Mint, Good, Fair, Acceptable: the used condition rating systems of online marketplaces have created a culture where people assume better condition means bigger bucks. But the value of condition isn’t quite so simple in the real estate world.
True, homes in mint and good condition typically sell for more money. But investing in improving your home’s condition is not always the smart play. You may end up spending more than you’ll gain in added value.
“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,” explains top-selling San Antonio real estate agent Carmen Bean.
So how do you decide which improvements to make and what not to fix when you’re selling a house? Here are three tips to consider before you start compiling your fix it list.
1. Ask a top local agent
“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,” explains Bean. “My job is to save sellers as much money as possible by telling them which fixes and upgrades are unnecessary.”
Consulting an agent before spending any money on repairs or upgrades is vital because every home, neighborhood, and market is different. What’s an absolute must-do in one neighborhood could be a waste of money in another.
While you may think you know what buyers want, experienced agents are immersed in the real estate market daily. They know what fixes buyers are insisting on, what upgrades they’ll pay more for, and which projects are sure to be a waste of time and money.
“I tell my sellers not to address the minor issues because we can see what the home inspection brings up and then negotiate,” says Bean.
“For example, a lot of buyers hate carpet, but sellers aren’t going to get their money back if they put in new flooring. Instead, we can shampoo the existing carpet and negotiate a flooring allowance so that their buyer can pick out their own flooring when they move in.”
2. Will you recoup your cost?
No one would accept fifty cents back in exchange for a dollar, but that’s exactly what most homeowners get when they invest in unnecessary fixes or upgrades right before selling. Let’s say you do a kitchen upgrade — in most cases, you will only get half of what you spend on that major renovation back.
But in some areas, upgrading the kitchen is an absolute must unless you’re willing to accept a lowball offer.
“Sometimes a major renovation makes sense and sometimes not, it all depends on the market and your neighborhood. An experienced real estate agent can evaluate your home’s value, run the comps, and calculate the ROI to see if updating makes financial sense,” advises Bean.
3. Avoid vanity fixes
Most sellers instinctively say that they want to fix things because they hope it’ll help the house sell for more money — but that’s often not the real reason. Sellers who balk at their agents’ advice to leave repairs or upgrades undone usually do so for one of three reasons:
“I always meant to fix it”
Every homeowner has a wish list of repairs and upgrades they want to do to their home. If those things remain undone when you’re prepping to sell, it can feel like leaving the last chapter of a great book unread. If you find yourself itching to complete a project that your agent has advised you to skip, you’re probably just dealing with a touch of the Zeigarnik Effect.
“I don’t want buyers to see my house like this”
Pride of ownership is a big motivator for sellers determined to fix every flaw before listing their home. When you know that dozens of strangers are going to be traipsing through, judging your property’s condition and appraising your taste, it’s only natural to want your home to be at its best. But it’s not worth spending thousands just to impress strangers on a 15-minute showing.
“Fixes and upgrades will detract from unfixable property flaws”
Some homes simply have flaws that guarantee that it’ll sell for less than others in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s a powerline on your property, or a lack of parking, or no backyard, or you back onto a busy street.
Homeowners who know that their property has a major, unfixable flaw are prone to want to fix and upgrade every inch of their homes in the hope of regaining the value lost from that flaw. But you cannot upgrade that flaw away no matter how hard you try. Just like you cannot redecorate more square footage into your house, or curb appeal your way into a larger lot.
“One of my sellers spent unnecessarily on an expensive renovation to a house that had nothing wrong with it backed up on a very busy highway,” Bean shares. “They redid the kitchen cabinets, installed new flooring, and made other upgrades because they thought that it would help the sale.
“We still ended up lowering the price and taking a huge hit because backing on the highway was a big hang-up for buyers. They should’ve taken my advice and saved that money.”
If you realize after careful evaluation that one or more of these is the real reason why you want to make unnecessary fixes, take a deep breath, let it go, and leave it be.
Your Do-Not-Fix list
While it takes careful consideration and the advice of a great agent to determine exactly what you should do and what you should not fix when selling your house, you should generally avoid spending money on the following:
1. Cosmetic flaws
“When it comes to cosmetic issues, normal wear and tear is to be expected, so there’s no need to address most of them unless there’s a serious, underlying problem causing the issue,” explains Bean.
Whether it’s a minor crack in tile flooring, a few scratches in the floors and baseboards, or outdated bathroom finishes, you should decide which cosmetic issues to address based on how much time and money they’ll take to fix.
Most cosmetic issues that require a big home improvement project to fix, such as old countertops in the guest bath, can wait. Instead of investing in that upgrade, you may be better off just lowering your price accordingly. Other items that will take minimal time and money to address — such as untamed landscaping — should be fixed simply to improve your home’s immediate appeal.
Problems like a cracked tile are a toss up. For those skilled at home improvement projects, who have exact match tiles on hand, and the cracked tile is easily accessible without damaging surrounding tiles, go for it. If replacing the tile will cause more damage and cost you more than a little money, then skip it.
2. Minor electrical issues
Electrical issues sound innately serious and like they’d need fixing right away. And it’s true that if you’ve got exposed wires, sparking outlets, or dangling light fixtures, then yes, you’ll need to pay to address those problems before listing. But some minor electrical issues can be left alone.
“Almost every house has a wobbly socket or light switch that goes to nothing. I tell my sellers not to address those issues,” explains Bean. “And most of the time, 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
According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for the Spring of 2019, 94% of top agents nationwide recommend improving your curb appeal to increase your home’s value. But curb appeal doesn’t mean curb perfection, especially when it comes to driveway and walkway cracks.
“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,” explains Bean.
4. Grandfathered-in building code issues
Building code items can cause worry when they show up in inspection reports, but there’s no need to spend thousands getting your home up to current code standards. Building codes change, so a house built in 1980 isn’t going to meet current codes — and that’s OK.
“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,” explains Bean. “If the buyer wants to upgrade the house to current standards, that’s up to them to do.”
5. Partial room upgrades
Your bathroom is in pretty good shape, except, your sink faucet is dripping and the vanity has seen better days. As tempting as it might be to simply stick in a new vanity, sink and faucet, it’s wiser to simply leave it be — unless you’re willing to spruce up the whole bathroom.
“A partial remodel never looks good. It makes no sense to put in a new vanity, but keep the 1980s linoleum floor,” advises Bean. “When you do a partial room upgrade, you’re not adding value and 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
Why replace what you could simply remove, such as dated window valances? Changing out old window treatments for new ones sounds like an easy swap, but the cost adds up. According to HomeAdvisor, window treatments cost $712 on average, and a single install costs $50. Plus, you probably won’t be able to take those new curtains and rods to your new home.
“In Texas, the rules have recently changed. Previously, sellers were free to take the curtain rods and valances, but now they are considered a part of the house. So if you have old valances dating the house and making it really dark, I’d advise taking them down and not replacing them before listing,” explains Bean.
7. Old appliances
While you can simply remove some outdated items, appliances will need to be replaced if you remove them. But that doesn’t mean you need to blow tons of cash on buying brand new models.
“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.
There are plenty of good, working older appliances available on online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook that people have only pulled out because they’re remodeling their own homes.
Seek to show potential, not perfection
Homeowners are so familiar with their home’s flaws that it’s easy to get overwhelmed when prepping to sell it. Instead of giving into the temptation to fix absolutely everything, remember this: When you’re readying your house for sale, your goal is to show your home’s potential, not polish it to perfection.
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