When you live in a home, it’s easy to be blind to its shortcomings. But put it on the market, and those detractions can become readily apparent. They can reduce the ideal selling price of your house or leave it sitting on the market much longer than you would prefer.
So if you’re planning on selling your home, it is prudent to step back from that familiar abode and inspect it with a new set of eyes — preferably the eyes of a prospective buyer.
Cosmetic fixes are the best bet, says Jay Reilly, a real estate agent with Windermere Real Estate and a Bellingham resident for the past 16 years. “Cosmetic fixes include paint, carpet and landscaping — in short, sweat equity,” he says. “Usually, if you sink thousands of dollars into your home, you don’t necessarily get a good return on your investment.
“The best strategy is to put your money into the bathrooms and kitchen, enjoy living in the space and then reap the benefits of those renovations when you want to sell,” he says. “But to do it just before the time of sale does not make sense because you may or may not get that money back when you sell.”
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Upgrading your kitchen and bathrooms need not cost a fortune, insists Jody Biermann, owner of Bellingham-based Biermann Design and a local resident for the past 38 years. “Trade out a faucet, add a new backsplash or buy door hardware for visual appeal,” she says. “Anything to imply freshness and good maintenance by the previous owner is a good selling point.”
In some cases, it might be necessary to replace a countertop. Where possible, go for granite, says Biermann. “Bathrooms, for example, are really easy to put granite countertops in, because you can find these small quantities of slab readily available at local fabricators. But what surfaces you choose depend on your home and the category of the sale. In some cases, laminate might make more sense.”
PAINT IT PERFECT
“The quickest way to give a home an updated look is with paint,” says Mike Minninger, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Miller-Arnason who has lived in Bellingham all his life. “Painting is relatively easy for a homeowner to do themselves, and by choosing neutral colors that will appeal to buyers, you can give a home a fresh look.”
Rob Austin-Murphy, an interior architect and designer who moved to north Bellingham eight years ago from the East Coast, agrees that paint is the most economical starting point. “Look at the color scheme of the house,” he advises. “Is it attractive? Is it inviting? Does it make you want to enter the house?”
Austin-Murphy purchased a vintage farmhouse that was painted white and “looked drab,” he says, at the time of purchase. “I painted it a soft buttermilk yellow with a crisp linen trim and black shutters, and it made a 100 percent difference in the appeal of the property.”
New tiling can add significantly to the price of your home, according to Jeff Isaacson, general manager at Aqui Esta Tile in Bellingham. This material is durable, has been popular for years and is enjoying a real upswing in popularity.
“Consider retiling your entryway, then your flooring and finally your countertops, which can be attractively replaced with granite tiles, a material that is half the price of granite slabs and presents lots of options in type, color and price,” he advises. “For the dollar you spend on tile, you’ll get at least $2 in value out of it. The fact is, if you’re going from a basic floor covering to a tile solution, you’re going to enjoy an appreciation on your investment.”
The latest trends in tiling are natural stone, slate, granite and tumbled marble, according to Isaacson. “There are also a lot of porcelain products out now, where technology has helped create Old World appearances. Put those tiles down and you’ll think they’ve been there 200 years because they have this timeless look,” he says.
CULTIVATE CURB APPEAL
The exterior appearance of your home is critical when it comes to attracting buyers, Austin-Murphy says. “A property will sell faster if it has great curb appeal, so look at adding a fence, if necessary, to frame the house or give a sense of demarcation. Consider minor additions to the landscape if they’re lacking, such as bedding plants or ceramic pots that bring the eye in.”
Appearance made a big difference to the sale of a home Austin-Murphy consulted on, a large, waterfront property on a private cove along Chuckanut Drive.
“The approach was horrible, with no sense of entrance,” he recalls. “It looked like a tired old house because it had no curb appeal.” He helped the couple create a welcoming atmosphere by adding a new concrete drive and some trellises to frame the entrance, at an approximate cost of $70,000. The house sold for $2.5 million and the couple credited Austin-Murphy with the sale.
“It’s really about seeing what’s there, what the assets of a home are, and about dealing with the liabilities in a straightforward and non-expensive way,” he explains. “A good designer will help you see how to showcase your property’s best assets.”
CLEAR OUT CLUTTER
Sometimes, that means subtracting rather than adding. If your home is overly cluttered it can overwhelm the appearance and diminish its real size. “Rent a storage unit to store excess belongings and furniture if necessary,” suggests Minninger.
This can make the house look cleaner and make its architectural lines more apparent, adds Austin-Murphy. “It may be necessary to add additional trim to show the lines of the interior more easily,” he says. “For houses from the 1970s, with unattractive paneling, consider painting the paneling in attractive tones to make it seem more ‘cottagey’ and less dark.”
ADD TO ASSETS
Sometimes you can add to the value of your home by renovating in ways that are unexpected. “If you replace the roof or put on new siding, it will increase the marketability of your house but not necessarily the value to the amount you’ve invested, because people expect siding and a roof,” says Bob Beale, 60, who has lived in Bellingham for the past two years.
Beale has renovated nine houses in his lifetime. For the Mukilteo home he sold in October 2005 for $737,000, he added a suite for his college-age son, as well as a deck and new stairs. “I spent $25,000 doing this, and the Realtor from whom I bought the house told me it increased the value of the home by $100,000,” he says. Without the renovations, Beale estimates the home would have sold for $635,000.
A retired mechanical engineer, Beale admits he’s mechanically inclined and enjoys putting things together. But it’s not rocket science, he insists. “I bought books on renovation and studied up at the library. If you take the time to learn, you can usually find out how to do things quite easily,” he says.
His next project? Building a house — from scratch.