Clean Up, Fix Up, Or Toss Out
Today, the home that stands out among similarly-priced houses is the home that sells. Why? Because it makes a good first impression that lasts right to the settlement table.
You may not be able to improve the market value of your house (finish basement, remodel kitchen, etc.), but you can improve its marketability. And usually this can be done with more elbow grease than hard cash. The key is to put yourself in the buyer's shoes. In fact, if you drop by some open houses (you may soon be a buyer yourself), you'll pick up some pointers. Then practice making your house as appealing and uncluttered as the home you wish to buy.
The exterior. Start here with "curb appeal". Basics: A trim lawn, well-proportioned shrubs. Remove garden hoses, lawn tools, dog house and toys from the yard. Check for flat-fitting roof shingles; straight lines on gutters, shutters, windows and siding; solid caulking around frames and seams; paint. Keep walks and steps free of snow and ice. Extras: Brass door knocker. Seasonal door decorations. Wrought iron lamp posts. Small landscaped courtyard. Flower beds.
The front hall. Aura and atmosphere give a hint of what's inside. Basics: Light (from window, skylight, lamp or overhead fixture; perhaps even use a stronger light bulb). For evening inspection, turn on every light in the house for a welcoming glow. Make sure the house smells fresh and clean. Make sure that the woodwork is unmarred and the carpeting spotless. A fresh coat of paint is a good investment, and it's most appealing in a neutral tone, since strong color is so subjective. Remove unsightly or worn throw rugs. Extras: Door chime. Dead bolt lock and chain.
The living room. Strive for a lived-in, cozy feeling. Discard worn, chipped or frayed furniture. Open curtains. Furnishings here and throughout the house should be well placed and in good repair. Set out fresh flowers, and even put a drop of bath oil or vanilla on light bulbs for a subtle scent.
The kitchen. Many buyers judge the house by the way the oven and stove are kept. Basics: Appliances should be spotless and in perfect working condition. Replace or repair anything that sticks, squeaks or drips. Counter, cooking, cabinet and eating spaces should be kept open and uncluttered, without countertop appliances. Clean butcher block. Floors and walls should be in inviting light colors, and serviceable (resistant to grease and moisture).
The master bedroom. The second-most appealing room to the buyer (after the kitchen, before the garage). Basics: Uncluttered furnishings; defined areas (sleeping, dressing, sitting) by furniture arrangement. Show the true size of closets by removing or packing items that can be stored elsewhere (since you're moving away), like off-season clothes.
Bathrooms. Practicality combines with attractiveness. Basics: Sink, toilet, bathtub, tile, even shower curtains should be immaculate. Fix leaky faucets — rust stains indicate faulty plumbing. Repair caulking and grouting. Minor flaws suggest neglect to the prospect. Light should be soft (no harsh fluorescents), but bright. Extras: Use some potpourri for a pleasant scent.
The recreation room. An atmosphere of relaxation, fun and activity should pervade. Basics: Open space to accommodate an assortment of activities. Make sure the fireplace or wood stove is clean, with fresh logs. Extras: Track lighting; ceiling fan.
The garage. Convenience is the key here (the perfect garage holds only cars). Basics: Uncluttered space. Sell, giveaway or toss unnecessary articles. Clean oily cement floor. Strong overhead light (fluorescent or bulb). Orderly storage area, tidy workbench.
The basement. Organize, hang tools on peg boards, and put items on shelves. Cure damp smell by placing bag of limestone in damp area. Clean the water heater outside, change the furnace filter and make inspection- access easy. Brighten the basement by painting walls.
The attic. Yes, it's for sale, too. Tidy it up. Light it up. Again, pack anything you're going to move. Get rid of the rest. Be sure your energy-saving insulation is apparent and the air vent works.
Questions and Answers
Should we redecorate? The big problem in major redecorating arises because it is very difficult to anticipate the tastes of strangers. Best to stick to fresh paint in very neutral colors and present a sparkling clean house without the redecorating expense.
Is it possible to over-improve? Yes. Your landscaping may be divine. You may have the only cabana and swimming pool in the neighborhood, but it may be difficult to sell a $450,000 home in an area of $420,000 homes. Consult your listing broker to determine if added improvement means added marketability.
Are "fixing up expenses" tax deductible? Yes. You can reduce your taxable capital gain by "fixing up", but only under strict guidelines. Check with your tax consultant for details.
Many states now require that sellers provide buyers with either a residential property disclosure or a disclaimer statement.