Looking to spruce up your home without bankrupting yourself? Whether you’re getting ready to sell or want to inexpensively improve your property for your own enjoyment, Alex Brooks has some ideas to consider.
THERE are no hard and fast rules on the best improvements to create re-sale dollars when you sell a property.
The costs and payback for each improvement suggested below varies depending on the home’s condition and real estate market values in each suburb. Houses that spiked upwards quickly during a boom time may find it takes longer to sell than houses in areas those increased only moderately.
Most real estate agents urge their sellers to consider small home improvements before putting the “for sale” sign on the front lawn. “When it’s boomtown Charlie in property, all the tradespeople are flat strapped. Sellers need more lead-up time to get things done to their house. You can be waiting for a month just to get a painter in,” says Real Estate Institute of WA president Rob Druitt.
MATERIALS: gloves, garden tools, garbage bags, cleaning products, garden mulch, hot water, broom
TIME NEEDED: a day
Consider the front garden and façade of a home the tools to invite a potential buyer inside. “A home sells in the first 15 seconds – people go in the house to either find a reason to buy it or not to buy it,” explains Hegney Property Group executive chairman Gavin Hegney. “Buyers may not remember whether a house has a laundry or exactly how many bedrooms there are, but they remember how a house feels and the impression it leaves them with.”
A mown lawn, a few well-placed shrubs and a swept front path makes a great first impression. Edging lawns with a sharp spade and getting rid of weeds make a difference. Another quick trick is to wash the exterior of the house down with a bucket of hot water and a stiff-bristled broom. Years of grime and dirt will wash away and make the house look new again (try not to put bleach or strong detergent in the water, otherwise you may kill your plants).
Cutting back trees that block windows and cleaning concrete driveways are small maintenance jobs that pay back. Laying new mulch on garden beds is also quick and easy. If the garden needs more than a day’s work on it, consider calling in a professional. But be warned: WA is in the midst of a skills shortage and you may have to wait a while for professional services.
MATERIALS: A new doormat, bucket, hot soapy water, broom
TIME: 2 hours
The neat and tidy entrance hints at what’s inside a house. Buyers agents like Lisa Bradley from Finderskeepers.com.au suggest buying a brand new doormat to spruce things up. Two new pot plants on either side of the entry porch or front door also looks good. Do you have a flimsy little knob on your main entry door? Try buying substantial-looking handle-and-lock set or new door knocker that shines and sparkles. Make the threshold inside the house as appealing as you can, and once buyers walk through it they hopefully think the entire house is as fresh and neat.
MATERIALS: boxes, cleaning products, storage space
TIME: a day
Real Estate Institute of WA president Rob Druitt says a house that hasn’t been renovated for thirty years or more can sell easily provided it is clean and tidy. “People underestimate how important it is for things to be clean,” he says. “And while it’s hard for the bower birds, you have to get rid of the clutter. Put excess furniture and knick knacks into boxes in the garage or store it away from the house.”
Clean windows make a difference to the exterior of a house, and also flood the interior with more natural light. And don’t forget to wash all interior and exterior light fittings – there’s nothing more off-putting than a buyer catching sight of a dusty old fitting full of dead insects and cobwebs. Oh, and clean the skylights too.
MATERIALS: sugar soap, paint, clean-up materials
TIME: a day or more
Nothing says “fresh and new” more easily than a coat of paint. It’s the quickest and most cost-effective improvement – especially if you’re able to afford to call in a professional. Don’t be deluded into thinking painting is a quick and easy DIY job, though. Shoddy paintwork would definitely give a buyer the wrong impression, says REIWA president Rob Druitt. “You’re better not to do any painting unless you do it well – buyers don’t want to see botch jobs,” he says.
There is no point in repainting an entire house unless the property is in dire condition. Target painting to areas where it is most needed – usually the exterior, front door, entry hall and ceilings. Buyers spend more time than you would think staring at ceilings, so make sure you cover any stains from grease or smoke with new paint.
MATERIALS: Cleaning products, scrubbing brush
TIME: 4 hours
The kitchen is the heart of the home, so make sure your kitchen looks clean and reasonable. The best tip to improve the kitchen is this: scrub. And scrub it again.
A clean kitchen is infinitely more saleable, regardless of the daggy decore. Buyers feel happier appraising a sparkling clean Brady Bunch-era orange laminate than splurging on sleek stainless steel appliances covered in grime and last night’s cooking stains.
If you’ve got a slightly larger budget, give the cupboards or benchtops extra attention. Timber cabinets spruce up well with a new coat of oil or polyurethane and laminates look better after a scrub with a soft brush and sugar soap.
MATERIALS: Cleaning products, scrubbing brush, grout, silicone sealers
TIME: 4 hours
Next to the kitchen, bathrooms are important rooms to improve. Simple things like a new toilet seat or a small vanity unit are easy to install and should cost less than $300.
Beware of going overboard and undertaking a full renovation. Bathroom and kitchen renovations are like cars – they depreciate from the minute you install them.
Splurging $5000 or $10,000 on new renovations is not likely to return you the same dollar-value when you go to sell. It’s simpler to consider re-grouting and replacing any chipped or broken tiles, repair dripping taps and make sure there are no yicky mould stains to put off potential buyers.
MATERIALS: Steam cleaner, Yellow Pages, mop and bucket
TIME: 4 hours
Floors can update a home and make it look cleaner. A professional carpet cleaning is an inexpensive investment, usually less than $300 for an entire house.
If carpet is showing serious wear, cover it with inexpensive, strategically placed rugs.
If a house has hardwood timber floors beneath carpet, un-tack an inconspicuous corner of carpet to show prospective buyers the condition of the floors underneath rather than waste time and effort polishing the floors before a sales campaign.
Timber floors will shine after a good hand-polish with an old-fashioned polish – hard work, but worth it. If timber floors are seriously scratched, consider a light sand and re-coat, but call in a professional rather than attempt to do it yourself. Tiled floors can be cleaned and re-grouted.
Take the 5-second test: Ask a neighbour or impartial observer to give you their first impression of how tidy the house looks. Judge the house as a potential buyer would, by standing at the kerb and assessing how it looks. Then compare it to similar houses that are on the market for the same asking price. Be brutal – does your house look good enough to go inside?
Fresh smells sell well: No, you don’t have to bake bread or brew coffee during open inspections but a house must smell clean. Washing curtains and cleaning carpets goes a long way to improving the scent of a home. And if you have pets, make sure they are kept outside or contained in one room which can be easily cleaned for the duration of your sales campaign. Leave the windows open for an hour or so before your open inspections to air the place.
Minor repairs only: Make sure there aren’t any cracked window panes, dripping taps or squeaky floors waiting to sabotage your best presentation intentions. Buyers like to sense that a home has been lovingly looked after and maintained. Don’t let any niggling repair ruin that illusion. Oh, and don’t start thinking that now is the time to undertake large structural repairs like new ceilings or decking. It’s better to keep repairs manageable and inexpensive.
Get photographed: If you’ve put the effort in to presenting your property well, make sure you invest in professional photos of the house for the marketing campaign. “There is nothing worse than a reasonable house being let down by crappy photos of it on the internet,” says REIWA president Rob Druitt.
THE PRICE MUST BE RIGHT
“There is only one reason a property doesn’t sell in today’s market, and that’s price. Sellers in those markets with too much stock have to adjust their price expectations.”
But pricing a property correctly in a post-boom market is not an easy science, especially when homeowners are reluctant to price their property too low.
Druitt says houses must be priced correctly from the beginning of a sales campaign, otherwise the home hangs around on the market too long. “If it’s priced too high, then buyers won’t even come to the home opens,” he says. “Seek several opinions on price and don’t just hear what you want to hear.”
Druitt suggests checking the prices of similar properties in your area, and seeking the opinions of different real estate agents to confirm a price guide that’s within buyers’ expectations.
This article was first published in the Sun-Herald.