Preparing Your Home for Sale
Before a buyer considers your home seriously, it must meet his needs in a variety of ways. It must be a suitable commuting distance, neighborhood, design style, floorplan, size, number of bedrooms, etc. If all or most of these needs are met, the buyer will begin to move in the direction of making a purchase decision. The purchase decision is a both an emotional and intellectual response, founded on a level of trust in your home. So, it is logical that in marketing your home your goal should be to enable the buyer to build trust in your home as quickly as possible. One way to do this is to address both surface and hidden repair issues before putting your home on the market. A few small clues, such as torn carpet or leaky faucet, will create a feeling that your house is not well cared for. Once the buyer has spotted a few defects, he will be on the lookout for more. If the finishes in your home are in good condition, buyers will assume that the mechanical and structural systems are well maintained also.
Make a Complete List
Remember that potential buyers and their real estate agents do not have the warm personal memories and familiarity that you have with your home. They will view it with a critical and discerning eye. Anticipate their concerns before they ever see your home. You may look at the leaky faucet and think of a $10 part at Home Depot. The buyer thinks of a $100 plumbing bill. Begin by walking through each room and considering how buyers are going to feel about what they see. Make a complete list of needed repairs. Hire a handyman, if you need one, to fix the items in a few days. It will be more efficient to have them all done at once. Some clients choose to market their houses as a fixer-uppers. Of course, there are handy buyers out there who are not afraid of repairs, but they expect to profit from this, substantially above the cost of labor and materials. When a house needs obvious repairs, buyers always assume there are more problems than meet the eye. It is in your best interest to get minor repairs fixed before marketing your home. Your house will bring a higher price and sell faster.
Get an Inspection
Often sellers have their home inspected by a professional inspector before putting it on the market. This is an excellent way to discover unknown repair issues that may come up later on the buyer's inspection report. By getting this done early, you will be able to address the items on your own time, without the involvement of a prospective buyer. There will almost certainly be some items that you choose to not repair. For example, building code requirements change over the years. As a result, you may not meet code for certain items, such as handrail height, spacing between balusters, stair dimensions, single glazed windows, and other items. You may elect to leave items such as these as they are, and that is OK. You should note on the inspection report which items you have repaired, and which are being left as is, and attach it to your Seller's Disclosure. It is a good idea to also attach repair receipts to the report if you have used a contractor for some of the items. A professional inspection report answers buyers questions early, creates a higher level of trust in your home and reduces re-negotiations after contract.
Offer a Service Contract
The home service contract (also called home warranty) covers the cost of certain repairs to mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems and appliances during the buyer's first year of ownership. The cost of the policy is about $350, but may be more if a pool or other items are added. The fee is paid to a third party warranty company, who provides repair services for the buyers during their first year of ownership. These policies help to reduce the number of disputes about the condition of the property after the sale. They protect the interests of both buyer and seller.
Should You Remodel?
Often clients ask us if they should remodel their house for sale. I believe the answer to this is no - major improvements do not make sense when selling a home. Studies show that remodeling projects do not return 100% of their cost in the sales price. For the average home, it does not pay to move walls, tear out cabinets, re-do kitchens and bathrooms, or add rooms, in order to sell. There is a fine line between remodeling and making repairs. You will need to draw this line. Here are some decisions you may need to consider:
Countertops are outdated or wrong color:
It may be worth it to replace the countertops if other components of the house are acceptable. An attractive countertop can transform the kitchen, and the kitchen has a significant impact on the value of your home.
Carpet is worn, outdated or wrong color:
This improvement is almost always worth doing. Sometimes sellers ask us if they should give an allowance for carpet, and let the buyer choose. Do not worry about whether the buyer will like your selection. Just choose a neutral shade, and make the change. New carpet makes everything else look better.
Walls need complete or touch up paint:
This is a must do! Clean walls are crucial to a winning presentation of your home. This includes baseboards and trim. On the walls you should use neutral colors, such as cream, sage green, beige/yellow, gray/blue. Stark white, primary colors and dark colors do not contribute as much market value, and may be a negative factor.
Texture on walls is poorly done, or there is heavy "popcorn" texture on the ceiling:
A clean, simple texture under paint can improve the presentation of your home. On the other hand, if there is much updating needed in other areas, it does not make sense to target this item.
Wallpaper is outdated or torn:
This may need to be removed and the walls painted. However, if the home needs a good deal of additional updating, then wallpaper should be left as is. Bathroom caulking or grout is dirty: Put this on the must do list. Old or darkened caulking is a turn-off to buyers. It is easily replaced.
There are drainage problems, or leaks in the plumbing or roof:
This is a must fix! Be careful that you correct the source ofthe problem, use professional help to check for mold, and fully disclose the repair. Make sure your contractor gives a warranty that can be passed on to the buyer, but avoid giving a personal guarantee of the repair.
There are sheetrock holes, missing trim, torn vinyl, broken windows, rotten wood or malfunctioning equipment:
These are all repair issues that should be addressed. Homes sell for more that show a reasonable level of maintenance.
Shrubs are overgrown and flower beds are bare or weedy:
This is one of the most cost effective changes you can make. Mow and edge the lawn. Add inexpensive mulch to flower beds. Add new doormat and pots of blooming plants to the porch. Cut back overgrown shrubs or remove them altogether. Large, woody shrubs can be a detraction to your home, especially if they cover windows.
Gutters need cleaning and trees rub against the roof:
These are items that comes up frequently on buyers' inspection reports. Make sure your tree limbs do not touch the roof.
Heat/AC, Plumbing and Electrical systems:
All of these systems need routine maintenance. It would be a good idea to have the heat/AC system serviced and filters changed. Check for plumbing leaks, toilets that rock, corroded valves on the hot water heater and other plumbing problems. Replace burned out bulbs and electrical fixtures that do not work. Check your sprinkler system and pool equipment for little problems.
Make Needed Repairs
As you prepare your home for sale, your first step should be to make needed repairs. By making repairs you will answer buyers questions early, build trust in your home more quickly, and proceed through the closing process with fewer surprises. Your home will appeal to more buyers, sell faster and bring a higher price.
About the author: Roselind Hejl, CRS, is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker United in Austin, Texas. Her website: Austin Texas Real Estate Guide offers homes for sale, search MLS, buyer and seller guides. "Let Roselind help you make your move to Austin." Top 25 Residential Agents - Austin Business Journal
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