When your house needs work, and a lot of it, it can be intimidating to put it on the market without investing in a bunch of fancy upgrades. When it’s time to sell for one reason or another, it’s easy to feel like the ugly duckling on the block — the old house with the old floors, the bad yard, the broken this and the broken that. But let’s face it, not everyone has the time or the money to fix up their fixer-upper.
We can’t all be Chip and Joanna Gaines.
The good news is, it’s far from impossible to sell a house that needs work for a decent price — and you don’t have to make major renovations to do it. In fact, it’s not always smart to do a ton of overhaul work on a property. You might not even need to put in that new flooring or upgrade the countertops and cabinets.
“I personally discourage it at this point in the market,” says Katrina Deist, a top agent in Mesa, Arizona who sells homes 60% faster than average. “The odds are the new buyer is going to come in and change it. You put carpet in there, and they’re going to want hardwood.”
When it comes to selling a fixer-upper, it’s not about trying to make it look perfect.
It’s about selling on the features it does have, the floor plan, and the potential dream home hidden behind the flaws. As long as there are no structural or safety issues to worry about, you’re in good shape.
In this video, we break down every step to sell a house that needs some work.
How to Sell a House that Needs Work:
Quick Tips for Success
- Learn about your buyer pool. Who’s going to buy your fixer-upper? (An investor? A bargain hunter?)
- Clean up your front yard curb appeal, and clear out any outdoor clutter.
- Make small updates around the house (fix broken doors, caulking, etc.).
- Educate yourself (and buyers) on renovation loans.
- Highlight the amazing features your home already has.
- Make sure you price the home right.
Now, let’s dive in!
First, Learn More About Your Buyer Pool
Unlike buyers who just want something turnkey, people who buy fixer-upper homes see potential over perfection. They’re willing to put work into a property either to make money, build equity, or for the opportunity to design exactly what they want. We won’t try to fool you and say that everyone loves a fixer-upper. They certainly aren’t for everyone. However, there are three types of buyers willing to take the leap and roll up their sleeves to upgrade and renovate.
Your Buyer Pool: Flippers
The most obvious are home flippers or investors. They buy homes at low prices (often at auctions), renovate them, and then aim to sell them at high prices. The best part is, they’ll see your home’s flaws through the lens of potential.
If a flipper is interested in your property, make sure you do one of the following first:
- Sync up with a real estate agent to find out what your home is worth. An agent will be able to run a comparative market analysis (CMA) of recently sold properties similar to yours in size, location, and condition for an accurate pricing picture. That way you know if you’re getting lowballed and can walk away before it’s too late.
- Alternatively, run your address through our Simple Sale platform, aka the largest network of cash real estate buyers in the country. With Simple Sale, we’ll gather a few details about your property and reach out to interested buyers on your behalf. We’ll present you with a cash offer side-by-side with an estimation of what you could likely fetch on the open market so you have a nice point of reference.
Flippers like things cheap, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle if they don’t make an offer at the true value. Remember, your house needs work, but that doesn’t make you desperate.
Your Buyer Pool: Deal Hunters
Next, is the buyer who wants to live in a specific location, neighborhood, or part of town but can’t afford the average list prices in those areas. For them, buying a fixer-upper is their ticket into those prime neighborhoods. They’re willing to invest in a property that needs renovating just because of where it sits on a map.
While some people just want turn-key homes, end of story, the deal hunter is willing to buy the ugly-duckling home for two reasons. First, they’re happy to find something they can afford in the area they want. Second, by purchasing a fixer-upper, they understand they can make upgrades over time and build equity along the way.
Your Buyer Pool: Remodelers
The third type of homebuyer is the one who does have the money but hasn’t been able to land a home in the area they want with the features they want. And it’s not because they haven’t found it. They’ve probably found their dream home several times over, only to have it snagged from underneath them every time.
In coveted neighborhoods, there is also a lot of competition. “People are waiting months for a house to come up in a subdivision that goes under contract within hours,” says Deist. “To be able to get out of that box where everybody is waiting for a listing to pop is to be able to drive your own destiny.” She has a point. Purchasing a fixer-upper gives buyers a clean slate and an invitation to design the home haven’t been able to find, or have found but keep getting outbid on.
Here’s How to Sell a House That Needs Work
Now that you understand a little more about your potential buyers, there are some simple strategies you can use to make your property more attractive to them. If you learn what tends to intrigue them and what turns them off it’ll go a long way towards selling your property.
Start with a few simple projects that are also affordable.
1. Clean Up the Yard and Clear Out Clutter
Deist names landscaping as one of the best things you can do to make a good first impression. “Not adding landscaping, but getting it cleaned up,” she clarifies. You don’t have to fork over the big bucks for expensive landscape design; simply cleaning up weeds, mowing grass, and planting a few flower pots can work wonders.
One study out of Texas Tech University in 2012 concluded that landscaping and curb appeal can directly impact the value of your house by as much 12%. Research from HomeLight supports this years later: Our 2019 Top Agent Insights Survey found that most real estate experts estimate that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1% to 10% more than homes with no landscaping,
So, a day’s worth of yard work can mean more money in your pocket before you even deal with the inside. If your front yard is just dirt, adding gravel is an affordable way to boost curb appeal. You’ll spend roughly $250-$700 for gravel landscaping, but if it helps to add another 1%-12% to the value of your home, it’s well worth it.
Clutter inside of your home has a similar impact. In 2016, cleaning specialist Vileda wanted to learn about where potential buyers spend the most time looking inside homes and found that 95% of potential buyers go straight to the windows to look at the view. That means dirty windows and window sills could give buyers a bad impression right off the bat.
Meanwhile, only 15% of people gave the floors more than a quick glance.
Our 2019 Top Agent Insights research at HomeLight confirms that a deep clean can add nearly $2,000 in resale value thanks to the good impression a sparkling home makes with buyers, whereas you’re more likely to break even or lost money on bigger kitchen and bath updates.
So, your house doesn’t need brand spankin’ new amenities, but it does need to be clean. Dirt and clutter may prevent buyers from making an offer long before something like imperfect flooring or outdated countertops. In Deist’s experience, “Clean sells extremely well.”
2. Small Changes Make a Big Difference
Whether it’s because you can’t afford to make major renovations or don’t have the time, you don’t really have to in a saturated market. But the smaller fixes? Deist recommends that sellers put the time and effort in. “It’s definitely worth the seller’s time and money to make the smaller [updates] if they can.”
“I’ve always told my clients is it takes a buyer twice as much money to make the same repairs the seller could make,” says Deist.
Think of it this way: the less you repair, the more equity you might have to give away in order to make the house worth it. Small repairs include but aren’t limited to:
- Patching holes
- Deep cleaning stained tubs and toilets
- Fixing broken doors and hinges
- Fixing leaky pipes
- Adding new caulking where it’s worn out
Specifically, these small projects can really up the eye-candy factor:
- Clean or replace grout
- Replace knobs on cabinets (which can go for a little as a dollar per knob)
- Treat stains in your carpet
3. Bring Up Renovation Loans in Your Listing
Renovation loans may be one of the most useful tools when it comes to selling your fixer-upper. If buyers go this route, they factor the projected renovation costs into their total loan amount. Rather than buying a fixer-upper and then paying to make upgrades separately, buyers are able to get approved for a higher loan amount and receive that money in phases to pay for larger renovations.
Examples of this are the FHA 203(k) loan and the Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation loan.
There are caveats. A buyer’s credit score has to check out and depending on the program, they may have to put a certain amount of money down. Their renovations typically have to be approved by a consultant of the mortgage company who makes sure they make financial sense based on the projected value of the home (i.e. they won’t loan $250,000 for a house that will only be valued at $200,000). Buyers will also have to show proof that they’ve completed the renovations.
But how does this benefit the seller exactly? Work with your Realtor to make sure your listing includes language about renovation loans. This way, potential buyers know to discuss it with their Realtor and other Realtors know to make their buyers aware.
Include phrases like: Fixer upper in a great location. Could be your dream home with just a few upgrades. Renovation loans may be available. You’ll create equity right away. Remember that even though people are looking for a home, they also want to be able to make money from it one day. Upgrading a fixer-upper is an investment in themselves and renovation loans help make that possible.
If your Realtor holds an open house, he/she should also plant the seed about renovation loans then. When people comment on the old floors or the dated cabinets, knowing they can make those upgrades in one fell swoop may stop them from crossing your house off their list. The more resources buyers know are available to them, the more willing they may be to plunge hammer first into buying your fixer-upper.
“Loans can go up to $50,000 so we’re talking carpet, paint, possibly a new kitchen,” explains Deist.
4. Highlight Your Home’s Features
When it comes to clearing out clutter, throwing it into closets and cupboards isn’t the answer because storage space is a selling feature. The same Vileda study found that 80% of buyers look in these storage spaces, while the National Association of Home Builders reports that 85% of homebuyers want to see ample garage storage in a home.
They probably don’t care to see what trinkets you’ve accumulated over the years. But a decently sized hallway closet? That’s something they can get on board with.
The reality is, buyers can change the flooring and other stylistic details down the road. If they love the floor plan and love the house for what it is, they’re more likely to take that leap.
So, market your house based on its best features. That means your listing should describe things like closet size, the master suite, a fireplace, a patio, storage, an open floor plan, great views, a home office, big windows for natural light, and garage space. Make sure to mention neighborhood features like parks and good school districts as well. And then, Deist says, “If they know they could go in and have $30,000 [from a renovation loan] to do all the floor and paint, update the fixtures, and be able to do a lot?” Well, that could make all the difference in pushing the sale through.
Deist reminds me that sweat equity is always a play when it comes to selling a fixer-upper. “Because we do have a lot of buyers that come in and say ‘well I can do this, we can change this, we can put tile in here’ — they’re already creating sweat equity and planning it prior to purchasing it.”
5. Price it Right: The Best Way to Sell a Home that Needs Work
Once again, selling a fixer-upper isn’t about trying to make the house look perfect and sell it as something it isn’t. So, even once it’s cleaned up and ready to list, don’t overprice it. “If the money’s not there, it’s not there,” explains Deist. However, while you’ll have to give away some equity, you don’t want to under price your home either.
With the help of your Realtor, calculate what the value of your home would be if it were remodeled. Your agent can asses comps nearby to help figure this out. Then list out and calculate the cost of the upgrades needed to get your house in that condition. Which upgrades are necessary? Which of those can you afford to do yourself? Which will you leave to the buyer? Whatever the buyer will need to absorb should be subtracted from the value of the home.
Deist has a fixer-upper property she’s working on now that received multiple offers without a single renovation. “We’ve sold this property as is. [And there were] multiple offers. We are at the actual true value,” she explains.
So, don’t count your fixer-upper out just yet. With a little TLC, some cleaning supplies, and a great real estate agent who will make sure buyers know their options, your house will probably sell faster than you expect, even though it needs a little extra work.
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