Before You Sell- What Should You Fix or Replace?

By Dan Steward Print Article
RISMEDIA, January 25, 2011—You’ve probably seen those depressingly cheery home-themed TV shows: a couple needs to sell their house, they have an outdated kitchen, and a designer comes in and proceeds to convince them to renovate the kitchen into a stainless-steel-clad shrine to culinary greatness—for tens of thousands of dollars. In an ideal real estate market, that would add value, but in today’s market, expensive pre-sale renovations, for the most part, aren’t worth it. The numbers bear this out: In general, a home remodel will cost quite a bit more than you’ll get back when you sell; remodels done in 2010 will only recoup 60% of their price when the house is sold, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2010 Remodeling Cost vs. Value survey, done in partnership with the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).
Two of the areas that potential buyers are often most pressured to remodel before selling are the kitchen and bathroom. Here, we’ll tackle both of those rooms, and let you know what to do—and what to avoid—when considering a pre-sale renovation:
-Don’t put in expensive professional-grade cook’s appliances. You may choose a tricked-out, $10,000 Wolf stove, but the buyer may be a loyalist to Viking. Or, even worse, the potential buyer might be a take-out addict.
-Do, however, service the appliances you have, so that they work perfectly. And, if you have seriously outdated appliances that can be replaced for $1,000 or less (like swapping a dingy old fridge for a basic new one), that’s a good idea. Similarly, if there are any appliances that you lack, which most buyers consider essential, it makes sense to buy one (like a dishwasher—you can get a nice model for under $1,000).
-Don’t replace your cabinetry entirely—even if it’s a little outdated. It’s just too subjective. You might think sleek, white Scandinavian cabinets are the way to go, but you’ll be in a bind if your potential buyer prefers dark wood.
-Do invest in cabinet refacing if your cabinets are extremely outdated. Many refacing companies will give your cabinets a fresh façade for well under $2,000, and it’s a good investment in creating a positive impression of the room without doing a pricey knock-down.
-Don’t go granite crazy. Or marble. Or etched-Murano-glass-accented tile. Spending thousands of dollars on a new countertop and backsplash is downright dangerous, as there are so many different options these days, it’s impossible to find one that will please most people.
-Do hire a professional cleaning company to come in and make what you have sparkle. While this won’t magically make your tile look magazine-spread-worthy, it will certainly make it look a lot better, as discoloration from age often makes tile look even worse.
-Don’t do expensive tub/shower repairs or replacements. Just like with the big-ticket kitchen fixes, this is a matter of taste. If you put in a round jetted tub, what if the buyer wants square? And is an amethyst-crystal steam shower really something everyone will love?
-Do replace dated bath and shower fixtures; this can be done generally quite inexpensively. For instance, if you have a 30-year-old, tiny showerhead, replacing it with a large, rainwater-style model will lend a subtle spa-like quality without costing a lot.
-Don’t replace your smallish vanity with a new, built-in model. A lot of remodelers emphasize the intrinsically relaxing qualities of having all your toiletries, towels and even reading material beautifully organized in one big unit made of high-end wood, marble and chrome. And it is certainly beautiful. But it’s also a risky choice, and a matter of taste.
-Do freshen up the vanity area. Invest in a big mirror and put bright lights over it. And a few hundred dollars spent on a nice faucet is well worth it, as, like the showerhead, it’s a true basic—and updating the basics, in most homes and markets, is all you should be focusing on.
Other tips for redoing your kitchen and bathroom frugally
-Declutter your counters. A disorganized kitchen is a buyer-deterrent. Clean up the counters and pare down countertop items to the essentials—toaster, microwave, coffee pot and not much more than that.
-Keep your pantry and cabinetry clutter-free too. You don’t have to alphabetize your cereals—just know that potential buyers will probably open those cabinets, so they won’t want a ladle falling out on their head.
-Give your kitchen table or breakfast bar some life. It’s simple—placemats, a colorful vase or two and a tasteful flower arrangement will reinforce the idea that the kitchen is the heart of the home.
-If you want to add a little life to the wall, try a simple, straight-lined wood or stainless-steel floating shelf with a few candles on it. It’s an elegant, boutique-hotel touch that doesn’t cost much.
-Toss down a colorful floor mat. Bathrooms are often devoid of color; this is a great way to add that color, and a little warmth.
-Again, clear clutter. Even your beauty essentials shouldn’t be on the counter if you’re in the open house stage.

Dan Steward is president of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections.
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