How to Sell an ‘Ugly’ House: 5 Ways to Help Buyers Look Past Cosmetics

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Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re selling your house, they can make or break a first impression. Features that you might consider, ah… unique… can be a turnoff, even if your house is otherwise in great shape.

Take that pink tub and tile in the master bath. It has strong water pressure, but the color might make buyers green around the gills. Speaking of green, avocado is a trendy spread on toast nowadays, but as the color of a stove? Not so much.

“Buyers today are far more visual,” said Zinta Rodgers-Rickert, a real estate agent who serves the Virginia areas of Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria.

“You’ve got 10 seconds to make them feel like they can work with that property or live in that home.”

You may be accustomed to your home’s quirks, but now it’s time for some straight talk about how to sell an ugly house—that is, one where buyers won’t notice the amenities or potential right away. Here are a few strategies to discuss with your real estate agent.

roof for how to sell an ugly house
Source: (Jack Price-Burns/ Unsplash)

1. Highlight your home’s best features

Maybe you haven’t redone that odd-looking bathroom or kitchen because you’ve put money toward vital repairs like a new roof or HVAC. So point out what’s new and what’s in your favor.

“If you can justify that there’s been a $10,000 to $20,000 new roof, new HVAC system, or some of your major systems have been replaced, it’s a big plus,” Rodgers-Rickert said.

Don’t rely on buyers to notice the best parts of your home based on photos, adds the Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors. Have your agent mention the oak floors, even if they clash with the current color on the walls because the paint is an easy fix.

If your house is in a good school district or on a quiet cul-de-sac, some buyers might warm up to it, even if they’re not initially thrilled with some optics. “Ugly features usually are cosmetic, and with certain coaching … you can usually get past most cosmetics,” Rodgers-Rickert said.

how to sell an ugly house gray
Source: (Christopher Jolly/ Unsplash)

2. Fix what you can

Granted, a lot of what you can fix before listing your house depends on your price point and your budget, as well as your neighborhood. If many of the homes in your neighborhood have a kitchen style of the same era, there’s no need to redo it before selling if you don’t have the money, said Julie Dana, an interior decorator since 2002 and owner of The Home Stylist, an interior decorating and staging business in the Buffalo, New York, area.

“In a $100,000 house, people aren’t expecting granite,” she added.

In a higher price range, a cost of $20,000 to paint the interior, update light fixtures and update a bathroom with new fixtures packs a huge payoff.

“I’ve helped a number of properties recently that, had they sold with no improvements in our area, would have been in the $390,000 to $410,000 range at best,” Rodgers-Rickert said.

“One seller who spent $20,000 on such improvements sold his property for $510,000. Had he not invested the $20,000, he would have been leaving an awful lot of money on the table.”

If you don’t have that amount available, consider spending $5,000 to $10,000 to update the interior with fresh paint, she added. “The buyer is going to come in thinking there needs to be a $20,000-$30,000 price adjustment because they’re going to need to paint.”

The latest trendy color is gray, but that will clash if your house still has the brown and beige stylings of the 1980s and 1990s, Dana added. According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for Q1 2019, Agreeable Gray, which blends warm and cool tones and operates more as a “greige,” is the no. 1 recommended home staging paint color.

Also, check what you can manage within your budget. Replacing the porch light and painting the front door costs less than $50 but gives your exterior a whole new look, notes Money Talks News, a financial blog with more than 500,000 subscribers. Update your cabinet hardware and install new door handles for additional economic updates.

There are other upgrades that don’t cost as much as you might imagine. Danny Lipford of Today’s Homeowner has a brief tutorial online about installing a tile backsplash with the SimpleMat self-adhesive mat ($55 for 30 square feet) that’s much easier and faster than using thin-set adhesive. Just add the cost of the tile (which can start at $5.77 per square foot, depending on design) and apply grout.

staging a condo with big windows
Source: (Arek Socha/ Unsplash)

3. Set the stage

A professional stager can give you advice on how to make your home look its best, especially if it has an “ugly” challenge.

Dana, who has been in business for 16 years and staged more than 1,200 homes, charges $185 for an hour’s consultation with individual clients and also does e-design, or customized interior design plans online.

She gave these recommendations for any “ugly” home to look better:

  • Take down window coverings, especially heavy drapes, to let in the most light.
  • Remove about half your belongings from the house (whether you pack, donate, or put them in storage). Then give it a deep cleaning.
  • Splurge on small items in a color palette that complements what you have so that it’s not as overwhelming. For instance, if your bathroom is a dated yellow throughout the tub, tile, sink, and toilet, mute that with blue or gray, which adds stylish contrast. “If you’re not going to change it, you’ve got to go with it,” she said. (As for that pink color we mentioned earlier? Try navy blue or gray accents.)
how to sell an ugly house bathroom
Source: (Christa Grover/ Pexels)

4. Negotiate on price and renovations

If your house has an “ugly” location or other hurdles, you and your agent likely will discuss how to offset this through the asking price.

However, real estate agents also tend to have good relationships with contractors who can make affordable renovations with a small deposit, then wait for final payment at settlement, Rodgers-Rickert said. Ask your agent about this, so you can show potential buyers what those fixes will look like after closing.

Even without such an agreement, “we do on occasion get estimates for improvements so that a buyer or another agent has a better feel for what a 4×6 bathroom renovation will cost,” she added.

She’s also done “virtual staging,” where she can show potential buyers how a room with a problematic decor would look with a different paint color and new flooring.

how to sell an ugly house living room
Source: (Vecislavas Popa/ Pexels)

5. Present the house in its best light

A house that’s a challenge to sell for any reason needs more open houses. That way, potential buyers might stop in on their way through the neighborhood for a quick look.

Rodgers-Rickert faced the challenge of selling a house with an “ugly” location, i.e., on a busy cut-through street next to a gas station and mechanic.

“The person that bought that house was certain that they would never buy that location and ultimately did because what they were getting for the money in terms of house offset the overall location itself,” she said.

Help buyers get over your home’s appearance to see its potential

We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we’ve also had experiences where we’ve appreciated the beauty in something that we didn’t see at first once someone changed our perspective.

Talk with your real estate agent to develop a strategy for focusing on potential buyers’ attention on what your house has to offer. A cosmetic flaw doesn’t have to be an insurmountable one.