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Don’t Fix These 7 Things When Selling Your House

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The better your home shows, the more offers you’ll get. This idea overwhelms a lot of sellers because they feel like they have to fix everything. But that’s not true.
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    Carmen Bean Real Estate Agent
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    Carmen Bean
    Carmen Bean Real Estate Agent at eXp Realty
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    • Years of Experience 12
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The accepted wisdom of real estate holds that houses in good condition bring in a higher price than houses in not-so-great condition. While that is generally true, it’s possible to “over-improve” a home to the point of losing money if the return doesn’t match the investment.

“The better your home shows, the more offers you’ll get,” explains top-selling San Antonio real estate agent Carmen Bean. “This idea overwhelms a lot of sellers because they feel like they have to fix everything. But that’s not true.”

Knowing what to fix – and what not to fix when selling a home – can be tricky. That’s why we compiled a do-not-fix list and threw in some advice to help you determine which fixes are worthwhile … and which are a waste of time, money, and effort.

How to decide what not to fix when selling a house

Before we go over the list, let’s look at three initial steps that will help you determine how to approach repairs as you make plans to list your home.

Step 1: Consult with a top local agent before you fix anything

Ask a top local agent what – if anything – should be fixed or upgraded. Their job is to advise sellers where to make money by pointing out which repairs and upgrades are necessary and where to save money by leaving some projects undone.

Aim for something between “as is” and turnkey. You want to do just enough to attract buyers, but you don’t want to pour a lot of unnecessary cash into repairs and upgrades that won’t help your home sell for more money.

Because they know the neighborhood, as well as what the market is doing, real estate agents can provide sound insight into what work would bring a good return on investment and what work could be just a waste of time.

“The first thing I say to my sellers is, ‘Please don’t do anything to your house until I see it.’ That’s because a lot of sellers overspend on fixing and upgrading things that don’t make a difference to the home’s value,” Bean says.

Bean advises sellers to leave minor issues untouched. By waiting for the home inspection report and the buyer’s requests, you’ll know where you need to spend money. That way, you don’t “waste” money on cosmetic changes that may be needed to fix issues discovered by an inspection.

For example, Bean continues, while a lot of buyers dislike carpet, the seller isn’t going to get a good return on investment (ROI) by installing new flooring. Even if they did spend the money on new flooring, it’s not guaranteed to please buyers. “Instead, we can shampoo the existing carpet and negotiate a floor allowance so that their buyer can pick out their own flooring when they move in.”

Step 2: Determine if you will recoup your cost

Will repairs, renovations, or improvements add value and provide a good ROI? It depends on the market and where you live.

Generally, however, kitchen upgrades typically provide the highest return – around 50% to 75% – followed by flooring. Lower-cost improvements such as painting and landscaping might provide a bigger bang for your buck and be a safer investment.

“Sometimes a major renovation makes sense and sometimes not,” Bean observes. “It all depends on the market and your neighborhood. An experienced real estate agent can evaluate your home’s value, run the comps (comparable home sales), and calculate the ROI to see if updating makes financial sense.”

To play it safe, follow the rule of thumb not to spend more than 10% of your home’s value on a kitchen remodel or more than 5% on a primary bathroom remodel.

Step 3: Identify and rule out vanity fixes

Selling a home can suddenly motivate a homeowner to pull out the tattered, old to-do list. Remember that your home doesn’t have to be in showroom condition – and that it may not make financial sense to fix everything.

Below are three warning thoughts to watch for as you are deciding what to fix before selling your home.

“I always meant to fix it”

No one wants to be thought of as a slacker. However, due to budget restrictions and time restraints, every homeowner has a wish list of repairs or upgrades that never got addressed. Moving before you check those items off your list may leave you feeling like you are suffering from the Zeigarnik Effect, a nagging feeling of leaving things undone. But keep in mind that the new buyer may have a different to-do list than you do, and focus your efforts on doing only the work that will bring you the best ROI.

“I don’t want buyers to see my house like this”

Our homes are an intensely personal reflection of ourselves. Opening up our homes to strangers for showings can cause anxiety – or embarrassment. No one likes to be judged … which is exactly what prospective buyers are doing. Of course you want your home to look its best. Of course you’re nervous about strangers judging your taste, your style, your home’s cleanliness. Take heart in knowing that when a buyer nitpicks the little details, it’s often a sign of serious interest in purchasing your home.

“Fixes and upgrades will detract from unfixable property flaws”

Sometimes, no amount of upgrades or repairs will redirect attention away from major property detractions guaranteed to lower the sale price. Face it, there’s nothing you can do to hide a powerline or disguise a busy street. The size of your yard isn’t going to magically grow. Your square footage isn’t, either. Nevertheless, some homeowners think that presenting an updated, upgraded, fully repaired home will offset the loss caused by an unfixable property flaw.

One of Bean’s sellers spent unnecessarily on an expensive renovation of a house that had nothing wrong with it except that it backed onto a busy highway. “They redid the kitchen cabinets, installed new flooring, and made other upgrades because they thought that it would help the sale,” she recalls. In the end, she says, “We still ended up lowering the price and taking a huge hit because backing [onto] the highway was a big hang-up for buyers.” She believes if the sellers had taken her advice, they could have saved the money they spent on fruitless improvements.

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What not to fix when selling a house (do-not-fix list)

According to our 2022 Buyer and Seller Insights Report, 23% of buyers purchased a home that was in worse condition than they expected to buy at the start of their search. That’s not a panacea for neglecting all repairs, but it’s wise to heed the advice of your local agent in determining what fixes your buyer pool will want and which ones they’re agreeable to compromise on if you don’t do them.

Some typical repairs you can usually skip include:

1. Cosmetic flaws

Many cosmetic issues are typically easy to fix: painting and landscaping, for example. Quick, affordable fixes that make a big impact may be worth doing to present a fresh, clean “face” to buyers, although they’re not on the priority list unless they detract from your home’s appearance.

However, some cosmetic flaws may be a little more involved, such as replacing old countertops in the kitchen or bath. Other issues may fall somewhere in between, such as a few cracked tiles, outdated finishes, or minor scratches in hardwood floors.

If you have the home improvement skills to complete some of these projects, you may want to do them, depending on how much time and money will be needed. If you’re not exactly a handyman, however, you could risk causing further damage or spending more money than a project is worth.

Your home doesn’t need a complete make-over in order to sell. “Normal wear-and-tear is to be expected,” Bean points out, “so there’s no need to address most [cosmetic issues] unless there’s a serious, underlying problem.”

2. Minor electrical issues

Some electrical issues require major repair because they’re safety hazards. If your home has old wiring, exposed wires, an outdated electrical service panel, dangling light fixtures, standard circuit breakers, or ungrounded outlets, you’ll have to address these problems before listing your home for sale.

But innocuous electrical issues – loose outlet plugs, dead outlets, or a light switch that goes to nothing – may not need to be addressed. “Most of the time,” Bean states, “the inspection report will just note that wobbly sockets are not tightened enough – and the light switch isn’t even mentioned.”

3. Driveway or walkway cracks

HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights For New Year 2022 survey reveals that buyers will pay 7% more for a house with great curb appeal.

Normally, curb appeal includes features like freshly mowed grass, mulched flower beds, tidily trimmed shrubs, a fresh coat of exterior paint, a couple of cozy chairs on the front porch, and a nice mat by the front door.

Few buyers are so nitpicky to let a few driveway or sidewalk cracks wreck a sale. In fact, Bean says, “Hairline cracks are very common here in San Antonio because we have a lot of soil movement, so a driveway or walkway crack isn’t going to scare a buyer off unless it’s huge enough to be a potential hazard.”

4. Grandfathered-in building code issues

Building codes evolve over time. Therefore, a house built in 1980 likely won’t meet all the current building codes. That doesn’t mean you need to bring everything up to current standards in order to sell your home. If the home was legally constructed in compliance with the building codes of the day, it is typically considered “grandfathered-in” and does not have to meet current codes.

Nevertheless, a home inspection will note these aberrances. As Bean points out, “By law, home inspectors have to address all of the building code items in their inspection reports. But the sellers don’t have to update the house to current standards because the home is grandfathered-in.” She adds that the buyer can upgrade the house to current standards if they choose; however, many agents would advise against it.

Building code violations are common. Even if yours isn’t grandfathered-in, you still may not need to correct it in order to sell.

5. Partial room upgrades

If you don’t have the time or budget to finish an upgrade or remodel, it’s probably better not to start it because it’s difficult for buyers to visualize the completed effect if you’ve left work undone. Besides, replacing only one cabinet or a couple fixtures will only point out how badly the rest of the room needs renovating.

“A partial remodel never looks good,” Bean agrees. For example, she says it “makes no sense to put in a new vanity, but keep the 1980s linoleum floor. When you do a partial room upgrade, you’re not adding value. It may look as if you’re trying to hide something rather than just updating it. So, you either need to do the whole room or just leave it be.”

6. Removable items

Sometimes, it’s easier simply to remove worn or dated items rather than replace or update them. It can also save money. For example, according to HomeAdvisor, window treatments cost an average of $799.

Some sellers want to take removable items with them, but it’s not always possible, even if those window treatments fit in your new home. “In Texas … sellers were free to take the curtain rods and valances, but now they are considered a part of the house,” Bean indicates.

However, if they’re not in good condition, if they’re dated, or they make the room too dark, instead of leaving them behind, just take them down before listing the home – and don’t replace them. It’s the ultimate and quick, inexpensive prep!

7. Old appliances

If appliances are mismatched, more than 10 years old, not energy efficient, severely worn, barely functioning, broken, or missing, it can hurt your home sale. Replacing them with brand new appliances can add value to your home, but Bean says that’s not your only option.

“If your appliances are really old, ugly, and barely working, I would advise saving money by replacing them with used appliances versus buying brand new appliances that cost thousands of dollars,” explains Bean.

If you decide to buy new, you don’t have to go high-end, top-of-the-line to impress a buyer; standard new appliances don’t have to cost a lot to add a lot to your home’s impression.

Seek to show potential, not perfection

Don’t be tempted to fix everything you think is wrong with your house; you’ll either lose money or price it out of competition in the market. When you prepare your house for sale, remember that your goal is to show its potential, not to polish it to perfection.

Skip cosmetic fixes and minor issues. Don’t touch any code issues that have been grandfathered in. And be sure to consult your real estate agent about what kind of repairs the market demands before you spend your time and money on fixing anything.

An experienced real estate agent can help you craft your own fix and do-not-fix lists so you get the most out of your home sale. If you don’t have an agent, you can find a top-performing agent in your area with HomeLight’s Agent Match. This free platform analyzes millions of transactions and thousands of reviews in order to identify the right agent for you.

Writer Christine Bartsch contributed to this story.

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