you're prepared to ante up to e.g. $1,000 (at most!) on closing towards the cosmetic renovation of the room (to accommodate the buyer's prefs, of course). Don't start tearing things out, and don't even replace the counter unless it's really, really bad - once the buyers know they'll have the chance to do their own thing in there, they'll be able to look at it with open minds.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 6:28AM
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Can you imagine living in a house painted in those colors? It would stress me out!

The house has curb appeal, and looks really cute if you don't look too close. :) Of course, by fixing the yard the the HVAC, the big issues will be taken care of and the rest is just cosmetic.

I have not replaced the windows where the giant dog chewed (must have been the size of a pony!), but I am going to. Really, all the windows could use being replaced just for energy efficiency -- but don't worry, I'm not going to do that! I was thinking about pricing out some new blinds -- the kind that help reduce the heat/cool lost through windows. I have them in my new house, and they work really well. That may be something that falls by the wayside, too. :)

The neighborhood is really peaceful, and in a great location. The school system is also one of the best in Northeast GA. Hopefully, that will help sell it!


    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 8:57AM
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